Saturday, July 12, 2014

Grave Sight (Harper Connelly #1) by Charlaine Harris

Grave Sight (Harper Connelly, #1)SUMMARY (from Goodreads): Harper Connolly is honest, ethical and loyal - and ever since a bolt of lightening zapped her on the head, she's had an extra-special talent: she can find dead people. It's not a common-or-garden job. Some people find Harper's talent useful and fascinating, but she's getting used to most people treating her like a blood-sucking leech. She's become an expert at getting in, getting paid and getting out, fast.

When Harper and her stepbrother Tolliver, travel to the Ozarks to find a local teenager, missing, believed dead, they discover that someone is willing to go to great lengths to bury a secret. Before long Tolliver's locked away on trumped-up charges and Harper's fighting for her own life.

MY OPINION:

I read Grave Sight very fast, so it must have been good. It definitely held my attention, probably because there was always something about to happen next and I was hardly able to put it down.

Most of the characters are sort-of roughly sketched, enough to give them personality and distinction, but not exploring them in-depth.

Harper, the main protagonist, is an exception. She is quite well explored, so the reader gets a good understanding of what shaped her and how she has been dealing with her past as well as  the present. I didn’t love her, but I liked her. Perhaps it was because she doesn’t let her issues defeat her, she struggles through them and – for the lack of a better word – lives.

Harper’s brother Tolliver is mostly just a shell, an extension of Harper, and their co-dependent relationship is somewhat annoying. I understand why it is the way it is, but still something was missing, some bit of information or evolvement. Perhaps we will get that in the second book.

The book is written in the first person point of view, which tends to be melodramatic, but that is not the case in Grave Sight. The only thing bothering me was the frequent repetition of how much people frown upon Harper’s way of earning her living.

Therefore, looking at the individual elements, Grave Sight feels like a 3-star book, but taking into account how much it hooked me, it deserves 4 stars. Especially because I can’t wait to get my hands on the next book in the series.

3,5 stars

RECOMMENDATION: If you like a suspenseful story, with elements of crime novel mixed with a touch of paranormal, this fast and easy read is worth trying. Actually, I think Grave Sight is a perfect summer read.

Saturday, July 05, 2014

The Revolt of the Eaglets (Plantagenet Saga #2) by Jean Plaidy

The Revolt of the Eaglets (Plantagenet Saga, #2)SUMMARY (from Goodreads): News of Thomas a Becket's martyrdom has spread throughout Christendom and the blame is laid at the feet of Henry Plantagenet, King of England. Two years later, with Becket canonised, Henry's position is precarious: punished at the Pope's insistence for his part in Becket's death, he now also has an enemy in his Queen, Eleanor of Aquitaine, after her discovery of his longstanding infidelity with Rosamund Clifford. Eleanor is determined to seek vengeance, so, with King Philip of France, she encourages her sons to conspire, both against their father and each other. Much embattled, the old eagle Henry struggles to fend off both rebellion and the plots of his aggressively circling offspring...

MY OPINION:

There are several reasons I liked The Revolt of the Eaglets better than The Plantagenet Prelude. 

Firstly, it seemed better written to me, or maybe I just got used to Plaidy’s simplistic style for this saga.

Secondly, as much as I usually root for female characters’ presence in fiction, I think Eleanor’s absence for the most part of the book turned out for the good. When she did appear I liked her better, perhaps because we could then really see the gist of her character. I disapproved of her pitting her sons against Henry and each other, but on the other hand I understood her reasons for acting in such way, and I couldn’t help but admire her resilience and ability to adapt to circumstances and make the best out of them and still find a way to scheme and try to get her way (and succeed).

Thirdly, despite Henry’s many faults, it was captivating to watch him manoeuver between various sides and demands and most of the time manage to get himself out of precarious positions, even if by questionable means (lying, going back on his word, manipulating, etc.) And I felt a little sorry for him wanting to be loved by the sons who hated him, though he had kind of brought that hatred upon himself and though he was a fool (and a willing one at that) to turn a blind eye where John was concerned due to that longing of his for the love of at least one of his sons.

