Wednesday, May 27, 2015

REVIEW: Mister Slaughter by Robert McCammon

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/6505314-mister-slaughter
Mister Slaughter by Robert McCammon
Publication Year: 2010
Genre: Mystery, Historical (Colonial America)
Series: Matthew Corbett #3
Awards: NA
Format: Audio (from Audible.com)
Narrator: Eduardo Ballerini

I'm going to start this review with a plea.  A plea to pick up this really fantastic historical mystery series by Robert McCammon.  It's one of my favorites and it most certainly does not get enough love.  If you don't trust me (I mean, why would you:), trust the good people of goodreads that have collectively given this book a 4.24 rating.  I can hear you arguing that ratings for books 3 deep in a series don't count - by then you've got an audience that is invested and more disposed towards enjoying the book - BUT I counter book one, Speaks the Nightbird, has an average rating of 4.10 out of 5.   The point is this series is incredibly good so if you like historical fiction and/or mysteries, I urge you to check it out.  And no I am not in any way related to Robert McCammon; I just really like the series and wish it got more love.  My one warning would be that they are quite visceral and gruesome - McCammon has also written horror and it shows. 

Now with the shameless begging over with, I can move on to gushing about the third book in the series, Mister Slaughter.  It is 1702, in the fast growing city of New York, and the young protagonist, Matthew Corbett is settling into his new(ish) position as an agent with a Pinkerton type agency, Colonial America style.  He and his partner Greathouse can be hired to do almost anything from solving a problem through detective work to escorting violent prisoners from one jail to the next.  In this instance they have been hired to transfer Mister Tyranthus Slaughter (best name ever?  possibly so) from a madhouse in the country outside of New York to the city where he will be placed upon a ship for England to be tried for murder.   Things don't go according to plan.

At the start of the book, Matthew has become a bit of a local celebrity.  His landlord, a printer, has published accounts of Matthew's adventure in book two (The Queen of Bedlam) and all the attention has gone to his head a bit.  He is in debt because he has become a bit of dandy and he is resentful that Greathouse, older, more experienced but less intellectual, feels like he can order Matthew around.  This attitude leads Matthew into making some very poor decisions which have disastrous consequences. 

Matthew's journey and growth in this book is one of the more important parts of the story and it enriches what is otherwise a plain old man hunt.  I have to admit that I was initially very peeved at how Matthew 's character was portrayed in the early parts of the book - I felt it was inconsistent with the Matthew from books one and two.  I still think his foolishness and self-involvement was a bit overdone but the payoff in the end was worth it, in my opinion, and McCammon does his best to explain why Matthew would be acting the way he does.

While I'm going on about characters, let's talk about Tyranthus Slaughter.  He is a brilliant character that is evil in a way that borders on the supernatural but human enough to remain disturbing.  He is mesmerizing  - the type of villain that can charm and bluff his way into anyone's trust, a master actor who can outsmart anyone he chooses.  The author's descriptions of him are incredibly vivid, almost tactile and the character is provided more depth by the narration in the audiobook - I loved how the narrator voiced him.  I actually was a little disappointed in how he voiced Matthew (he sounded a little too prissy) but his Slaughter made up for it one hundred fold. 

One of the strengths of all the books in this series is the depiction of Colonial America and this book is no exception.  McCammon has a way of bringing that time and place to life in a very matter fact kind of way.  There is little to no evidence of glaring "look at all this research I did about this historic artifact or custom."  The Colonial America being presented is a very lived in one that feels real and gives me a sense of what it might have been like to actually live at that time. It is very skillfully done.  In this book in particular, the wilderness of New York state is explored and Native Americans are encountered for the first time in the series (I think). 

The book wasn't perfect of course.  Besides the above mentioned too deviant behavior of Matthew, McCammon uses a couple of literary devices or tricks a little too frequently.  He ends a couple chapters with big fake out cliff hangers which came across as a little pulpy and out of the tone of the book as a whole.  Also he really likes to start chapters, having skipped a big chunk of time since the previous chapter and then back tracks explaining all that leads up to the current state of events.  This is a fine way of storytelling of course but it happens a little too often and is a little jarring - making me notice it when things should just flow. 

