Promise of Blood (Powder Mages 01) by Brian McClellan

Synopsis (from Goodreads):

The Age of Kings is dead . . . and I have killed it

It’s a bloody business overthrowing a king…
Field Marshal Tamas’ coup against his king sent corrupt aristocrats to the guillotine and brought bread to the starving. But it also provoked war with the Nine Nations, internal attacks by royalist fanatics, and the greedy to scramble for money and power by Tamas’s supposed allies: the Church, workers unions, and mercenary forces.

Stretched to his limit, Tamas is relying heavily on his few remaining powder mages, including the embittered Taniel, a brilliant marksman who also happens to be his estranged son, and Adamat, a retired police inspector whose loyalty is being tested by blackmail.

But when gods are involved…
Now, as attacks batter them from within and without, the credulous are whispering about omens of death and destruction. Just old peasant legends about the gods waking to walk the earth. No modern educated man believes that sort of thing. But they should…

My impressions:

The first part of the series…it was supposed to blow my mind. It was supposed to make me overawed and so very eager to find out more. Only it didn’t.

I admit it: it was all fast-paced, with accents relocated properly within the story. I enjoyed especially the narrative of Adamat, a private investigator employed by Tamas who then was blackmailed into treason. I also liked Mihali the super-cook and an aspiring god who could feed the whole army with no tangible resources at hand.  The rest I glossed over. Why? There were no strong female characters which could make the story a tad less masculine and adrenaline-fuelled even if, officially, both sides didn’t lack females, kick-ass and not so kick-ass. What’s worse, there was no sense of humour. Tamas was a sad powder keg, constantly hovering near the edge of a collapse and mourning his late wife. Taniel was a frantic powder junkie running from one mission to the other just to forget his cheating ex-fiancee. Ka-poel, a mute voodoo sidekick, seemed to exist only to save Taniel’s life (or have her life saved by him in turn). She could have been good but she was mute, ha, ha so we knew close to nothing about her character. There were also some plot-holes and not all of the characters’ actions made sense but it bothered me less than it should, what, with all that skimming and jumping.

Add to that an inconsistent, incompetent world build, full of powder mages and Privileged whose skills and superhuman abilities could change in a blink of an eye and gods who weren’t gods until they were, but not like you imagined. Sounds convoluted? So was my impression. It seemed to me the author didn’t think out his ideas as thoroughly as he should have.

Add to that a fantasy version of the Great French Revolution which was presented in a very sketchy way and lasted days instead of years but changed hardly anything. It bothered me that Tamas decided to overthrow a dynasty without even planning his next two-three steps. Perhaps it mirrored well the author’s plot-building skills (‘I’ll patch this and that later…oups, I’ve forgotten about it entirely,’) but it certainly didn’t make me impressed.

Finally the novel ended with a cliffhanger – something which didn’t improve my mood either.

Final verdict:

Promise of Blood does indeed promise you a lot. Unfortunately, when it comes to crucial elements, it doesn’t deliver. In my very humble opinion the author lacks some knowledge about issues he was writing about, military strategy and believable magic system being at the top of the list. Meh.

Rating icon. A hairless cat is wearing a santa hat and a sour expression. On the hat reads: meh.

Posted in adventure, book review, fantasy, historically-flavoured, meh, rating | Tagged , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Hunger Makes the Wolf by Alex Wells

I read this one because of dear Melfka – thank you very much, I am obliged!

Synopsis (from Goodreads):

The strange planet known as Tanegawa’s World is owned by TransRifts Inc, the company with the absolute monopoly on interstellar travel. Hob landed there ten years ago, a penniless orphan left behind by a rift ship. She was taken in by Nick Ravani and quickly became a member of his mercenary biker troop, the Ghost Wolves.

Ten years later, she discovers that the body of Nick’s brother out in the dunes. Worse, his daughter is missing, taken by shady beings called the Weathermen. But there are greater mysteries to be discovered – both about Hob and the strange planet she calls home.

