Review: Dead as a Doornail by Charlaine Harris

Review: Dead as a Doornail by Charlaine HarrisDead as a Doornail by Charlaine Harris
Series: Sookie Stackhouse #5
Published by Ace/Roc, Gollancz
Pages: 295
Genres: Urban Fantasy
Source: Purchased myself
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Also in this series: Dead Until Dark

Sookie's got just a month, before the next full moon, to find out who wants her brother dead - and to stop the fiend! Sookie Stackhouse enjoys her life, mostly. She's a great cocktail waitress in a fun bar; she has a love life, albeit a bit complicated, and most people have come to terms with her telepathy. The problem is, Sookie wants a quiet life - but things just seem to happen to her and her friends. Now her brother Jason's eyes are starting to change: he's about to turn into a were-panther for the first time.

She can deal with that, but her normal sisterly concern turns to cold fear when a sniper sets his deadly sights on the local changeling population. She afraid not just because Jason's at risk, but because his new were-brethren suspect Jason may be the shooter. Sookie has until the next full moon to find out who's behind the attacks - unless the killer decides to find her first.

Thoughts: I am an ex-True Blood fan. While I am grateful for the series as it got me to pick up the Sookie Stackhouse series, I don’t watch it any more. It is brash and crass and just a bit too crazy – qualities that are fantastic in the short term, but painful after 4 long years.

But the Sookie books are nothing like True Blood – a fact that always comes to me as a shocking realisation whenever I pick up a new Sookie book. Dead as a Doornail is just like its predecessors: sweet, comforting and very Southern. If these books were food, they’d be a series of Red Velvet cupcakes… providing serious southern comfort while looking like blood.

Yup. Sookie Stackhouse novels = literary equivalent of Red Velvet.

So, of course, Dead as a Doornail was a pleasure to read. I curled up with it and was happy reading about both Sookie’s car troubles and her weird paranormal problems. It was a sweet, escapist read – and I will certainly be reading more books in the series. But did it keep me on my toes? Nope. Did it have me dying to read the next page? Nope. Did I feel any of the emotional ups-and-downs of reading a good book? Not once.

Why is that? Well, Dead as a Doornail is a bog-standard mystery with vampires and werewolves thrown in. Problem was that this particular mystery had no bite to it. By the time of the big reveal, my sole reaction was “huh”. Not exactly a ringing endorsement.

Alongside the mystery was Sookie’s ludicrous love life. She has FIVE men chasing after her in Dead as a Doornail – three of whom she kisses in this short book. Oh, and as if those five weren’t enough, Love Interest #6 makes his debut at the end of the novel. Seriously? I mean, if I were taking these books seriously (thank God I’m not) I would be quite pissed off by this flip-flopping.

Bottom line? This is an enjoyable series, but Dead as a Doornail is far from brilliant. If you don’t take the plot too seriously, you’ll probably enjoy it.

Review: The Eternal Ones by Kirsten Miller

Review: The Eternal Ones by Kirsten MillerThe Eternal Ones by Kirsten Miller
Series: The Eternal Ones #1
Published by Razorbill
Pages: 410
Genres: Paranormal YA, Young Adult
Source: Purchased myself
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Haven Moore can’t control her visions of a past with a boy called Ethan, and a life in New York that ended in fiery tragedy. In our present, she designs beautiful dresses for her classmates with her best friend Beau. Dressmaking keeps her sane, since she lives with her widowed and heartbroken mother in her tyrannical grandmother’s house in Snope City, a tiny town in Tennessee. Then an impossible group of coincidences conspire to force her to flee to New York, to discover who she is, and who she was.

In New York, Haven meets Iain Morrow and is swept into an epic love affair that feels both deeply fated and terribly dangerous. Iain is suspected of murdering a rock star and Haven wonders, could he have murdered her in a past life? She visits the Ouroboros Society and discovers a murky world of reincarnation that stretches across millennia. Haven must discover the secrets hidden in her past lives, and loves, before all is lost and the cycle begins again.

Thoughts: The Eternal Ones started off extremely well. It took an inherently cheesy stereotype (lovers through time), and made it not just entertaining but believable. The author gets rid of all the far-too-convenient logistics of having visions from a past life: they don’t start as a teen, but as a child; Haven doesn’t hide them from her family, because they result in violent outbursts; Haven doesn’t immediately think they’re real, because the entire town believes she’s possessed by the devil (that is, except the Penecostals up the road). It’s a brilliant idea: a young girl hated by Born Again Christians who was – literally – born again.

