narfna’s #CBR5 Review #87: The Pirates! In An Adventure With Napoleon

7936477So, these books are pretty much the silliest things ever.

They’re satire, sure, but the satire is so silly, it’s lost most of its bite. And not that I’m complaining, mind you, because I laugh my ass off when I’m reading them. Every one of these books has the same basic structure: the Pirate Captain gets an idea or has a problem, the crew resists due to common sense, they run into one or two famous historical figures, have verrrry deeply silly adventures, and then everything is reset at the end. The pirates don’t have real names (except for Jennifer, the lady pirate who used to be a Victorian gentlewoman), but are instead called things like ‘the pirate with a scarf’, ‘the albino pirate,’ and ‘the pirate who liked kittens and sunsets.’ There are anachronisms EVERYWHERE. All the pirates are completely neutered. The worst thing any of them do in this outing is trick Napoleon into pretending he’s having a dream where he meets famous historical generals (and Napoleon remains entirely convinced it is in fact a dream).

Actually, it’s hard to convey just exactly how silly this book is, so I’m just going to give you some examples:

“The best thing about he seaside,” said the albino pirate, “is putting seaweed on your head and pretending you’re a lady.”
“That’s rubbish,” said the pirate with gout. “The best thing about the seaside is building sexy but intelligent looking mermaids out of sand.”
The rest of the pirates, spread out on the deck of the pirate boat for their afternoon nap, soon joined in.
“It’s the rock pools!”
“It’s the saucy postcards!”
“It’s the creeping sense of despair!”

“All the best people aren’t appreciated in their lifetimes,” Scurvy Jake continued. “Look at Baby Jesus — nobody took him seriously. They thought he was a tramp!”

“Listen, do you know what I’d be doing if I was still a Victorian lady instead of a pirate?” Jennifer persisted.
The pirates didn’t have a clue, but the pirate with long legs tried a guess. “Having a shower?”

“Well, I think it’s very exciting to have Mister Napoleon as a neighbour,” said the albino pirate. “I mean to say, he almost conquered the whole of Europe.”
“And I ate the whole of that mixed grill that time. Not ‘almost ate,’ you’ll notice. I finished the job,” said the Captain with a scowl, moodily buttering his Weetabix.

“It’s not the same on dry land,” muttered the pirate with a nut allergy. “Without the romance of the sea, pirating just seems like quite antisocial behaviour.”

And then of course, there’s the Pirate Captain and his impeccable logic:

“Baby kissing is a tried and tested way of getting votes, Captain.”
The Captain didn’t look convinced. “Thing is, number two, what’s the voting age nowadays?”
“It’s eighteen, sir.”
“Exactly!” The Pirate Captain waggled an informative finger. “So there’s not much point lavishing all this attention on babies when they can’t even vote for me, is there? I should be concentrating on the eighteen-year-olds. And you know which other bit of the electorate is overlooked? Women. So really it makes a lot more sense for me to spend the morning kissing eighteen-year-old women.”

Napoleon is pretty great, too. At one point he writes this fake suicide letter in an effort to discredit the Pirate Captain, after a giant squid washes up on the beach:

To Whom It May Concern,

I cannot go on any longer. I know people think us giant squid are just unfathomable monsters of the deep, but we have feelings, too. And it is time the world learned the terrible truth. For several years now the Pirate Captain and I have been carrying on an illicit affair. Many times I have asked the Pirate Captain to do right by me, but he refuses, always telling me that he cannot be seen having a relationship with a giant squid because of the harm it would do to his public image. Also, sometimes he hits me. Anyhow, just yesterday I discovered I was pregnant with the Pirate Captain’s secret love child! I told the Pirate Captain about this and he flew into a rage and said he would never help support his half-squid/half-pirate progeny and then he hit me some more. So now I am going to commit suicide by beaching myself.

Goodbye, cruel world
The Giant Squid

Really, that’s all I have to say about this book.

narfna’s #CBR5 Review #86: City of Glass by Cassandra Clare

city of glassHOO BOY.

