Tag Archives: book review

Hounded and Hexed by Kevin Hearne

houndedHexed

 

Stars: 3.5 out of 5

I love browsing the recommendation section on Amazon. I have discovered a few wonderful books by doing so, books that I would otherwise probably not heard of. It was definitely the case with Hounded, the first book in the Iron Druid series by Kevin Hearne. I had finished the latest of the Harry Dresden books and was looking for something similar. Hounded was amongst the recommendations and I’m glad I decided to give it a try. Atticus O’Sullivan is now amongst my absolutely favorite characters, and Oberon is the best dog ever written.

Atticus O’Sullivan is the last druid and he is close to two thousand years old. He has been all over the world, and seen and done almost everything under the sun. That doesn’t mean that he is life-weary and brooding though, quite the contrary. He still enjoys life and everything it brings. He loves interacting with people and soaking in everything each new century has to offer. I think that’s why I like him so much. I am tired of brooding century-old vampires or ancient wizards with issues and “baggage”, who are just so tired of the world. After several books with similar characters it gets a bit old, so to me Atticus was like a breath of fresh air.

I also loved the fact that there was no love interest (and thus no love-related angst) in the two books. Maybe that will come in later installments, but right now it would definitely have been out of place.

I will not talk about plot here and let you discover it by yourselves. I will just say that it involved a lot of fighting, some demons, Celtic gods and goddesses, and witches, both evil and not so much. Both Hounded and Hexed were a joyful romp through the peaceful Arizona town Atticus chose as his home for now, full of explosions, mayhem and madness.

I like Kevin Hearne style. It’s fun to read, it flows easily, and he has the knack to sprinkle it with humor that just puts a smile on your face no matter what mood you were when you started reading. And I absolutely love the mental conversations between Atticus and Oberon. They make me wonder what my dogs would tell me if they were able to talk.

There have been a lot of criticism of this series where it comes to depiction of female characters, and I must admit that it is rather sexist. But I would disagree that all of the women in the series are there purely as objects of sexual desire. Some of them are well-rounded characters who would not hesitated to kick some ass if needed… and eat your heart out after (Morrigan, I am talking to you).

So all in all, I like this light-hearted series and will definitely read the other books in the series.

Everlost by Neal Shusterman

Everlost

Stars: 4 out of 5

With Everlost, the first book in the Skinjacker series, Neal Shusterman created a fascinating world that I enjoyed exploring.

Nick and Allie die in a car crash, but instead of going all the way to the light at the end of the tunnel, they collide with each other and go of course. So they end up stuck in a world called Everlost – a place that permeates our real world, but in which things that had meaning in our world, but were for some reason destroyed, still remain. It’s a world where the Twin Towers are still standing in New York, the Titanic still sails the seas, the Hindenburg soars through the skies, and all the fortunes in the fortune cookies are always true.

Nick and Allie soon find out that only places that don’t exist in the real world anymore, that are solid in Everlost only, are safe for them. Everywhere else they start sinking into the ground if they stand still for too long. They also discover that this world is only populated by children, the oldest of which was barely 17 when she died, and that monsters do exist, even if they are man-made.

I absolutely loved the world of Everlost. The idea that the ghosts exit in this world that is near ours, but not entirely like ours, is fascinating. Also loved the fact that landmarks, buildings and objects that had some significance or importance to somebody pass into the Everlost as well when they are destroyed. Or that the Afterlights (because they don’t want to call themselves ghosts) are only safe in those places that passed into the Everlost too.

I loved following the main characters, but most of the supporting characters were just as fun to read about. Mary, and the McGill, and Leaf were all very real and well-portrayed characters with their own personalities and goals. They all are basically in the same boat – trying to make sense of what happened to them and figure out how to spend eternity in this strange place.

I was also happy with the fact that the author didn’t chose to go the easy way and populate this world with monsters or other creepy things. The only monsters our heroes encounter are man-made. In fact, this is one of the messages of the book – that you can chose what to be in Everlost, whether you will have the strength to stay human, or lock yourself in a mindless routine that you would be repeating forever, or even become a monster. Every soul copes with the circumstances differently. There is no right or wrong way. But this world is not sad and gloomy at all, because in the end, there is a coin for every lost soul to get to their final destination. They just have to be ready to take that last step.

I really enjoyed this first book and I can’t wait to dive into Everwild, the next book in the series. So if you enjoy a well-thought world and engaging characters, pick up Everlost and read it. Go do it now!

