Review: Archangel’s Consort, by Nalini Singh

Title: Archangel’s Consort (Guild Hunter #3)
Author: Nalini Singh
Published by Gollancz, 2011

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How I discovered this book: This book is one of my public library reads. It’s the 3rd installment of the Guild Hunter series (book #1 and #2) that I found during one of my visits to the library.

ALERT: Possible spoilers laying ahead. Proceed with caution.

Review: This review will probably show my frustration, but it is what it is. I’m getting tired of this series. There are times when I love it. Times when I love the characters, the mystery and action, the world construction, the plot and the mythology. On the other hand, there are times when I get so bored and annoyed that I just can’t stand it. Raphael and Elena’s love story gets tiresome, there’s lots of plot holes, undeveloped action scenes, loose ends, villains without purpose, too many clichés, too many things going around at the same time, pointless kills and torture… the list goes on and on. Has it ever happened to you? To get so tired and frustrated with a series you love, that you just don’t know what to do about it?

Archangel’s Consort continues, yet again, the never ending love story of Raphael and Elena. I liked them in the first book – they were getting to know each other, falling in love, saving the world. It was nice getting to know these two, despite Raphael’s “I’m the best, bow down and kiss the floor I walk, peasants!” mentality, (he starts to change his perspective of things). Then, there’s Elena: though, independent, hunter, kick-ass heroine all the way. I liked the second book better than the first! Amazing world construction, great plot, much better and intriguing villain, really interesting mythology, less sex and more character development. I was happy! But then I come to Archangel’s Consort and the plus points that won me over with Archangel’s Kiss are turned into dust.

Elena gets back to New York with Raphael a few months after last book’s occurrences. She is now fulfilling her first year as an immortal and is still utterly helpless against angel kind enemies (who can throw fire balls and other super fancy powers, while she can only barely manage with her cool knives and some super weapons her friends invent for her). After some fights between our main couple, over whether or not a new born immortal should start hunting vampires and getting involved in life threatening situations, we start having earthquakes and natural catastrophes all over the world. Guess who’s coming to town, people! The one and only Caliane, Raphael’s mom (it’s in the synopsis, so no spoilers here). Let’s say mother and son had a tricky relationship for many centuries and she decided to Sleep (literally, just sleep over a few centuries to cure craziness and boredom). Now that the crazy old angel is starting to awake, everybody panics. She seems to entice the most strange and violent behavior on people during her awakening process. Of course, she also seems to dislike Elena and have some sort of all seeing eye.

Anyway…I think that by now you can see this book didn’t grow on me. The villain from the previous book is also present and she’s a very important part in the predictable twist near the end (yes, it is very predictable). I don’t quite understand how it is possible for Lijuan to be around and talking only after a few months of her physical destruction, but wait, I forget, she has evolved to some unknown darkest level.

It’s just all so pointless. We spend a whole book building up to a climax, when Caliane finally awakes and hell on earth is released, and what we get is just, well, a really odd loving mom. So, ok… Torture, dead, blood lust, murder, nightmares, natural catastrophes, for what exactly? I don’t see the point. So, it’s frustrating and I kind of felt deceived. Plus, Elena and Raphael got back to the annoying discussions about who is in charge of what and whom, this is my space and that is yours. It annoys me so much when they start calling themselves “Guild Hunter” and “Archangel”!

Positive things? The mythology is still compelling, so that is something that keeps. It is still entertaining at some parts. And the Seven, Raphael’s squad if you want. Every time one of the Seven is in the scene, he brightens the place. Not that they are joyful entertaining characters, quite the opposite. They are all very dark and layered and mysterious, hence the interest in them.

I believe Singh wasted Raphael and Elena as characters. There isn’t much more she can do with them, considering the depth she gave to these two characters. She should have moved on to one of the Seven as a MC in the third book of the series (Dmitri, Aohdan, Illium!!, or even Jason). If she was going for a mommy/daddy issues book, she should have explored the relationship between Raphael and Caliane / Elena and Jeffrey way better (we still don’t know what’s going on between these last two). What I got wasn’t enough.

Overall: This book disappointed me, a lot. I felt frustrated, annoyed and bored during half of it. I see it as a poor attempt to tackle Raphael’s and Elena’s childhood traumas. Still, I loved the Seven and the mythology NS created. When I think of them, I kind of want to give the series another chance. If you love paranormal romance, I’m sure you’ll like it a lot more than I did. Despite liking PR myself, I guess I’m a little over the romantic based plot so common in the genre. I was craving a really good urban-fantasy, and NS created a very interesting world for it. She just wasted the characters in this one. It’s time to move on, which I think she has realised since the next book is about Dmitri. So, read the series, it’s entertaining enough, but it has some ups and downs along the way.

2,5-5-stars

Quotes worth mentioning: 

“Our memories make us… even the darkest of them all.” 

“It was a white-collar crime.”
Illium gave her an odd look. “In the human world, such crimes are lightly punished, though they harm hundreds, leading some to choose death out of despair, while the man who beats a single person is considered the worse criminal.”

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Review: The Woman in Black, by Susan Hill

Title: The Woman in Black
Author: Susan Hill
Published by Vintage, 1998

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How I discovered this book: I bought this book at Oxfam. The Woman in Black has been on my wishlist for quite some time, though. I’ve been really interested in Gothic novels since I read Frankenstein, Dracula, Rebecca and Edgar Allan Poe short stories. Susan Hill’s book was one I wanted to read, specially because it’s a Gothic novel that was written “out of its time”. And also because I want to see the recent movie adaptation with Daniel Radcliffe (part of me just wants to be tremendously goofy and yell “Use your wand Harry!!”)

ReviewThis is a ghost story and an interesting one for that matter. It’s hard to review such a small book without giving any spoilers, and I really don’t want to do it since the suspense and mystery is key to enjoy a book like this one. Nonetheless, I will tell you that the book is the story of Mr. Kipps, written by himself in is old age as an attempt to expunge completely the past that has tormented him for so long.