FINAL VERDICT:  I think this may be my favorite book yet in this atmospheric and realistic historical mystery/adventure series.  I was riveted the whole way through and a particularly interesting villain as well as the journey the protagonist goes on make this installment particularly worthwhile.  4 out of 5 Stars.

http://nodorkfear.blogspot.com/p/100-books-project.html

Monday, May 25, 2015

Top Ten Tuesday - Beach Reads Edition

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme for bloggers who like books and lists. It's awesome and is graciously hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.

This topic, Beach Reads, always begs the question - What the hell is a beach read?  Specifically the topic as the Broke and the Bookish put it is: 
Ten Books I Plan To Have In My Beach Bag This Summer or Ten Books I Think Make Great Beach Reads
The simplest answer for what constitutes a beach read is any book you'd like to take on vacation with you.  The type of book likely varies widely by reader but in most people's minds, including mine I think it is a book you expect to get sucked into so thoroughly you don't notice that the color of your thighs are starting to match you're cherry red toenail polish.  

The exciting thing, for me at least, is that I actually DO get to go to the beach this summer. In 39 days and 14 hours from now. Not that I'm counting.  Who am I kidding - Of COURSE I'M COUNTING! Since I live in Iowa, this is a VERY big deal.  So this exercise should help me plan.  Here goes...

*******************
1) Hostage Taker by Stefanie Pintoff

I was VERY excited to be approved for an ARC of this book which is a departure from Pintoff's usual historic mystery series.  A thriller is always welcome at the beach and this one will be released in August. Here's the blurb:
In the hushed quiet of early morning Manhattan, in front of the towering brass doors of Saint Patrick's Cathedral, a young woman holds a sign that reads: HELP ME. For one FBI agent, a madman's terrified hostages, and an entire city, a long and harrowing day is about to unfold.
The hostage taker's identity is unknown. But he knows who FBI agent Eve Rossi is—and everything about her past. Along with her presence, he demands five witnesses: ordinary people with some hidden connection. Defying her superiors, Eve begins a deadly dance with an adversary whose intentions are surely sinister, whose endgame is anything but certain, and whose cunning keeps him one step ahead at every turn.

As Eve manages a taut hostage situation, she relies on the combined skills of her team—a secret unit inspired by France's most notorious criminal and made up of ex-convicts with extraordinary talents, oversized egos, and contempt for the rules.

Eve is up against a rapidly ticking clock. But the dangerous man calling the shots has a timetable of his own—and a searing question for his targets: What are you guilty of? As shocking revelations surface, so does another crisis nobody could anticipate—one not even Eve and her team may be able to stop.
2) A whole passel of Romances by Sarah MacLean

In the last month I've read the first book in her Love by Numbers series and the first two books in The Rules of Scoundrels series so I have two more books to go in each series.  They are AWESOME and guaranteed to keep me reading through a painful sunburn.  If your looking for a fun Regency Era Historical Romance, you must check these out!

3) The Duchess War by Courtney Milam

Another Regency romance which may seem like overkill but I'm on a roll lately with great books in this sungenre and have heard many great things about Courtney Milan.

4) Red by Alyxandra Harvey

Time for some YA!  Alyxandra Harvey never lets me down and always delivers an addictive read and characters I love.  This is a Little Red Riding hood based story and it looks like a lot of fun.  


A book of genre-bending short stories sounds like a just the ticket for twilight reading on the beach.  Karen Russell's short stories are meant to be weird and wonderful and it's about time I tried them out PLUS it's one of my challenge books.

6) Changes by Jim Butcher

After a long reading hiatus from the series I recently picked up book 11 in the Dresden Files and it was really fantastic and reminded me that I love these books.  No more long hiatuses! (hiatusi?:0) If you are unfamiliar, this is an urban fantasy series featuring a Wizard P.I. named Harry Dresden working in Chicago. 

7) The Sisters Brothers by Patrick DeWitt

Because after I finish Lonesome Dove which I am currently reading and adoring with every fiber of my being, I think I will want another western. And because this was the first book I bought for my kindle like 5 years ago.  It's supposed to be funny and well-written. 

