Tuesday, 26 July 2011

A Series Binge: The Cure to All Ills

It's been a long time since I over-indulged and revelled in the spoils of a good binge on books. Admittedly, that doesn't involve the same satisfying clunk on the floor of a weighty bag of paperbacks these days but my Inbox was happy at least.

I'd forgotten how much fun it was to browse through lists of 'potentials' with the actual intention of buying some rather than just racking up even more of a wish list!

So here we are: the happiness that is my Tuesday evening :-)

George R.R. Martin: A Game of Thrones; A Clash of Kings; A Storm of Swords

Yep, that's right - I've never read anything by Martin and I've managed to purchase three of his A Song of Ice and Fire series. Have I mentioned lately that I have no self-control when it comes to fantasy series?! A heads up: this is a recurring theme...

Fiona McIntosh: The Percheron Saga

Aren't these covers so pretty?!

I've been dying to read something by Fiona McIntosh for a while this seemed like a good idea! This is, however, probably a much less well-known series so here's the synopsis of the first book:

Fifteen-year-old Boaz is the new Zar, freshly ascended to his throne. In the turmoil following the old Zar's death, courtiers jostle and conspire to secure their positions - not least his scheming mother, the new Valide. It seems his only genuine friends are his late father's mad jester; Spur Lazar, head of Percheron's security; and a golden beauty - a new odalisque purchased in the foothills as a slave for the harem. But can a madman, a soldier and a concubine be trusted to keep him safe from the Byzantine manoeuvres of his father's ambitious entourage?

And last but I'm sure by no means least...

Brandon Sanderson: The Mistborn trilogy

Ok, so I love these covers too! This, however, was a more rational purchase. I've been dying to read the end of Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time series published with the help of Brandon Sanderson. Before I do, I want to get an idea of Sanderson's style and this series always looks so tempting in bookshops that it seemed as good a place as any to try out Sanderson's work. Did I really need to buy all three at once? No, no I did not. That isn't, however, the voice of regret. Just my ever so slightly more sensible side trying to talk some sense into the book lover side. Fortunately the sensible side will never win and I get to keep buying series in abundance and being insanely gleeful about it.

Ok, enough excitement for one night! I'd love to hear about your recent indulgences too!! Make them as unncessarily extravagant as possible so that I can comfort myself and feel better :)

Sunday, 24 July 2011

Review: 'Heartless by Gail Carriger

Date finished: 16 July 2011

Rating: 4 stars

Format: Paperback

Source: Bought

Genre: Urban fantasy; Steam punk fiction

Published: by Orbit in June 2011

The Synopsis

As usual, I don't want to post the synopsis for this book because I don't want to ruin the earlier books in the series for anyone...should you want to hunt down a handy summary, you can find one at GoodReads here

The Review

This is the fourth of five books in the Parasol Protectorate series featuring Alexia (spinster-come-lady), Lord Maccon (deliciously rugged and handsome werewolf), Lord Akeldama (somewhat effeminate rove vampire) and Queen Victoria.

Set in an alternative Victorian England, these books positively ooze charm and wit and are so much fun to read. The characters are wonderful and the tone just perfect. Kooky inventions, daring transportation, perfectly coiffed hair and battered bustles - what more could you want?! Vampires, werewolves, ghosts and a preternatural...? Why of course!

The only real question is which werewolf you're going to fall in love with. I'm a Lord Maccon girl myself - his and Alexia's relationship is one of the best things about this series. Their sarcastic and barbed exchanges garnered many a chuckle from me and were balanced superbly with a heart-warming sense of genuine, old-fashioned romance. Lord Maccon, however, is an animalistic, barely-tamed Scottish Alpha werewolf. My mother, however, prefers his Beta - Professor Lyall. His more refined, under-stated elegance and subtle command is clearly more her style. (And no, I do not want this psycho-analysing...)

Heartless is a great addition to the series and I actually enjoyed it more than Blameless (the third of the series). There's a good 'mystery' for Alexia to interfere with and some excellent twists to keep you intrigued. It's also a great one for developing the histories of some of the main characters and spinning the relationships and personalities around a little to keep things fresh. Ivy, for one, gets an overdue bit of attention and flourishes for it.

All of this said, if you've read the beginning of the series, I doubt you'll need much convincing to carry on! You really don't need to worry - this is as good, if not better, than its predecessors.