See, when Arthur Kipps was young, he worked as a solicitor. His boss told him to take the train and go to some remote region of East Coast England and take care of the papers of one of their clients who recently died: Mrs. Drablow, a very weird, lonely old lady who lived in a big old house surrounded by marshes, estuaries and fogs, called Eel Marsh House. When he gets there, he realises people are very superstitious and for some reason they are terribly afraid of Eel Marsh House. Still, he’s young, näive and pride, dismisses whatever it is they all fear and goes to the house anyway. After some scares and shocks, he’s possessed by some morbid curiosity and returns to the house to finish his job sorting out the late Mrs. Drablow’s tons of papers (talk about job dedication…) and unfold the mystery about a certain woman in black.

As far as I’ve researched (yes, I like to read about literary genres and aesthetics sometimes, and then try a bit of everything), Gothic Horror is a genre that combines horror, romance and mystery. In a way, it can be considered as a sort of pleasing horror story and an extension of Romantic literary aesthetics. Settings as castles, monasteries with hidden passages, medieval buildings and ruins are a must have in Gothic novels (actually, part of the reason why they are so called gothic). This genre was quite common in the 18th and 19th century. 

So, considering this information, Gothic novels aren’t really supposed to scare you to death. Therefore, I was not expecting to be really scared and shocked while reading this book, as I wasn’t expecting to be scared and shocked when I read Mary Shelley, Bram Stoker and Edgar Allan Poe. Still, Mr. Kipps’ story did gave me the chills sometimes, more than Shelley and Stoker did, and I had to force myself to put the book down and do life related stuff. The story is really compelling! Like Kipps, I had to know what was the mystery and the fuss around that mysterious woman in black. Sadly, it wasn’t that great of a mystery, since I managed to be one step ahead of Arthur Kipps when it was time to discover the truth. Still, the ending was not less striking and bizarre because of it. And that rocking sound… I got my heart racing a little with that one. Also, I really liked him as a character. He worried about a woman that was nothing to him. He even felt compassion about her and wanted to help her, even when all she felt towards him was hatred. He was too näive and prideful, though, and paid dearly for that. He was very “real” to me, so I really enjoyed him as narrator and MC.

The Woman in Black was written in the 20th century, yet it reads like a Victorian Gothic novel. This is what attracted me to the book in the first place, the fact that it was not written in the time of the great Gothic novels, yet it is considered as one by many people. I think SH did a remarkable job writing the book. I’ve read a few classics from the time, which I really enjoyed, and I think she has done a good job writing a book that sounded Victorian (if this makes any sense to you). I guess that what I’m trying to say is that, in my opinion, she captured the stylistic and linguistic aspects of the time really well, to the point of almost making me forget that I was reading a book that was written in the 80’s. Of course, you may say that she did a poor job, but I think she did really well. Plus, I could almost smell the fog, feel the marshes around me and that creepy woman dressed in black staring at me from behind my back.

Now I have The Monk, The Mysteries of Udolpho, The Woman in White and The Turn of the Screw to look for! Gothic Horror is starting to grow on me. 🙂

Overall I’ve read some pretty bad reviews about this book, and some really good reviews as well. I guess it’s either a book you love or hate. It happens that I liked it! It was a really good “old time” entertaining ghost story. You won’t be terrified by it, or have trouble sleeping at night, but it will give you some chills and skin-crawling feelings. Now I’m over curious about the movie!! Although, I do get easily scared with horror movies. Anyway… If you enjoy old time “light” horror stories, do read this book! 😉

4-5-stars

Quotes worth mentioning: 

But, more than anything else, I needed an explanation. It is remarkable how powerful a force simple curiosity can be.

“For I see that then I was still all in a state of innocence, but that innocence, once lost, is lost forever.”

Review: Before I Fall, by Lauren Oliver

Title: Before I Fall
Author: Lauren Oliver
Published by Hodder and Stoughton, 2010

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How I discovered this book: After all the hype around Delirium, I got curious with Lauren Oliver’s books. I saw Before I Fall in my public library, liked the story premise and decided to give it a try.

ReviewThis book awoke in me a huge amount of feelings. I mean, I felt angry, heartbroken, hateful, warmhearted, frustrated, nostalgic… I still don’t know exactly how I feel about the book now. (Maybe while writing this review I’ll know how I feel about the book. It’s not the first time it happens.) I do know that this story reminded me to be more mindful of the gift that is to be alive and what kind of person I want to be

The book is about Samantha Kingston, a high school mean girl who dies in a car accident when she’s coming home after a Friday night out partying with her friends. The thing is that Sam doesn’t stay dead, like people are supposed to. Instead, she wakes up over and over to relive her last day until she figures out what is stopping her from moving on. Each chapter corresponds to a day relived by Sam, and each day she becomes more aware of the mistakes she made and how empty her life is. In other words, she is given the chance to make amends and set things right before she moves on.

Samatha is one of those insufferable popular/mean girls, with her popular group of annoying/selfish friends that we all must have met in high school. I was one of those geeky/smart/bullied girls, really close to the edge of the social circle, so reading about Sam’s daily life and her friends (Lindsey, Elody and Ally) did touch a nerve. Sometimes I just wanted to slap them all, yell “wake up! stop being so shallow and stupid! what you say and the rumours you spread have consequences!”. God! These girls irritated me SO MUCH. I’m so glad high school days are long gone.

On the other hand, I liked that Oliver chose a mean girl as a main character. It was refreshing, actually. We always have YA books about non-popular girls, (socially awkward, completely insecure), that after finding “Edward Cullen” turn out to be really cute and beautiful and smart and strong. *I think there’s a factory somewhere making this kind of characters 24/7.* Sam and her friends were a challenge and, honestly, Oliver did a great job showing us their side of the story, the perks and cons of being in the popular side. Oliver showed me these girls’ “human” side, their flaws, weaknesses and fears. I’m glad she did it, because it really added to the book. Sam didn’t know better, she just followed the crowd and “the rules” that say acting like “this” is the right way, the cool way. At some point I stopped hating her and actually felt sorry for the girls, because they were just so unaware of what life is really about. To be truthful, on the last two chapters I actually liked Sam and felt sorry she was, well, dead.