8) Aunt Dimity Digs In by Nancy Atherton

Cozy mysteries are made for beach reading.  This is book #4 in the charming Aunt Dimity series.  Set in modern day Britain in a charming little town called Finch. 


9) Murder on Gramercy Park by Victoria Thompson

This is book 3 in another cozy mystery series which follows a midwife in turn of the 20th century New York.  I just read book 2 and want to keep up the momentum.


10) Providence Rider by Robert McCammon

Perhaps not the most obvious choice for a beach read as the books in this mystery series can be quite gruesome but they are also engrossing.  This is book 4 in a series that takes place in Colonial era New York.  It's one of my very favorite historical mystery series! 

*********************

Looking back on my list I notice that there are lots of series sequels which makes sense.  Sequels in a series you are in the middle of by an author you love are pretty much the ultimate beach read.  It's comfort reading at its best.  Kind of a a random list but I feel prepared and even more excited to be heading to the beach!

What will be your escapist reads this summer?

REVIEW: The Likelihood of Lucy by Jenny Holiday

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/25481032-the-likelihood-of-lucy
The Likelihood of Lucy by Jenny Holiday
Publication Year: May 26, 2015
Genre: Romance, Historical (Regency Era Britain)
Series: Regency Reformers #2
Awards: NA
Format: Thanks to Entangled Publishing for providing me with an advanced reader copy of this book (via NetGalley).  My review reflects my honest opinion of and experience with the book and was not influenced by receiving the book for free from the publisher. 
Narrator: NA

Time for another trip back in time to hobnob, dally or perhaps even court ruination in the grand houses and ballrooms of Regency Era England.  I admit I'm a bit addicted to the experience and when reading romance, rarely stray very far from this fascinating era of eligible Dukes and rakish Earls.  Because I visit it on such a regular basis, I much appreciate when a creative and unique approach is taken and that is just what Jenny Holiday has done with her Regency Reformers series of which this book is the second.  Holiday's heroines are a rare commodity in the England of the early 19th  century - they are political activists.   I really loved the first book in the series, The Miss Mirren Mission, whose heroine was an activist opposing slavery. 

In The Likelihood of Lucy, Lucy Greenleaf is a devotee of Mary Wollstonecraft.  Wollstonecraft lived in the late 1700s and was an advocate for women's rights.  Lucy worships her and has decided that marriage is a terrible idea because both of Wollstonecraft's husband/lovers ended up betraying Mary or her legacy.  When we meet Lucy she is in the process of losing her position as governess to two girls because her male aristocratic employer does not appreciate the radical things Lucy has been teaching them.  She is forced to flee and ends up having to knock on the door of her childhood friend, Trevor Bailey.

Trevor played a secondary role in The Miss Mirren Mission as the second in command to Britain's spymaster, The Earl of Blackstone.  Unlike his friend the Earl, however, Trevor is a self made man who spent his childhood with Lucy in the poverty stricken Seven Dials area of London.  He was Lucy's protector in those days, helping her to escape her fate and get an education before pulling himself out of the gutter and becoming a successful businessman.  He is in the process of opening London's first "modern", luxury hotel when Lucy shows up at his door. 

The conflict between the two is interesting.  They are instantly attracted to one another once they meet again as adults but Lucy is protective of her independence and self-sufficiency and Trevor has some serious self-worth issues.  He seems not to realize that he's not the same con-artist boy who had to steal to eat and he thinks, rather infuriatingly, that he knows what's best for Lucy without asking her what she might think about it.  Despite his resolve to not saddle Lucy with his miserable self, they have occasional interludes of smooching and ...ahem... other things, that Lucy enjoys immensely but to which he reacts with guilt and self-loathing for touching her and by hiding in his apartment for days on end.

Needless to say its an interesting set up and relationship.  They are both pretty emotionally dysfunctional and immature which lead to some frustration on my part but is likely quite understandable considering their childhood.  I liked Lucy quite a lot.  She's very self-sufficient and independent.  One nice touch to her character is that she likes to take on self-improvement projects to teach herself a new skill - like baking, flower arranging or learning to speak Danish.  She does it as a means to keep her mind lively and stretch herself.  She denies her feelings for Trevor because she thinks marriage will lead to betrayal and the loss of her self.  Understandable concerns for that era in time. 