Oh, and the 'Parasol Protectorate' is finally born! Hurrah!

Overall: If you haven't yet read Soulless, what on earth are you doing? Shoo! Go on, find yourself a copy, suspend reality and romp around Victorian England lamenting your bustle and rousing ghosts - you'll be glad you did!

Thursday, 21 July 2011

Review: 'The Name of the Wind' by Patrick Rothfuss

Date finished: 02 July 2011

Rating: 4.5 stars

Format: eBook

Source: Bought

Genre: Epic fantasy

Published: by Golancz in June 2008

The Synopsis

'I have stolen princesses back from sleeping barrow kings. I burned down the town of Trebon. I have spent the night with Felurian and left with both my sanity and my life. I was expelled from the University at a younger age than most people are allowed in. I tread paths by moonlight that others fear to speak of during day. I have talked to Gods, loved women, and written songs that make the minstrels weep. My name is Kvothe. You may have heard of me'

So begins the tale of Kvothe - currently known as Kote, the unassuming innkeeper - from his childhood in a troupe of traveling players, through his years spent as a near-feral orphan in a crime-riddled city, to his daringly brazen yet successful bid to enter a difficult and dangerous school of magic. In these pages you will come to know Kvothe the notorious magician, the accomplished thief, the masterful musician, the dragon-slayer, the legend-hunter, the lover, the thief and the infamous assassin. The Name of the Wind is fantasy at its very best, and an astounding must-read title.

The Review

Since the release of the second book in this trilogy, there's been a certain degree of hype surrounding the works of Patrick Rothfuss. As always amongst those of us who read and blog, books such as these are often approached with trepedation. Sometimes the hype is borne out and we find a new book/author/series to love; sometimes the hype ruins an otherwise acceptable book, be it because you're sick of hearing about it and never read it or because it might have been good had you not been told to think it's the most amazing experience ever. This experience was one of the former.

I had read a lot about Rothfuss' Kingkiller Chronicles trilogy since the release of the second in March of this year. After some favourable reviews of The Wise Man's Fear by bloggers whose reading tastes seem similar to mine (Dee's review @ e-volving books springs to mind..), I decided to take the near-700 page plunge. I was also yearning for some epic fantasy so this one won out on all counts!

Everything good you have heard about this series is true.

The story starts slowly. It doesn't take long to realise how well this works for this book. The level of detail in the world and in the characters is absolutely superb! The pace is perfectly set for a trilogy and allows time for everything to develop wonderfully. It isn't always the most action-packed story but that just makes it all the more involving. I was completely drawn into Kvothe's exploits and felt more than just the usual investment in a story that 700 pages will develop.

Told in two time periods, the novel splits between the present and the history of Kvothe. The use of the present is always extremely well-timed; rather than interrupting the action, it manages to enhance it. Partly because Kvothe's tone as a narrator is wry and entertaining but with layers of more raw emotion and the present serves almost as "light relief" from the intensity of Kvothe's youth. Despite growing up with travelling performers and learning to love music and theatre, there is some serious tragedy coming Kvothe's way and, believe me, you'll feel every bit of it!

One of my favourite characters is Bast, Kvothe's present-day student. One of the fae and Prince of Twilight, no less. I loved him for his fierceness and utter devotion to Kvothe and for the fact that nothing is quite the way it seems. I can't wait to see how his character develops in the remaining books!

One of my favourite things about the novel was the sense that I was watching a myth being born. This is what fantasy should be about - magic, ancient creatures, love, history and spectacular characters and scenery. The quote in the Synopsis sums it up perfectly - Kvothe is already a legend and this is just the story of how he came to be that legend. Or rather, how he came to be so many legends to so many people....

Overall: To fans of epic fantasy, I would recommend it in a heartbeat - it's a fabulous representation of everything great about the genre and a terrific read! To all other readers, I'd recommend it as an introduction to the genre - it's everything that I love about fantasy tempered by some gritty and emotional realism.

Sunday, 17 July 2011

ReadAThing: 6-7 August 2011

Of the many book cataloguing and reviewing sites that are around, I use (and love) LibraryThing and GoodReads. LibraryThing satisfies my dorkish love of lists, statistics and free books; GoodReads is great for posting updates on your reading, bookish discussions.