The Amber Chronicles by Roger Zelazny

The Great Book of Amber

Stars 5 out of 5 (especially for the first 5 books in the series).

The Amber Chronicles by Roger Zelazny will always have a very special place both on my bookshelf and in my heart. I was fifteen years old when I came upon the very first book in the series – Nine Princes in Amber. I had never heard of Zelazny before, I was more of a Ray Bradbury, Stephen King and Gabriel Garcia Marquez type. But I was home with a particularly nasty case of flu and nothing to do, so I cracked the book open, not expecting anything exceptional… and I got lost in the complex and wonderful world that Roger Zelazny had created. So much so that I read the first book deep into the night, until I reached the very last page. And when I did, I could barely wait until morning to rush to the library and get all the rest.

The world of the Amber Chronicles is absolutely fascinating. There are two original words – the House of Amber and the Court of Chaos, and a myriad of other worlds that are Shadows (reflections) of those two. Earth is one of those reflections. Amber has a royal family and a very large one at that, because the king, being immortal, had the chance to have many wives and lovers and father many children. So there are, like the first book says, nine Princes in Amber and about just as many Princesses. They have never been a very close-knit family during the best of times, but now the king is missing, and the rivalry for the succession has started. And everything goes in the battle for the throne of Amber…

I also fell in love with the protagonist of the first five books. Prince Corwin wakes up in a hospital on Earth after a terrible accident, with no memories of who he is and a nagging suspicion that the woman who claims to be his sister and who brought him to the hospital is not to be trusted. We discover this wonderful world through Corwin’s eyes, who is rediscovering it and his place in the grand scheme of things.

I love Corwin’s progression throughout the books. He starts off as an arrogant prince of Amber, who doesn’t give a damn about people born in Shadows and is only interested in getting back to Amber and taking the throne from his brother Eric. His reason behind this? Eric is technically a bastard, so he had no right to the throne. Plus Corwin thinks he is more suited to be King of Amber.

And then we follow this character through his journey and watch him transform into someone better, wiser and ultimately more “wholesome”. He makes some mistakes that have far reaching consequences and suffers the backlash for them. Some of his actions put people he cares about in danger. He also discovers that there is more behind his father’s disappearance than meets the eye. But more importantly, at the end of his personal journey, he decides that he doesn’t want the throne of Amber, because one of his brothers is much better suited to be a better king than he ever would be.

I also loved the whole Tarot system, where each Prince and Princess of Amber had a personal card, as well as some key locations in Amber, and Amberites could talk to each other and even travel through them. The episode where Corwin escapes from his prison cell by painting an image of a lighthouse and stepping into it absolutely blew my mind.

Finally, Roger Zelazny was a master of written word and a true poet. Some of his descriptions are so absolutely beautiful. I think I will always remember his description of Corwin riding his horse from Shadow to Shadow and the scenery changing and morphing around him.

Anyway, if you haven’t read anything by Roger Zelazny yet, I would suggest that you start with these books. The first one might have been written in 1970, but it is still just as beautiful and entertaining to read now than it was then.

Outpost and Horde by Ann Aguirre

outpostHorde

Outpost – 3 out 5 stars              Horde – 2 out of 5 stars

I loved Enclave, the first book in the Razorland series, because it was an interesting and fresh take at the post-apocalyptic world with a very strong female protagonist and interesting supporting characters (you can find my review here). So I really wanted to like the next two books in the series, I really did. Unfortunately, those books proved to be a huge disappointment, at least for me.
Oh, the world-building is excellent. Ann Aguirre does a wonderful job describing the different settlements and the different ways people chose to survive after the world we knew suddenly ended. The problem is that, at least in my opinion, she stopped listening to her characters somewhere along the way. While they still behave somewhat in character in the beginning of Outpost, most of them are blatantly out of character during Horde. It’s like the author decided to stick to the plan she had formulated way at the beginning of the series and didn’t take into account that her characters changed in the process. She just clobbered them into submission and made them dance to her tune. Well, they danced poorly, that’s all I can say.

SPOILERS ALERT!!! READ AT YOUR OWN RISK!!!