We also get to know some characters on the non-popular side, who were bullied by Sam and her friends (Juliet Sykes, Anna Cartullo, Kent McFuller). I liked them the most, to be honest. I could relate to them. Juliet was a victim, her only fault was loving her friend too much and being compassionate. Kent had a crush on Sam since ever, but the girl was so stupid and so “worried” about being popular that she wouldn’t date someone she loved, only someone who was “cool”. (bahhhhhhhhhhhh!!!! you have no idea how this kind of mentality drives me crazy!!). Although, when Sam dies, she finally starts using her brain cells and sees that Rob (the jerk she calls boyfriend) is not worth her time and Kent is, after all, the one she truly loves. (well Sam, you should have figured that out sooner, don’t you think?). I’m so sorry for Kent!! Oliver should have allowed him to move on, find another girl to love. Sam is dead! It’s not like she’s coming back from ghost land. Was it necessary to break the guy’s heart over and over? That’s mean. I didn’t like it. It broke my heart. 

Now, what I really  didn’t like about the book was the repetition. Since each of the seven chapters is a reliving of Sam’s last day, with little to no changes on the first 2 to 3 days, at some point I got SO bored. I mean, I was hating the main characters, I was reading about the same daily routine and events chapter after long chapter. At some point I really had to force myself to turn the page and keep reading. Also, the book was all too predictable. I already knew where the story was going, the “thing” that Sam had to do to move on, that she was going to turn away from her mean self and try to be a better person… Nothing surprised me! So, again, I had to force my way through the book, only because I thought that the overall message was worth it. I’m glad I did it, though. In the end, I enjoyed the book.

Obviously, this is a story, and I honestly don’t believe that we all have the chance to realise after death of how mean and utterly stupid we’ve been to others, how eagerly we’ve been throwing our lives to the gutter, and still have time do something about it. Nevertheless, I really liked the message Oliver tried to pass. I mean, do we really stop to think before we say “I hate you” or other rude stuff to our parents/friends/whoever that these might be the last words they’re going to hear from us? We don’t think about this stuff. Most of us live every day as if we are immortal, but we aren’t. As if we’ll always have a tomorrow, and we don’t really know if we will. Most of the time, we don’t think about what we do and say, we don’t care if and how it will affect others. I’ve lost too many loved ones to know how quickly and sudden we can leave this world… To know that most of the time we don’t get a second chance to tell them how much we love and respect them. Sometimes loss strikes as a lightening. You don’t know you’ve lost that person until she/he is no longer there. And then you see your heart being shattered, broken to pieces, and all you think about is what you could have done differently. So, you can see that, despite everything that was annoying and boring, this book touched me. Mostly because I could understand and relate to the author’s message, to the lesson we can learn through Sam’s story. This book reminded me again that each day is precious. It reminded me to be less selfish and more caring with people. It reminded me that not long ago I said to myself that I was going to be a better human being, and I still have a lot to do to reach my goal.

Overall: I think this book is a must read specially for teenagers, actually. In a way, it’s really a wake up call and, if we pay attention, it can really point the path to be a better person and value more each day we get to live. It’s a lesson. So, despite all the plot annoyances, repetitions and predictability, it’s a book I definitely recommend.

(P.S.: Sorry for the incredibly long review!!! Someone needs to teach me how to write objective, short straight-to-the-point reviews. If you read it all, thank you!)

3,5-5-stars

Quotes worth mentioning: 

“Maybe you can afford to wait. Maybe for you there’s a tomorrow. Maybe for you there’s one thousand tomorrows, or three thousand, or ten, so much time you can bathe in it, roll around it, let it slide like coins through you fingers. So much time you can waste it. But for some of us there’s only today. And the truth is, you never really know.” 

“It’s funny, isn’t it? When you are young you just want to be old, and then later you wish you could go back to being a kid.”

“Here’s another thing to remember: hope keeps you alive. Even when you’re dead, it’s the only thing that keeps you alive.”

 

Review: The Eyre Affair, by Jasper Fforde

Title: The Eyre Affair
Author: Jasper Fforde
Published by Hodder and Stoughton, 2001

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How I discovered this book: Actually, it’s a long story, but to keep it simple… I first saw this book on a charity shop and the cover got my attention. For some reason, I thought it wasn’t worth reading and left the book where I found it. When I got home, I looked for it on Goodreads and went almost mad with regret after reading all the positive reviews. I searched for the book everywhere, and only found it again after several weeks of complete insanity. *Sometimes I can get a bit obsessed over a book getting away. I’m not proud of it. Good thing it doesn’t happen very often.*

Review: This reading experience showed me once more that I shouldn’t have incredibly high expectations over a book. When Goodreads said that this book is actually about books… Nay, what GR said it’s even better than that. The book is about people getting into books to solve crimes and mysteries. The book is about a Special Operations detective – Thursday Next – in an alternate universe, and she’s going to travel inside Jane Eyre to solve a mystery, while she is also falling in love! I love Jane Eyre, I love books, I love alternate sic fi/fantasy universes, I love “love stories”. You have to agree that for someone like me, The Eyre Affair seemed to be the perfect match. I was so excited about this book, and that ruined it a little for me.

