Wednesday, August 10, 2011

July reviews:

The month that thousands have waited for came at last. Was it worth it? Well I will get on to that. But first before I get on with the reviews I would just like to say that sometimes there are some unusual coincidences when reading.  How many times do you read or hear about something for the first time and then literally everything you read subsequently contains reference to your newly discovered knowledge. You then wonder why you have never heard of it beforehand. I don’t think I could have made that sentence anymore incoherent but let me demonstrate.
About a fortnight ago, someone started a thread on the Palace forums I go to entitled, “photos that shook the world.” Numerous photos were posted, most of which were harrowing to say the least. A couple of them really stayed with me.
One that made me sick to the stomach was a young emancipated child crying and huddled in a desert whilst a vulture lingered behind and the other was the picture of hundreds of dead bodies littering the ground. The caption of the photo read “mass suicide at Jonestown.” I had no idea what this referred to and spent the next hour or so researching the shocking events that took place before my time. I will not go into details here but basically as astonishing as the events were, there was something in a mad religious fanatic convincing his followers to commit suicide and murder their children that resonated with the author in me. I thought it would make a compelling story. Which finally brings me onto the aforementioned coincidence as the next book I picked up following this article was…
Tess Gerritsen – The killing place

Product Details
By a series of circumstances, Maura Isles finds herself stranded in a seemingly empty community. It appears that the residents of the said community have all upped and left. As Maura uncovers more of the mystery surrounding her location, Jane Rizzoli desperately tries to find her friend.
This is a departure from Tess’s usual style and as much as I enjoy her Rizzoli and Isles books, I must say it was refreshing. Tess explores her characters in new environments and the fact that there is no clear killer on the loose makes for an interesting change.
Maura takes the lead role in this book whilst Jane is left to stumble around after her. Maura’s character is developed nicely. Her unsatisfactory relationship is challenged and her yearning for motherhood is touched upon nicely here.
The book is not without its flaws. Some characters introduced early in the book leave the story mid way through. This is frustrating as the reader has already invested a lot of time in them. The fact that they depart from the story is not the issue, it is more that Maura does not seem to react to this.
The conclusion is also a little bit of a let down for me personally. It is satisfying in regard to the story but having recently read an article on Jonestown, I was hoping for a story that reflected those events.
My rating: 8.6
On stranger tides – Tim Powers.

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This is the book that the Pirates of the Caribbean film franchise drew inspiration from for its 4th outing. I wanted to read the book before seeing the film and as a result of my tardiness will now have to wait for the film to come out on DVD.
I love pirates, I wish there were more novels surrounding pirates, (anyone that wishes to point me in the right direction please feel free).  However, the few I have read, all seem to leave me feeling the same.
It is very rare I finish a book and can’t decide whether I enjoyed it or not. “On stranger tides” joins this list. Like other pirate novels I have read, there were moments where I really enjoyed the experience and other moments where I was reading but not really taking the story in.
For example, the whole Fountain of Youth episode stood out as a really good piece of writing, Tim Powers really portrayed a great sense of atmosphere and claustrophobia. The sense of voodoo magic poured through the swamp like settings and the character’s distress at their real or imaginary visions was quite disconcerting.  However, if you asked me what the purpose of the whole scene was and what the characters achieved, I would struggle to tell you.
There are also some good characters. The pirate captain Phil Davies, the evil Leo Friend and the loyal Skank spring to mind. However it is difficult to route for the main character Jack Shandy who spends long periods feeling for himself and drowning his sorrows.
I think the biggest problem with the novel is the lack of direction. I like my plots to be clear, I don’t mind complicated but I like to know the motivations of the protagonists and their overall objectives. With “on stranger tides,” the main character “Shandy “seems to stumble from one scene to another with no real purpose. There is some vague mention of an uncle he wishes to confront and then later he wants to rescue a girl who at the beginning of the novel he did not care for.
The timeline is never consistent. A chapter might end and the next may start up immediately after the event or some months after. I found myself not discovering which until I had read a good few paragraphs of the chapter first. This is probably summed up in the loosely entitled epilogue, which is really just the final chapter of the book taking place seconds after the ending of the previous chapter and in no way representative of an epilogue whatsoever.
It sounds as if I really didn’t enjoy the book, but I don’t think that is a fair reflection. I just felt the story was more of a mesh of cool scenes loosely tied together than a clever tale. The only constant being Shandy’s half hearted pursuit of a girl he did not want to encourage in the beginning. Overall, I enjoyed it then… I think.
My rating: 7.1
A Dance with Dragons – George R R Martin.

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The book that thousands have been waiting years and years for, finally came out on July 12th. Early spoiler free reviews ramped up anticipation levels and talked of scenes reminiscent of a Storm of Swords. With such high expectations the initial feeling about A Dance with Dragons was one of disappointment and frustration. Did I feel this way? In short no…
I am in the minority of people that really enjoyed the book. I can see what people are disgruntled about, there are after all loads of plot threads unresolved. Whilst this is the middle of the series and one might expect this, there is at least one event that several POV characters were all involved in where a suitable climax was needed.
Like many other readers I also expected Dany to be in a certain place by the end of the book and to have interacted with certain characters and so was disappointed when she was not.
However, both those points are solely down to my expectations. When the dust has settled and I actually reflect on the book and remembered how much I enjoyed it throughout, I realise how great Dance actually is.
The writing is superb, contrary to the popular opinion, a lot actually happens. George takes us on a journey with his characters, throwing in the usual twists and subtle hints. Characters we previously despised we begin to sympathise with, characters we loved we learn are not as competent as we thought.
The three characters we yearned for (Jon, Tyrion and Dany) all appear in abundance. These three characters are generally the most popular, the ones we can most identify with. Yet Martin cruelly exposes there weaknesses and demonstrates that when in a position of power there are fallible. Very intriguing stuff.
 Yet it is the other characters that steal the show. Theon’s chapters are the best thing in the book; Davos and Asha are also very strong. Whilst Bran’s had me feverish with excitement and Barristen beaming with respect.
There are a few minor quibbles. Tyrion could have lost a chapter or two as could have Dany. Jaime appears in one brief chapter that really should have been saved for the next book. I think GRRM bowed to public demand to include this chapter just so we knew the fate of a certain character from Feast of Crows.
One of the things I love about the series is that no matter how much I pay attention when reading, I always miss something. With Dance it was no exception. After going on the forums, I literally kicked myself at some of the things I did not pick up on. Still it is part of the fun of reading and so the endless wait and speculating begins again.
Star Wars has always been my favourite world by a country mile. With A Dance with Dragons, the song of ice and fire saga is definitely catching it, if not over taking it.
My rating: 9.2
Bone - Complete collection – Jeff Smith.

Product Details
It has been years since I have read a comic. This huge collection has been sitting on my shelf for at least 7 years. I have always been aware of its popularity but for some reason have never got round to reading the series. Maybe because I was worried that I would find it over rated (Sandman, V is for Vengeance and Watchmen I am looking at you – all good but I don’t see how they are amazing).
With Bone, I needn’t have worried. The story tells the story of three cousins who find themselves lost in a world unfamiliar to them. What starts off as a small intimate story, progresses into an epic war with multiple characters and spans over 1,300 pages!
Jeff Smith manages to tell his tale in a humorous, yet heart warming way. The three main bone characters are all excellently portrayed, with Phoney being far and away my favourite. The supporting cast is also great. Nan and Lockjaw being particularly strong.
However, the collection is not flawless. There are times when the story does feel a little repetitive, for example when our heroes encounter the rat creatures yet again.  However, overall this is one comic collection that does live up to the hype.
My rating: 8.8