At least Henry’s daughters seemed all right, although the book barely mentioned them, apart from Matilda and Joanna. After all, women were a lot of times only chess pieces, means for making alliances, expanding territories and buying peace. Sad and frustrating, but historically accurate.

Finally, I liked the sense of the author’s sarcastic opinion about the historical events and figures she presents. It appears in subtle, faint undertones in many spots, and I may have just imagined it, but I it gave the book a bit of a special flavour.

Overall, The Revolt of the Eaglets was a gripping historical read, and it convinced me to read more of The Plantagenet Saga. Actually, I can’t wait to start next book, The Heart of the Lion.

4 stars

RECOMMENDATION: If you are looking for an unembellished presentation of history, Plaidy’s works definitely qualify as such, and The Revolt of the Eaglets is no exception.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Cat Diary (25): Conquests, Idleness and Supreme Reign

This is an occasional Sunday feature where my cat, pardon, Her Majesty the Cat, offers her more or less gracious insight into my (and her) life.

Hello, dear blogging friends of my maid, whom you know as Jo,

Have you missed me?

I have decided to bestow on you the honour of explaining to you the reasons for my lengthy absence. As you may know, ruling is a hard and time-consuming job. It has especially been so, since I had had it and decided that it was high time to take a complete and irrefutable control of my kingdom, that is, the palace we live in, also known as “Jo’s” apartment. (Jo will lie and say I have always been fully in charge, don’t listen to her.)

Thus, I have little by little conquered all the last spots I had graciously let Jo “ban” me from. Of course, after all that conquering I deserved to rest a little on my conquests and ascertain my rights to them.

Resting

And Jo calls this me being lazy. Lazy! I beg your pardon, who do you think watches over her laptop when she leaves it just about anywhere (on the couch), or keeps company to her books, or checks the underside of the dining table in case it would need some repairs, or regularly inspects all the nooks and crannies for dust? Without my supervision this place would fall apart.

Baby sitting Jo's writing things(Apparently this is the only proof of my good deeds, because I am supposedly not still enough to take good pictures most of the time. Hmm.)

Phew!

Now all this bragging has tired me out. I think I need another rest. Have one yourselves as well, or even better, a vacation, and enjoy it.

I’ll update soon (or when Jo feels like it).

Until then,

P.S.: Jo says this whole post is an excuse to show off my prettiness. She might be right.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Second Sight (The Arcane Society #1) by Amanda Quick

Second Sight (Arcane Society, #1)SUMMARY (from Goodreads): Her career as a fashionable photographer catering to society's elite has enabled Venetia Jones to provide a comfortable living for her brother, sister and elderly aunt. But, thanks to her psychic ability, disaster looms around the corner.

MY OPINION:

All of Amanda Quick’s romances follow basically the same pattern, which gets tedious. However, since I hadn’t read one of her books in a long time, I enjoyed this one more than I had expected.

Second Sight is no exception to Quick’s trademark writing as far as romance is concerned – by the way, intimate scenes are not her strong point – as it is quite clich├ęd and predictable, both plot- and characters-wise.

Yet, with a touch of suspense, mystery and sort-of paranormal, the story kept me intrigued throughout the book and I liked the characters well enough, though my favourite was, rather than one of the main protagonists, Edward, Venetia’s younger brother, who unwittingly spilled family secrets and thus prevented those silly misunderstandings between ‘fated’ lovers which tend to occur in romance and which I detest.

Hence, Second Sight was a fast and easy read: something entertaining (I laughed a few times), undemanding and not-upsetting, but still interesting – just what I needed at the time.

3 stars

RECOMMENDATION: If you are looking for a nice light summer read you can relax with and rest your mind, Second Sight might just be it.

Friday, June 20, 2014

The Fall of Arthur by J. R. R. Tolkien

The Fall of ArthurSUMMARY (from Goodreads): The Fall of Arthur recounts in verse the last campaign of King Arthur who, even as he stands at the threshold of Mirkwood, is summoned back to Britain by news of the treachery of Mordred. Already weakened in spirit by Guinevere's infidelity with the now-exiled Lancelot, Arthur must rouse his knights to battle one last time against Mordred's rebels and foreign mercenaries.