So, I finished this book over two months ago, and that means that this review is not going to be as, er, detailed as I had originally planned. It’s also going to be much, much shorter, so either boo or cheer as appropriate (personally, I do enjoy a good long review, especially when the book in questions is contentious). And, oh boy, is City of Glass contentious.

City of Glass picks up where City of Ashes left off, with Clary and Jace in the throes of misery due to not being allowed to bone one another otherwise INCEST. All the men in her life also insist on trying to ‘protect’ her with their ‘masculinity.’ Everybody ends up in the Shadowhunter city Alicante (in the magical, mythical country of Idris), even poor vampire Simon. Forgive me for my incomplete summary, but I do not remember why everybody was going to that stupid city. I’m sure there was a reason, but it’s not important. What is important is that nobody wants Clary to go, so of course the first thing Clary does is break laws and rules, and go to the city. Anyway, once everybody finally makes it to the city, Valentine breaks the city’s wards (which should be impossible!) and warns all the Shadowhunters even though he doesn’t want to kill them and waste their pure blood, he totally will if he has to, and it’s totally not at all exactly like Voldemort and the Battle of Hogwarts. Nope, not at all. Then this guy named Sebastian shows up and a bunch of shit starts happening, and Clary and Jace are even mopier and lovestruck than usual, and they make out in her bed and also on a hill, even though they think they’re brother and sister at the time, which is . . . I can’t even . . . GAG. Then more stuff happens, and Sebastian is really Clary’s brother! And Jace isn’t! And Valentine dies! And Clary can do special things other Shadowhunters can’t! And other stuff!

Damn. Lost opportunity here. I really should have written this review two months ago. My snark would have been epic and cleansing to my soul.

Before I start on what I didn’t like about this book, I do have to give Clare credit for the few bright spots. The mid-book angel-in-basement thing was surprising and really interesting, mythology wise, and Simon’s storyline continues to be the most interesting of everything. This one also had a much faster moving plot, with even the Clary/Jace moping scenes having the extra benefit of being wackjob certified crazy (seriously, making out all the time), and things actually happen! The main villain (aside from Valentine, who remains underdeveloped and not frightening) is actually really creepy and effective. Idris was pretty cool as well, but either because it’s YA, or because she chose to focus on other stuff, it wasn’t as developed as it could have been.

Actually, that’s one of my main issues with this book. Clare and I differ vastly on what’s interesting in her story. All the things I found really interesting (Simon, etc.) were underdeveloped and in some cases ignored almost completely in favor of other, more melodramatic and rather stupid developments (so. much. melodramatic.moping). Clary is still nothing but a cipher, with Jace continuing be neutered by his love for her, and Clare’s incest obsession borders on the perverse. Her prose is still middling to bad, but is disguised by the presence of an actual plot. She also telegraphs her ‘plot twists’ a mile away. Anyone who didn’t know after page fifty or so that Jace was not actually Clary’s brother, and Sebastian was, is basically an idiot. Sorry if I just called you an idiot. The only truly surprising thing that happens in this story is the stuff with the Angel, and it’s not a coincidence that’s the only bit I really *liked*.

And yes, she still steals things from other stories like mad. From front to back, this trilogy has been an exercise in pastiche writing, but in the worst way possible. I’ve seen everything that’s in these books before, and I’ve seen it better. If you’re going to do pastiche and steal people’s stories and ideas, at least do your own take on the stuff. (Clare didn’t.)

And of course, I have a nagging suspicion that she has a tendency to steal her best lines from other people:

Aline was the first one to break the silence. Fixing her pretty, dark gaze on Simon, she said, “So – what’s it’s like, being a vampire?”

“Aline!” Isabelle looked appalled. “You can’t just go around asking people what’s it’s like to be a vampire.”

I’m not going to lie. This sentence gave me a rage blackout and I woke up to find I’d hurled the book across the room and maybe screamed too, I think, because my throat hurt afterwards.

