Friday 28 February 2014

#CBR6 Book 18: "Haiene" (The Sharks) by Jens Bjørneboe

Page count: 213 pages
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.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read

#CBR6 Book 17: "Nokon kjem til å komme" (Someone is going to come) by Jon Fosse

Page count: 80 pages
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.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

Sunday 16 February 2014

#CBR6 Book 16: "Innsirkling" (Encirclement) by Carl Frode Tiller

Page count: 285 pages
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.

#CBR6 Book 15: "Endless Knight" by Kresley Cole

Page count: 320 pages
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.

#CBR6 Book 14: "Small Favour" by Jim Butcher

Page count: 437 pages
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

#CBR6 Book 13: "Cress" by Marissa Meyer

Page count. 550 pages
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.

#CBR6 Book 12: "Scarlet" by Marissa Meyer

Page count: 452 pages
Rating: 4 stars

This is the second book in the Lunar Chronicles, and won't really work so well if you haven't read the first one. Start with Cinder, then come back and read this review when you've caught up. Really, you don't want to be reading this review - it's going to contain spoilers about the first book. Continue reading if you don't mind, but don't say I didn't warn you.

Scarlet Benoit needs to find her grandmother, who disappeared without a trace a few weeks ago. Her ID chip was left behind, and Scarlet is convinced she's been kidnapped. The local police, however, don't suspect foul play and have rejected the case. Scarlet's determined to locate her grandmother on her own, but has few leads or clues. How is the mysterious prize fighter, calling himself Wolf, connected? He arrived in the area around the same time Scarlet's grandmother disappeared, and seems very interested in Scarlet.

How is Scarlet's grandmother connected with dangerous Lunar fugitive and cyborg Linh Cinder? The heroine of Meyer's previous book has escaped from prison along with self-styled Captain Carswell Thorne thanks to the advanced cyborg enhancements Doctor Erland gave her at the end of the last book. On the run in Thorne's stolen spacecraft, the two manage to constantly stay one step ahead of the Lunar and Earthen authorities, and discover that a former officer named Michelle Benoit may have further clues about Cinder's past.

Newly appointed Emperor Kai is still reeling from the discovery that the charming mechanic he impulsively invited to the ball is not only a cyborg, but actually a dangerous Lunar. Was his attraction to her nothing but trickery brought on by her Lunar powers? He is desperately trying to fend off the powerful and terrifying Lunar Queen, Levana, who demands that the girl be caught within three days, or there will be disastrous consequences for Earth.

In Cinder, Meyer introduced us to the Cyborg mechanic who bore a clear resemblance to the Cinderella of Grimms' fairy tales. While I liked the book, a lot of it was establishing the world and world building, and I found it a bit slow in places. In the sequel, the fantastic sci-fi world is already in place, and quite a few of the main conflicts and players have been set in motion. Or so I thought. Because Meyer proceeds to introduce more characters, with complicated back stories and motivations. There's a lot more action in this book, it moves ahead at a faster pace all the way through.

The spirited Scarlet argues with townspeople and wears a red hoodie. She's a talented pilot and loves her grandmother, who more or less raised her, fiercely. She's willing to risk pretty much anything to find her, even allying herself with the rather shady Wolf, whose motivations are a lot more murky than she likes. She's sometimes frustratingly stubborn, refusing to believe that there could be something in her grandmother's past that led her to being abducted, even when further investigations keep revealing that her Michelle Benoit hadn't always been an eccentric farmer.

Also introduced in the book is adventurer, wanted thief and confidence trickster Carswell Thorne. When Cinder is escaping from prison, she accidentally drops into his cell, and upon discovering that he has a spaceship, she reluctantly agrees to take him with her. He uses his charm like a weapon, yet she is entirely immune. In reality a cadet in the American forces, he became wanted when he stole an advanced military aircraft to go adventuring. While he calls himself a captain, he's not actually a very good pilot, and it seems that he and Cinder evade the authorities through luck more than skill.

