Saturday, April 12, 2014

Ruins (Partials #3) by Dan Wells

Ruins (Partials #3) by Dan Wells
Rating: 3/5

From what I can remember of the previous books, I think this one was better than the second one. It was paced more quickly and there was a lot going on. There was so much going on that at times it got a bit confusing. Dozens of characters in separate, ever-changing groups, always on the move, people dying and new characters being introduced almost until the end makes for a lot to keep track of. 

The relationshippy parts in this series seem a bit packaged and shallow to me, kind of forced and even too easy in a way. And the way it wrapped up so neatly in the end was disappointing. I did enjoy Marcus as comic relief. And I was impressed at what Vale ended up doing in White Plains, not necessarily because I approve of his action but because it was unexpected in a YA novel. There was so much death and gore and violence you wouldn't think it appropriate for this genre but somehow I didn't feel much of the horror you might expect. The author attempted to have his characters feel something about this but did not succeed in transferring that feeling to this reader. 

This series is clearly bound for movie adaptation à la Hunger Games and Divergent. And I think it might even be quite decent in that format. As for the books, they were a mostly enjoyable adventure but didn't delve as deep into the emotions and issues they raised as much as I would've liked. The trilogy focuses more on action than anything else.

Other reviews of the Partials Sequence:
Partials
Fragments


Saturday, March 29, 2014

The Undead Pool (The Hollows #12) by Kim Harrison

The Undead Pool (The Hollows #12) by Kim Harrison
Rating: 2.5/5

I'm basically reading these out of habit now, and I was relieved to hear there's only going to be one more. Hints dropped at the end of Undead Pool point to the finale centering around the Rosewood Children. Anyway. After 300 pages of "OMG he touched me, I remember when we kissed, no, bad Rachel, but I love him, no I don't, oh yeah I'm trying to save the world here" ad nauseum interrupting the pace of the mediocre plot, we arrive at literally the only (spoiler) sex scene that has ever failed to even slightly arouse me. I know there's a huge Rachel/Trent faction out there, and I hope they are happy. I would rather dispense with the romance aspect of this series entirely, it's so repetitive. Harrison is very busy churning out books and you can tell. She puts very little effort into her grammar or making sure the readers can follow Rachel's thought sequences or understand what exactly is happening with the plot. And this lack of attention in turn makes me even more apathetic with each book in the series. The mystics thing was pretty original (to my knowledge) so I can give her credit for that much. Otherwise I can't see much to praise. All the characters are well-established and predictable and therefore rather uninteresting. Trent is the only one who seems to have changed much, Rachel is still as emotionally flabby as ever, and even Jenk's endearing stubborn loyalty is getting old. Double meh.

See my other ratings and review links of this series 

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Omens (Cainsville #1) by Kelley Armstrong

Omens (Cainsville #1) by Kelley Armstrong

Rating: 3/5

I was not sure I was going to keep reading Kelley Armstrong after her Women of the Otherworld series was over earlier this year, since the quality of her writing seemed to be declining in the later books. However, WotO is still my favourite of the urban fantasy series I've read, and Armstrong is always an easy read, so I figured I wouldn't be losing much if I picked this book up and gave it a shot. I was curious about what she was going to do next. 

True to form, Omens was an easy, fairly fast read. There are supernatural elements in this world, but they are slow-to-be revealed, mostly only hinted at in this first book of what I believe is planned to be a trilogy. One can only assume they will become more important in the next two books. Unlike the WotO series, however, this deals with superstitions ('omens', obviously) and folklore, rather than witch's magic, shapeshifting and the like. There are characters who have certain extrasensory abilities, but everybody (so far) appears human. 

There isn't a whole lot of action and imminent danger in this book, until the end, which is fine by me. Most of the book covers the protagonist's situation (Olivia, the adult daughter of a prominent and rich family discovers she is adopted and her real parents are imprisoned for serial killings) and her encounters with characters in Cainsville, to which she is drawn by various forces. She is investigating the set of four murders to find out if her birth parents are truly guilty, with the help of an enigmatic lawyer named Gabriel, who is clearly being set up as a love interest.  I was a bit disappointed with the trope between the two, who by the end of this book are unaware of each other's interest and convinced their feelings couldn't possibly mutual. It's a pretty tired device, in my opinion. 

Olivia is an alright character, there's nothing really special about her personality aside from the gift for reading omens that she is slowly discovering. She's determined to be independent, stubborn, attractive, curious...Nothing to dislike, but nothing to feel strongly about either. Armstrong's women characters are generally like this imperfect but strong-minded "everywoman" type. The other characters in this book are far more interesting, if only because they are mysterious and seem to be keeping a lot of secrets.  For the most part this story is told in the first person from Olivia's perspective, but short chapters appear every once in awhile from various other characters' perspectives, offering hints to their roles in the larger picture, which is quite effective at creating interest. 

I find Cainsville itself more intriguing than the plot about investigating the murders, personally. The way the first murder was 'solved' was kind of implausible and unsatisfying, even given the supernatural elements in this world. However, my curiosity about exactly what is going on in Cainsville and how it relates to Olivia and her birth parents is enough to make me want to continue with this series. 

My other reviews of this author:
Awakenings (Darkest Powers #2)
Spellbound (Women of the Otherworld #12)
Thirteen (Women of the Otherworld #13)

Monday, September 2, 2013

Paris by Edward Rutherfurd

Paris - Edward Rutherfurd
Rating: 4/5

I received a bound galley copy of this book in a goodreads giveaway, which will have no effect on the objectivity of this review.