Look, you can tell me all you like that this is an “allusion” or “homage” but what it actually looks like to me is an author who can’t come up with clever things to say on her own using a quote from one of the most clever movies in the past decade, and changing the words just enough so that people who aren’t as intimately familiar with Mean Girls as I am think it’s something she came up with on her own. And that is not okay. Not to mention, her use of the construction completely misses the sly greatness of the original. This is probably something I would be annoyed about with anyone else, but it makes me genuinely angry with Clare because of the entire context surrounding her writing, which I’ve already written about ad nauseaum. She has already used up all her free passes with me. And who knows what other things she’s paid ‘homage’ to in this book? I could have read many a lifted line and not even known it. And that pisses me off.

Overall, I don’t think I will be be going on with this series for its cash grab ending ‘second trilogy’ (when this one ended just fine), or its five million prequel and sequel series yet to come. So, goodbye Cassandra Clare. Goodbye Jace and Magnus. Goodbye Lupin Luke. Goodbye Clary, you incestuous fucko. I shall not miss you.

[2.5 stars]

narfna’s #CBR5 Review #85: City of Ashes by Cassandra Clare

city of ashesCity of Ashes is the weakest installment in Cassandra Clare’s Mortal Instruments Trilogy,* and that’s saying something. I’m not giving it one star, because I did rush through it in some enjoyment, but as discussed in my previous review of City of Bones, it was enjoyment based mostly on seeing what nutbag thing was going to happen next rather than enjoyment based on good characters, good plot, and exciting developments. Book one had the advantage of introducing the world, and book three (as problematic as it is) has a crazy amount of plot development and action. This one mostly felt like filler to me.

*I’m not counting books 4-6, which sound mostly like cash cows to me.

The basic plot of City of Ashes is that Jace and Clary believe they are brother and sister and they are also in love with one another, so this causes them angst. That is 75% of the content of this novel. Jace basically turns suicidally depressed and Clary decides to try her best friend Simon on as a romantic partner, mostly because she wants someone to mack on, and she can’t mack on Jace. 95% of her thoughts surround Jace, how beautiful he is, how tragic, how much her DNA wants to be with his DNA forever BUT IT ALREADY IS BECAUSE THEY ARE BROTHER AND SISTER WAAAAAHHH. There’s also some stuff in there about Simon turning into a vampire, Jace’s adopted family rejecting him because they think he’s working for Valentine (?), and Valentine causing trouble by stealing the Mortal Sword, killing all the Silent Brothers, and threatening to call up a shit ton of demons to overrun the Earth. Clary also seems to be developing SUPER DUPER SPESHUL MAGICAL POWERS that no one has ever seen before, and Alec continues to deny that he is gay for Magnus Bane.

The stuff with Jace and Valentine is probably the most interesting, or at least it had the most potential to be interesting. Jace’s desire to be a good person and his love for Valentine as his father conflict with one another in a way that could have been mined for content, but Clare mostly just uses it to cast suspicion on Jace that the reader never believes for a second. The stuff with Simon, again, also interesting, although I laughed out loud at the scene that pushed Simon to finally visit the vampires. They all visit the faerie underworld or whatever it’s called and because Clary tastes faerie food, the faerie queen won’t let her go until she’s been kissed with the kiss she truly desires. I will give you three guesses as to whose kiss that is, but you will get it in one. Simon witnesses this, er, display, freaks the fuck out, and then goes and gets himself turned into a vampire.

Really, though, I don’t blame him. I might even sort of understand the impulse for Clare to milk the Jace/Clary tragedy for all its worth, as long as she didn’t cross the line between conflict and exploitation. All the pining doesn’t cross the line. It can easily be interpreted as both characters coming to terms with their awful circumstances. But that kissing scene? WAAAAAY crosses the line. She doesn’t just manufacture a moment for her to characters to kiss. That would be bad enough. And she doesn’t just have them kiss each other quickly and be done with it. She doesn’t even make it a lingering kiss filled with regret or whatever. No. What does she have Jace and Clary do? FULL ON FUCKING MAKE OUT PASSIONATELY IN FRONT OF EVERYBODY AND EVERYONE THEY KNOW. WHILE THINKING THEY ARE BROTHER AND SISTER.

