26 February 2016

Pyramids - Terry Pratchett

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It's bad enough being new on the job, but Teppic hasn't a clue as to what a pharaoh is supposed to do. After all, he's been trained at Ankh-Morpork's famed assassins' school, across the sea from the Kingdom of the Sun. First, there's the monumental task of building a suitable resting place for Dad -- a pyramid to end all pyramids. Then there are the myriad administrative duties, such as dealing with mad priests, sacred crocodiles, and marching mummies. And to top it all off, the adolescent pharaoh discovers deceit, betrayal - not to mention a headstrong handmaidlen - at the heart of his realm. 

I've found Terry Pratchett's Discworld books for adults to be a little hit and miss so far. I know a number of people who love them, the mum of one friend springs to mind, she's content to get any other book from the library but owns the entire Discworld series. On the other hand I have my Dad who has tried to read a couple of different books from the series and given up. I myself enjoyed the Discworld books for younger readers when I was younger. The trouble I've often heard is that it took a while for Terry Pratchett to hit his stride.

Reading the series in order Pyramids is the first book that has really hit the spot. The storyline was intriguing, what would happen when the biggest pyramid ever was built, I have to say I didn't see the ending coming.

I found the writing amusing, there were jokes in the book that I actually found funny, this has been missing from the Discworld books thus far. 

The character clicked with me. I could understand where he was coming from. I felt empathy. He amused me. I was positively behind his drive to stop the evil regent. 

Thus far Pyramids is a winner for me.

25 February 2016

The Maze Runner - James Dashner

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When Thomas wakes up in the lift, the only thing he can remember is his name. He’s surrounded by strangers—boys whose memories are also gone.

Outside the towering stone walls that surround the Glade is a limitless, ever-changing maze. It’s the only way out—and no one’s ever made it through alive.

Then a girl arrives. The first girl ever. And the message she delivers is terrifying.

Remember. Survive. Run.

There was a lot of hype about the Maze Runner, I picked up the books because the film trailer intrigued me. Frankly I didn't enjoy the books, I know people who have and will acknowledge that perhaps this is a matter of personal preference. The concept of the Maze, as it was presented in this book, is still one which intrigues me. I think more could have been done with the plot, compared to what seemed like an endless series of arguments. 

In terms of the writing style it felt like there was a lot of tell and not much show going on, it wasn't really what I would have chosen.

As a character Thomas annoyed me. He had come in last, and while the other boys had no idea what was happening somehow he just knew. That didn't even take into account the weird stuff going on with Teresa.

It could be that I just wasn't the target audience for this story. Those I know who've enjoyed it fit more firmly into the category of teenager. Whatever the case this wasn't the book for me.

18 February 2016

The Final Empire - Brandon Sanderson

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In a world where ash falls from the sky, and mist dominates the night, an evil cloaks the land and stifles all life. The future of the empire rests on the shoulders of a troublemaker and his young apprentice. Together, can they fill the world with colour once more?

In Brandon Sanderson's intriguing tale of love, loss, despair and hope, a new kind of magic enters the stage - Allomancy, a magic of the metals.

The Final Empire is the first book in Brandon Sanderson's Mistborn trilogy and a book I'd been toying with picking up for a while. When I needed a new audio book to listen to on the approximately 12 hour car journey to our French holiday destination last summer I took the plunge and downloaded The Final Empire. I actually didn't start listening to The Final Empire until halfway through our holiday, the point in time at which severe storms kept the whole family shut in the Gite we'd rented for 2-3 days. Once I did there was no going back and on our return home the story ended just before we crossed the channel, and just before my battery died.

The Final Empire takes a slightly different stance to both a lot of classic fantasy novels and a lot of recently written fantasy novels in its introduction managing to combine the two approaches. Classic fantasy novels have a habit of starting with some kind of quote from a myth or legend or text. Modern fantasy novels have a habit of jumping right in to show the central character in action. The Final Empire starts by showing Kelsier, mentor to the central character Vin, in action, Kelsier who just so happens to be a living legend. It really worked, I was caught completely by the end of the first scene, so much so I questioned what had happened when the plot moved on to Vin!

There is a wide cast of characters used in the Mistborn books, not all of them are fully fleshed out in The Final Empire, although a number of them have amazing depth for so early in a trilogy. Fore amongst these are Kelsier and Vin. There is so much detail in their backgrounds. So much that you can tell Sanderson knows but isn't sharing. 

In comparison to his characters I would argue that the world developed in this book is weak. That's not to say that it's weak compared to wider works, just that his characters dwarf it. The world developed is intriguing, it has a lot of interesting ideas, a lot of fears that you wouldn't see in our world but which assist Sanderson nicely in driving the story, chief among these the Mist and the burning of metals. My problem with the world building was that it felt in some ways too much like a facade, like his characters the parts of the World we see are amazingly developed. Unlike his characters the world we don't see is a dim grey haze. We saw a very brief glimpse of the outskirts of the Empire in the prologue, beyond that we can barely glimpse what's outside Luthadel, we have no scope of the might of the Final Empire before it's overthrown. The later books do address that to some extent, but I would have liked to have seen more of the Empire in all its glory.