Don’t get me wrong. The book is good, entertaining and funny. Jasper Fforde did an amazing work with the alternate universe he created for the story. The book takes us to an alternate England in the 80’s where everything is “colourful”. I mean, people are genuinely in love/obsessed with books and reading to the point of literary crime being something of national and international importance (there are people kidnapping books to demand ransoms!). In this alternate universe you can get inside books to stop villains (or just for a clandestine tourist visit). People seem obsessed with knowing who wrote Shakespeare’s plays. There’s even different clubs to argue the mystery (almost like religious cults). There’s time travel, bookworms (literally!), mad and brilliant scientists, Special Operations divisions for just about anything you can imagine. There’s werewolves and vampires. The most common pet seems to be the dodo!! I mean, there’s so much nonsense that it felt like I was going inside Alice’s Wonderland, and it was absolutely amazing.

However, despite finding this book’s universe really unique and creative, there were some things that put me off the book. There were just too much going on at the same time! I mean, you already have to take in a lot of information about this new deliciously crazy universe. Apart from that, you also have to catch up with Thursday’s personal life and traumas, the Crimea War that has gone for more than a century and has a huge impact in everyone, the invincible and terrible villain Acheron Hades, Thursday and Landen’s sweet and sour love life, the more than 30 Special Operations divisions, the under the counter dirty schemes of the huge financial Goliath Corporation, the Martin Chuzzlewit original manuscript theft (it’s a Charles Dickens book), the Jane Eyre abduction… It’s just too many lines of action for a single book, I think. Plus, I was so disappointed that the Jane Eyre “affair” only came up near the end of the book! I mean, that was supposed to be the main story, right?

Also, Landen and Thursday’s big love didn’t feel like it was so big after all. Or perhaps I just didn’t like Landen. He waited for the girl to come to terms with the dead of her brother for 10 years. When she finally comes back and starts talking to him, he gives up trying and decided to marry the first woman he sees passing by his door? Because he’s tired of waiting! I understand his frustration. Thursday’s reasons for not being with him were a little petty to me. If her brother did a mistake in the war, then he did it. Why would she want Landen to lie about it just to make her brother’s memory look well? He’s dead! All the people who suffered for his mistake are dead. What’s the point of lying about it? Anyway… their “romance” really annoyed me at some point.

Let me now complain about Acheron Hades. He’s probably the most ridiculous villain I’ve ever met. He kind of fit in the book’s atmosphere of nonsense… But, really, it was disappointing. The book tells me he is the most evil villain with the greatest magnificently brilliant evil mind of all time! The man is pure evil! Instead, I get one of those cartoon villains, that are just mean idiots with no real reason to be devilish. It’s as if he was just there to bring nonsensical chaos and give Thursday some purpose as an action heroine. He was an idiot, a big bully craving for attention. Sometimes funny, but mostly irritating and annoying. 

Overall: I liked The Eyre Affair, perhaps more than you may think after reading my review. I really don’t want to be too harsh on the book. Like I said, it was entertaining, funny and Fforde did a wonderful job writing this alternate universe. Most of the characters were “ok” as well. But the book was also disappointing. I expected to fall in love the it and I didn’t, because of all the reasons I already told you. At some point it was just too confusing, too messy. I blame it all on my immensely high expectations. I’m still interested on the rest of the series, though. It was a funny read, after all… And when I like a series’ universe I usually give it one more chance.

3-5-stars

Quotes worth mentioning: 

“Religion isn’t the cause of wars, it’s the excuse.” 

“What is there to forgive?. . .Ignore forgive and concentrate on living. Life for you is short; far too short to allow small jealousies to infringe on the happiness which can be yours only for the briefest of times.” 

“The industrial age had only just begun; the planet had reached its Best Before date.” 

Review: Before I Go To Sleep, by S. J. Watson

Title: Before I Go To Sleep
Author: S. J. Watson
Published by Black Swan, 2011

How I discovered this book:  I saw this book on a charity shop and it called to me. You know when a book just calls to you? Well, that’s what happened. Plus, cross(stitch)yourheart told me this book was really worth it, specially if you don’t figure out the ending. So, here we are. 🙂

Review: I rarely read crime and thriller novels. I really like the genre in a TV series or movies, although I try to avoid it in books. Why? Because they usually fail to keep me interested until the end. Despite this fact, I do like to read a crime novel once in a while and I’m very happy with my experience reading Before I Go To Sleep. This book is a page turner! I was really missing a thriller that would keep me hooked until the very last page.

The book reads as the journal of Christine, our main character. She wakes up every day not knowing what happened in the past decades of her life. Sometimes she wakes up thinking she is a child, other days she wakes up thinking she is a young woman in her twenties. The truth is that Christine is a middle-aged woman who loses her memory every time she goes to sleep. She lives with Ben, the man she learns every morning that is her husband.

One day Christine is approached by a doctor that says he might have a way to help her fight her illness. They decide to meet in secret, since Ben doesn’t believe in a cure for his wife, not after so many failed treatments and therapies. Despite of that, Christine decides to try again and start writing a journal in secret, as part of her treatment. It is her journal that we read, and by it we discover with Christine that things my not be what they look like at first sight. In fact, she might be in danger.

The fact that we are living each day almost as if we’re inside Christine’s body just adds to the adrenaline rush. Like her, we don’t know what happened before. We discover everything with her!There’s no other perspective of the facts. You see and feel everything through the eyes of an amnesic. Because of this narrative construction, you are automatically dragged to the turmoil that is Chrissy’s mind, trying to put the pieces of her shattered life together. Watson really did a wonderful job describing our main character inner turmoil, her suspicions, her vulnerability, her distress with everything that’s happening to her. Christine feels completely lost and helpless. There are times when she even wants to give up on life and I must say that I think Watson wrote all these feelings and thoughts really well, specially considering that he his a man writing a story that puts you inside the head of a woman, who is really completely lost and lives every day intensely for the first time. I think that what I’m trying to say is that he managed to write a book that goes beyond the thriller story line, giving us a profound insight of what is like to be an amnesic and how such a person would experience daily life when it comes to grief, the lost of a son, sex, married life, professional success, etc.