Continue reading

narfna’s #CBR5 Review #84: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer & Annie Barrows

guernseyMy sister gave me this book as a gift two or three Christmases ago. I put it on my shelf and forgot about it until a couple of months ago when she guilted me about not having read it. And really, she had a valid point. I’m usually the one who recommends books, and she always reads them, so when she does bother to give me a book I’ve never read before, the least I could do is return the favor. Unfortunately, I had somehow lost my copy, possibly in one of my several moves, possibly due to other unknown factors. So I had to go out and buy a new copy, and that fucker was $15.

Publishing industry, if you’re listening, $15 is too fucking much for a little 200 plus page book.

Guernsey is an epistolary novel that takes place post-WWII on the island of Guernsey, where an impromptu “literary society” popped up in response to the German occupation there. The main character is an author who is corresponding with the island’s inhabitants for research purposes, but she soon finds herself directly wrapped up in their lives.

Anyway, I was a little lost at first, what with the epistolary style and the fact that it just kind of jumps right in. I was just like, “huh?” for about the first ten pages or so, and then BOOM I was kind of in love. That feeling didn’t last all the way through the book, sadly, as the ending did feel a bit contrived and the main character felt a bit shoehorned in, but it was just such a happy little book I don’t even care. If you don’t like emotionally indulgent books, you probably won’t like this, but if you like a little sap and cheese with your steak (I don’t know, it’s late), then you should probably pick this up. The parts where they recount their war experiences were fascinating, and the members of the literary society made me want to move there and join just so I could hang out with them, the weirdos.

All in all, good rec from my sister. God, it’s only taken her twenty-six years to prove useful to me. JUST KIDDING. (That last part was a test to see if she’s reading this. Go about your business.)

narfna’s #CBR5 Review #81: Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

fangirl“Real life was something happening in her peripheral vision.”

So I’ve had this review open and up on my computer now for days (weeks, really, since I finished the book almost a month ago now), and I just keep staring at that blank cursor, trying to figure out how to convey all these FEELINGS I am FEELING about this book.

The short of it? I loved this book, and Rainbow Rowell, miraculously, has produced not one, not two, but THREE books that I hands down LOVED this year. And not loved, like that was fun and I enjoyed it, loved like, oh man, this book stared into my soul.

The long of it? Well, that’s what I’ve been having trouble with.

“What the fuck is the fandom?”

Fangirl is Cath’s story, and in many ways it’s a very personal one. Cath is going away to college for the first time, and she’s not very happy about it. Her identical twin sister, Wren, doesn’t want to be roommates and has begun to pull away from Cath, cutting off all her hair, and for the most part, abandoning the Simon Snow fandom she and Cath had been such a huge part of for so long. Simon Snow is basically like Harry Potter in Cath’s/Rowell’s world. The whole world is obsessed with him, and no one possibly more than Cath. She takes refuge in Simon Snow when worrying about her bipolar father becomes too much, when her social anxiety gets the best of her, when she feels Wren pulling even farther away from her. And Cath has fans of her own. Her fanfic, “Carry On, Simon,” gets thousands of hits per day, and almost no one in her “real” life understands her obsession with Simon and his vampire roommate Baz (who in Cath’s world are also secretly in love with one another — so on top of being a fic writer, she’s also a slash fic writer, which puts her even more on the fringes).

Cath’s specific eccentricities aren’t ones I necessarily share, but they’re rooted in a place that feels very familiar to me. Her fear of change, her desire to lose herself in fictional worlds, her inability to connect with other people without quite a bit of effort, her fear of her dorm’s cafeteria (which is just a manifestation of the hard time she has adapting to new habits and places). But most of all, how her love of Simon Snow and the fandom she participates so actively in acts both as a refuge from the outside world, and something that further separates her from it. The ‘normals’ in her life do not understand at all what it is she does, and she takes the opportunity to use that gulf of experience to further alienate herself from those around her. See above quote, which comes form her roommate, Reagan, a brash girl who takes it upon herself to help Cath out of her shell, even though Cath would very much rather be alone.