As this is an audio adaptation I have my mandatory comment on the narrator to make. This was my first interaction with Michael Kramer and initially he jarred on me and it was the only thing which made me question if the audio adaptation was a mistake. I think the main reason for this is twofold. Firstly I grew up in England and don't know any Americans while I watch American tv quite happily the audio narrator I grew up listening to was Stephen Fry reading Harry Potter, Stephen Fry who couldn't get any more British if he tried. After Stephen Fry an American narrator didn't sit naturally in my ear. Secondly I found Michael Kramer's pacing took a little while to get used to. He tends to read some sections really fast and others at quite an even pace, again I'm going to compare it to the Harry Potter audio I grew up with, and say Stephen Fry worked his way through the books at a consistent pace and implied drama through inflection rather than pace. Neither method is wrong, but adjusting took me a little while. Once I got used to Michael Kramer reading I loved listening to him, his voice for me doesn't hold the same natural beauty of Stephen Fry's voice, but he is a master narrator and really brought the characters to life. 

14 February 2016

Sunday recap:14th February 2016

It's been a few weeks since I last participated in the Sunday Post so I have a few things to recap. Don't forget to head over to the Caffeinated Book Reviewer to Sign up.

What I've been reading:

The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

The Great Hunt by Robert Jordan
The Dragon Reborn by Robert Jordan
The Shadow Rising by Robert Jordan

The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley
Moving Pictures by Terry Pratchett
  • I'm finally making progress on my goal to finish this series this year! 
Call the Midwife by Jennifer Worth
  • The first book in my second series of the year Call the Midwife is just as good as the tv series it inspired. Now just to see if I can read the rest of the series this month!

What I've Posted:

My Bookish Resolutions

Reading Challenges:
  • I have read 9/41 Discworld books
  • I have read 9/100 books in 2016 so far
Blogging Challenges:

I've been making reasonable progress with my blogging challenges. I'm working my way through reviews of books I've read over the last few years and have been writing, if not posting, reviews of more recent reads.

Personal Challenges:

My personal challenges could be going better. I'm at a neutral weight to my last loss, so not exactly on target. My swimming has been getting better and I'm up to quarter mile sets (when I was younger I used to do half mile warm ups). I've also done my first tumble turns for years in the last couple of weeks. 

12 February 2016

Mort - Terry Pratchett

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In this Discworld installment, Death comes to Mort with an offer he can't refuse -- especially since being, well, dead isn't compulsory. As Death's apprentice, he'll have free board and lodging, use of the company horse, and he won't need time off for family funerals. The position is everything Mort thought he'd ever wanted, until he discovers that this perfect job can be a killer on his love life. 

Mort for me was a strange book. I was expecting to love it, I've loved all of the glimpses of death I've ever seen in the Discworld books or screen adaptations. I loved death in this book. I didn't love this book though, because I was expecting it to focus on death. 

Mort didn't focus on death it focused on Mort, death's assistant. When I first picked the book up Mort annoyed me, he was kind of whiny, a bit too unsure what to do with his life. He grew on me. I think he started to grow on me about the time he became more assertive, about the time he started to show some of the traits I enjoyed in death.

Come the close of the book I think I'm glad we'll get to ser more of Mort in other books. I'm also glad this wasn't a long book. 

11 February 2016

Emperor of Thorns - Mark Lawrence

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King Jorg Ancrath is twenty now—and king of seven nations. His goal—revenge against his father—has not yet been realized, and the demons that haunt him have only grown stronger. Yet no matter how tortured his path, he intends to take the next step in his upward climb.

Jorg would be emperor. It is a position not to be gained by the sword but rather by vote. And never in living memory has anyone secured a majority of the vote, leaving the Broken Empire long without a leader. Jorg plans to change that. He’s uncovered the lost technology of the land, and he won’t hesitate to use it.

But he soon finds an adversary standing in his way, a necromancer unlike any he has ever faced—a figure hated and feared even more than himself: the Dead King.

Emperor of Thorns was a really fitting conclusion to the Broken Empire trilogy. I felt like it did a really good job of tying up loose ends. 

We saw massive changes in Jorg in this book, he was perhaps less selfish than he was in the first book,  or even the first two books. While he went about trying to save the world he did so in a manner that I felt was very Jorg. 

There were some interesting developments in Builder technologies discovered and I really enjoyed seeing Jorg get to grips with what appears to be hologram technology. 

It's been nearly two years since I read this book, and yet it's stuck with me. Or maybe it hasn't stuck with me. Maybe that was just Jorg. He's a favourite character. He has nothing to recommend him, and yet you can't help loving him.

9 February 2016

Anne of Green Gables - L. M. Montgomery

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Orphan Anne has always dreamed of being part of a proper family. So when she’s chosen to go and live with the Cuthberts, life looks grand. But the Cuthberts wanted a little boy to help them on Green Gables farm, not a girl. They cannot keep her. . . .