Now, I have to tell you that, despite being unable to put the book down, I didn’t really bought this amnesia symptoms. Your memory is erased when you go to sleep and once in a while you can remember bits and bits of stuff that happened before? I’m sorry, but I don’t buy it. Sounds a lot more like trauma and repressed memories than some physical disability in the brain. Probably Watson did this on purpose, to get us suspicious that there was more in the picture. Still, most of the time I was one step ahead of Christine and the big mystery wasn’t a big surprise. Actually, while I was reading I came up with several theories for what was happening to Christine. I changed my mind often about which theory was most likely to be right, but I did get it all before the end. Yes, I changed my mind later, because Christine’s thoughts influenced me to do so, but the end wasn’t a complete shock. Still, I liked the thrill of the journey enough to be ok with it.

One more thing. While I was reading this book I caught myself thinking “Now, this would be a good movie”. I just visited the author’s website and this book will indeed be adapted to the screen! Apparently, Nicole Kidman and Colin Firth will play Christine and Ben. I think they suit the characters well. Now I’m excited for the movie!

Overall: A really addictive book! Very intense and profound when it comes to the main character’s journey of discovering of her own history and taking back the reins of her life. Although the ending might be a little predictable, it is still an enjoyable book to read. I definitely recommend it!

*Thank you cross(stitch)yourheart!! I did enjoy it!*

4-5-stars

Quotes worth mentioning: 

 “What are we, if not an accumulation of our memories?” 

“Thoughts race, as if, in a mind devoid of memory, each idea has too much space to grow and move, to collide with others in a shower of sparks before spinning off into its own distance.” 

“This is dying everyday. Over and over.” 

Review: Seer of Sevenwaters, by Juliet Marillier

Title: Seer of Sevenwaters
Author: Juliet Marillier
Published by Roc, 2011

How I discovered this book:  I am a huge fan of Juliet Marillier’s (JM) work and the Sevenwaters series will forever be one my favourites epic fantasy series. I pre-ordered Seer of Sevenwaters as soon as news of the paperback edition came out and I waited until now to read it because I didn’t want to get closer to the end of a story that is so dear to me.

ReviewSeer of Sevenwaters is the 5th Sevenwaters book and the 2nd of the new trilogy cycle of the series. The book follows the story of Sibeal, the fifth daughter of Sean, the current Lord of the Sevenwaters forest and stronghold in Erin (aka Ireland). She is a seer, a gift discovered when she was a child, and since that moment Sibeal knew that her destiny was to follow the spiritual path of a druid, a path rarely followed by women. That is her calling, to serve the gods in the nemetons as her uncles Conor and Ciáran, the last taking her as a student and teaching her all she needs to know to fulfill her destiny. Always calm, balanced and sure of herself, Sibeal feels ready to make the pledge that would officially make her a druid and leave her family behind to live in the nemetons.

Nevertheless, Ciáran decides she needs some time to test her emotions before leaving her family and sends her for a summer with her sisters Muirrin and Clodagh in Inis Eala, an island in the coast of Erin where her cousin Johnny leads a small community of legendary warriors and their families. Soon after Sibeal’s arrival, there is a shipwreck in the coast of Inis Eala. The only survivors were a Norseman called Knut, a mysterious woman called Svala and an unknown man. After this, Sibeal manages her time fulfilling the tasks of a druid in the community and tending to Felix, the unknown man she saved from the disaster. While Felix recovers his lost memory, the mystery around the shipwreck thickens and both he and Sibeal realise there’s a dangerous and perilous mission ahead and the success of it will depend on the bond that flourished between them. 

Despite the wonderful and compelling writing of JM (she is a natural storyteller), and all the right ingredients of an unforgettable epic fantasy book, Seer was very different from its predecessors. First of all, the story set is not Sevenwaters. In this book Marillier answered to my wishes and allowed me to see what was like to live in Inis Eala, to re-encounter characters I thought that I would never see again (e.g. Gull and some of the warriors from Son of Shadows), to know more of Muirrin and Evan, Johnny and Garreth, Clodagh and Cathal, among other extraordinary well built secondary characters. Secondly, it’s the first book in the series where we really get to know the spirituality and religious aspects of Celtic Europe, since Sibeal is in every way a druid and we have lots of scenes evolving scrying, runes divination, etc. Also, the main characters are total nerds (Sibeal is a druid passionate for tales and lore, a spiritual leader in the community, while Felix is a scholar and a poet, always eager for debate and reasoning, the bright heart that inspires courage and challenges everything), and I loved them for it! Their scenes were not so frequent as I would wish, but they were always such a pleasure to read.

Sibeal’s inner struggle between what she believed to be her duty and the love for Felix was really interesting to read, and in some ways I could relate to that. She is a very logical character who does not cope well with emotional roller-coasters and changes in the well planed future of self-sacrifice she had come to be believe as hers.In one plate stands all her beliefs in the gods and her spiritual life as a druid, and in the other the person who is her soul mate  her half in every single way *sigh*. Truth is she thought she was wiser than the rest, standing in a higher level than the common mortal. Knowing Felix and falling in love taught her a precious lesson and allowed her to grow up. Thirdly, since we are talking about islands and ships, we have a completely different mythological adventure, with sea monsters and some more awesome things that I just won’t tell you because I don’t want to spoil it. I’ll just tell you that I absolutely loved the myth behind the great mission and I couldn’t guess the mystery around Svala and the shipwreck until it was there in front of my eyes. Well done Ms. Marillier!

However, even for a fan like me, there were some things that could have been better. The first half of the book was too slow-paced. It didn’t bother me as much as it would with any other book because I really like JM’s writing and it suited the book’s atmosphere in the beginning. Still, Felix recovery and loss of memory dragged for too long. Although I loved the book for all the secondary characters, the ones I knew from earlier books and the new, I think JM focused too much of the story on them, leaving Sibeal and Felix with little opportunity for character/romance development. I’m not saying that they were not good characters or their love story wasn’t good, only that it could have been better if the first half of the book was better organised and we didn’t spend so much time with Clodagh and Cathal (main characters of Heir to Sevenwaters, book #4). This may seem a contradiction of sorts, because one of the things that made me enjoy this book so much was the re-encounter with old characters. But, at some point, I felt like they were stealing a bit of Sibeal’s and Felix’s spotlight.