My impressions:

It wasn’t a bad book, not bad at all. I had a bit of a problem with motorcycles on a desert (sand and machinery of any kind don’t like each other but, I suppose, hovercrafts would be better) but overall it was fine. Hob Ravani was my type of heroine: flawed, headstrong, intelligent and independent. Her bestie, Mag, could have been more fleshed-out but I appreciated the mere fact that the author included a friendship between two girls in such a book AND almost no romance thread at all. There were hints about Hob and a creature called Bone Collector but they remained just hints, as they should.

Unfortunately the plot left me a bit unimpressed. It was all right up to, roughly, the middle of the story but after the tragic death of Mag’s mom I had an impression that everything was collapsing, becoming more and more predictable, mimicking other stories of that kind here and there. I finished the book only to check whether my personal predictions were right. Most of them were – it is not a compliment. Still I consider it a very interesting debut, perhaps a beginning of a series. A David against a Goliath, it might be interesting to watch.

Final verdict:

If the idea of ‘Dune’ with bikers and coal mines appeals to you and you don’t care about romance it is your story. Still don’t try to guess the plot twists – more likely than not you might succeed and the fun will be over. The upper strata of meh.

Rating icon. A hairless cat is wearing a santa hat and a sour expression. On the hat reads: meh.

Posted in book review, dystopia, fantasy, sci-fi | Tagged , , , , , | 8 Comments

Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson

Synopsis (from Goodreads):

In reality, Hiro Protagonist delivers pizza for Uncle Enzo’s CosoNostra Pizza Inc., but in the Metaverse he’s a warrior prince. Plunging headlong into the enigma of a new computer virus that’s striking down hackers everywhere, he races along the neon-lit streets on a search-and-destroy mission for the shadowy virtual villain threatening to bring about infocalypse. Snow Crash is a mind-altering romp through a future America so bizarre, so outrageous…you’ll recognize it immediately.

My impressions:

I loved the premise of this one. The author compared ancient Sumerian language to an audio virus which could infect programmers and spread like bush fire. I loved the beginning too, with a pizza delivery almost gone wrong. I loved the dystopian world where governments had collapsed and societies were held loosely together by anarcho-capitalism.

Still the book was far from perfect. It was obvious it didn’t age well for one thing. The ending was horrible, preceded by info-dumpish, chapter-length explanations, interesting only for nerds, and a fairy-tale interpretation of Neurolinguistics which sometimes was fine and sometimes bordered ridiculous. Some characters really made me raise my hackles, especially a teenage girl called Y.T., a smart skater Kourier Mary-Sue who enchants everybody around her even if she is as flat as a cardboard pizza box, perhaps even flatter. Different cyberpunk gizmos that she carries along seem to act as an equivalent of individuality. Don’t even let me start writing about romance story arcs, as dry as sand on the desert.

Final verdict:

The book read like a list of brilliant ideas and missed opportunities. A dated version of cyberpunk I could swallow. Some characters, especially females, I couldn’t. Still disliking it  completely was for me impossible, flaws or no flaws, especially because of lovely Sumerians who were treated by the authors as equals to our contemporaries.

Rating icon. A hairless cat is wearing a santa hat and a sour expression. On the hat reads: meh.

Posted in book review, dystopia, sci-fi | Tagged , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Zero by Marc Elsberg

Synopsis:

A new social newtork company, Freeme, is unique. Not only it allows you to earn quite a lot by selling your personal data, gathered in their database, but also it helps you advising how to become , happier, cooler, more likeable, more successful. Do you want to get a better job? Find new love/partner? Have better grades at school? Do you want to be fitter, change your eating habits, lose weight? There’s an ActApp for everything and for everyone – young, old, male, female, absolute computer beginners and programmers alike. Just two-three clicks and you’ll be given useful tips 24/7. Plenty of people claim they’ve worked wonders. Where’s the catch?

A fortyish journalist, Cynthia Bonsant, tries to find out. She is doubly motivated: not only it’s her last chance to show her boss, Anthony, she shouldn’t be made redundant but also her teen daughter, Viola, has been an avid user of Freeme. And has changed – a lot. When two Viola’s friends die, one after another, Cynthia joins Freeme to understand what’s happening better.

