Monday, September 19, 2016

Review: The Shadow of the Torturer

The Shadow of the Torturer The Shadow of the Torturer by Gene Wolfe
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

There are certain books that can be considered life-changing experiences. Gene Wolfe is an author who has written one of those for me. The Shadow of the Torturer may very well be my favorite fantasy book of all-time if you pinned me down and forced me to give you an answer. I first read it in my early twenties, and recently picked it up again because I wanted to visit the world of Urth again. In many ways, The Shadow of the Torturer has everything that I look for in a great read: awesome world-building, post-apocalyptic setting, mysterious and complicated characters, an engaging and interesting plot, and just a really cool protagonist. The story takes place in what can only be considered a ravaged Earth (called Urth) which is now suffering under a dying sun. The world has been thrown backward into an almost medieval setting and the people both dress and behave in the same manner. However, it is obvious that something is wrong and that underneath everything, the secret to what has occurred will slowly be revealed, whether it be by the end of this book or in subsequent books to follow. This fact alone made me devour the book when I first picked it up all of those years ago. I have always been drawn to a mysterious underlying history in the books that I read. Shadow of the Torturer has that in spades. Severian is a young man who is an apprentice to the Guild of Torturers in a sinister place called the citidel. We get an early impression that Severian does not necessarily relish the opportunity to join the torturers guild, it is just something that he sees as a natural progression of his studies. Severian feels a sense of loyalty to the guild since they raised him after he was left at their doorstep as a child. When a young woman named Thecla is brought to the citidel to be tortured, Severian soon forms a friendship with her. Needless to say, it is frowned upon for any torturer to form any kind of bond with their subjects as their grisly work mandates that no emotion be felt. When it comes time for Thecla to be tortured, Severian commits the ultimate sin of showing mercy to his victim and assists her in committing suicide to end her suffering. At this point, Severian is cast out of the citidel and left to wander the shattered land alone with only his cloak and sword Terminus Est. It is here where the true brilliance of the story takes hold and we get to experience the horrifically beautiful world that Gene Wolfe has created. I will warn most readers that this isn't a light and easy to read fantasy. It requires that you pay attention to every word and every sentence. Things happen that are foreshadows of events that occur later in the book and also the series. But if you feel like reading one of the more impressive monuments of dark fantasy ever imagined, then give Shadow of the Torturer your time. You will not be disappointed.

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Review: The Warded Man

The Warded Man The Warded Man by Peter V. Brett
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Okay, so I am definitely in the minority with regard to my opinion of this book (and I am fully aware of that fact). I wasn't as blown away by the Warded Man as others and there are a couple of reasons for that. The biggest one is that I don't think that the idea is all that original. In fact, the more that I read the book, the more that I felt like it was kind of a rip-off of C.S. Friedman's Coldfire trilogy. And may I say that Friedman did the whole demon thing a whole lot better in her series than Brett has done. The reason for this is that Friedman made her demons incredibly interesting with a backstory. Her demons were despicable yet incredibly complex. They weren't just evil entities with no motivations other than to kill mercilessly. I felt like Brett's demons on the other hand, were cookie-cutter bad dudes who appeared every once in a while to make the plot interesting. the problem with that is it rarely accomplished that goal and I wasn't scared of the demons nor interested to find out anything about them. I also thought that the writing in the entire book was simply okay. Nothing really excellent about the prose at all really. When you get right down to it, the story wasn't terrible intriguing and I didn't care about the protagonist nor any of the main characters because they weren't fleshed out enough early on. To be invested in characters, I need to care about them. And it is difficult to care about characters that have little to no personality or emotion. Maybe had I not read the Coldfire Trilogy first, I would have liked this book better, but it is so similar in theme and yet nowhere near as well-constructed or written, that I could not get into the Warded Man at all. I feel like I trashed this book quite a bit, but when a book comes as highly recommended as this one did, I expect a little more than so-so. Ultimately I was left a little underwhelmed and probably won't be continuing with the series.

