donderdag 27 juni 2013

Bi-Annual Book Exchange #1 - The Books

The Bi-Annual Book Exchange - or BaBE, if you're in a hurry - is a collab between Jeremy from Inklingstime and myself, where we give each other one of our own books to read. Why, you might ask? Well, whenever we get together, the conversation tends to drift towards books in one way or another and we always recommend each other some books. Because our taste in books isn't that similar, those recommendations get met with an 'yes, sometime' response, sometime being somewhere between not now and never.
However, with both of us part of the blogosphere, we quickly came up with the Bi-Annual Book Exchange. Every six months, I get a book from Jeremy in whichever genre that may be, and I present him a fantasy novel I thoroughly enjoyed and/or find it to be a must-read. After reading it in timely fashion, we review the book and both reviews will appear on both blogs, albeit in a different format.
Everytime we exchange a book, I'll put up a post like this, where I have a little chat about them, and afterwards the reviews will be posted separately and links to those will be added in this post as well for easy access. So without further due, let's have a look at the changelings.
Choosing a book for Jeremy wasn't easy pickings. Beforehand, I promised to not give him certain books for the first exchange. He isn't a big YA reader, so none of that. Also, his sceptical look whenever he caught me reading an Urban Fantasy book (*), let to the solemn pledge not to throw any UF at him this time 'round. However, I did promise to let him experience the joy a good Urban can bring, so he can expect some Kim Harrison or Kelley Armstrong some other time.
My main goal with this collab is to open the world of Fantasy to him, but I figured that graded exposure was the better approach rather than flooding/drowning. So any big, epic series with lots of magic flying around was also out of the question. With all that in mind, I quickly came up with Ben Galley's The Written. A novel which I enjoyed a lot and embodied pretty much everything I like about Fantasy without being too daunting. The series has been recently finished with the concluding two volumes Dead Stars, part 1 & 2, and with a total of four books, the length of the series isn't (too) overwhelming. The story as well, isn't too crowded. It's an epic fantasy novel, but the complexity isn't a George R.R. Martin kind of complex. Not too many characters to keep track of, not too many different species and an engaging story with some pleasantly unique additions and a nice magic system. I believe it to be a nice introduction to a bit of everything the genre has to offer and I hope he enjoys it.
My review is just a click away.
Inklingstime review to come.
Exchanging books means that I also got one, and I must say that I was a little afraid. He told me the feeling was mutual, but whenever I browse his shelves, there aren't that many books that I want to read right away. Sure, there are plenty which I do want to read, some time, but having one of those thrust upon me was something different altogether. Jeremy, however, has been nice and given me one of the books I actually wanted to read rather soonish than laterish. He's been really into Neil Gaiman lately, and because I haven't read any of his works, I got The Graveyard Book. Of all the Gaiman books we have together, there is only one book of his I wanted to read more than this one, and that is Good Omens, co-written by Terry Pratchett. Since Good Omens is a book of mine, he couldn't have picked a better book and I'm very much looking forward to reading it!
Inklingstime review here.
My review here.
(*) To be fair, some of those UF deserved that look, but they're damned pleasant reads!

Review: Neil Gaiman, The Graveyard Book

There is a first time for everything, and The Graveyard Book was my first Neil Gaiman read. I’ve heard a lot about his books, how amazingly stellar they are and more where that came from, but I’ve never really felt the need to pick one of his works up and start reading. This all changed when this novel was thrust in my hands for the Bi-Annual Book Exchange.




Nobody Owens, known to his friends as Bod, is a normal boy. He would be completely normal if he didn't live in a sprawling graveyard, being raised and educated by ghosts, with a solitary guardian who belongs to neither the world of the living nor of the dead.
There are dangers and adventures in the graveyard for a boy - an ancient indigo man, a gateway to abandoned city of ghouls, the strange and terrible fleer. But if Bod leaves the graveyard, then he will be in danger from the man Jack - who has already killed Bod's family . . .