“I feel sorry for you, and I’m going to be your friend.”
“I don’t want to be your friend,” Cath said as sternly as she could. “I like that we’re not friends.”
“Me, too. I’m sorry you ruined it by being so pathetic.”

The very weird thing about Cath and people like her (me, for instance), is that as much as we crave solitude and distance ourselves from other people very much on purpose, we also simultaneously and conversely crave the lifelines that more extroverted people extend to us, and are often grateful in hindsight for the pushes from others to get us out of our comfort zones. That’s what Reagan does for Cath (and to a certain extent, it’s what Wren used to do for Cath) — pushes her outside of her head and reminds her that she’s capable of more than she gives herself credit for, and that her fears and anxieties protect her, yes, but they also prevent her from experiencing her life.

Reagan is also hilarious. I should mention that part.

And with Reagan comes Levi (delicious, delicious Levi). The two of them comprise Cath’s social circle during her freshman year, as she tries to navigate her new semi-adult life, the pressures of school, and the perils of her major (Creative Writing), which includes a very cute boy slash writing partner named Nick, and a professor that Cath very much looks up to and wants to impress.

If all of this sounds boring, I apologize. Because Fangirl is anything but boring. Cath’s inner life is rich and complicated, full of conflicting desires and feelings. Rainbow Rowell’s characters, and by extension her dialogue, fairly leap off the page. They feel real in a way that characters rarely do in fiction, and the situations they find themselves in, the things they say, feel like things people would actually say. They feel like things my friends and I would say. They feel like friends.

“I’d rather pour myself into a world I love and understand than try to make something up out of nothing.”

Besides the novelty of reading a book about a girl who might actually exist in real life, probably the most notable thing about Fangirl is the way that it engages with fan culture. People who participate in fan culture (and I’m not talking about casual participation here) are set apart from people who don’t. Fan culture is like Fight Club — the first rule is that you don’t talk about Fight Club Fan Culture. And not because it’s something to be ashamed of inherently, but because it’s something that people who don’t participate do not understand. And speaking from experience, regardless of whether or not non-participants actually look down upon participants, there’s this pervasive sense that the shaming is happening behind your back anyway. Fanfiction is not real writing. Fanfiction is plagiarism. Fanfiction is for people who can’t think up their own ideas.

The genius of Fangirl is that while it’s busying demystifying fans and fandom and deshaming them in the process, it also acknowledges that those are actual thoughts people might have (i.e. the reaction of Cath’s professor, or Reagan’s initial reaction — again, see above), it also suggests that the more important realization to be had here is that these are fears Cath also secretly has about herself. Cath loses herself in fanfiction for good reasons, but for bad ones as well. It’s easier for her to keep playing around in Simon’s world than to find herself in her own writing.

“You give away nice like it doesn’t cost you anything.”

So yeah, Fangirl is about growing up and writing and making friends and the power of communities and the bonds between families, but it’s also about love, something else that Cath is afraid to open herself up to. I’m not going to say too much about this aspect of the plot because I don’t want to spoil it, but I will say that Cath falling in love hit me like a ton of bricks to the stomach. I love how Rainbow writes Cath falling in love the same way she writes the way Cath lives, how she keeps everything inside to protect herself, and how satisfying it is when she finally lets herself give in.

I read this book fast and I read it hard, and when I was done I wanted to start all over again. Rainbow Rowell is good. She’s very good. And if she continues to write books like this, I can’t promise I won’t lose my damn mind every time I read one.

narfna’s #CBR5 Review #77: Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman

neverwhereGuys, I really wanted to do this review justice, but I read it back in August. IN AUGUST. And I am now twelve, count ’em, TWELVE reviews behind as of right now, and the only reason that number isn’t bigger is because I’ve been reading a lot of books I’m either too ashamed to review, or that just aren’t worth reviewing because I don’t have that much to say.