What I liked:

  • the premise. It was even better than in Blackout. Whether you like it or not different big corporations like Google, Facebook, or Twitter are gathering enormous amounts of data about ourselves, our habits, likes and dislikes. They want to know more and more, permeate every aspect of our lives; they also would love nothing better than to control us by e.g. whisper the right answers to our everyday questions, even as trivial as what shoes or what clothes we should buy in order to look well or what food we should eat in order to be healthy. As you can guess they don’t have our best interest in mind.
  • the narration. It was far better than in the debut novel of that author. Fewer infodumps, deeper characterization of main leads and quite a lot of tension made it a rollercoaster ride of a lecture.
  • Cynthia Bonsant. I did like the fact that she was a middle-aged woman and a single mother, not a nubile genius in a  super-model body. Her insecurities sounded real.

What I didn’t like:

  • the romance. Yes, our Cyn, young or not, falls for a handsome guy 12 years her junior and then everything became as predictable as it would be only possible. Not impressed.
  • the ending. I don’t want to spoil you but near the end the tension dissolved into thin air for a reason or two. It seemed to me the author didn’t have a clue how to end his book (but of course I can be wrong).

Final verdict:

The excellent premise makes this one quite original among other thrillers and I am overjoyed the author’s style improved. Unfortunately, the book is currently not available in English. Pity.

Posted in book review, contemporary, dystopia, thriller | Tagged , , , | 7 Comments

Happy spring break!

I am going to take a short blogging breather – enjoy yourself and have a happy spring break! My gift to you all – that fantastic blackbird song. 😀

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Madam Tulip and Knave of Hearts by David Ahern

I was sent a complimentary copy of this one by the author in return for an honest review – thank you very much!

Synopsis:

What should you do if you are an actress and your theater all of a sudden gets closed due to circumstances beyond your control? Basically everything that allows you to earn a bit. Derry O’Donnell has to dust off her Madam Tulip persona and, with her sidekick, Bruce, in tow, she goes to perform for the British aristocrats. An Earl is throwing an engagement party for his daughter and a psychic might be a good addition to planned entertainment. What can go wrong? Well, pretty much everything.

There will be priceless paintings, old and new, Russian mafia, horses, and body parts of a very unhappy forger. There will be cards and a crystal ball and fortune-telling, with quite unexpected outcome.

My impressions:

This one is, in my humble opinion, actually better than the first part, quite a feat per se because usually it’s the other way round. I even like the cover art better. It might be read as a stand-alone but if you are given an opportunity read the previous part first – it won’t hurt.

At first glance you deal here with a well-known scheme: a filthy rich aristo is throwing a party because one of his daughters gets engaged. Plenty of people arrive, among them a psychic and an actress from the Emerald Isle, Derry O’Donnell and her driver, Bruce, the ex-SEAL. Then strange thing happen and poor Madam Tulip gets more entertainment than she would like to deal with. What can be done? She does a bit of sleuthing and decides to help poor aristocrats who, this time, might be neck-deep in serious trouble.

Derry was such a sweetie in this one! I fully appreciated the fact that the author didn’t make her fall in love with anybody and still managed to create a very likeable heroine. The mystery behind an arm sent to the Earl was nicely done and quite believable. Still, even though the novel can be pigeonholed as cosy mystery or comic suspense, Mr Ahern was able to smuggle quite acute  observations concerning e.g. the ambiguous feelings towards the Royalty and aristocrats and differences in mindset between Americans and British. I also appreciated the important role of paintings and curators in the plot! Making Derry go to the Salisbury Plain during the Mabon was like a cherry on top of a wedding cake!

One more thing and I am done with my inordinate gushing. Two words: the parents. I cannot appreciate enough the fact that Derry is not another parentless ‘stub’ or an orphan girl. The dynamics between her, her American ma and Irish pa is simply priceless and so real! You might call it dysfunctional but it’s so funny to read about!

Now my carping, thrown in just in case I go out of practice: the baddies. Sergiei shouldn’t have hit on Derry and if he already did it he should have followed that attraction. It would have made him far more interesting and the final showdown even more dramatic.

Final verdict:

One of funnier and cleverer cosy mystery series I’ve had a pleasure to read so far. If you ever stumble upon a Madam Tulip mystery do not hesitate to give it a go! You won’t regret it!