This novel is told by means of short stories all from the perspective of Bod. With every story, we move a little forward in time and because of this, the novel as a whole was quite a unique experience. The final chapters – or stories, if you like – make all the previous ones come together in one coherent storyline, and an engaging one at that. Because of the different short stories, it was quite hard to discern where the plot was taking you and it wasn’t until the final chapters that things were becoming clear. By not explicitly including the bigger picture in the first few stories, those solely rely on their own little plot and thus can become rather hit and miss. I didn’t find there to be a particularly bad story, but the third one – “The Hounds of God”, about the ghouls – was probably my least favourite of them all. It wasn’t bad, but the contrast with others, like “The New Friend” and “The Witch’s Headstone” was apparent. The way the different pieces of the puzzle came together in the end, however, was nothing short of brilliance. Even though it is a children’s book, I found the ending to be very engaging and exciting. Together with the very beginning, the highlight of the book for sure.
There are quite some characters inhabiting this story, ranging from the good to the evil, from the dead to the living. Even though the man Jack is a despicable human being and creeped me out, I thought he did a novel job as the bad guy. Abanazer Bolger and Tom Hustings have some fingers in that pie as well. The great thing about the characters, is how they each have their own, unique voice. From the stern Silas to the rather playful Liza, you’ll learn to love each and every one of them. The main star of the show, however, is Bod. He is a fun, vibrant and engaging character and because of the way the novel is structured, you as a reader grows along with him. You follow him in his playfulness, his endearing compassion for others – dead or alive – and schemes to right wrongs. He’s perhaps a bit wise beyond his years, but who wouldn’t be when tutored by ghosts who’ve lived in all different kinds of eras. It takes a graveyard to raise a child, indeed.
The biggest strength of this book, however, is Gaiman’s writing. His prose is not the most elaborate or complicated poetry, but it’s evocative and emotive. Go and read the first chapter and tell me that’s not excellent writing, that it does not tickle your imagination. Go and read the last few pages and tell me you’re not moved. If writing is art, then Neil Gaiman is an artist and The Graveyard Book is a masterpiece. The wonderful illustrations by Dave McKean only add to the imagery of the tale and make it a complete experience for your eyes.

The Graveyard Book was my first of Neil Gaiman, but after reading this, I know two things for sure. One, graveyards will never be the same again to me. Their eeriness has become a place of possibility and growth. Second, this might have been my first, but it will definitely not be my last Neil Gaiman novel.

Plan your trip to the Graveyard here!

vrijdag 14 juni 2013

#FridayReads: June 14th, 2013

FridayReads is a hashtag over on Twitter where people share what they'll be reading over the weekend. I thought it would be nice to bring that hashtag over to my blog, so this way I can share what I'm reading and provide a little more text along with it.

It's been a while since my last FridayReads, but clearly reading a George R.R. Martin novel and studying for finals is a no go as far as fast reading is concerned. That being said, I did manage to finish A Feast For Crows last weekend and during the last couple of days, I powered through Joe Hill's Heart-Shaped Box.
So for this weekend - and probably some days after - I took a new book from my TBR-shortlist, which is *drumroll please* Black Magic Sanction by Kim Harrison, book 8 in the Hollows series. It's an Urban Fantasy series about a witch, Rachel, who lives in a church with her friends, the living-vampire Ivy and pixie Jenks (*). Together, they form Vampiric Charms, a supernatural bounty-hunter team and get themselves involved in lots of sticky and tricky situations involving humiliation, embarrassment, fire, explosions, collisions, tears, nudity and death (**). A trip to the Hollows is always a fun and entertaining rollercoaster ride of emotions and crazy wild happenings.

See, whenever I talk about Urban Fantasy, I make sure to mention Kim Harrison, cause I can honestly say that, while I've read quite some UF, nothing comes near what she's written (****). The plot, the characters and the politics and power-struggles involved just match perfectly and make for a great and exciting read. With the events in the previous novel (White Witch, Black Curse), I left the series on a high, so I'm not exaggerating when I say that I can-not wait to see what's ahead for Rachel and her friends.
I've already read the first chapter, and talking about entering with a bang... I haven't seen Jenks - by far my favourite sidekick ever - yet, though, so I hope that the pottymouthed pixie shows his lovely self pretty soon. Cause Tink's panties, I'll be damned if he doesn't!

(*) Wife and kids included.
(**) But that was just bad luck involving a rogue creme brulee torch. It’s VERY unlikely to happen twice (***).
(***) This actually never happened. I'm merely quoting Miranda.
(****) With the exception of Kelley Armstrong's Women of the Otherworld, another UF-series which I highly highly highly recommend.

woensdag 12 juni 2013

Review: Mike Shevdon, Sixty-One Nails

If there is one thing that confuses me most when it comes to Fantasy, it's the whole subgenre thing. There's epic, high, low, dark, urban, urban-fairy, ... The list goes on and on and on and in the end, I can't wrap my head around it anymore. Whenever I label a new purchase in my excel-file (*), it's more a well-aimed game of darts rather than an accurate display of my subgenre-knowledge. I do know, however, that when the book features a hot chick or skillful wizardesque guy that knows how to kick ass and does that in a contemporary day and age, I have a fairly good chance of correctly choosing 'urban fantasy'. This may account for, say, 95% or even more, and while I very much enjoy novels that fit the description, stumbling upon the odd one out that takes the genre somewhere unexpected, can be an utter delight. Mike Shevdon's Sixty-One Nails happens to belong to the latter pile.