Levana keeps being scary and villainous, and more of her plans to wage war on Earth is revealed in this book. Kai and the rulers of the other Earthen nations do their best to defy her, but without much success. While Kai has to send out forces to try to capture Cinder, he's secretly happy as long as she stays missing, even though he knows her continued freedom could have dire consequences for the people of Earth. It's a dreadful situation for a young, inexperienced ruler to be in, and when Levana's plots against Earth start coming out into the open, he does the only thing he can to try to avoid more death and bloodshed.

As in the first book, there is a romantic subplot in the book, although it's by no means the most prominent. Scarlet seems to go from distrusting and worrying about Wolf to being attracted to him very quickly, but I suppose added danger can throw people together, and he does help her look for her grandmother, even against his better judgement. I suspect Captain Thorne may become a romantic interest for the heroine in the third book, which is coming out in a day or two. I'm very much looking forward to seeing where the story goes next.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

Monday 3 February 2014

#CBR6 Book 11: "Poison Princess" by Kresley Cole

Page count: 384 pages
Rating: 2.5 stars

Sixteen year old Evangeline "Evie" Greene tells her story of woe and confusion to a creepy madman bent on chaining her in his basement dungeon. Before the apocalyptic Flash that destroyed the world as we know it, Evie was a rich and popular Southern Belle, with a dark secret. All summer, while her friends were off travelling the world, she was in an asylum, trying to suppress the horrific hallucinations and visions she suffered. Then the Flash hit and it turns out that all her horrible visions were just premonitions of what was to come.

In a world where most of the surface water evaporated in the course of one catastrophic event, after which most of the women in the world fell sick and died, Evie is one of very few females, and after her mother dies, she needs help and protection to get to her grandmother's, whom she is convinced must still be alive. She turns to her former classmate, the Cajun badboy Jackson "Jack" Deveaux, one of the few people from her past who seems to have survived the apocalypse. He agrees to assist her, and as Evie can't shoot, hunt or defend herself worth a damn, she needs all the help she can get.

Through her visions, and faintly remembering her grandmother's ramblings about how Evie is the "Empress" and has special powers, it becomes clear that Evie is one of twenty-two teenagers embodied with powers from the Major Arcana of the Tarot. These teens all have different and unusual powers, and the Flash seems to have been the beginning of a new era, where the various Arcana battle it out to the death.

This book was the alt book when the Vaginal Fantasy bookclub was doing their Kresley Cole month back in May 2012. The paranormal romance author, famed for her over the top supernatural pairings and frequent ThunderSex (tm) is trying her hand at young adult fiction here, which means that there are no actual smexy times, but there is a fairly steamy kiss.

Things I liked:

  • The framing device was interesting, creepy and really gave you a sense of tension, really bringing you into the story. Of course, then Evie starts telling her story in WAY to much detail (more on that later).
  • A fantasy world based on the Tarot is cool and a fairly unusual premise. No vampire, werewolves or angels here. So far only a handful of the characters based on the Major Arcana are introduced, but it's a promising concept.
  • The dystopia after the Flash hits is really very disturbing and creates a very tense atmosphere for the story. 
  • Evie turning out to be somewhat of an unreliable narrator. I don't want to say too much about it, as it could be quite spoilery to the story. She does warn us in the prologue that not everything she says is necessarily the truth, though.
  • The final chapters, where everything suddenly turned around rather abruptly and I went from being super bored to being quite intrigued and suddenly interested in reading the sequel after all.
Things I didn't like:
  • The first third of the book, after the exciting prologue is way too long. It drags massively, and there is far too much detail about Evie's life as a mix between a Plastic and Scarlett O'Hara. I understand that it's important to show just how much Evie lost and why she would think that she was completely insane because of the visions, but we really didn't in any way need a day to day, in painful detail, recap of the week before the Flash happened.
  • Evie was a dreadful protagonist. She's spoiled, condescending, judgemental and spends far too much of the book being whiny, useless, wishy-washy and occasionally TSTL. I understand that she's just 16, and the entire world as she knows it has now been destroyed, but she could have tried to learn some new skills and adapt better, rather than hole up in her mansion until the food ran out, and then depending wholly on some guy to rescue her.
  • Speaking of the guy. I get that after the apocalypse, most men apparently turn into either some sort of zombie, cannibals or apparently crazy rapists, so compared to them Jack is a saint and a paragon of virtue. But really, he's not much of a hero. He's arrogant, rude, pushy and creepily focused on Evie long before the apocalypse happens. He seems to be constantly swigging Jack Daniels, his Cajun accent drove me up the wall. A member on the Vaginal Fantasy Goodreads forum described him as an 18-year-old Darryl Dixon with Gambit's accent, and that's pretty much spot on. Most of the time, he treats Evie like property. He's overly possessive, yet constantly puts her down, frankly encouraging her helplessness so she's got no choice but to stay dependent on him. 
  • There's all sorts of ways the world building doesn't make any sense, but I compared to my other complaints, that wasn't a big deal. 
Thanks to the final few chapters, where it turns out that Evie's story to the creep who's planning to make her his latest torture victim in his basement dungeon hasn't been entirely truthful, where she seems to finally embrace her new powers, and basically turns into Poison Ivy, I've upgraded the rating of the book from 2 stars to 2,5. I hope that she may have made herself seem extra pathetic and useless in order to lull the psycho into a false sense of security. The sequel also got rave reviews all over the internet when it came out last year (although this book is bafflingly rated 4.16 on Goodreads, there's no accounting for taste, I guess) and promises to have more of the character who embodies the Death card in it. I like what we've seen of him so far, and desperately hope that he's going to be the final third in the fairly inevitable YA love triangle, because Evie and Jackson make an awful couple.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