So, yeah. Everything started off well. Sure, the main character had a tendency to change her mind every few minutes, but hey, she had a traumatic childhood.

But then she ups and moves to New York to stalk a rich playboy, and the entire novel falls into a deep, dark well of I-can’t-believe-someone-wrote-this-crap terrible.

And to think, it started off so well.

The rest of the book revolves around Haven going back and forth between being completely and utterly in love with Ethan/Iain (the aforementioned playboy), and being convinced that he is a lying, murdering, cheating ass. Now, if you were to ask – say – any normal person, they would tell you that these two beliefs cannot exist simultaneously. If you believe the man you met two days before is out to kill you, then you do not decide to sleep with him “one last time”. You wouldn’t be convinced by a couple of well-delivered excuses and you sure as hell wouldn’t stay in his house. Or, if you are certain that the world is just trying to frame the man you love for crimes he never committed, then you don’t go around taking the word of a stranger over his!

Over a 20-page period, Haven went from convinced Ethan/Iain was trying to kill her, then back to believing that he was her eternal soulmate who would never lie to her, until finally deciding that, actually, she might have fallen in love with the wrong guy. Seriously? Seriously?

While Haven’s flip-flopping emotions were my biggest issue with this book, there were a whole bunch of other problems in it. The underlying “mystery” was an flat as a pancake (not to mention, completely illogical), the secondary characters were 10 kinds of stereotypical, and the villain was utterly deranged (but not in that cool, Disney!villain sort of way).

Bottom line? Don’t read this – the illogic will hurt your brain.

Review: Academy 7 by Anne Osterlund

Review: Academy 7 by Anne OsterlundAcademy 7 by Anne Osterlund
Published by Speak
Pages: 272
Genres: Science Fiction YA, Young Adult
Source: Purchased myself
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With a past too terrible to speak of, and a bleak, lonely future ahead of her, Aerin Renning is shocked to find she has earned a place at the most exclusive school in the universe. Aerin excels at Academy 7 in all but debate, where Dane Madousin - son of one of the most powerful men in the Alliance - consistently outtalks her. Fortunately Aerin consistently outwits him at sparring. They are at the top of their class until Dane jeopardizes everything and Aerin is unintentionally dragged down with him. When the pair is given a joint punishment, an unexpected friendship - and romance - begins to form. But Dane and Aerin both harbor dangerous secrets, and the two are linked in ways neither of them could ever have imagined...

Thoughts: There is only one thing I hate about this book: it’s too damn short! I could have kept on reading Academy 7 for another 500 pages – it was just that good.

Don’t be fooled by the cover: Academy 7 is Science Fiction YA. But like all good Science Fiction it is about so much more than space, it’s about character. And even while it is all about character, it’s also about politics, and intelligence, and standing up and thinking for yourself. Academy 7 managed to weave a complex world behind the main narrative – a world both believable and intriguing that would have kept me hooked even if I hadn’t liked the main story. It’s part what makes any book great, but in Academy 7 it is what made it brilliant.

While there was a romance between the two main characters – Aerin and Dane – Academy 7 wasn’t about them getting together… it was about them getting over the misery that had been their lives. Both Aerin and Dane reminded me, in a way, of Katniss from The Hunger Games. Neither one of them wanted to open up to each other, but life brought them together to do just that. I love it when characters need to overcome real emotional obstacles… when their bond with another character develops out of the mistrust that everyone feels for strangers. Aerin and Dane were complex individuals, and watching them grow together was just beautiful…

I also loved how intellectual this book was. Academy 7 is an institute that brings together the brightest minds in the galaxy, and it shows. Aerin and Dane are there because of their extraordinary intelligence, and Anne Osterlund lets it shine through the pages. Here’s what I mean:

Aerin was reminded frequently over the next two months that Dane was still exasperating: the way he drilled her on the small points of an argument, then turned and argued the flip side against her in class; the way he refused to use certain openings in combat, claiming that to do so went against his sense of moral conduct; the way he managed to let others’ snide remarks slide past him as if they meant nothing. If Aerin had been asked at the end of their second term to describe Dane, the first word she would have used would have been maddening. She would also have added stubborn, intelligent, and, to her surprise, funny. His sense of humor, couched in irony, took her a while to appreciate, but it was also bluntly honest; and, by the start of Academia’s damp season, she found herself looking forward to his unvarnished opinions on every topic from flight paths to Ausyan philosophy.