Meet the girl who soon wins a place in everyone’s heart!

I read Anne of Green Gables as my January book for the 12 Months Classics Challenge 's book you've always wanted to read', strictly speaking I haven't always wanted to read it, I have however heard it mentioned in a number of places over the last few years which has built a desire to read it. My particular motivator was when Andrew used it to win Imogen in Neighbours last year. I'm counting that as good enough. 

When looking into this book I saw a number of people had placed it above the Little Women books in their estimation, while others defended Little Women. I have to say that I fall on the Little Women side of the wall. I liked the exploits of the four girls, which involved less sheer stupidity, better than the exploits of the one girl.

Anne of Green Gables is not a bad book, if somewhat a product of its time in terms of rampant sexism. It is a series of three chapter arcs for most of its length and tells the story of Anne growing up and finding a home reasonably well. You can definitely relate to some of the feelings she displays, her isolation and gratitude when she first arrives at Green Gables, through to her anger and humiliation when someone makes fun of her hair. 

At times Anne's flowery language irritated me. I'm not sure it was necessary to name every place more poetically, although it did do a good job of shoving Anne's characteristics in your face. Anne herself grew on me through the book, halfway through I would have said I wouldn't pick up Anne of Avonlea, having finished the book I can no longer say I'm so sure. 

The final thing I feel I have to mention, as it has perhaps coloured my review, is that I didn't realise this was a children's book until I picked it up. It very probably is perfect for its intended audience.

The Hero and the Crown - Robin McKinley

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Aerin could not remember a time when she had not known the story; she had grown up knowing it.
It was the story of her mother, the witchwoman who enspelled the king into marrying her, to get an heir that would rule Damar; and it was told that she turned her face to the wall and died of despair when she found she had borne a daughter instead of a son.
Aerin was that daughter.
But there was more of the story yet to be told; Aerin's destiny was greater than even she had dreamed--for she was to be the true hero who wouldn't wield the power of the Blue Sword...

I read this book because it was the first book in the first series nominated for the Flights of Fantasy Book Club hosted by Alexa Loves Reading. I'm not sure that I would necessarily have given this book a chance otherwise since the cover doesn't really appeal to me. To be honest that would have been a shame because it is a really good book. 

I liked the fairly unique take on dragons, there have been a lot of books recently where dragons in general have been either good or neutral. I don't think I've ever read a book where they're considered vermin and the profession of Dragon-hunting is considered shameful. It made the section with the red Dragon seem significantly more dangerous.

In terms of characters I felt that Aerin and Tor we're well rounded individuals, Galanna seemed to be all spite, Arlbeth was all benevolence although with something deeper there and Luthe made next to no impression at all. I do wonder whether that was due to me reading The Hero and the Crown and The Blue Sword in the wrong order. As an immortal Luthe is the only character likely to appear in The Blue Sword.

This book is definitely worth reading and I'll definitely be reading The Blue Sword, I'm not sure that this will prompt me to seek out Robin McKinley's other works though.

4 February 2016

The Spellsong War - L. E. Modesitt Jr

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With The Soprano Sorceress L.E. Modesitt started The Spellsong Cycle, an innovative and compelling new fantasy series that won Modesitt tons of new readers. The Spellsong War will enthrall its readers and continue to build Modesitt's increasingly loyal following.

Anna Marshal is regent of the kingdom of Defalk only a few months after a sorcerer pulled her from her boring life as a music instructor in Ames, Iowa to the world of Erde. With her ability and her integrity she saved Defalk from invasion and became it's regent, now she must defend it against the greedy rulers of neighboring kingdoms who see a weakened state and a possible opportunity.

The Spellsong War was ok. I have to say it was my least favourite L. E. Modesitt book of all the ones I've read to date. I've read only a fraction of the books he's written but it still covers a significant number of books. I thought I'd read enough to say that I'd like pretty much any book he wrote, but this book has revised that opinion.

The main trouble I found with this book was the main character. Anna, who in The Soprano Sorceress is a slightly uncertain woman with a reasonably strong moral compass has become a character with such strong moral views that she wants to force them onto other people and is willing to kill in order to do so. I'm not sure if this is a set up of some description for the rest of the series, maybe we'll see her knocked down a peg in a later book, but I'm not sure. She's too willing and eager to justify her actions, and what we're seeing is a dictatorship in the formation.

This book does have plenty to recommend it. The magic system in use is still an interesting concept, although I'm still struggling to get my head around the fact that she's losing weight by singing no matter how much magic it channels. 

Some of the other characters are interesting to see. I particularly like the child characters, they seem well developed for essentially tertiary characters. 

I'm not saying this book isn't worth picking up, but there are other books, and especially other Modesitt books that I would pick up first. When I read the Soprano Sorceress I was immediately reaching for The Spellsong War. On reading The Spellsong War I didn't feel that same drive.