Point is, this book deserves better than it’s going to get from me, because I really liked it. But I’m tired and overwhelmed and I have writer’s block and what am I doing with my life anyway?

Scratch it. This might be exactly the mood I need to be in to write this review, because what the hell was Richard Mayhew doing with his life before he fell into the London Underground? Nothing, that’s what. He was a pushover with a horrible girlfriend, and he had a horrible job (he kept trolls on his computer. Trolls!), both of which he’d somehow convinced himself he liked, even loved. And yeah maybe his life was safe and comfortable, but it was also boring and pointless as fuck.

And then he became an unperson, and he was still useless and boring (and a bit confused), until he wasn’t. Until he was dragged on a bloody and violent quest for strange, terrifying people he barely knew, through Gaiman’s own version of Wonderland. He wanted his safe life back, to be comfortable and contained, until he got his wish and realized it was the stupidest wish he’d ever wished, and decided to go on an adventure instead. It’s amazing how much I like this idea so much better now than I did two months ago when I finished the book, but I suppose that’s why you re-read things, yes? Because they mean different things to you at different points in your life.

That’s not to say that this book is perfect, because it isn’t, and like I said in my initial review, it’s very obvious this is his first solo novel. (Anansi Boys and Stardust are still my favorites of his.) It’s not as polished as his later works. But dammit, I still thought it was great.

Also, I thought Door was brilliant, and the bad guy(s) were terrifying.

The End.

narfna’s #CBR5 Review #73: Codex Born by Jim C. Hines

15824178So it’s been over a month since I finished this, and the details have largely slipped my mind now, but I do remember it being a fast, fun read. I apologize in advance for this being one of my more vague reviews — I really need to write them right after I finish if I want to be thorough.

Codex Born is the second book in Jim C. Hines’ Magic Ex Libris series, which follows libriomancer Isaac Vainio, who can do magic by tapping into the collective unconscious of the reading public and pull things out of books. Isaac works for Die Zwelf Portenære (or The Porters), a secret society of libriomancers founded by Johannes Gutenberg hundreds of years before. Only, Gutenberg is still alive, having used the magic practices he founded to extend his lifespan (possibly making himself immortal in the process) and Isaac is only starting to learn that there are many many secrets Gutenberg has been keeping from those who follow him.

The plot of Codex Born largely revolves around Isaac and a group of his friends attempting to track and eliminate a new threat to their magical world that has popped up in the form of their dead colleague Victor’s mentally unbalanced and rather power hungry father, who has gotten ahold of some of Victor’s magical inventions posthumously and is now in waaay over his head. It starts out simply with some murdered wendigos, but soon Isaac realizes Victor’s father has accidentally put himself in the middle of several factions of unknown magic, including a secret society supposedly wiped out rather violently by Gutenberg hundreds of years before, and an unknown magical threat that seems to be coming from the books themselves.

I very much enjoyed this book. There were parts to do with the central mystery of the series that were a bit too nebulous (and thus confusing for me), but I liked Victor’s father as the villain, and I liked that the real threat was only awoken on accident. Hines’s characters are a lot of fun, as is the magic system he has developed (although I did find myself wishing, with this being the second book and probably not very many to come after this, for a bit more backstory and worldbuilding — these books are just too short). I also enjoyed the development of Lena in this one, although instead of her diary entries at the beginning of each chapter, I think I would have preferred the book to just be from her POV (although I can understand wanting to keep it Isaac’s story).

There’s nothing really deeply profound about this series, but who made that a requirement, anyway? What it is is a heck of a lot fun, and I’m excited to read the remaining book(s) when they come out.

narfna’s #CBR5 Review #72: The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith (aka JK Rowling)

the cuckoo's callingYou thought you could keep this a secret, didn’t you, Jo? WELL TOO BAD.

The Cuckoo’s Calling, the latest novel by J.K. Rowling, originally written under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith, features private dick Cormoran Strike and his temporary secretary, Robin, as they become involved in investigating the supposed suicide of supermodel Lula Landry at the behest of her grieving brother, who doesn’t believe it possible Lula could have killed herself.