So what did I think?  I liked it, particularly the character of Lucy and the exploration of women's rights during that period of English history.  The secondary plot, a series of murders that appear to be politically motivated, is less prominent and integral than the plot in The Miss Mirren Mission but it adds some forward momentum and establishes how Trevor and Lucy have changed since childhood.

On the slightly negative side, the relationship was just okay for me.  I enjoy that the two main characters are outside the aristocracy which is unusual for this subgenre and I do think they make a good pair.  I also really like the friends to lovers trope but it did not work completely for me here for a couple of reasons.  Because of Trevor's penchant for hiding from Lucy, it honestly felt like they did not interact very much and I thought the book struggled a bit to create the tension needed between the two.  There were a lot of threads in the book - Trevor and Lucy's tragic childhood, the serial murders that needed investigating, the opening of the hotel and what that means for Trevor, Lucy's former employer being unable to let go of his contempt for her, an alternative suitor for Lucy and women's rights in the Regency Era PLUS Trevor and Lucy falling in love.  It was perhaps a little too much to cram in there and it felt like the romance got pushed a little too far into the background at times.  Not a problem, of course, if this wasn't meant to be a romance novel but because it is, I wanted the focus to be more heavily on the couple falling in love.  It also seems to me that the friends to lovers trope can be tricky to pull off because it must be harder to create the romantic tension and conflict needed between two people who already know each other well.  My personal preference is to want the story to start at the beginning of the friendship, even if it goes back to childhood, which likely would have required a much longer book! The book flashes back to key moments in Trevor and Lucy's childhood but we don't really get to see them become friends, we are just told that they are.

FINAL VERDICT:  Overall, I like the premise of this series and think this is a good continuation.  Lucy is a unique heroine without falling too far outside believability as a Regency era lady and I enjoy the focus on two characters outside of the aristocracy.    3 out of 5 stars.


So what about you?  Do you enjoy a friends to lovers story and where in that story do you like things to begin?  What do you think works best in this scenario?

Sunday, May 24, 2015

REVIEW: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/232187.Charlie_and_the_Chocolate_Factory
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl
Publication Year: 1964
Genre: Middle Grade, Fantasy
Series: Charlie Bucket #1
Awards: NA
Format: Audio, Electronic from Library
Narrator: Eric Idle

I am in the embarrassing position of not having read Roald Dahl as a child.  In order to correct this fact I was drawn to pick up Charlie and the Chocolate Factory because the 1971 movie based on the book, starring Gene Wilder, is one of my favorite movies of all time.  In a way and unfortunately, this was a real detriment to my appreciation of the book which I'll touch on later, but full due must be given to Dahl as this is his imagination and it is wondrous. 

For those unaware, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory tells the story of a poor boy, Charlie Bucket living with his mother, father and four grandparents.  The Buckets live in deepest poverty and have only a little cabbage soup and bread to eat each day.  As such, Charlie and all his family share a special fascination with the mysterious and wonderful chocolate factory that operates in their town.  When the proprietor of this factory, Willy Wonka, opens his doors for the first time in many years to five lucky children who find golden tickets hidden in his candy bars, it fires the hope and imagination of all the Buckets but especially little Charlie. It seems impossible but Charlie does find a golden ticket and he and his Grandpa Joe head off to tour the wondrous world of Willy Wonka. 

So I should have called this post, 'Thoughts on Charlie and the Chocolate Factory' but I'm afraid that may have made it sound more profound than it is:0).  The thing is I am finding it exceedingly difficult to actually rate and review the book. If I'm honest it was a 3 out of 5 as far as my reading experience goes but that is not really its fault.  It's a wonderful book, imaginative and unique with some of the most memorable child trope characters ever created: Augustus Gloop, Veruca Salt, Mike TV, and Violet Beauregard.  The fates of these children is also inventive and instructive.  The Oompa Loompas are weird and wonderful in all their judgmental industriousness.  Willy Wonka and his factory are like nothing I've ever encountered.  It's a perfect little story, obviously meant for 8-11 year olds or thereabouts. 

