dinsdag 16 juli 2013

Review: Kevin Hearne, Hunted

I am one of those people who loves to buy and read a lot of series, and when it comes to reading them, I like to have a lot of variety in my bookish diet. Thus best case scenario, there will be a two month gap between subsequent instalments of a series. But as with every best case scenario, it’s not often the case. So in my experience, authors tend to write faster than I can read their finished products and the unfinished series keep piling up and up and up. Whilst I don’t get to talk along that much with other readers of said series – seeing as I am several books behind – I don’t get to experience the dreaded wait for another novel. The Iron Druid Chronicles, however, is the odd one out here. Right from the start I managed to keep track of the series and thus I had the privilege (?) to experience long wait between Trapped and the new one, Hunted (*). But boy, did it deliver! It was well worth the wait.

For a two-thousand-year-old Druid, Atticus O’Sullivan is a pretty fast runner. Good thing, because he’s being chased by not one but two goddesses of the hunt—Artemis and Diana—for messing with one of their own. Dodging their slings and arrows, Atticus, Granuaile, and his wolfhound Oberon are making a mad dash across modern-day Europe to seek help from a friend of the Tuatha Dé Danann. His usual magical option of shifting planes is blocked, so instead of playing hide-and-seek, the game plan is . . . run like hell.

Crashing the pantheon marathon is the Norse god Loki. Killing Atticus is the only loose end he needs to tie up before unleashing Ragnarok—AKA the Apocalypse. Atticus and Granuaile have to outfox the Olympians and contain the god of mischief if they want to go on living—and still have a world to live in.

Hunted takes off right were Trapped ended, with Atticus, Granuaile and Oberon being chased by huntresses Diana and Artemis. Fair and square, that’s all there is to Hunted, it’s a straightforward roadtrip across Europe where our protagonists try to keep ahead of the huntresses all the while trying to figure out who’s behind the grand scheme of putting the Druids six feet under, for good this time. Straightforward as it may be, I thoroughly enjoyed it. Because of the nature of the plot, there were no slower parts in the book and the tension was constantly present and highly appreciated. The previous books were always light hearted - excluding some darker moments once in a while - no matter what the plot was and Hunted is much of the same. However, at least at two points throughout the story did the mood turn grim. While I read these books mainly because they are a whole lot of fun, I greatly appreciated the change of tone, which went all too nice with the overall atmosphere of the hunt. The ending also had some surprise in store and made me long for the next one already.
The best things about the Iron Druid Chronicles are, in my opinion, the characters. Atticus and Oberon had me at hello and they keep delivering book after book. Especially Oberon; here, I thought he was on fire! It was only two chapters in and he was already wisecrackin’ his butt off, and he kept it going till the end. You just got to admire that little doggie and the stuff he pulls out of his brain. While she was always around, ever since book one, Granuaile didn’t become a major player till the very end of the fourth book. I always thought she had a great deal of potential and I am glad that she delivers on that account. Her addition to the crew makes for a nice balance with Atticus and Oberon without her turning out to be the dull one. In fact, she’s very funny in her own way, but different from her male counterparts.
When you crack an Iron Druid, you know there will be all kinds of gods roaming around, and while it used to be overwhelming in the first couple of books, I came to really like their presence and I’m always looking forward to whatever spin Kevin Hearne has put on a certain pantheon. Needless to say, but Diana and Artemis delivered big time and while he only had a small role here, I found Zeus to be, euhm, interesting, for lack of a better word…
As with the previous novels in this series, the writing is as it should be. Witty, fast-paced and effective for whatever the story has to project. I do want to pinpoint a little something here. Till book five, Atticus has always been the narrator and him as well as Oberon did have quite a distinctive voice. Hunted, however, introduces Granuaile as a narrator and I found that to be very refreshing and I was surprised at how different it felt in way of writing. The first time they shift perspective, it’s not really announced it’s Granuaile talking, but you just sense the shift. It was a very different kind of writing, a bit more lush, perhaps? I found that quite remarkable and I take my imaginary hat off for that. It's not that easy a task to write the voice of an opposite-sex character and Hearne actually made Granuaile feel genuine and genuinely feminine, just by changing the writing and the choice of words.

With Hunted, Kevin Hearne has done his best to push his series a little higher on my favourite urban fantasy list. One thing is for sure, the next adventure for Atticus, Oberon and Granuaile is top priority and can’t come quickly enough.
Feel the rush of being Hunted by Diana and Artemis yourself and buy your copy right now, before they beat you to it!
If you fancy a review of the previous five novels in the series, go check out my GoodReads, they're all up.
(*) In the end, the wait wasn't that long or unbearable, but let's pretend for the sake of this review, shall we?