I am beyond glad that J.K. Rowling is writing genre again. She’s just so good at it. And sorry, Jo, I’m also beyond glad your lawyer’s wife leaked this to the public, because otherwise I never would have read it (or if I ever did, it would have been much farther down the road when you were like six or seven books in or something, as it seems the only time I ever hear about mystery books is if they last long enough to be notable to those who normally don’t read inside the genre). I know this probably makes me a bad friend fan admirer thingy whatever, and for that I apologize . . . but damn. I just love your words so much.

Shit. This has gotten weird real fast, even for one of my reviews.

Also, it’s more than slightly ironic that I have just written a chunk of this review as if I knew Ms. Rowling and was addressing her personally, when a great part of The Cuckoo’s Calling is devoted to an examination of fame from the other side. At one point, our hero Cormoran Strike literally wonders how it is that some people feel as if they know celebrities, even think of them in terms of friendship, when the reality is they don’t know them at all. The fact that it’s Jo who’s writing this — one of the most famous women in the world, a woman who fiercely values her privacy, and who spent a large portion of the latter Harry Potter books reacting via writing to her growing celebrity — leads me to wonder if she really doesn’t understand the impact her books had on an entire generation of kids. I admire Ms. Rowling’s public persona very much, but it’s her books that make me think of her so fondly.

But it’s not just on Lula Landry’s behalf that Strike ponders the strange behavior that can surround celebrity. Strike has cause to be prickly about fame, as well. His father is a famous rockstar who he’s only met a handful of times, but that doesn’t stop everyone who finds out about his parentage from making certain assumptions. He’s also ex-military police, and is still recovering from losing the lower half of one of his legs. He owes a ton of money, he’s just broken up with his girlfriend, and things aren’t looking so great for him in general. His temp secretary, Robin, is delightful. She doesn’t get as much characterization in this one as Strike does, but I’d imagine that will change in future books, as he lets her do more and more work for his cases. This was very much a first book. She had to take time to set up Strike’s initial character, then slowly but surely allow Robin to worm her way in to a permanent job, and I think more importantly, allow her to be someone that he can let see the embarassing bits of his life (for nearly the whole novel Strike tries to pretend to her that he isn’t living out of his office on a camp bed, when it is glaringly obvious to both of them that he is).

The mystery in this was really good, really thorough, and Rowling does a nice job of setting up red herrings, but at the same time laying clues so it’s obvious in retrospect who the murderer is. (This is something we already knew she could do, as she did it so well in all the Potters.) Strike is very good at his job, and Robin finds she has a talent for it as well (much to her delight, as she confesses early on that she’s secretly always wanted to work in a PI office), so it’s fun to watch them work. Even though I really liked the mystery, there wasn’t really anything there that made me go YES. I do, however, love Strike and Robin as characters (Jo is so good at characters, you guys), and I can imagine myself easily re-reading this after future books in the series have been published and retroactively giving it five stars, once I know where the series is headed. It’s not love yet, just really, really like.

Recommend highly for mystery and crime fiction fans, and for all those who were disappointed by The Casual Vacancy. This one has a distinct adult feel to it without making you want to smash your head into hard furniture in utter despair (so, yes, children, there is sex and swearing; it’s not a big deal, and please grow up, why won’t you?) .

[4.5 Stars]

narfna’s #CBR5 Review #71: A Red Herring Without Mustard by Alan Bradley

red herringThis series has the best titles, and the best covers. They both convey this welcoming want for me, and I’m compelled to read them almost against my will. As of writing this, I’m actually four books in to the series, and unfortunately Bradley seems to be a bit hit or miss with his mysteries and sense of pacing (two of the four I’ve read so far have been weakest in the main-plot area), which is disappointing after the promise of that title and those covers.