The problem is I was a little bored listening to it.  I've watched Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory countless times in my life and it sticks quite exactly to the book with a few notable exceptions.  And those exceptions, I think actually improve upon the book.  Adding the Slugworth spying angle to the movie, aka the test, creates dramatic tension that doesn't exist in the book at all.  At the end of the book, Willy Wonka just realizes Charlie's the only one left and everything's settled.  Also the Willy Wonka of the book is eccentric to be sure but otherwise he's really a little bland compared to the movie version.  Gene Wilder skates a line between danger and whimsy when playing Wonka which makes him fascinating and also helps along the tension in Charlie's decision at the end of the movie. 

So how to rate the book?  It's 4 to 4.5 if I try to be objective about it and give it credit for giving rise to a spectacular movie but it was a 3 reading experience.  Even with Eric Idle reading!  The former Python did a great job and has the perfect voice for the story but he didn't do anything especially interesting with it.

So what do you all think?  Have you ever struggled to properly review a book AFTER you've watched the movie of the book and loved it?  I think if they are quite a bit different, it helps but when the movie is a faithful dramatization of the book I find it harder.  For example, I read the Anne of Green Gables after having been obsessed with the mini-series but the the book and mini-series are different enough, I could appreciate both equally for what they offer.

FINAL VERDICT:  It is not a surprise that this is considered a children's classic and has been adapted twice into movies - its imaginative and weird and delightful!  3.5 out of 5 stars.
Read Harder Challenge: #6 - A book by a person whose gender is different than your own

#6 - Fiction for Foodies.  I know it's a stretch but the descriptions of the candy would make any foodie's mouth water.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Saturdays in the Garden - Ballroom Dancing and an Author Dictatorship

OUTSIDE

So this is going to be quick because I have a book I need to get back to:0).

I got my first real day in the field this week, training some field technicians on butterfly survey techniques, and it was lovely. I saw my first monarch of the year which was a relief and had an invigorating hike through the prairie with a bunch of young'uns, ha ha (they are all mostly in their early 20s)! 

In the garden, I got my final veggies planted - peppers and cucumbers.  Also some Lupine and Phlox plants.  My zucchini seeds are finally sprouting after what felt like forever since planting - it's been 14-20 days.

LIFE

What's up with you all?  I got nothing:0).

WATCHING, READING AND BLOGGING

I recommended one of my favorite movies of all time, Strictly Ballroom, to a work colleague who was feeling stressed and a little down.  For me, it is the ultimate feel good movie and it's impossible to walk away from watching it without a gigantic grin on your face.  Telling him about it, gave me the hankering to watch it for the umpteenth time, which I did that very night.  It made me grin like a fool.  A happy silly fool.  If you need a pick me up - give it a try.  It's a Baz Luhrman film (his first) and is a cheekily over the top tale about competitive ballroom dancing in Australia. As well as being an all around fun film the male lead is (was) a professional ballet dancer and he is stunning. 

STRICTLY BALLROOM CLIP

By the time Bout of Books wrapped up I ended up finishing four books and almost finishing two others.  This week I finished three books all of which I loved or at least really liked.  The reading is pretty kickass at the moment.

Finished:

- Murder on St. Mark's Place by Victoria Thompson -  A cozy-ish mystery series that takes place in Victorian Era New York.  The main female character is from a good family but married "beneath" her and when he dies, she becomes a midwife.  She partners, sort of with a male police detective.  The mystery here was just so-so but I love the period details and the two leads' relationship.
- Turn Coat by Jim Butcher  - Book 11 in the Dresden series.  Either this book was particularly good or it's been so long since I read one that I'd forgotten how much I liked them.  I really liked this book!
- A Rogue by Any Other Name by Sarah MacLean - I am in the middle of a romance reading fugue and it is all Sarah MacLean's fault.  For the first 60% of this book I thought she was going to let me down and then she pulled it all together.  ALSO, book 2 which I have already greedily devoured 30% of, has like my dream couple.