Overall: My favourite series and my favourite genre! I can’t say that JM was at her very best with Seer of Sevenwaters. Either way, I think the author still rocked it despite everything and I can tell you that I’ll reread and fangirl over this book many times to come. If you are into well written myth-based epic fantasy with lots of angst, great characters, strong resourceful heroines, mystery, adventure and have a crush on Celtic mythology and history, these are definitely the books for you.

On a side note: This was my first review of a JM book in this blog and I must tell you that I always have a lot of trouble them. It’s always so hard to review a book or a series you are absolutely crazy about with some amount of coherence and consistency! While I was writing this review and thinking about the story, I was struggling to keep the fangirl in me from shrieking and jumping all around. It’s crazy, I know, but if you ever had a favourite series or book to review and you acknowledge yourself as a hardcore fan of it, you know what I mean. Therefore, I hope I was up to the challenge of remaining impartial. In time, I’ll write reviews for all the other Sevenwater’s books, so that those who are not familiar with the books may know where and how the story starts.

3,5-5-stars

Quotes worth mentioning:  “I had grown up. I had learned that being a woman was knowing when to stand firm and when to compromise. I had learned to laugh and weep; I had learned that I was weak as well as strong. I had learned to love. I was no longer a rigid, upright tree that would not flex and bow, even though the gale threatened to snap it in two; I was the willow that bends and shivers and sways, and yet remains strong.”  “A wonder tale can be truer than true,” I said. I had learned (…) that the deepest kind of truth can be found in the strangest and wildest of stories. One may not meet a fire-breathing dragon on the way to the well. One may not encounter an army of toothed snakes in the woodshed. That does not make the wisdom in those tales any less real.”   

Review: Lord of the Flies, by William Golding

Title: Lord of the Flies
Author: William Golding
Published by Faber and Faber Limited, 2002

How I discovered this book:  I first saw it years ago in one of those “most challenging books to read before you die” kind of lists and the title caught my attention. I always wondered what it meant.

ReviewThis a very disturbing book and I have mixed feelings about it. I will do my best to explain this without giving major spoilers. Although, I might digress just a little on some considerations about what I believe to be the novel’s symbols and meanings.

First things first: what’s the story about? Lord of the Flies is a story about a group of boys, with ages between 6 to 12 years old (more or less), that find themselves alone on a deserted island somewhere in the South Sea’s, victims of an airplane crash in the middle of what we are lead to believe to be a war. The book describes the boys’ fight for survival against the harshness of nature and their inner beasts. The plot itself is pretty simple.

Once the boys find each other, they vote for a leader to decide things and bring some order to the group. Ralph, who is the oldest of the boys, showing all the qualities of a natural leader and an overall good nature, is voted to be “chief”. Jack, another older boy who wanted to lead the group resents this fact. He is also a natural leader, but instead of Ralph’s logical self, Jack is a bully with a strong tendency to give in to his darkest pleasures. All he can think of is hunting and killing the pigs around the island to get meat, while all Ralph can think of is getting things in order and light a signal fire to be rescued. These two boys represent what can be considered the good and the evil side in human nature. We then have other characters, like Piggy, a chubby boy who is bullied by everyone, but is the most intelligent and mature of the group; Simon, an innocent boy from the older group, who enjoys the simple things in the island, has a very positive attitude towards things and is the most emotionally balanced character in the lot; the twins Sam ‘n’ Eric; Roger, a bully who follows Jack…and so on. As the days pass by, the younger boys (the ‘littluns’) start saying that they saw a beast. The fear of said beast starts driving the group apart, creating a total caos in the island.

What made me enjoy this book and, at the same time, feel disturbed by it were the themes William Golding approached, e.g: the basic tendencies of human nature, morality vs immorality, individual vs common good, how easy it is to give in to our darkest instincts, the loss of innocence, what is survival and what is murder, civility vs savagery, to have power and be popular, etc. The fear of the beast lead the boys to do unthinkable things. Or were they always inclined for violence all along and the fear was just a trigger to let their true natures run loose?

I felt that the book demanded an answer to this question. Every character and object in the novel screams of symbolism. I believe the author wanted to transmit a very specific message: that human beings are dark by nature, and when cast away from moral and social conventions we show our true animalistic and murderous selves. The Lord of the Flies (or the beast) symbolizes the darkest evil that resides in all human beings. Its appearance in the form of the sow’s head and its conversation with Simon during what I presume to be an hallucination is one of the most creepiest things I have ever read. After some research, I have found out that the name “Lord of the Flies” is a literal translation of Beelzebub, and by appearing in the form of the animal’s head it might represent the human willingness to succumb to the temptation of animalism. Jack eventually gains power in the island, the boys embrace their darkest instincts, the thirst for blood. They forget what’s civil, moral and logical to live only for pleasure and the adrenaline of the kill. Behind the tribal painting faces that serve the purpose of a mask, the boys begin to show their true natures, as if they are hidden from morality and could assume a new identity that allowed them to be free.

However, despite acknowledging that Golding did a great job conveying this message, there are some things that put me off the book. Several times I felt bored with the story and its pace, specially in the beginning. There is a lot of repetition in the first chapters and long descriptions about things that are not that important. Also, the book is very predictable. I started reading knowing very little about the story and what it represents, still I was able to predicted almost everything from the beginning.

Moreover, the only characters I sympathized with were Simon and Piggy, probably because they were truly good kids that ended up being victims. All the characters are very stereotyped, as if they were just basic archetypes used to transmit the big message. We have the bright leader, the rebel, the fat kid, the innocent, the bully…but that’s just it. There are no further development. Perhaps that was the intent of the author, to use them just as symbols for roles were we all fit inside society, in one way or another.