Other David Ahern books reviewed on this blog:

Madam Tulip

Posted in adventure, book review, contemporary, cozy mystery, crime, mystery | Tagged , , , , , , | 7 Comments

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

Synopsis (from Goodreads):

It’s just a small story really, about among other things: a girl, some words, an accordionist, some fanatical Germans, a Jewish fist-fighter, and quite a lot of thievery. . . .

Set during World War II in Germany, Markus Zusak’s groundbreaking new novel is the story of Liesel Meminger, a foster girl living outside of Munich. Liesel scratches out a meager existence for herself by stealing when she encounters something she can’t resist–books. With the help of her accordion-playing foster father, she learns to read and shares her stolen books with her neighbors during bombing raids as well as with the Jewish man hidden in her basement before he is marched to Dachau.

My impressions:

Me: Hello Death, a very nasty reviewer is trying to make sense of your YA story.

Death: Jesus, Mary and Joseph, du Saukerl, du Saumensch du Arschloch…

Me : Not working, not working at all, sorry. I know these words and far worse too. Let me begin.

Three important things you have to know before starting to read this book.

The author is basically telling you a fairy tale about:

  1. Holocaust for dummies,
  2. Healing properties of literature for dummies,
  3. A book thief who was stealing one book a year or so, mostly from a lady who knew about it and agreed to it  = book thief for dummies.

Apart from that this novel features an angelic Jewish fist-fighter who is also a philosopher and a visionary of a kind, a couple of really decent Germans who tried to save his life even though they were dirt-poor themselves, and a girl called Liesel who is the cutesy incarnated and her fate will make you cry.

Death: So what?

Me: So nothing and that’s my point. Let me continue:

Three small but important things the author is clearly not:

  1. A historian
  2. A good writer
  3. Kurt Vonnegut

As a result his book is not only an artificial, shallow, lachrymose variation of the Holocaust theme,  but also it doesn’t ring true to anybody whose family had many painful encounters with the WWII, a period of unprecedented crime and mayhem. There’s no real depth or pathos.

Death: There is! That’s why I am here!

Me: That’s why you belong with Discworld and Terry Pratchett.

Finally three sad little things which caused me a headache while reading this one:

  1. Pace of narration, constantly interrupted by remarks from Death which not only bordered on spoilers but also sounded childish and weren’t necessary,
  2. Prose which sometimes was barely readable, peppered with passive voice and dictionary definitions of different German words and phrases, all conveniently translated,
  3. Little pictures which added nothing and looked as if drawn by a four-year-old child with serious coordination issues.

Final verdict:

There’s so much awesome YA Holocaust literature out there — The Devil’s Arithmetic, Number the StarsThe Diary of Anne Frank just to quote a few titles. Or if you want a book about bombing in Germany, read Slaughterhouse V. This one felt fake. Meh.

Rating icon. A hairless cat is wearing a santa hat and a sour expression. On the hat reads: meh.

Posted in book review, fairy tale, fantasy, historically-flavoured, meh, rating | Tagged , , , , | 11 Comments

1st of April

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Jet loves taking photos of flowers – here’s one of them.

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Jet says hi and wishes you happy spring with this selfie.

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Movie review: Equilibrium (2002) directed by Kurt Wimmer

Product info:

Cast in Libria, a dystopian country of the future which outlawed emotions of any kind, the film follows John Preston (Christian Bale), an upper echelon  enforcement officer called a Grammaton Cleric. Citizens have to take daily injections of drugs (Prozium II)  to suppress their emotions and never, ever cause a war again. Or any crime at all. Still if it is all so good and noble why there are armed patrols in the streets? Why propaganda speeches are aired 24/7?

After accidentally missing a dose, Preston begins to experience emotions, which makes him question his own morality and moderate his actions while attempting to remain undetected by the suspicious society in which he lives. Ultimately, he aids a resistance movement using advanced martial arts, which he was taught by the very regime he is helping to overthrow. After that nothing will be the same again.

My impressions:    

It is one of these movies in which Sean Bean dies early, proving he is a good guy after all. Apart from that you can recognize baddies instantly – those are the ones clad in black, shooting people and destroying objects of art because art might make you feel something. In order to make sure every idiot in every movie theater recognizes an object of art you get Mona Lisa in close-up. Yeah, that Mona Lisa – a portrait of an ugly chick done by Leo da V, currently in Louvre. Apparently the director thought that, if you do not recognize her you are probably just like those Clerics – so dumb that a concrete wall comes with a higher IQ by comparison.