There were no pedestals in Dane’s world. No crystal vases to be treated with supreme care. No heroes. But there was a constant willingness to take out a topic, test it, shake it apart, mix up the pieces, and test them again.

Perhaps that’s why he spends time with me, Aerin found herself thinking one afternoon as she negotiated the Great Hall’s uneven stairs on her way to report for work. Because I haven’t made up my mind about this part of the universe.

– Chapter 14, Academy 7 by Anne Osterlund

In case you hadn’t gathered, I just loved this book. There were a few flaws, mainly due to the short length of the novel. I think Anne Osterlund had enough plot to fill at least 100 more pages and it was a shame to see some pretty key scenes rushed into a few pages. But the somewhat-uneven pacing is not enough to distract from the sheer brilliance of this novel.

Bottom line? Academy 7 is a stunning, emotional, and realistic novel. I adored the characters, the verse, and – hell – even the villains. When I say YA fiction can be astounding, this is the type of novel I’m talking about!

Note: Academy 7 reads as a standalone novel and will likely remain a standalone. Although Anne Osterlund envisioned the book as the first in a trilogy, there aren’t any plans to publish any more in this series (although, please, someone tell me I’m wrong about this!). It’s depressing when I think about it…

Novel vs TV series: A Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones TV PosterOK, so I am one of those fans. One of the fans who picked up the A Song of Fire and Ice series after watching the HBO series based on the books, Game of Thrones (hereafter known as HBO!GoT). Yep, I’m one of those.
And so instead of giving you your standard “OMG, this book is amazing” review (this book has been out for 15 years, there are a lot of them out there), I am doing something absolutely dreadful instead… I am comparing the show with the book!
Horrified? I know – but I’m dastardly that way.

Be warned, there are significant spoilers ahead! If you have either read the book or seen the show, you’ll be fine. If you’ve done neither, then just get to it already!

Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin

HBO!GoT / Librarything /Goodreads

Show Summary: You win or you die.

Book Summary: Long ago, in a time forgotten, a preternatural event threw the seasons out of balance. The cold is returning, and in the frozen wastes to the north of Winterfell, sinister forces are massing beyond the kingdom’s protective wall. To the south, the King’s powers are failing, and his enemies are emerging from the shadows of the throne. At the center of the conflict lie the Starks of Winterfell, a family as harsh and unyielding as the frozen land they were born to. Now Lord Eddard Stark is reluctantly summoned to serve as the King’s new Hand, an appointment that threatens to sunder not only his family but also the kingdom itself.

Three things a HBO!GoT fan should know before starting the book:

  1. You will love it, because it is pretty much exactly the same as the show: I was stunned by how closely HBO stuck to the novels. I knew that all of the main plot elements had been included, but it is so much more than that. I’d say about 90% of the dialogue that is in the show is also in the book.
  2. All of the main characters are about 10 years younger in the novel. Yup, that’s right. A Game of Thrones is a lot more risque than its HBO counterpart. Dany is only 13 when her brother hands her off to the Dothraki. While it works in the book and is historically realistic, I really don’t think I could have watched that.
  3. The book is over 1000 pages long. I don’t want you to be put off by that, but it’s the truth. I don’t want anyone to think that A Game of Thrones is a short read – it’s not. It really really is not!

Game of Thrones by George R R MartinThree things I preferred the HBO interpretation of:

  1. Catelyn Stark. I had genuinely liked Catelyn in HBO!GoT. She wasn’t my favourite character, but she clearly had Stark qualities to her that made me warm to her. She didn’t sit to the sidelines, but neither did she try to jump in the driver’s seat. But book!Catelyn I very nearly loathe. How can I put it in a way fans will understand… there’s just not much of the North in that woman. She treats Jon 100 times worse than she does on the show, not to mention her inability to understand honour, justice and those other fantastic Stark qualities.
  2. The scenery. While I realise television has the clear advantage in this field, I found myself missing the beautiful landscapes and the gorgeous castles. George R.R. Martin isn’t all that big on descriptive writing about scenery, so while some places were extremely well described (the Wall and the Dothraki plains, for example), others had almost no description at all (King’s Landing).
  3. The Lannisters. HBO!GoT gives the Lannisters a bit more context – they aren’t necessarily my favourite group of people (*strangles Joffery*) but there were times when I genuinely felt for Cersei and Jamie. But in the books? They are the very definition of evil. Evil. Evil. Evil. And while I am certainly Team Stark, I would have liked to have seen a bit more Lannister in the book.