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Thursday, September 15, 2016

Review: The Book Club Murders

The Book Club Murders The Book Club Murders by Leslie Nagel
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Book Club Murders revolves around exactly what the title suggests - a group of women who get together to discuss mystery books every month. The name of the group is "The Agathas", an obvious reference to the famed mystery author Agatha Christie. Charley, the main character of the book, is a young woman who is trying but struggling to fit in among the town's rich and popular women. She initially believes that by joining the book club, she can ingratiate herself with many of the town's elite wives, since many of them are members of the group. Charley also owns a local clothing shop in the middle of town and believes that by perhaps getting close to the wealthy members of The Agathas, she may improve her business prospects and bottom line. But when a woman who everyone knows is found murdered suddenly, The Agathas find themselves in the center of a real-life version of their book discussion parties. When a second acquaintance gets murdered just days later, panic begins to set in and Charley takes it upon herself to embark on some amateur detective work in an effort to help police catch the killer. A bombshell is dropped when it appears that the two murders follow the same pattern as the last two books that The Agathas just read. It later becomes even more apparent when copies of each of those books are later found in the vicinity of both murder scenes. Is the murderer a member of The Agathas? And if so, will that person target Charley next as a result of her involvement in the investigation? I really enjoyed The Book Club Murders and found it to be an exceptional read. As a mystery, I was kept guessing until the very last minute, which I like. I hate knowing who the killer is very early in a book, and this one is by no means predictable. The only criticism that I have is the way that the police department scenes were handled. A lot of it was kind of unbelievable and there were times where I said out loud, "there's no way that they would have done it that way". But these are minor qualms and they didn't take away from my enjoyment of the book. I definitely recommend the Book Club Murders to anyone in need of a fun and enjoyable mystery that isn't overly long.

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Review: Death By Pumpkin Spice

Death By Pumpkin Spice Death By Pumpkin Spice by Alex Erickson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Received an ARC from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review of this title. I had high hopes for this book. I truly did. The premise is right up my alley and the Halloween theme is something that I always find appealing. Krissy Hancock co-owns a cafe/bookstore called Death by Coffee. She has been in and out of failed relationships recently and is encouraged when a handsome customer Wil invites her to an exclusive yearly Halloween party at a rich local couple's estate. Once at the party, a murder occurs and all of the guests are sequestered while the authorites attempt to discover who perpetrated the crime. I thought that the mystery part of the book was handled very well. My real beef with the book was the fact that the mystery seemed to take a backseat to Krissy's constant lamenting regarding her personal life. I'm not usually bothered by a main character's personal back story being injected into the plot. However, when it becomes almost the focal point of the entire story, it can become frustrating at times. I kept waiting for the mystery to take center stage, yet every time it looked like we would finally begin to get into the meat of the murder investigation, there would be three pages of Krissy beating herself up about the way she handled a conversation with her date Wil or a recollection of a past horrible relationship with another male guest at the party. In the end, I think it was an okay read, but the constant detours into the personal reflections of the main character kept me from enjoying it as much as I otherwise might have.

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Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Review: The Apothecary Rose

The Apothecary Rose The Apothecary Rose by Candace Robb
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Terrific, and a total surprise. I bought this book because I like mysteries set in the medieval/middle ages time period. I saw it advertised on Amazon as a recommendation based on the fact that I read the Ellis Peters Brother Cadfael books. It was also free, so I figured what the heck, if it is terrible no big loss. Well, not only was it not terrible, but it was a really great read. I put it right up there with the first Cadfael book and the Doomsday Book by Connie Willis. Ms. Robb captured the time period in such a tangible way that I felt transported into that small village in York every time I picked up the book. It has been a long time since I was this engrossed in a story. Candace Robb should be more well-known because her writing is vivid, crisp, and intelligent. I absolutely loved this book and now plan on reading the entire series. Owen Archer is a former soldier turned spy/sleuth. When a mysterious soldier shows up badly wounded at the local Apothecary, and then suddenly dies after seeming to be on the road to recovery, it is up to Owen to find out the circumstances behind his inexplicable death. Was it the Apothecary himself or was it someone else in the village who may have a motive to see that the soldier does not ever get to speak of his identity. I felt that the mystery was expertly handled but what stuck out as the true strong point of the book is the imagery and vivid setting. Candace Robb can weave a great story and also deliver the goods when it comes to the history of the time period. We get to see majestic medieval abbeys as well as poor villages devastated by the black plague, both written with equal description and attention to detail. The Apothecary Rose is an excellent mystery that I highly recommend to anyone who enjoys medieval mysteries or just stories set in the medieval period.