Powerful, passionate and filled with vivid imagery, The Fall of Arthurreveals Tolkien's gift for storytelling at its brilliant best. Originally composed by J.R.R. Tolkien in the 1930s, this work was set aside for The Hobbit and lay untouched for 80 years.

Now it has been edited for publication by Tolkien's son, Christopher, who contributes three illuminating essays that explore the literary world of King Arthur, reveal the deeper meaning of the verses and the painstaking work that his father applied to bring it to a finished form, and the intriguing links between The Fall of Arthur and his greatest creation, Middle-earth.

MY OPINION:

Anyone expecting The Fall of Arthur to be an epic story dealing with Arthurian legends, would be disappointed, as The Fall of Arthur is only Tolkien’s unfinished attempt at his own retelling of the legend of King Arthur.

Tolkien’s poem, written in a form that more or less resembles the Old English alliterative verse, is only about 40 pages long. The rest belongs to Christopher Tolkien’s explanation of his father’s possible sources for the poem as well as his writing process and finally an excerpt from Tolkien's lecture on alliterative verse.

The poem itself, though beautifully crafted, is a clear evidence of Tolkien’s dwindling interest in it, or perhaps running out of time for finishing and editing it, as the beginning is clearly better done, especially in terms of the rules of alliterative verse, than the end. Yet, even in such an unfinished state, the poem is still another proof of Tolkien’s genius.

The rest of the book, with speculations on sourcing and development of the poem, may be of no interest to people only looking for a story, or may seem boring, as its value is above all meta-linguistic and meta-literary. However, to me – from a writer’s point of view – it was not only interesting, but also inspiring to see a glimpse of Tolkien’s writing process and his approach to it, both concerning this particular work as writing in general.

Hence, The Fall of Arthur was a fascinating read, and I enjoyed it very much.

4 stars
RECOMMENDATION:
The Fall of Arthur is largely a non-fictional, analytical read, and as such quite demanding but intriguing. However, it might be a disappointment if you just want a good story.  

Monday, June 09, 2014

Lothaire (Immortals After Dark #12) by Kresley Cole

Note: The book reviewed contains themes only appropriate for those over the age of 18.

SUMMARY (from Goodreads): All Fear The Enemy Of Old
Driven by his insatiable need for revenge, Lothaire, the Lore’s most ruthless vampire, plots to seize the Horde’s crown. But bloodlust and torture have left him on the brink of madness – until he finds Elizabeth Peirce, the key to his victory. He captures the unique young mortal, intending to offer up her very soul in exchange for power, yet Elizabeth soothes his tormented mind and awakens within him emotions Lothaire believed he could no longer experience.

A Deadly Force Dwells Within Her
Growing up in desperate poverty, Ellie Peirce yearned for a better life, never imagining she’d be convicted of murder – or that an evil immortal would abduct her from death row. But Lothaire is no savior, as he himself plans to sacrifice Ellie in one month’s time. And yet the vampire seems to ache for her touch, showering her with wealth and sexual pleasure. In a bid to save her soul, Ellie surrenders her body to the wicked vampire, while vowing to protect her heart.

Centuries Of Cold Indifference Shattered
Elizabeth tempts Lothaire beyond reason, as only his fated mate could. As the month draws to a close, he must choose between a millennia-old blood vendetta and his irresistible prisoner. Will Lothaire succumb to the miseries of his past . . . or risk everything for a future with her

MY OPINION:

Lothaire, whom we have met in IAD series time and again since the very beginning, is certainly an intriguing character, and I had been looking forward to his story very much.

What I liked:

The Enemy of Old: although he is a protagonist about whom I had mixed feelings; he is after all for the major part of the series what we would consider a villain, or at least an anti-hero, a character whose actions and way of thinking I often disapproved of. Yet, Kresley Cole presents him in a way I could also understand him and even sympathise with him. There were times I wanted to give him a hug and times when I had an urge to smack his thick skull with a mallet, sometimes both at the same time. However, that kind of complexity is what I appreciate in a fictional character.