Currently Reading:

- Shadow Scale by Rachel Hartman - This is the sequel to Seraphina and is having a bit of a slow start, I'm disappointed to say.  I think I will like it but at this point it seems like not as much as its predecessor.
- One Good Earl Deserves a Lover by Sarah Maclean - If this book lasts the entire Memorial Day weekend I will be shocked!
- Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry - I'm a little over halfway through and this book is truly a masterpiece.  It's this perfect blend of comedy, tragedy and philosophy.  It feels like it will leave a giant hole in my life when it's done so I am savoring it.
- Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe - I made very little progress this week and will hopefully fix that this weekend if Sarah MacLean will release her tyrannical hold on my reading choices:0).

On the BLOG LAST WEEK:

MONDAY: Bout of Books 13 Wrap Up
TUESDAY: Top Ten Tuesday - When the Wild West gets Weird  - A list of books that fall into the category of "weird west" which is basically the unholy child of a Western and a SFF novel. 
WEDNESDAY: Review of Gregor the Overlander by Suzanne Collins - Imaginative middle grade fantasy.
THURSDAY:  Review of The Fall of Hyperion by Dan Simmons - Not as good as its predecessor but very very good.

On the BLOG THIS WEEK

SUNDAY: Review of The Likelihood of Lucy by Jenny Holiday
TUESDAY: Top Ten Tuesday the Beach Reads edition.  Hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.
WEDNESDAY: Review of Mister Slaughter by Robert McCammon
THURSDAY:  Tough Traveling - Heists and Cons.  Hosted by Fantasy Review Barn.

 Have a good week tending your corner of the garden!


Thursday, May 21, 2015

REVIEW: The Fall of Hyperion by Dan Simmons

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/77565.The_Fall_of_Hyperion
The Fall of Hyperion by Dan Simmons
Publication Year: 1990
Genre: Science Fiction
Series: Hyperion Cantos #2, My Goodreads Review of Book One
Awards:Won the Locus (1991) and British Science Fiction Awards (1992), Nominated for the Hugo (1991 - beat out by one of my other favorite authors) and Nebula (1990)
Format: Paperback I own
Narrator: NA

The first book in this four book series, Hyperion, blew me away back when I read it in 2009.  It was easily a five star read and though I didn't make top-ten-favorites-of-the-year lists back then, it is a very fair bet it would have been on such a list.  It likely would even be on my top ten science fiction novels of all time.  What I'm saying is, I loved that book with its Canterbury Tale type storytelling and yet I somehow let 6 years pass before picking up book two.  SIX years.  I think I had a little trouble getting my hands on book two and by the time I did, my fervor for Hyperion had dulled a bit and I heard that the other books in the series weren't as good.  And apparently time flies.

So how did this book stack up to Hyperion?  It wasn't as good BUT it was still very very good.  I'm also not sure it's fair to compare them because this is a very different book from book one.  In that book the reader meets a group of travelers who have been specially chosen to participate in a pilgrimage to confront? encounter? stop? a creature known as the Shrike.  He's the big metal spiky guy on the cover above.  He's an enigmatic entity but all of the pilgrims have encountered it before and book one is basically a round table where each of them, in turn, tells their shrike story and why they have accepted the invitation to pilgrimage.

Book 2, The Fall of Hyperion starts just as the pilgrims arrive on the planet of Hyperion where the shrike resides.  We are not at first with the pilgrims however.  We instead are inside the perspective of Joseph Severn, a cybrid (part human, part machine) with the personae of John Keats (yup the famous poet) who has the unusual ability to be able to see, to the point of almost experiencing, what is happening with the pilgrims.  Because of this ability he has been summoned by Meina Gladstone, Prime Minister of the universe - at least all the humans and their many planetary colonies.  Right off the bat it is clear this book is going to operate at a much larger scale than Hyperion and boy howdy does it. In fact I found the scope of the book downright mind boggling.  This book tackles nothing less then the fate of all humankind in the universe and wars between gods. So. No big. 

I've got to be honest I frequently felt like I had no idea what was going on. Part of that was my own fault for not reading this as soon as I finished Hyperion or at least within a year.  Be warned - don't dawdle!  The other part of the confusion is that this is a staggeringly complex book at least for my feeble brain and Simmons seems to be an author that doesn't use a lot of obvious exposition, preferring things to be revealed organically.  It takes a little work on the reader's part.  When all is revealed, it is a surprisingly common trope driving the action but it doesn't feel mundane or common.  The world developed is very detailed, complex and represents a frighteningly plausible far future. 