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Friday, September 9, 2016

Review: Curfew

Curfew Curfew by Phil Rickman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Curfew by Phil Rickman is one of those perfect supernatural-horror books that blends history and mythology in equal measure, while never losing the suspense and amazing story. The story takes place in the Welsh town of Crybbe. Crybbe is a mysterious and creepy town with a lot of history when it comes to the occult. In fact, there were once a number of standing stones located around the town which were mysteriously removed for some unknown reason. Couple that with the equally mysterious "curfew" bell that is rung every evening at 10pm, and you have the makings of an incredibly engaging book. Then there are the random power outages that seem to occur without warning that just add to the sinister setting, leaving the town pitch-black for hours at a time. When an English record label tycoon named Max Goff arrives at the sleepy village and wants to put the stones BACK, things really ramp up and we are treated to one hell of a tome. I have read a couple of other books by Rickman and honestly, I haven't been disappointed by him. He always delivers a wonderful story filled with interesting characters and a terrific plot. Curfew was a book that I couldn't put down. And at roughly 600 pages, that is a good thing because there's a lot to read between those covers. This was definitely the best book by him that I have had the pleasure of reading. And with Halloween coming up, I think this is the perfect holiday read as it really delivers on the spine-tingling shivers many times over. I highly recommend Curfew to anyone who enjoys supernatural fiction or horror. I will say that this isn't a "splatter" book where people die in excruciatingly-detailed ways. It is more of a psychological slow-burn. But if you have patience and allow yourself to be immersed in the story, you will be rewarded more than sufficiently. Give it a go! You won't be disappointed.

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Review: Darkness on the Edge of Town

Darkness on the Edge of Town Darkness on the Edge of Town by Brian Keene
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Let me preface this review by first saying that I am a huge fan of the horror genre. I've been reading horror books since I was a teenager and have gobbled up books by the likes of Graham Masterton, Stephen King, Clive Barker, Peter Straub, Robert McCammon and Richard Laymon greedily. I have tried to like Brian Keene. In fact, I have gone overboard to want to like Brian Keene's books so much that I have given him opportunity after opportunity to blow me away every time a new book of his comes out. I guess I just have to come to the conclusion that I simply will never appreciate his work. There are a number of reasons why Brian Keene just doesn't connect with me as a reader. The first being that he attempts to shoehorn every last 80's pop-culture or heavy metal reference into every one of his books. It becomes such a distracting thing that I literally cannot focus on the story he is trying to tell. Okay, I get it, the main character has Megadeath posters all over his wall and just got finished watching his Hammer Films box set starring Peter Cushing as the evil doctor. He beats you over the head with the 80's stuff and the music stuff that I just have to put the book down. I understand when an author wants to inject what he likes in real life into his or her stories. It just seems overly excessive in Keene's case. Like I said, I really do want to like him and the premise for all of his books are usually right up my alley. It's the execution that I find lacking. In the case of Darkness on the Edge of Town it is even more of the same unfortunately. We get the first 20 pages of introducing the characters and the references that I mentioned before are shoved down your throat with a plunger. Not to mention I felt it resembled much too closely Stephen King's Under the Dome, which was released a year before Keene's book. The story never succeeded in grabbing me and I eventually abandoned the book. I know there are a ton of people who think that Keene is the bees knees in the horror genre, but I am not one of them.

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Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Wolf Hall (Thomas Cromwell, #1)Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

When I first became enthralled with books about Tudor-era England, C.J. Sansom was the author that got me into the time period. His mysteries set around the time of Henry VIII and Thomas Cromwell were well done and historically fascinating. Well, after reading Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall, I have to say that she makes Sansom's books seem like pale comparisons. That is taking nothing away from Sansom, mind you. Wolf Hall is just THAT GREAT. We start by seeing the early like of Thomas Cromwell and his troubled youth. Mantel does an amazing job of giving the backstory of the man who would become King Henry the VIII's most trusted adviser and hatchet man (figuratively of course). The story then progresses through Cromwell's life, eventually getting to the most scandalous period and the beginnings of what would become the Reformation movement in England due to the pope not granting an annulment to King Henry. I don't get some of the reviewers who said that this was a difficult read. I had no problems at all following the large cast of characters and the prose. Many complained that Mantel's use of the word "he" was confusing and the reader didn't know who she was referring to most of the time. That didn't faze me at all, in fact, every time Mantel used the word "he" to refer to a character, it was obviously in reference to Thomas Cromwell the main character of the story. I very rarely noticed her using the word "he" to refer to anyone else but Cromwell and very soon got used to it. I thought this book was incredibly insightful and compelling and would recommend it to anyone who loves historical fiction.

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