Review: Patrick Ness, A Monster Calls

Why do we read? Why do I read? Sometimes it feels like I’m one of few who read, when I look at the people around me. Not seldom do I get those questions. Why do I read? What’s the fun of reading a book? Whenever I try to come up with a reply that will settle the issue for once and for all, I tend to find myself lost for words. Who do you explain the perfect match of plot and characters? How do you explain getting lost in a world of make-believe? How do you put into words how words take you someplace else? Instead of explaining, you should give them a book and let them experience it for themselves.
At seven minutes past midnight, thirteen-year-old Conor wakes to find a monster outside his bedroom window. But it isn’t the monster Conor’s been expecting — he’s been expecting the one from his nightmare, the nightmare he’s had nearly every night since his mother started her treatments.

The monster in his backyard is different. It’s ancient. And wild. And it wants something from Conor. Something terrible and dangerous.
It wants the truth.

Reading the blurb as it is, you might think this is quite the simple story, and you're right, it is. But even though the plot is fairly simple and straightforward, it works on every account. The idea of the monster and the different tales he tells is a modern take on the parable, which contains a lesson for our young protagonist to learn. All the while, we follow him throughout a difficult time in his life. Illness, divorce and bullying, nothing gets sugarcoated. This whole idea is nothing new, but the addition of the monster and his stories lift this book above your average coming of age novel. Also, the straightforwardness of the plot keeps you engaged and keeps you from getting sidetracked by nifty little additions. Early on, I had an idea of where this novel was taking me, and I wasn’t wrong. This, however, didn’t diminish the reading experience. Even more so, knowing what’s going to happen and not being able to change the outcome was quite hard. even though I approached the ending with all this in mind, nothing was able to soften the blow of the actual finale. There aren’t many books who are able to shatter my heart, but this one actually accomplished that feat. As a result, my eyes got a little wet a sudden fog entered my room.
The main problem which might occur in a novel like this, is that the main character isn’t likeable because he or she is distant and angry. Seeing as how everything pans out from the very start, as an author, you just can’t get away with writing a character that’s jolly happy throughout the course of the book. As such, Conor is a kid who has had and still has his share of pain and disappointment in life and it makes for an angry character. These might be quite hard to like, but Patrick Ness managed to make Conor likeable, give him some appeal where you, as a reader, hardly can’t do anything but feel for him. The other characters as well, are very relatable. His grandma might not be the nicest of grandparents out there, but you can’t help feeling for her and understand where she’s coming from. Same goes for his father and don't get me started on Conor's mum. She might not be the direct focus of the novel, but she - in fact, all four main characters of the family - are wonderfully given form.
This novel was originally an idea by Siobhan Dowd, but completed by Patrick Ness after her death. Even though it wasn’t his idea to begin with, Patrick Ness definitely put his own spin on it and made it feel like it was a novel of his. Perhaps that’s the best thing about A Monster Calls. Ness’ writing is just spot on. Simple, but effective and evocative. Fluent, but still emotional. It cost me but two hours to go through it and I wished I could bathe a little longer in his words. From the very first page, a tribute to Siobhan, to the very last word, Ness set the tone and his words were gold throughout. While the story is simple, I found there to be more than meets the eye. Hidden beneath the story is the idea - the truth, if you like - concerning the power of words. The healing power of talking. Not only healing between two or more people, but also the healing of the individual's psyche.

A Monster Calls was definitely an experience quite unlike any other, and when I try to compare it with other books I’ve read, it’s up there with other gems. It compares to Audrey Nifffenegger’s The Time Traveler’s Wife in the way it managed to pull me heartstrings, to Robin Hobb for making me care about the main character and to Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book for demonstrating the power of something so simple yet moving. If, instead of explaining, I could give people a book to make them understand why I read, A Monster Calls would be one of them.
Make your own appointment with the Monster today, and enjoy a great story tonight.


Review: Brian Ruckley, The Edinburgh Dead

When we talk about how good or bad a certain book is, we mostly talk about plotlines and/or –holes and how the characters were or should have been. Not surprising, though, seeing as they are what the book’s about. There is, however, another important aspect to a good story, and that is the worldbuilding and how the scenery of the story translates into the reader’s mind. The worldbuilding might not put me off of a book, but it certainly holds the possibility of taking the book to another level altogether. Most of the books I read take place in a secondary world – own imagination galore – and most of the urban fantasy I read takes place in some random American city and, from my point of view, might as well have been another secondary world. However, when I stumble upon a book that takes place in a city I have visited – and loved, for that matter – the book appeals to me even more. Brian Ruckley’s The Edinburgh Dead falls in the latter category.

Edinburgh: 1828
In the starkly-lit operating theaters of the city, grisly experiments are being carried out on corpses in the name of medical science. But elsewhere, there are those experimenting with more sinister forces.
Amongst the crowded, sprawling tenements of the labyrinthine Old Town, a body is found, its neck torn to pieces. Charged with investigating the murder is Adam Quire, Officer of the newly- formed Edinburgh Police. The trail will lead him into the deepest reaches of the city's criminal underclass, and to the highest echelons of the filthy rich.
Soon Quire will discover that a darkness is crawling through this city of enlightenment - and no one is safe from its corruption.