There is a secret war raging beneath the streets of London. A dark magic will be unleashed by the Untainted...Unless a new hero can be found. Neverwhere's faster, smarter brother has arrived. 
The immense Sixty-One Nails follows Niall Petersen, from a suspected heart attack on the London Underground, into the hidden world of the Feyre, an uncanny place of legend that lurks just beyond the surface of everyday life. The Untainted, the darkest of the Seven Courts, have made their play for power, and unless Niall can recreate the ritual of the Sixty-One Nails, their dark dominion will enslave all of the Feyre, and all of humankind too.

I do read quite a lot of urban fantasy and most of them fit the description as stated earlier. What we get here, is quite the opposite. Niall is a middle-aged man who doesn’t know anything about anything and is completely new to this stuff. The first part of the book sees him discovering his magic and at the same time introduces us to the world Shevdon has created. Later on, there is precious little ass kicking going on and more of a quest that has to be completer in order to prevent bad shenanigans from happening. I got the feeling that the ideas presented here are more leaning towards Epic fantasy which are poured into and Urban setting. The result was the creation of something very refreshing. This quest we're talking about, the restoring of the Quit Rents ceremony, is an actual existing happening where Shevdon has put his own spin on. This I highly appreciated, as well as the information on the actual ceremony included at the back of the novel.
Because Niall has a lot to discover, the story isn’t that past-paced, but it still was quite a fast read because the world of the Feyre was very intriguing. Forget all the beautiful, tall, pointy-eared people you think of right away. The seven Courts differ from each other and most of them don’t even come close to looking human. Each Court has its own form of magic, and whilst there wasn’t a lot of ass-kicking involved, there was some serious power play which made for a fascinating read. The main focus, however, is on the Seventh Court. The other six don’t come into the picture until the very end and I hope they will play a bigger role in the books to come, but the Untainted were capable of carrying the book on their own. They have a fascinating set of powers to display and they Fey themselves are quite the creepy kind. Whenever they showed themselves, especially the woman, the atmosphere got really eerie.
Another thing that, for me, made the novel anything but cookie-cutter, was the setting. Instead of some random American city as is so much the case in Urban fantasy – or at least in those books that I’ve read – this story takes place in London. For once, I was able to picture things how they really are and not my own rendition of some city I've never been. It’s a small thing, of course, but it’s just nice to envision Niall walking the same streets that you have walked. It just adds that little extra to the whole experience. In sum, the world-building was top-notch!

The main characters here are Niall and Blackbird, and I liked them. I don’t think they are the kind of characters that stick with you long after and I won’t be mentioning them when someone asks me for my favourite characters, but they are so very much fitting for this book. I can’t really pinpoint why, but when I was finished with the book, I felt like only Niall and Blackbird could have made this story the way it is. The combo of characters and plot just worked like a charm.
Because Niall knows nothing (**), both him and the reader start out knowing nothing and experience and learn things the same. This was quite nice, opposed to being confronted with someone who already knows the tips and tricks of the business and takes you along for just another ride. While it took me some time to warm up to Blackbird – she doesn’t make it that easy to love nor trust her – I appreciated their interaction and quite like them as a duo. They shared some good moments in this book.
As far as I know is this Shevdon’s first novel. The writing sure doesn’t tell. It feels like the umpteenth book by a well established author and not a debut. The writing is fluent, never contrived, not overly descriptive and finds a good balance between the more darker and upbeat parts in the book.

I happened to stumble upon this series when I won a signed copy of the third book and had to go looking for books one and two. This was, once again, evidence of the fact that there are a lot of very talented authors out there who are not that well known. Mike Shevdon is one of those and Sixty-One Nails is a very good, non-kick-ass urban fantasy that is definitely worth diving in to.

Fancy a trip to the unseelie parts of London yourself? Grab your ticket here.