LibraryThing is also brilliant for events and the whole sense of bookish community - you can nosy at other people's virtual bookshelves that are similar to your own, learn all kinds of facts about your own libraries (e.g. how high your books would reach if stacked up - mine's somewhere in between Stonehenge and Cleopatra's Needle...) AND, importantly for this post, participate in bookish events, both real and virtual.

If you fancy curling up in the sun (or hiding from the rain, if you happen to also be afflicted by living in Yorkshire!) and doing nothing but reading, there is a LibraryThing ReadaThing event scheduled for the 6th and 7th August 2011! Lots of people doing a lot of reading - perfect!

The 6th also happens to be 'Do Nothing But Read Day', which is handy!

To get more information, check out LibraryThing's ReadAThing blog here - you can sign up for the whole weekend, just Do Nothing But Read Day or just a wee hour here or there. Just don't blame me when you get caught up in the list-making wonderfulness that is LibraryThing (which just so happens to be free, did I mention that...?)

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Review: 'Naming the Bones' by Louise Welsh

Rating: 2 stars

Format: Paperback

Source: LibraryThing Early Reviewers

Genre: Thriller; detective fiction; contemporary fiction

Published: by CanonGate Books Limited in February 2011

The Synopsis (taken from Waterstones.com)

Some secrets are best left buried ...Knee-deep in the mud of an ancient burial ground, a winter storm raging around him, and at least one person intent on his death: how did Murray Watson end up here?

The Review

I tried to like this book on many different occasions, in many different moods and in many different ways - I failed so I'll keep this reasonably brief!

Murray Watson is a disillusioned professor of English literature engaging in a saddening affair with a married woman and his feelings of desolation seep through every aspect of the book. He makes quite the pitiable figure and when I first started reading, I felt very sorry for him. Pity alone does not, however, make a great story.

The novel centres around Murray's research into the life and, more importantly, death of Archie Lunan, a Scottish poet who had, it seemed, published but one volume of poems before dying seemingly at his artistic peak. Oddly, though, nobody else is really bothered about this apparent travesty. And that was one of my main problems - Murray is pursuing ghosts for the sake of having something to pursue.

When it came down to it, there just wasn't enough action for the type of story that I felt like the book was trying to be; certainly not enough for the type of story the synopsis made out it was going to be. While the story had a realistic feel to it (i.e. the action was sustained at a level that might humanly be possible), there was something lacking. That extends up to the 'climax' of the novel. More melodrama than I knew what to do with and, because it was so out of kilter with the rest of the book, it just didn't seem to fit..

And, before I convince you all that I'm miserable, I shall give you some positives! The story starts slowly but the pace does improve when Murray sets off to the secluded Isle of Lismore in pursuit of Archie's former girlfriend. The setting is perfect and the atmosphere evokes a sense that isolation that mirrors Murray's mindset wonderfully. The eccentric islanders Murray meets are a wonderful pick-me-up after being stuck with the morose protaganist for longer than is probably healthy! They are the main reason (my personal issues with not finishing books aside...) that I finished this book before I flung it at someone on the train.

Overall: This book just wasn't for me - the tempestuous and rugged Isle of Lismore is a high point and the ending is reasonably dramatic, in an unexpected fashion. I'd recommend it if you're yearning for a glimpse of Scottish island life but then again, if that's what you're looking for, you could probably find better elsewhere...

Saturday, 9 July 2011

A Forgotten Excitement

Here's how it went:

I'm stood in the kitchen, brewing coffee and making cheese-on-toast (the perfect cure to one too many fizzy pops of a Friday evening...) listening to a cooking programme chattering away on TV in the living room. Interrupted by a...


Figuring that my boyfriend had helpfully thrown something on the floor, I scuffled my slipper-clad feet back through and instead saw a lovely little package by the front door in the hall.

I'd almost forgotten that I had hastily ordered a book on Amazon during a lunch hour this week and there it was!

As I broke into the little package, I realised that I'd actually missed that moment where a book arrives on your doormat to brighten up your morning! I still love Colin the eReader dearly but that little bundle of joy made me remember one of the best things about the 'real deal' - it's weighty clunk on my floor was just a bit more fun than my computer beeping at me...so I'm in no way advocating an abandonment of my little eBooks but, yeh, ok, it's a pleasant start to a quiet weekend at home :-)

Oh, and the book in question was exciting too: Heartless by Gail Carriger - the newly-released fourth Alexia Tarrabotti novel - yesssssss!