Three things I loved from the book which didn’t really translate onto the screen:

  1. Bran and the three-eyed crow. While HBO!GoT really did try to bring these scenes to life on the screen, they really didn’t make much sense. Mostly because, in the book, the crow actually speaks to Bran. And the truth of the matter is that talking animals never really work on TV.
  2. Jon Snow. While I certainly liked Jon in the television show, he did seem rather whiney. If anything, the younger novel version of him seemed much more adult than the actual adult that played him!
  3. How genuinely sweet Joffery was to Sansa. Even though Joffery is the anti-christ, there were times in the book when he seemed to actually like Sansa… none of that came through in HBO!GoT. It’s a real shame since it makes Sansa’s obsession with the evil blonde twit understandable.

One thing I really wish the show had included:

  1. How utterly unimportant Theon Grey is to Robb Stark. HBO!GoT turns Theon into Robb’s best friend and, considering how loathsome I find him, I was pleasantly surprised to see that this was not the case in the books. Maybe their relationship develops further in the later novels, but in A Game of Thrones they are most certainly not BFFs. *shakes fist*

Bottom line? There is a reason this book has so many fans: it’s brilliant. Go forth and purchase.

Review: Heat Stroke by Rachel Caine

Review: Heat Stroke by Rachel CaineHeat Stroke by Rachel Caine
Series: Weather Warden #2
Published by Ace/Roc, Allison & Busby
Pages: 335
Genres: Urban Fantasy
Source: Purchased myself
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Rating:
Also in this series: Ill Wind

Review is spoiler-free - the summary is not!

Accused of murder, Weather Warden Joanne Baldwin was chased across the country—and killed—by a team charged with hunting down rogue Wardens. Five days later, Joanne had a lovely funeral and was posthumously cleared of all charges. Her human life was over, but she had been reborn in Djinnhood. Now, until she masters her enhanced powers, Joanne must try to avoid being "claimed" by a human. But when a hazard that only a Djinn could sense infiltrates Earth's atmosphere, Joanne must somehow convince someone to do something about it—or the forecast will be deadly. So who said being all-powerful was going to be easy?

Thoughts: When I started Heat Stroke, it had been over a year since I read Ill Wind, the first book in Rachel Caine’s Weather Warden series. And while I had geniunely enjoyed Ill Wind, and I could remember as much, I couldn’t remember anything that had happened in it. I vaguely recalled the ending, I remembered the main character had a thing for fast cars, and… that was it.

So, needless to say, this book started off a bit rough. There were a lot of characters dealing with the emotional fall-out of the last book – and that really meant nothing at all to me. But soon enough, Caine ramped up the action and I no longer had to worry about what I didn’t remember. There were are new problems to worry about!

Heat Stroke reminded me of what I adored about the first 6 books of the Morganville Vampire Series: the out-of-nowhere twists and turns. Rachel Caine is not an author to stick with the status quo. She’ll set you up in one direction and then – BAM – she’ll move you into another. Heat Stroke was filled with twists and turns – all of them utterly realistic.

UK Cover

And now that I write that, I realise that that is exactly it. I’ve read 10+ Caine books and now I’ve finally worked out why she is such a joy to read! It’s not just that she puts in great twists into her books, it’s that the twists feel completely natural. A lot of excellent fantasy novelists put in mind-blowing twists into their books (Rachel Vincent and Richelle Mead, I’m looking at the two of you), but they always feel like twists. Your reaction to them will always be “Wow, I can’t believe that author did that!”. But with Caine, you don’t even feel it. She creates characters and universes so complete within themselves that they can drive the show all on their own. It’s fantastic.

I can officially say that Heat Stroke took me from just being a Rachel Caine fan to being a Weather Warden fan. Apparently, Rachel Caine can write a main character in love with more than one leading man without turning the novel into a migraine inducing disaster. She can writes 3D villains who you can both pity and wish dead. She’s also one of the few authors I’ve read who “abuses” her male characters just as much as her female ones. In short, she’s fab – there is a reason she has so many fans!

Bottom line? Read the Weather Warden series! It is extremely enjoyable, highly realistic, kick-ass urban fantasy filled with fast cars and physics.

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