Finally, the message of the book isn’t new to me. We all know that human beings have a dark side that will break loose if we don’t have some sort of authority. What can we expect from kids, particularly teenage boys, abandoned in a deserted island? People can go crazy when driven by fear, they became dangerous. This isn’t news, we have two World Wars to prove how dark we can be and more episodes of human cruelty than we’ll ever be able to record in history.

OverallI enjoyed Lord of the Flies for reminding me that we all have darkness within us and we must try not to give in to it. Still, I wish the book wasn’t so predictable and pessimist regarding human nature. I would also have enjoyed it a lot more if the characters were further developed, with background stories for example. Nevertheless, I do recommend this book. It can be quite disturbing but I really liked the metaphors/allegories/symbols and the concerns it brings to light.

3-5-stars

Quotes worth mentioning: 

“Maybe there is a beast… maybe it’s only us.” 

“Fancy thinking the Beast was something you could hunt and kill! You knew, didn’t you? I’m part of you? Close, close, close! I’m the reason why it’s no go? Why things are what they are?”

“He found himself understanding the wearisomeness of this life,where every path was an improvisation and a considerable part of one’s waking life was spent watching one’s feet.”

Review: Mockingjay, by Suzanne Collins

Title: Mockingjay
Author: Suzanne Collins
Published by Scholastic, 2010

How I discovered this book:  The Hunger Games and Catching Fire brought me to Mockingjay.

Review: I was expecting to be really upset with this book, since the majority of people to whom I’ve talked about it only had bad things to say. But I didn’t. I felt it was not a brilliant book compared to the previous installments, yet it was a good ending to this amazing story.

So, long story short… After the Quarter Quell in Catching Fire, Katniss is “kidnapped/saved” by the rebels and transported to District 13 to be their “Mockingjay”, aka the rebellion’s celebrity/symbol. They expect her to be the TV face of the rebels, inspiring them to fight and, at the same time, counterattacking the Capitol’s media propaganda against the rebellion. As we Hunger Games’ fans know very well, Katniss is not a people person. Plus, she is an emotional wreck at this point, with good reason to be, so this doesn’t go exactly as planned. Still, she manages to inspire people by being herself and the final battle to bring down President Snow begins…and ends.

I can’t help to wish that this book was more. The first half of the book was too slow paced, focusing on Katniss’s physical and emotional recovery from the last arena and the destruction of District 12, the loss of Peeta, life in District 13, how it is to live as a free rebel, the “Mockingjay/Katniss” media propaganda and the Katniss-Gale side of the love triangle, which felt a little bit forced to me. When Peeta finally comes back the story starts to have a little bit of the appeal that it used to have. I don’t know if I feel this because I got used to have Peeta in the action center of the previous books or because he is one of my favourite characters, but I did feel that Collins wasted a lot of time that could have been used in the creation of a more structured third arena/war scenery/romantic story.

Don’t get me wrong. I understand that Katniss needed time to be desperate and broken after the shipwreck that her life become. I actually enjoyed to see this side of her, because it would be highly unrealistic if she was constantly sure of everything and fit for battle. But still, the author should have created a better balance in the story, because after Peeta’s  rescue everything is suddenly intensified, coming back to the adrenaline rush that made me enjoy the previous books so much. We suddenly have major drama for those who love Katniss-Peeta love story (like me), we go seriously into the battle zone, we get into amazing action environments, we start to like the new characters, we witness unthinkable deaths and heartbreaking moments that just broke my heart. Actually, the second half of the book just broke my heart over and over.

I also liked the political schemes created by the author with Coin’s and Plutarch’s character. She was just another Snow in the making, which is just how real life is. I liked this less optimistic side of the book, the flawed characters, the tired and hopeless Katniss… the book felt more real because of that.

Still, it could have been so much better than it was! I wanted more angst and romance between Katniss and Peeta, more time with our secondary characters, less Gale love moments (or at least better ones) because they felt too forced and out of context for me… And what was that right outside President Snow’s door? That explosion out of nowhere? After all the trouble and planning of a “third arena”, all the effort put into Katniss’s mission going to waste! It didn’t make any sense to me. Unless Suzanne Collins suddenly remembered she had to kill THAT character and there was no pages left to do it, so she came up with a quick and effective solution, but utterly unsatisfying! I accept that character’s death, it makes sense to me that this character would be one of among others to die in the war, but at least she could have been killed off logically.

OverallA good ending for an amazing trilogy, that could have been so much better if the book was divided in two or if the author didn’t got lost in the first half of the book. Nevertheless, it is a great story. It will kill you with an avalanche of feelings and crazy adrenaline rush. It will leave you wishing for more. But it is still good.

3-5-stars

Quotes worth mentioning: 

“You love me. Real or not real?”
I tell him, “Real.” (this one just warms my heart every time I read it)

“What I need is the dandelion in the spring. The bright yellow that means rebirth instead of destruction. The promise that life can go on, no matter how bad our losses. That it can be good again.”

“But collective thinking is usually short-lived. We’re fickle, stupid beings with poor memories and a great gift for self-destruction.”

Review: The Old Man and the Sea, by Ernest Hemingway

Title: The Old Man and the Sea
Author: Ernest Hemingway
Published by Vintage Classics, 1999

How I discovered this book: Everybody who studied literature, or is interested about it, have heard about Ernest Hemingway. It so happens that despite hearing about him, I’d never read anything from him. I chose this book because it won the Nobel Prize and I was curious about it.

ReviewThe Old Man and the Sea tells the story of a very old man, a boy and a really big fish. Santiago is an old fisherman from the islands on the Gulf Stream. He has been a fisherman for many years and lived many adventures. He was friends with a young boy named Manolin, who learnt to fish with him since he was five. The boy loved the old man and was loved by him as if they were father and son.