Adam Quire is an officer of the Edinburgh police when he stumbles upon a corpse. The evidence at hand points toward the victim being killed by dogs, but upon further investigation, Quire discovers that this case is more than it seems and if he isn’t careful, it might not only lead to his untimely departure from the police, but from life itself as well. For he finds himself enmeshed with the Resurrection Men, bodysnatchers and dead things who won’t stay six feet under ground.
I’m not big on historical novels, but when it draws upon an interesting part of history it might just do the trick. The bodysnatching past of Edinburgh is one of those little fragments of history I find quite fascinating and this, combined with an interesting take on zombies, made this book a pleasant affair. The first half of the novel is kind of like your average historical mystery novel, with a murder to be solved, the brave policeman trying his utmost best despite the not too willing help from the higher class and the search for clues. Nothing wrong with that, but things start to get really interesting when the zombies are introduced. Ruckley has an interesting take on the mainstream brainmunchers and made them fit the setting very well. Perhaps zombies is a wrong turn, and is reanimated corpse more adequate. I felt like, from that moment on, when it became apparent what was going on, the story took a turn for the darker. Even though the living dead are present, other magics stay pretty much out of the picture with some notable exceptions. This general lack of magic in society and the referring to it as the arcane, adds a certain mystery and unreachability to it all, which I found to be very pleasing. As far as the development of the plot is concerned, I think Ruckley did a very fine job of bringing things to a close. My only remark concerning the plot would be the chapter about the war near the start of the book. I found this flashback to be unnecessary and it didn’t really contribute anything to the story nor the character of Quire. Well, it did give him some background, but it might have well been added in smaller flashbacks throughout the main story whenever necessary.
Talking about Quire, I think he is quite a capable main character. He’s no goody two shoes and does flirt with the edge of what’s accepted and expected from him, but it gives him a certain edge and makes him likeable. He's, say, a flawed hero. The only thing I’ve missed from him, is a distinctive voice. While reading the book, he did the job as main character, but in the mass of other characters in my head, he’s not one to stick out. Whereas Quire is quite the likeable lad, the other characters who take the spotlight for sufficient amount of pages to allow a development of feelings, certainly are anything but likeable. One in particular, Blegg, is downright creepy and he gave the group of adversaries a certain punch they needed to become believable as antagonists.
My overall opinion of this book is very much favourable but not outstanding, and that counts for the writing as well. I thought Brian Ruckley had a very nice way of writing, although it took me some time to pick up the pacing of the novel. For me, it was definitely not a fast read and the writing style did contribute to that. While this may sound as if the writing was bad, it wasn't at all. It's just a kind of writing that takes me a little longer to read as opposed to your average urban fantasy novel, for example. Whether or not that’s a con, is something every reader has to decide for him or herself, but I didn’t really mind. Ruckley has a very nice way of telling the story and in that prospect, it’s rather a pro that I had to take my time to take it all in.

Having been to Edingburgh, the experience there blended nicely with the way Brian Ruckley described Old Town and New Town and heightened the atmosphere. I doubt you’ll get the same vibe from Quire walking the different closes of Old Town and the open lanes of New Town if you haven’t experienced the vast contrast for yourself, but you can always give it a try. And heck, why not do both? Cause Edinburgh as well as The Edinburgh Dead are worth your time.
Fancy a trip to Edinburgh yourself? Get your Dead right here and walk in Quire's shoes.

vrijdag 5 juli 2013

#FridayReads: July 5th, 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.
This weekend, I'll be reading and hopefully finishing a book that looks very promising, namely The Edinburgh Dead by Brian Ruckley. It is a standalone novel (*) set in Edinburgh - big shocker, right?! - and there's something funny going on with dead people. I'm not that far in, so I'm winging it when I say this, but I think it'll be something zombie-ish. This book managed to be the first one being pulled from my BookJar and it conveniently fits into the monthly reading challenge at the book club, with the theme being 'Standalone novels'. Excellent anticipating from the Jar there, seeing as the selection took place near the end of June.
Even though I've only read fiftysomething pages, I can already tell that I'm very much enjoying the scenery. It's mostly because I've recently been to Edinburgh, but being able to conjure up reliable images of the places being described in the book really enhances the reading experience. It does make a difference when Old Town and New Town are being described and you can actually pull the image out of your memory instead of trying to come up with your own made up model of it all (**). The same goes for the scenes taking place in the Closes of Edinburgh. Having walked there and experienced the eerieness of some of them, really adds to the text.
The story does stand on its own though, with a little help from a seemingly morally grey main character. I can't really get to the core of him, but he is intriguing to say the least. Curious to see events unfolding...
I really hope to wrap this book up come Sunday evening, cause I still have some reading to do before taking a trip overseas and with almost all plane-and-transit-books chosen (***), I don't fancy deliberating again.
(*) Which is quite pleasant seeing the amount of series I'm reading or planning to...
(**) This also contributed to my liking of Sixty-One Nails by Mike Shevdon, because I've been in London and thus was able to immediately picture where the shit was hitting the fan.
(***) Expect a little post about this in a week or so.