My biggest disappointment is the evolution of Fade. He was such a strong character in Enclave! I can’t believe that someone who managed to survive in the tunnels on his own for a few months when he was eight years old, and someone who was the best hunter in the Enclave, would just break and fall into pieces after he gets captured. Yes, what he went through was horrible. Yes, he was beaten. Yes, he saw horrible things. But he got out, he survived. Hell, he even managed to walk out of there on his own steam, so he wasn’t beaten that hard. Yet he suddenly transforms into a brooding, self-hating weakling. Even worse, he lashes out on people closest to him because of what happened. Excuse me? This is not the Fade described in such loving details in the previous book and a half. It almost feels like the real Fade died in the Freak camp, and Deuce freed a doppelganger.
My second problem is Deuce’s reaction to Fade’s change. The Deuce I got to know through the first book would not have stood for his endless brooding and would not have excused his constant hostility and lashing out. She would have giving him a good trashing and told him to get his act together. What does this new Deuce do instead? Blame herself and excuse his downright nasty attitude by “Oh poor baby, he got caught, they broke his spirit.”

The whole love story between Deuce and Fade is mishandled in my opinion. Any time Deuce thinks about Fade, she transforms from a tough, rational woman into a doe-eyed simpleton. I get it that she loves him, but fawning over his every move and acting like her brain gets short-circuited every time he is around is so very out of character that it’s not even funny. More than that, this love story turns into a typical YA cliché. This is sad, because it could have been so much more intense and interesting, had Ann Aguirre just listened to her characters instead of imposing her own vision on them.
Thirdly, I am getting really tired of the whole love triangle theme in YA books. It’s been done and overdone. And this love triangle serves to illustrate my point about the author imposing her will on characters. Stalker changes a lot through the books, and for the better. He is still as ruthless, but his develops a conscience, he becomes a decent strong man. In other words, exactly the kind of man that Deuce would fall for if she was acting in character, especially considering the way Fade is behaving… But that doesn’t happen.

My final complaint about this series is that Deuce basically becomes a Mary Sue in Horde. I’m sorry, but I don’t believe that a 17 year old girl would be better suited to lead a whole army than a seasoned warrior. No matter how much she had seen and how many Freaks she had killed before. She is a good fighter yes, a good leader of men she is not. Yet, somehow that’s what happens in book three. A young girl leads them all to victory. Sorry, I don’t believe it.

And that’s how a series that showed so much promised ended up in such disappointment.

Caliban’s War by James S.A. Corey

Stars: 5 out of 5

Caliban’s War is the second book in the excellent Expanse series. The action takes place a couple years after the events of the first book, Leviathan Wakes (which I already reviewed).

The Eros station and the protomolecule it was carrying crashed into Venus, and now strange things are happening beneath the planet’s dense atmosphere. But even though humanity is aware (and afraid) of the monster sitting right at their doorstep, they still can’t put aside their petty squabbles. Earth and Mars are still at the verge of armed conflict and the OPA is now a force to reckon with because it holds the only known protomolecule sample that is not on Venus. The beginning of the book takes place on Ganymede station, which is the granary of the Belt and outer planets and a station that neither Earth nor Mars are willing to let go. So both superpowers have a military presence there, but are just content to sit in the trenches and watch each other warily… Until something tears through an Earth outpost, killing the whole garrison and all hell breaks loose, threatening to set the whole solar system on fire, while the protomolecule on Venus stirs at last.

James Holden and the crew of the Rocinante are back! And they are in the thick of the action once again, quite inadvertently so this time. I love those characters and the author handles their development well. They are still the likable bunch I got to know and love from the first book, but the events have also changed them. Holden in particular is faced with a sort of identity crisis in this book, and I absolutely loved how he managed to get through it and stay true to himself.

I also loved the new characters introduced in this book, especially Chrisjen Avasarala, the foulmouthed Earth politician. They are all fully fleshed-out and interesting to follow. I think that’s actually part of why I love James S.A. Corey’s books so much – the believability of his characters. They are never cardboard, they are always alive. Whether you like them or not, you still want to follow their adventures.

The story itself is just as tightly woven and engaging as the one in Leviathan Wakes, and the author knows how to keep you up late turning the pages because you absolutely NEED to know what happens next. And oh dear God, please don’t kill my favorite characters!!!

Ahem, anyway, I think by now it’s clear that I absolutely loved this book. So my advice to you is buy it, rent it, steal it from your friends, do anything necessary to get it and read it. Well, start with Leviathan Wakes first though, and then continue straight to Abaddon’s Gate (I know a will).