Lothaire’s backstory: tragic and violent and, hence, making him full of vengeful plans which blindside him to the point he almost endangers his future. His Endgame revealed was simple, yet required a lot of dedication which is a good example to follow – of course when applied to non-evil goals.

Ellie: she is smart, fierce, strong, persistent, and she holds her own against Lothaire. She doesn’t give up, even though she comes close a few times, and she gets what she wants.

Nix: she played a big role in Lothaire, and we get more hints of her past and possibly future. I loved the history between her and Lothaire and their black king/white queen dynamics with a twist I didn’t see coming. And I loved how Nix once more confirmed her nickname – Nix the Ever Knowing.

Some revelations about Lothaire’s relations to some other characters, such as Kristoff and Emma. Or maybe I shouldn’t say revelations, since we had known some of it before, but in Lothaire the connections become clearer.

Other characters and things mentioned in the previous books: Thaddeus, Hag, Ellie’s family, Regin, La Dorada, Webb, etc. all added their own flavour to the book.

The contrast between attraction vs. love: while it is present throughout the IAD series, it is even more striking in Lothaire. On principle, I don’t like fate taking the choice away from people. However, I like Kresley Cole’s concept of fated mates: at first, it’s a physical attraction/bond, which is not enough for a relationship to work, so the pair needs to work through their issues, falling in love in the process, and that is what finally brings them together. With Ellie being possessed by Soraya, this was in particularly obvious in Lothaire.

Things I found frustrating, though they made the book what it is, that is: amazingly complex:

Do I need to say they all have to do with Lothaire?

Firstly, it takes him ages to figure it out that his Bride is Ellie, not Soraya. Understandably so, as he is blindsided with his preconceptions what his Bride should be like and his hatred and despise towards humans.

Lothaire is quite a bit sexist in his belief about women having to adopt to men, thus he doesn’t listen to Ellie’s opinion.

Also, he is not familiar with the concepts of discussion and compromise. As I said above, sometimes he deserves a smack round his head for just doing things Ellie doesn’t want, instead of waiting and talking to her first.

Mostly, he lacks communication and relationship skills – he acts first and then deals with consequences and tries to make things right. As per his own admission, it is the easier way of doing things for him, because he doesn’t know anything about relationships and women, since he has never had to deal with them before.

However, he is aware of his shortcomings and once he realises his mistakes, he tries to improve and change his ways, which somewhat redeems him.

I loved to hate: Soraya. I hated her; nevertheless, she was actually a formidable villain, purely evil as she was.

Overall, despite Lothaire’s chauvinism and arrogance at times sorely trying my patience, Cole’s story-telling in Lothaire is yet again brilliant, especially with (sort of) resolution of the mess with La Dorada and Nix’s flawless millennia-long play to nudge Lothaire in the right direction.

Therefore, in spite of being frustrated by some things, I enjoyed this book. We are talking about Lothaire here, so this uneasy, gory and yet beautiful story was fitting for him and it has more than met my expectations.

4,5 stars

RECOMMENDATION: As the entire IAD series, Lothaire is an amazing instalment and I can’t wait for more. If you’ve read the series to this point, you probably feel the same and I don’t need to tell you to stick with it.

Wednesday, June 04, 2014

Loki: Nine Naughty Tales of the Trickster by Mike Vasich

Loki: Nine Naughty Tales of the TricksterSUMMARY (from Goodreads): He is called the Trickster, the Sly One. For eons, he has manipulated and played the gods against each other. Now the time has come to go beyond petty schemes and seize the most powerful throne in existence.

Based on the classic tales, Mike Vasich breathes new life into the most complex god in the Norse mythos.

MY OPINION:

I probably should have read the book Loki by Mike Vasich first, before dabbling into this one, but I needed a short and easy read and this was exactly it.

I expected to get nine thematically related but not closely-knit short stories. However, the nine stories in this book from some sort of a novella, retelling Norse and Christian mythology with some new twists.

The stories range from humorous to grotesque, sometimes with a palpable Nordic feel, and at other times diverging from it quite a bit into the area of perhaps self-mocking.