Sunday 2 February 2014

#CBR6 Book 10: "The Girl with All the Gifts" by M.R. Carey

Page count: 416 pages
Rating: 4.5 stars

I'm actually going to use the Goodreads summary of this, because it's what made me want to read the book in the first place:

Melanie is a very special girl. Dr Caldwell calls her "our little genius".

Every morning, Melanie waits in her cell to be collected for class. When they come for her, Sergeant keeps his gun pointing at her while two of his people strap her into the wheelchair. She thinks they don't like her. She jokes that she won't bite, but they don't laugh. 

Melanie loves school. She loves learning about spelling and sums and the world outside the classroom and the children's cells. She tells her favourite teacher all the things she'll do when she grows up. Melanie doesn't know why this makes Miss Justineau look sad. 

I don't usually read horror, but I made an exception for this book, because the blurb made it sound so very intriguing and because I'm a huge fan of Mike Carey's other work. I can only assume he's writing under a new name because this is a different genre from the work he normally produces.

This was such a great book. It's told mainly from the point of view of Melanie, although the pop culture literate reader knows a lot more about the girl, her little school friends and their situation than the girl herself does, genius level IQ or not. Of course, having no real recollection of anything outside the cell where she lives, the school room and the weekly routines she experiences, it's not as if Melanie can be aware of her real situation. She's quickly draws new conclusions based on every additional piece of information she is given.

There aren't that many characters in the book. There are some chapters from the points of view of Miss Justineau, Helen, Melanie's favourite teacher, who is also a behavioural psychologist and there to observe the very special children and assist Dr. Caldwell in her research. She knows that she shouldn't get attached to her pupils, or invested in their futures, as none of them are likely to face a promising one.

Doctor Caroline Caldwell is driven to prove to the world at large that it was wrong that she was passed over when advanced research teams were sent out to find a cure for the rapidly spreading fungal infection turning people into mindless, hungry beast, and destroying civilisation as we know it. She has no scruples using any and all tools at her disposal to further her research.

Sergeant Eddie Parks and Private Kieran Gallagher are parts of the military personnel stationed at the research base to keep the scientists secure. They make sure the children are securely brought to class every day, to the shower rooms once a week, and to their weekly feedings. When all hell breaks loose, and the base is attacked, changing everything, these two soldiers need to assist in keeping the other three safe and get them back to any kind of secure location.