Despite of the old fisherman’s years and experience, the villagers were considering him to be an unlucky man, since he hasn’t fished a single fish for more than 80 days straight. The boy’s father forbid him to continue to fish with the old man, thus separating them. Nevertheless, the Manolin kept tending to the old man’s needs every morning and every evening, sharing stories, learning and enjoying each others company. One day, Santiago decided to venture himself further into the Gulf Stream sea, sure as he was that he would catch a big and tremendous fish. This is how a tale of strong perseverance and even pure stubbornness, if I may say, begins.

The plot itself is very simple, and so is Hemingway’s writing. There are no big or ostentatious words. I read the  book in a heartbeat! Still, I can’t find words to explain how much I felt every single word of it. It was compelling and frustrating at the same time. I was angry for the way the old man was put aside by the younger fishermen, how he was deemed unlucky, I think, because they saw him as old and therefore useless. I was proud and inspired by the old man’s faith and belief that he would catch that big fish, and his strength and perseverance while he struggled with the fish itself for 3 whole days. I’ve came to respect the fish as Santiago did, to consider it as a brother, a dignified creature who’s not just meat for profit. I hold my breath when the sharks came, when darkness seemed to be all that was left, and admired the old man even more because he always kept fighting. Even when the end was certain, he didn’t give up. If he was to go down, he would go down like the big fish, fighting until the end. Sometimes I felt so irritated! I found myself saying: “Just leave the damn fish behind and save yourself, you stubborn old man! You’ll get yourself killed for being too proud!” But he didn’t let go, and while he saw his dream being shattered he kept going.

OverallSometimes a book comes to you when you most need it. I don’t really care if this book has a whole other symbolical meaning. To me it was a lesson of perseverance and I’ll forever treasure it as such. You can always make a point that the old man probably was completely crazy and obsessed, that in reality he was just too frustrated with his life and wanted to prove to everyone that he could still conquer a great achievement, despite his age. But, to me, I’ll always see it as a tale of faith that remind me to never give up. I really enjoyed this book. It is a small story with a great message. I recommend it to everyone with no doubts.

4-5-stars

Quotes worth mentioning: 

“Every day is a new day. It is better to be lucky. But I would rather be exact. Then when luck comes you are ready.”

“It’s silly not to hope. It’s a sin he thought.”

“But man is not made for defeat,” he said. “A man can be destroyed but not defeated.”

“He remembered the time he had hooked one of a pair of marlin. The male fish always let the female fish feed first and the hooked fish, the female, made a wild, panic-stricken, despairing fight that soon exhausted her, and all the time the male had stayed with her, crossing the line and circling with her on the surface. He had stayed so close that the old man was afraid he would cut the line with his tail which was sharp as a scythe and almost of that size and shape. When the old man had gaffed her and clubbed her, holding the rapier bill with its sandpaper edge and clubbing her across the top of her head until her colour turned to a colour almost like the backing of mirrors, and then, with the boy’s aid, hoisted her aboard, the male fish had stayed by the side of the boat. Then, while the old man was clearing the lines and preparing the harpoon, the male fish jumped high into the air beside the boat to see where the female was and then went down deep, his lavender wings, that were his pectoral fins, spread wide and all his wide lavender stripes showing. He was beautiful, the old man remembered, and he had stayed.”

Review: Archangel’s Kiss, Nalini Singh

Title: Archangel’s Kiss
Author: Nalini Singh
Published by Gollancz, 2010

How I discovered this book: Second installment of the Guild Hunter series I began to read last month. Review of the first book here.

ReviewDespite not being completely happy with my experience with Archangel’s Blood (book #1), I decided to give this series a second chance because I truly loved the world construction and the mythology created by the author. I’m glad I did so because I quite liked Archangel’s Kiss and most of the little things that annoyed me in the first installment have been improved by the author.

In Archangel’s Kiss we continue to follow Elena and Raphael’s story. After Elena’s transformation the series begins to follow a new path and we are now seeing what was hidden behind the veil between the human world and the angel’s world. This is very interesting in terms of world mythology development, which is what keeps me hooked to this series. We see the Refuge (the angel’s secret and sacred city) through Elena’s eyes, who is now experiencing her new life as an angel (with wings, of course) and coming to understand and see the world in a whole new perspective.

Also, this book is more interesting regarding our main couple’s relationship, too. The author dedicates more time to the development of their relationship, allowing them to get to know each other and establish some boundaries. Which is extremely important, since Raphael was becoming an insufferable character who is extremely overprotective and intrusive, while Elena was losing all the rational and independent traits of her personality to become a sex driven woman. Sex scenes, when well written, are always a pleasure to read. But, come on… That’s not all we want to read, is it? There most be some relationship development and I’m so glad that Nalini Singh established a balance in this novel. Otherwise, I would be constantly rolling my eyes and get really annoyed with the book.

We continue to have new murder sprees to investigate and I really liked the crime set of this installment, as well as the power games inside the Cadre of Ten (kind of the royal court of the angel’s). Lijuan has proven to be quite the morbid villain and I’m curious to what is going to become of her. We also meet great new secondary characters in the Angel’s World that made me really curious and wishing they could have a book of their own. That’s always a plus point for me. I particularly like Aodhan, Galen and Jessamy. Illium continues to be a special favourite  of mine (my yummy Bluebell…) and I’m constantly hoping that he’ll get his own book.

OverallAn entertaining paranormal romance with great balance, much better plot and character development and amazing secondary characters. I’m very happy to give the series a chance and I’m definitely continue to read it. I recommend it to adult paranormal romance lovers who are into the angel/vampire/hunter mythology, kick-ass heroines and, of course, good steamy/hot romance.

3,5-5-stars

Quotes worth mentioning: 

“Emotion without reason lets people walk all over you; reason without emotion is a mask for cruelty.”