Luckily, A Red Herring Without Mustard (book three) was pretty much up to snuff. Bradley leaps right into the goings-on of the central mystery plot and allows the appropriate amount of time for Flavia to investigate, without resorting to convenient coincidences to give her clues. The mystery itself was also delightfully wacky and strayed from the traditional whodunnit arc that the other three books have followed. The main mysteries that Flavia has to solve aren’t even murders, and (spoiler) the one that everyone thinks is a murder turns out not to be after all. Plus Bradley introduces this wacky religion that I loved and that lent a bit of local color to the story.

Luckily, even when Bradley’s plots are weak, he’s still got great characters to play with. And they’re even more fun to read about when surrounded by a competent mystery (actually three mysteries in one), like in this one. Flavia and her family are all very likable, and I continue to anticipate the day when Bradley finally starts answering some of the ongoing questions/mysteries from the series. What really happened to Flavia’s mother? Why do her sisters treat her like a monster? What’s up with Dogger? I’m a bit frustrated that Bradley’s publisher has expanded the series from its original intended length of six books to at least ten (possibly more) because that means I’ll just have to wait longer. I hope Bradley doesn’t try to milk this series, and that he ends it before he’s sucked it dry of what makes it fun.

narfna’s #CBR5 Review #70: Requiem by Ken Scholes

requiem fantasy

The fourth book in the Psalms of Isaak series continues the very weird and original story that involves steampunk robots, world-ending curses, weird magic powders, and a bunch of powerful wizards who live on the moon. It’s a pretty cool story, but unfortunately my experience of reading it wasn’t ideal.

I received an ARC of the first book in this series in 2008 and I gobbled it up. It was a teensy bit rough getting into the storyworld for me, in the way that it sometimes is with new fantasy books that have complex worlds to build for their readers, most of them from the ground up. But the story and the characters were intriguing, and it was a ridiculously fast read. The second book was published six months later. I had a bit of trouble getting back into the story and trying to remember what was going on, but only a bit. The third book was published a year later. I had a significantly harder time getting back in to the story and trying to remember what events had led up to what was going on. My problems weren’t helped by the complete lack of any exposition in the series.  If you don’t remember exactly what has happened before in this series, you are screwed. I was of two minds with this. While I appreciated not being talked down to by the author, and liked that he assumed I would be smart enough to catch on to what was happening, the fact was that it had been two years since I’d started the series and in the interim, I’d been filling my brain with hundreds of other new books and cramming for my Master’s Exams. I caught on eventually, though, and enjoyed myself thoroughly. And then Scholes didn’t publish the fourth book for three more years. The result of this? I was completely and utterly lost for the first third of this book, and still not completely sure of myself for a good part after that.

I’m not sure how fair of me it is to judge this book based on my particular reading experience, but I can’t give this book any higher than three stars because the fact is that being that confused by a story (especially when I’m used to kicking pretty much any story’s ass that I read) was not a fun experience, and that made me resent the book. Look, I’m not sure what Mr. Scholes could have done about this, aside from writing the book faster*. Maybe something as simple as a brief summary of previous books at the beginning? Again, I appreciate that he didn’t feel the need to make callbacks and re-explain things he’d already explained in previous books, but come on. And it’s not even like I could turn to Wikipedia or some fan-made wiki for plot summaries or anything, because these books aren’t widely read, and those things just don’t exist. In order for me to have fully appreciated the events of this book, I would have had to re-read the first three, which is something I had neither the time nor inclination to do.

*I’m pretty sure a couple deaths in the family contributed to the slower writing pace for this one, and I get that. I’m not a total dick.

If any of you plan on checking this series out (and despite the tone of this review, I would suggest doing so if you like fantasy), I would highly recommend waiting for the last book to be published and then reading them all in a row. If I’d have done that, I’m pretty sure this would have been a four star read (although to talk about the actual book instead of my feeeeelings, part of me felt this book, unlike the last three in the series, was sort of treading water, not wanting too much to happen before the finale).

But, Mr. Scholes, please for the love of God, help me out next time? Just a little. I’m trying really hard to like your series, but I’m only human, here.