Enclave by Ann Aguirre

The Enclave

Stars: 4 out of 5

There is a multitude of YA novels out there. Some are nothing exceptional and are just content to ride on the Twilight and Hunger Games hype. But others have well written original stories with believable characters that are a pleasure to read. Thankfully, Enclave by Ann Aguirre is one of those.

The story takes place in College, an enclave in what later turns out to be abandoned underground tunnels. It is a post-apocalyptic novel, but what exactly happened to the world is not really clear, because several generations had passed since the event. People of the enclave have never been Topside, most of them have never even ventured in the tunnels beyond the barricades. Life in the community is strictly regulated, because supplies are limited. Only those who are strong, healthy and useful are permitted to survive. The enclave is ruled by the Elders, and the population is divided into three very distinct roles: Builders make equipment, cook food and are in charge of the general maintenance of the enclave, Hunters venture in the tunnels to bring back meat and defend the enclave against outside threats, and Breeders well… breed (on a strict schedule) and take care of the young. Life is hard in the enclave and not many people survive past 25 – disease and malnutrition take their toll.

The main protagonist is a young girl named Deuce, who we meet at the day of her naming ceremony, when she gets her name and becomes a Huntress – something she had dreamed of and worked very hard to accomplish. I loved Deuce. She is strong, she is not afraid of making difficult decisions and accepting the consequences. She is an excellent fighter and an even better Huntress, and nothing is handed to her on a silver platter just because she is the protagonist. Ann Aguirre made the character believable: Deuce is good because she trained all her life for it. She watched the other Hunters fight when she was a brat, she listened to all the stories, she showed up to all the lessons and did three times what was asked of the Hunters in training. So when Deuce and her partner are ambushed by four Freaks in the tunnels and manage to kill them, I believe that it’s possible. And they don’t get out of this encounter without scars either…

I also loved the fact that the author never really says what happened to the world. The reader discovers some hints at the same time as the protagonists, but they don’t care about it that much. For them it’s ancient history and they have more pressing matters to worry about, like survival.

And it is absolutely fascinating to see the society the author created. Their values, rules and aspirations might look foreign to us, but in the context of that world they make sense, and that is wonderful.

I had a few minor gripes with the story though. First of all, the motivation behind some of the things the Elders did was really lacking. If they were so worried about the survival of the enclave, some of their actions really made no sense. And secondly, I didn’t appreciate the attempt at a love triangle in the second part of the book, or the fact that it was so easy to drive a wedge between Deuce and Fade. They are partners, for God’s sake! They fought together; they had each other’s back and saved each other lives countless times. How hard is it to just sit down and talk things through? No, let’s skulk and absolutely refuse to communicate instead…

But apart from that, I am looking forward to reading Outpost, the second book in the series and explore a bit more of this world.

Keepers by Gary A Braunbeck

Keepers

Stars: 2 out of 5.

The Keepers is the first book I read by Gary A Braunbeck and I must admit that I was a bit disappointed.

It had such a promising beginning, where the reader is following a seemingly ordinary man who witnesses a horrible accident on the turnpike. This accident triggers memories that he thought were long forgotten. The reader then follows the protagonist, as he tries to put these memories back together and solve the puzzle of his past, while strange things start to happen around him in the present.

I liked the narrative, I liked the pace, and I even kinda liked the protagonist and the story of his past. The story that was unfolding in his present, however, left me unmoved. I think it was party because the situation was never clearly explained and the “bad guys” were neither bad nor good: they even protect the protagonist and save his life several times. It’s like the author wasn’t sure either whether his antagonist was good, bad or indifferent.

I think another reason why the book’s conflict fell flat for me was the fact that the author never really explained what the stakes were for the protagonist in all this. So why would I root for him if I don’t know what’s important to him?

The author introduced an interesting intrigue to the book, but failed to explain it or to bring it to a logical resolution. He left too many questions unanswered. Did the Keeper’s plan succeed? Why was Gil important for it? Why were Beth and the dog important? The whole turning people into animals and animals into people angle could have been a bit more developed in my opinion.

The ending also fell flat, in my opinion. It was too rushed and didn’t really explain anything. Why were those Boiler-hat men after the dog? Why did they decide to kill Gil after all? What the heck really happened in the end? The author left too many questions unanswered which is really frustrating. He might have striven for the mysterious “make your own conclusions” ending, but here it doesn’t work.

Right now I am debating whether I should try to read something else by Gary A Braunbeck or if all his book are a bit like the Keeper. I want your opinion on this. Did you like some of his books? If so, which one would you suggest I read?