My main complaint with the book is probably that only Melanie and Helen Justineau really get fleshed out properly as characters. Caldwell, Parks and Gallagher are just a step or two up from stock characters - the evil scientist, the gruff commander, the naive and inexperienced rookie. Yet the story is so compelling, and Melanie and Helen are such wonderful characters that it doesn't detract much from my enjoyment of the book. Melanie's journey of self discovery and self realisation, the really very skillful depictions of the dystopian future after an apocalypse and the strong bonds of love that develop between Melanie and her beloved teacher are what makes it especially good. I suspect this is a book I'm going to be thinking back to for months to come.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

#CBR6 Book 9: "Romancing the Duke" by Tessa Dare

Page count: 384 pages
Rating. 4.5 stars

Miss Isolde Ophelia Goodnight, or Izzy, is the orphaned daughter of the author of a beloved series of adventure stories. She has barely a penny to her name, so when she is told that her recently deceased godfather has left her Gostley Castle, it seems too good to be true. Of course, her castle is a filthy ruin, currently inhabited by the scarred, bitter and extremely rude Duke of Rothbury, who's adamant that he didn't sell any castle, and it therefore can't belong to Izzy. He wants to drive her away, so he can go back to his brooding. She refuses to leave, and dares him to try his worst to drive her away.

Realising that he needs to prove her wrong, Ransom, the duke, hires her as his secretary, so she can go through the piles of correspondence that have piled up since the accident that left him with a wicked facial scar and near blindness. Izzy agrees to spend the mornings sorting through his letters, but insists on spending her afternoons trying to restore the castle to a semblance of comfort, aided by the vicar's daughter, a huge fan of her father's stories. Ransom, quite happy to sulk in the bat-infested ruin, now has to engage daily with Izzy's determined cheer, not to mention the hordes of fans who keep turning up to talk to little Izzy Goodnight.

The readers of her father's books still see Izzy as the innocent girl in the melodramatic adventure stories. In reality, she's a pragmatic and fiercely optimistic spinster in her mid-twenties and she's not afraid to admit that she finds the cranky duke who keeps trying to shock her with profanities and improper behaviour devilishly attractive. While her father's Moranglian tales are full of courtly love and chaste maidens and dashing knights, the actual reality of her upbringing was not very idyllic, and she's clearly met her fair share of disappointment. When she finally finds herself the owner of her very own castle, she's not going to let anything stop her from taking possession of it. She's a great heroine, and probably actually far too good for Ransom, who was a bit of an idiot.

Ransom is clearly modelled on the Gothic heroes of old. He's holed up in the ruins of the castle with his wolfish dog and one loyal family retainer, after he was badly scarred in a duel. During his voluntary exile, his business managers have clearly started mismanaging his finances, and it's only when Izzy shows up and he's forced to actually review his accounts that he discovers that he may end up losing more than Gostley castle if he doesn't stop wallowing and prove to the world that he's someone to be reckoned with.

I adored this book, and found it a delightful and highly enjoyable romp. The story is full of convenient coincidences, and silliness and frankly rather anachronistic details, like cosplaying fantasy fans roaming the Northumbrian countryside and it didn't bother me in the slightest. I thought Izzy's pet ermine was funny, I liked that Abigail, the vicar's daughter, who in romance from a lesser author would have likely been a bitchy rival to Izzy instead became her supporting friend. I found the banter and battle of wills between Izzy and Ransom enchanting. I would love to see the complete list of romances there are loving references to here (I'm sure I didn't even catch half). I absolutely understand that this novel may not be for everyone, and that the silliness and suspension of disbelief may be strained too much, and therefore wouldn't recommend it as a starting point for those who have never read Tessa Dare's books before. A Week to Be Wicked is excellent, though.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

#CBR6 Book 8: "The Clockwork Scarab" by Colleen Gleason

Page count: 356 pages
Rating: 4 stars

Miss Alvermina Holmes, daughter of Sir Mycroft and niece to the famous Sherlock, is summoned to the British Museum in the dark of night. Bored with her scientific experiments, and trying to get something to take her mind off the fact that her mother abandoned her and her father over a year ago, Mina decides to accept the invite.

When she arrives, she finds that another young woman has received the same summons. Miss Evaline Stoker, the younger sister of author and theatre manager Bram, has vampire hunting in her blood, and several illustrious ancestors who hunted the supernatural scourge during the Regency era. Unfortunately for Evaline, there are very few vampires left in England, and despite all her enhanced strength and speed and the training she does, she's never actually come across one yet. She's also deeply uncomfortable at the sight of blood, another drawback for any slayer of the undead.