(*) Well, what did you expect?
(**) Yes, I did envision Blackbird telling Niall in a husky voice: "You know nothing, Niall Petersen".

woensdag 5 juni 2013

Serial Reading: Sword of Truth #1

The Fantastical landscape is filled with series, trilogies and other-ologies. As a committed Fantasy-reader myself, I am deeply immersed in several series. Serial Reading is my way of keeping track of all those series in a lighthearted way. Some of these series will have complete reviews on here, others not so much - mainly because I'm already too far in to busy myself with retroactive reviewposting. If you want to read my views on those books, feel free to consult my GoodReads. Enjoy your breakfast!
Note: Spoilery bits might be included.
Terry Goodkind's Sword of Truth is one of those series that have a little place in my heart. Nothing beats Harry Potter when it comes to childhood nostalgia (*), but Sword of Truth comes close. Reading them now, I do wonder why I read them as a young boy, cause they're explicitly violent and whatnot. Anyway, I seemed to have enjoyed them a-lot when I was about 15 so they became one of my favourite series ever. This is also expressed by the amount of re-reads those books got. The first and second book got the privilege of being read five times. As fas as insane goes...
However, the last few books have only been read once, with some seriously big gaps between them, so I figured that this year (**), I was going to go through them all once more and then shelve this series for quite some time. I've since read the prequel and the first two books, and it's been interesting to say the least. Rereading a book definitely provides you with some new views on things, so let's catch up.
- Prequel: Debt of Bones. Not much to say about this one. It's nice to see how things started, how to border was brought into the world and stuff, but it's pretty dull. Zedd is still young and doesn't have any of his old-man's flair let alone his wit. The girl who goes to see him - whatshername - is an utter bore and the whole plot is nothing spectacular. For such a little novella you can't go chasing dragons around the world, but puhlease, make it at least a bit exciting. Thank you.
- Book 1: Wizard's First Rule. Review here.
- Book 2: Stone of Tears. Whenever I used to rave about these books, I always mentioned the second book as one of my favourites in the series, along with the first, sixth and books nine - eleven. As from now, I won't be mentioning the second one ever again. Memory please help me, why did I favourite this one? I mean, it's a big book of almost 900pages and no-thing happens. Well yes, things do happen, but nothing relevant or of any interest.
Basically, it's all about Richard being taken from Kahlan (one of many times *sigh*) and this happens fairly quickly. About around page 100 his captors arrive but it takes them another 600, give or take, to get him to their destination. Credit where credit's due, it is the other end of the world, but still, speed it up! For basically nothing on that whole trip is in the least a bit interesting. Also, this is where Richard starts being an ass for real. Verna asks him one little thing and he threatens a whole village. Why yes, you are lovely! His self-righteous behaviour is annoying as well.
One of the main reasons why I do like this book, is the introduction of the Sisters of Light. They are marvellous - especially Verna - and they make for a pleasant addition. Who doesn't like some religious fanatics?! (***) It's only sad that the best of them all, Nicci, didn't get to say a single word. I remembered that differently...
Roll back to Kahlan and we get a totally different story. Way more action there as the Imperial Order meets up with the Mother Confessor. Pretty interesting if not a bit brutal... and chilly. You know when someone is dedicated to their cause when they decide to fight naked... in the freaking snow! Nothing more to tell here, though, it's all about her playing war and trying not to get raped for, like, five times. Bit much there, Terry, bit much. You'd think she'd have a full-blown PTSD, but the warrior she is, she only needs a bath, some tea and some rest. Fresh as daisy, fine and dandy.
Also, while talking about Kahlan, can I get a holla for Chandalen. His grumpy disposition just made me crack a smile. Not to mention his awkward conversations with Kahlan about custom and addressing women properly without mentioning their boobs or fine ass. Golden.
The ending was pretty fine and made up for the lacklustre events throughout the first 800 pages (****). The main problem was the absence of a direct villain and a returned Darken Rahl doesn't quite cut it, nor Richard's intuitive usage of magic, but all in all, it was a nice race to the finish. And Cara (*****) was there!
A Little summary:
- Richard became an ass, but the other characters did an excellent job.
- The story was rrreeeaaaally slowpaced, bordering on boring, but there were enough good moments to balance it all out.
- Nicci was mute!
- It wasn't as good as I remembered it. Bummer.
So to put it all in a little fancy graph - cause who doesn't like random graphs, right? - this is what it looks like at the moment:
(*) Technically speaking I was a teen, but the lines between child - teen - adult tend to blur most of the times. Fun times living in my head.
(**) From January 1st up till now, all my illusions of actually succeeding have been mercilessly destroyed. Perhaps I'll manage to finish somewhere near the end of 2014.
(***) This is all heartfelt emotion, no sarcasm. Even though they are a bit fanatic and over the top religious, they still are marvellous. Those are not mutually exclusive things, at least not when it comes to Sword of Truth.
(****) There were good parts as well, rest assured.
(*****) And ladies and gentlemen, I present you with the sole [I jest] reason for a fine ending: Cara. (Even though that is only because I know her and not because of how she acts here).