Still destroying art is one thing, stopping to ogle nice women quite another. That was a big mistake, dear unfeeling leader of the future – why they don’t all wear burqas? Burqas for everyone! A nice face, after all, male or female, can move you as efficiently as the finest painting, sometimes even more. Puppies are even worse – nothing as deadly as a sweet puppy and poor Preston finds out that much to his cost. Undone by a puppy…anyway,  Christian Bale in some fighting scenes reminded me of Neo from Matrix and Libria was like a universe parallel to many other classic dystopian tales. It didn’t bother me a lot because the director sneaked in some philosophy. You can’t have too many sci-fi movies with philosophy in it.

Final verdict:

A surprisingly ambiguous movie. On the one hand you get those action scenes which seemed to have been assembled with sufferers of Attention Deficit Syndrome in mind and a quite simplistic plot, basically reheated tricks from other films combined. On the other hand it asked several questions concerning the meaning of art and feelings in your life. I don’t regret watching it but it didn’t move me as it should have.

Posted in drama, dystopia, martial arts, movie review, sci-fi | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments

And Only to Deceive (Lady Emily 01) by Tasha Alexander

Synopsis (from Goodreads):

Emily agreed to wed Philip, the Viscount Ashton, primarily to escape her overbearing mother. Philip’s death while on safari soon after their wedding left Emily feeling little grief, for she barely knew the dashing stranger.

But her discovery of his journals nearly two years later reveals a far different man than she imagined-a gentleman scholar and antiquities collector who apparently loved his new wife deeply. Emily’s desire to learn more about her late husband leads her through the quiet corners of the British Museum and into a dangerous mystery involving rare stolen artifacts. To complicate matters, she’s juggling two very prominent and wealthy suitors, one of whose intentions may go beyond matrimony into darker realms.

My impressions:

I really liked the premise and the beginning of this one – mainly because it wasn’t your ordinary romance. A young widow is falling in love with her late husband – but only when she has enough time to explore and appreciate all aspects of his character. After his death. Of course she knows it’s too late but still she cannot help herself. Her husband admired her looks. He ordered her portrait with Renoir in Paris. He called her ‘Kallista’ (‘the most beautiful’ in Greek) in private. What not to love?

In the meantime Emily gets interested in the culture and art of Ancient Greeks and Romans, visiting regularly the British Museum, reading Homer, even learning koine Greek – I couldn’t approve more. She also starts to defy society’s conventions, to push the limits imposed by the ton. As a result she is becoming far more liberated than anyone, herself included, would ever dare imagine – a strange leap of faith but entertaining nevertheless. Staying with gentlemen instead of withdrawing to the drawing room with the ladies after a meal? Not a problem! Drinking port instead of sherry? Sure, why not? Going to Paris on a short notice with only a maid as a companion? Why not? She can afford it and who is to stop her? Certainly not her mother!

Still… after some time (roughly one third of the book)  the plot started to wear thin and Emily was turning into a Mary Sue. I was quickly bored by all the eligible bachelors sniffing after her and all her lady friends envying her good looks. Unfortunately, her fresh love for her late husband soon became a bit ridiculous as Emily suffered a few TSTL moments with regards to the merits of her two suitors. Her endeavors to unmask the villain were quite pathetic too. The fact that her husband SPOILER really stayed dead was another disappointment – overall I hoped for more twists and surprises.

Finally, this novel is just historically-flavoured, not historical. Alexander falls into the standard trap of authors who think that writing historical fiction is easy. If you think you can write historical fiction by plopping your characters who think and feel exactly like 21st century people into the nineteenth century with a few descriptions of clothes, a maid and a butler, you are just deceiving yourself. There was nothing Emily did or said that sounded remotely like she was raised in the 1880s and, after some time, it started to grate.

Final verdict:

The Lady Emily series is 11 novels long. I gather it must have been successful. Unfortunately it is not for me. Meh.

Posted in book review, chicklit, cozy mystery, crime, historically-flavoured, suspence | Tagged , , , , | 6 Comments