The two young ladies discover that their summoner is none other than Irene Adler, now employed as a curator at the Museum, when she's not trying to help the royal family sort out tricky situations. A couple young women have been found dead, apparent suicides, but Miss Adler suspects foul play. A clockwork scarab was found in the possession of both the women. A third young woman has disappeared, and Miss Adler has been tasked by Princess Alexandra to do everything in her power to ensure that the girl is found alive. Adler wants to recruit Mina and Evaline as her agents.

The two girls try to work together, although neither feel very amiable towards the other, and do their best to use their abilities to solve the mysteries. There are hints of romantic entanglements for the women, involving a mysterious underworld figure and a police inspector, not to mention the strange young man the three ladies find crouched over a dead body in the Museum.

Gleason has set her new young adult series in a Steampunk version of Victorian London. Electricity has been outlawed as far too dangerous for people to use, and all manner of handy mechanical devices, all steam-driven, are mentioned, adding depth and verisimilitude to the world building. The chapters are told either from Miss Holmes or Miss Stoker's points of view, and it allows us to get to know the two young ladies, and see their varying reactions to their mission.

Mina hates her full name, and who wouldn't? Alvermina is a dreadful name. She's practically orphaned, with her mother having absconded to parts unknown, and her father spending most of his time in his club. She shares similar traits to her brilliant male relatives, being socially awkward, yet extremely observant, with excellent deductive abilities. Over the course of the investigation, she starts to fear that her uncle Sherlock is right, and that she is too easily muddled by emotions and female intuition to be a truly great investigator. She's rational, practical, loves to plan ahead and is frequently clumsy, especially when attired in long skirts and cumbersome bustles.

Evaline despairs that she shares the family calling of her Gardella ancestors, yet is unable to actually hunt and slay the undead. She wanders the streets at night trying to fight evildoers, without too much success. She therefore jumps at the chance to assist Miss Adler in solving the mystery of the dead and missing girls. She lives with her older brother Bram and his wife, the two having more or less raised her. Very few people know of her secret calling, and while she enjoys her sister-in-law's matchmaking schemes, she's not really eager to get married, suspecting that a husband would be loathe to accept her unusual nocturnal activities. She's strong, fast, and physically agile. Frequently acting before she thinks things through, she frustrates Mina with her impetuousness. She's a lot more socially adept, and also physically more attractive than Miss Holmes, another bone of contention between the two.

Neither girl start out particularly fond of the other, but as they are forced to work together, and their case starts getting more and more dangerous, they start finding common ground and a reluctant friendship.

This is the second steampunk fantasy, featuring a female relative of Sherlock Holmes I've read in the past few months. Of the two, I think this one was by far the more enjoyable. The protagonists are both fun, and engaging, with flaws enough that I'm looking forward to seeing how they will develop and grow in future books. The setup is interesting, and most of the world building is cleverly done. I was a little bit apprehensive with all the gadgets being mentioned in the early chapters, but as the story progressed, it became a lot less bothersome. I especially loved the steam-cycle. I want me one of those! Inspector Ambrose was also pretty cool, and if he doesn't actually eventually end up with Mina, I will be very upset.

Things I didn't like as much - the reveal of who Dylan is and where he came from. I'm not entirely sure what he adds to the story at all, or why these elements are necessary for the plot. If he were to die mysteriously and never be mentioned again between this book and the next, I won't mind in the slightest. I hated Nix' accent, and don't understand why it needed to be quite so exaggerated. It's suggested more than once that the accent is an affectation anyway, so why in the world couldn't he just drop it, rather than becoming more incomprehensible the further the plot developed? Thirdly, I'm not entirely sure the book needed quite so many love interests. I get that our protagonists are two young women, and that it adds excitement when they each have a young man to pine over, but they really do seem to fall for these men very quickly. The ending was also a bit hurried, and not entirely as satisfactory as I would have liked.

None of these niggles are enough to not make me very eager indeed to read the sequel. I'm a huge fan of Gleason's Gardella Vampire Chronicles and if this series ends up being half as enjoyable, I'll be well pleased.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.