In order to do a proper review, I would have to read this monolith again. I really had no idea what I was getting into when I started it. I thought I'd experienced historical fiction before, but Rutherfurd's tome needs its own category. "Super historical fiction" or something. It took me four months to get through this book, which is probably a record for me. Usually I am either in or out, but I was determined to experience this book.

I dare say a personal familiarity with Paris; and an excellent memory would have benefited my enjoyment of this story, but I have neither. At times I felt like I was getting a walking tour of the city, but blindfolded, with only a guide to describe the scenery. I had difficulty picturing a lot of places that were mentioned in passing, and I felt like every significant place in Paris history was mentioned, whether it added to the story or not. Locations where plot happened were easier to imagine, but the rest felt like obligatory place-name-dropping. This may be enjoyable for someone who has actually been to Paris, but for me it was occasionally tedious.

The story follows several families in Paris through about 300 years of history, up until the late 1960s. Well, "follows" is not exactly an accurate term, since the narrative jumps back and forth through time and between characters. I had some difficulty with this. My memory is poor, and it was hard to remember which characters did what when. I assume it was arranged this way because Rutherfurd had a plan regarding when key information about how the families' histories were intertwined would be revealed. This trade-off of clarity for drama might give a reader with a better memory less trouble. The jumping around also made it harder for me to stay involved in the story -- it took me awhile to get situated in each setting, and I found that setting changing rather too shortly after I really started to get involved in the plot. So it was jarring. And the long chapters made it difficult to keep reading -- each chapter requires a leap to another time and set of characters, and a big chunk of time if you want to get through it all at once. I personally don't like putting a book down in the middle of a chapter, but I made do with section breaks.

The characters in this book were fairly well delineated and developed, but it took the whole book to really get to know any of them, since there were so many and their stories were told in chunks separated by long narrative interruptions. I quite liked Marie, but it was difficult to become entirely emotionally engaged with any of them for some reason. 

The plots in this book were excellently woven and varied, intertwined with the most important events in Paris' history during the periods covered. There were family grudges, murders, political intrigues, wars, romances, infidelities, tragedies, triumphs...nearly every plot point you could imagine, and all brought off with great plausibility. Though it was difficult to rejoin the story whenever I picked the book up from a long pause, eventually I was always drawn back in.

Rutherfurd's writing style is graceful and pleasing, his words setting a tone rather than being the focus of the work. It leant itself well to its story-telling. 

This is a book I would like to read again some day, but it does require a big commitment, so I am not sure I will ever get around to it. I am looking forward to reading this author's novel about London, which I think I will enjoy, being more familiar with British history than French. 

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness by Susannah Cahalan

Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness
by Susannah Cahalan

Rating: 4/5

It's not often a journalist tells a story of their own illness, and even it's rarer for one to do it with much objectivity. Cahalan has an advantage in this respect, since she has almost no memories of the acute stage of her illness (the month of madness), and so has had to research her story like any other journalist might. She interviewed doctors, nurses, friends and family, watched surveillance video taken during her hospital stay, and used journals written by herself and her parents to piece together the events that she suffered but cannot remember. She's added to that information the things she does recall from before and after the acute stage of her recently discovered autoimmune disease, in which autoantibodies attacked neuro-receptors in her brain, which resulted in an amazing number of bizarre symptoms, some of which could have (and probably have been, in others) mistaken for schizophrenia. I like that, even after going through this trauma and struggling with about a two year recovery, she realizes how lucky she was. As far as debilitating illnesses go, she basically won the lottery - not because of the illness she got, but because it was discovered and treated and she more or less got her (arguably charmed) life back. 

Susannah is by all accounts a gifted, successful and well-loved individual. Her million dollar treatment was covered by insurance and well-off parents. She had a very large support network that were incredibly involved and not one of them abandonned her. She happened to be able to get into a hospital and eventually be referred to arguably the only doctor in the world that could help her. She had understanding employers that kept her job open for her. Susannah was very fortunate, indeed.

This is not to downplay her horrible, nightmarish journey, which I bet a part of her is thankful for not remembering. She suffered, and the people around her suffered too. The story she tells is both fascinating and heart-breaking. For the most part, this book is fast-paced and smooth, but it also includes some scientific information that you may have to slow down to understand.

On a personal note: 
As someone who has suffered from (non-psychotic) mental illness since childhood, and debilitating, incurable and untreatable physical illness for the past ten years, I have to admit I was envious of Susannah. Her family and closest friends showed a level of loyalty and support that I can't even imagine having. These relationships have remained intact, some of them have even improved, and she has returned to the job she loves. She's even helping others by sharing her story and offering compassion and information to people who contact her with tales of similar illnesses. Once you've had chronic illness for awhile, you realize how preferable acute illness is, even if it is as severe as Susannah's. With chronic illness, family and friends eventually slip away, as do any dreams and plans you had for your future. Your entire life is reduced to infirmity and survival, with literally no end in sight except death. So yeah, I was envious, reading about Susannah's supportive family and ultimate recovery.

To her credit, there is not even a whiff of self-pity in Cahalan's story. She knows how fortunate she was, and how many others aren't nearly so lucky. She's extremely grateful to everyone involved. All in all, a well-written, interesting book that I would recommend to people who like medical memoirs.