I am on the fence about how to feel about the part where Vasich stories overlaps Nordic and Christian tradition: on one hand, Vasich’s version is logical; but on the other hand, I simply dislike his idea.

SPOILER (highlight to read): In Vasich’s version, Loki, pretending to be Jesus, convinces Judas to betray the real Jesus, and after Jesus’ death, he steals Jesus’ body and fakes resurrection. Obviously, as a Christian, I have a problem with this. However, I agree with the idea that Judas’ betrayal was a part of God’s plan and he was actually doing God’s will – without it, Jesus’ sacrifice and salvation wouldn’t be possible. END OF SPOILER

Although I said the stories form a unit, some of the timeline is jumbled and inconsistent, which, as per author's note, was done on purpose, because he didn’t want to divert too far from the original tales while still giving them his own spin.

Lastly, I couldn’t help but imagine the characters as the Marvel universe characters, so I had to put some effort into re-adjusting my visual idea of them.

Overall, Loki: Nine Naughty Tales of the Trickster is an interesting spin on Norse mythology, in particularly Loki.3 stars

RECOMMENDATION: Loki: Nine Naughty Tales of the Trickster might be a good book for those interested in Nordic mythology.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

The Plantagenet Prelude (Plantagenet Saga #1) by Jean Plaidy

The Plantagenet Prelude (Plantagenet Saga, #1)SUMMARY (from Goodreads): When William X dies, the duchy of Aquitaine is left to his fifteen year-old daughter, Eleanor. But such a position for an unmarried woman puts the whole kingdom at risk. So on his deathbed William made a will that would ensure his daughter's protection: he promised her hand in marriage to the future King of France.

Eleanor grows into a romantic and beautiful queen, but she has inherited the will of a king, determined to rule Aquitaine using her husband's power as King of France. Her resolve knows no limit and, in the years to follow, she is to become one of history's most scandalous queens.

MY OPINION:

It has been well over a decade since I read anything by Victoria Holt/Jean Plaidy, so maybe my memory is failing me or I have become a more demanding reader, or this just isn’t one of her best works.

Or maybe Slovene translations (I used to read her works in Slovene, back then, and this is the first book of hers I read in English) are just better than the originals because I was somewhat unpleasantly surprised by the quality of writing in The Plantagenet Prelude. It is a well enough written book, but my expectations were higher. There is a lot of telling instead of showing and  misplaced punctuation (commas). However, to be fair, the writing improves the further into the book one gets (or maybe I just got used to it.)

The story is historically accurate, as per Plaidy's reputation, but I had a few issues with it.

I love reading about strong female historical figures, and Eleonore of Aquitaine definitely is one. I admire her standing for the equality of men and women and I agree with her complaints about Henry’s and general view of women’s only job and worth being childbearing. Yet, I don't particularly like Eleonore: she is self-centered, whimsical, insensitive hedonist. She is, though, devoted to her children, and she is more that a match to Henry.

Another major issue for me was, albeit again historically accurate, the amount of cheating in the book. Everyone cheated on everyone, with the exception of Eleonore not cheating on Henry, because of what it would cost her – her status and her children, possibly even her life. I hate the double standards of it: for men, of course, had no such repercussions to fear and could cheat to their hearts content, because ‘that’s how men are’, despite promising fidelity before God.

Fortunately, or unfortunately, depends on how you look at it, this aspect of the book becomes less of an issue about one third in, when the plot focuses on Thomas Beckett and the relationship between him and King Henry. Until, naturally, the intrigues and envy of the court and clergy and Henry’s pride and the conflict between the State and the Church come between them and everything takes a turn for the worst.

Finally, The Plantagenet Prelude presents the beginning of the Plantagenet era in a simple, reader-friendly style, without sacrificing historical accuracy, as is Plaidy’s manner. Despite the unnerving things mentioned, I did like the book and I am looking forward to reading the rest of the saga. 3 stars
RECOMMENDATION: If you like historical fiction and you are interested in the early Plantagenet era, The Plantagenet Prelude is worth trying.

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