I am more of a Fantasy fan than Science Fiction and I think I like these books so much because they have a lot of shared elements with fantasy.  Oh, there's plenty of whiz-bangery technology hooha but there's also a quest, political maneuvering, warring gods, time travel and poetry.  There are even "prophecies", determined using complex mathematical probabilities of course, but prophecies nonetheless.  The characters also feel very real.  I very much liked the addition of Meina Gladstone, whose mission and the choices she must make made for a very interesting character indeed.  My only complaint about the characters is that there are so many of them you don't get to spend enough time with any of them.

Another thing I really appreciated which may be very personal, is that I got a real environmentalist message from the book.  Humans have taken over the universe and destroyed much of it with their greedy consumption and desire for pleasure.  Technology has made it very easy for humans to have what they want and almost instantly.  In the end it is their undoing.  Not a happy message certainly but the book does end on a note of hope. 

So why 4 stars instead of 5?  Hyperion worked so well for me because of the very personal stories set in a far future society that was very different but recognizable.  The astronomical expansion of the scope of this book didn't work as well for me and in fact it took a while for me to really get into the story (though again part of the fault here was confusion as a result of a too long interval between reading books 1 and 2).  The device of seeing what is happening with the pilgrims through Joseph Severn's dreams also felt like a clunky device to me and it wasn't until this structure was essentially dropped, that the story really started to flow.  It was definitely worth sticking with the book through what I found to be a slow start but ultimately it wasn't quite a perfect reading experience. 

FINAL VERDICT:  This is an intricate and complex tale of humankind's destruction in a far flung future which combines all the best elements of Sci fi and Fantasy.  Definitely recommend.  4 out of 5 stars.

Read Harder #12 - A Sci-Fi Novel
#8  - Sci Fi set in Space

Yup.  It took me so long to read I added to my 100 Books Project List.


Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Mini-Review - Gregor the Overlander by Suzanne Collins

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/262430.Gregor_the_Overlander
Gregor the Overlander by Suzanne Collins
Publication Year: 2003
Genre: Middle-grade, Fantasy
Series: Underland Chronicles #1
Awards: Nominated for a few children's awards
Format: Audio (cd from library)
Narrator: Paul Boehmer

Gregor is a good-natured boy living a pretty hard life in New York City.  Two years previously, his father had disappeared without a trace and consequently the family left behind is in pretty desperate circumstances. Gregor finds himself spending his summer holiday from school watching his toddler sister, Boots, and taking care of the household chores. Then, one ordinary day he and his sister are sucked into a vent in the laundry room and find themselves deposited in another world under ground.  The world is the Underland where a small population of humans thrive amidst talking cockroaches and bats bigger than horses.  It's a dangerous place and the humans take him under their wing suspecting he may be the answer to a prophecy.  Gregor plays along because the prophecy seems to hint that the journey they must go on may reunite him with his father!

On the surface this is your basic quest fantasy with a young unlikely hero but there were a few things that made it rise above the ordinary for me.  First was the Underland itself.  It's atmospheric and bizarre with an elaborate and rather interesting history.  The denizens of the Underland are also suitably strange and distinct, though familiar (bats, rats, cockroaches and spiders).  There are giant freakin' bats that people ride! How cool is that?

Secondly the characters of Gregor and Boots are really great.  Gregor has this sarcastic wit that endears him to me more than your average boy turned hero.  He also comes across as an exceptionally mature but also pretty typical pre-adolescent boy in his circumstances.  And Boots.  I did wonder a time or two why she was in the story but she's the most charming two year old ever and ultimately I was glad she was there.  I think part of her charm was due to how great a job the narrator did reading her.

Finally, it centers on a riddle/prophecy that adds an air of mystery to the story and there is a nice twist at the end that I found suitably dramatic.

And did I mention the giant bats you can ride??!!

FINAL VERDICT:  A pretty typical quest fantasy that ticks all the boxes but surpasses others of its kind with a unique imagination, an interesting setting and a particularly charming central character.  The audio of the book was excellent and I think added to my enjoyment.  4 out of 5 Stars.