Tag Archives: 4 Stars

Swamplandia!, Karen Russell

Swamplandia!, Karen RusselSwamplandia! by Karen Russell

First Published: 2011

Pages: 316 (Paperback)
Form: Novel
Rating: 4/54/54/54/54/5

In the Florida Everglades, gator-park Swamplandia! is in trouble. Its star performer, the great beauty and champion alligator-wrestler Hilola Bigtree, has succumbed to cancer, and Ava, her resourceful but terrified 13-year-old daughter, is left in charge with her two siblings. But Ava’s sister has embarked on a romantic relationship with a ghost, her brother has defected to a rival theme park, and her father is AWOL. And then a mysterious figure called the Bird Man guides Ava into a perilous part of the swamp called the Underworld, promising he can save both her sister and the park…

Swamplandia! is an excellent book. It’s not necessarily the book you expect from the blurb but it is beautifully written, darkly humorous, and packs a hell of an emotional punch.

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The Blood of Olympus, Rick Riordan

Blood of Olympus, Rick RiordanThe Blood of Olympus by Rick Riordan

First Published: 2014

Pages: 514 (Paperback)
Form: Novel
Series: Heroes of Olympus #5

Rating: 4/54/54/54/54/5

Seven Heroic Demigods.
One Final Quest.
The Greatest Sacrifice Yet.

‘The ruins are up there,’ Piper promised. ‘I saw them in Katoptris’s blade. And you heard what Hazel said. “The biggest -“‘
‘”The biggest gathering of evil spirits I’ve ever sensed,”‘ Jason recalled. Yeah, sounds awesome.’

After surviving many deadly quests, Percy, Jason, Annabeth and their friends face one final challenge: defeat an army of giants before the Earth Mother, Gaia, finally awakes and brings about the end of the world…

It finally came out in paperback! Which means I am finally finished with the Percy Jackson/Heroes of Olympus series. Sad days! Heroes of Olympus took a couple of books to really grow on me, I did not love it instantly in the same way I loved Percy Jackson, and I still think the previous series is superior, but I grew to love HoO and its characters far more over these five books than I was ever expecting when I picked up The Lost Hero. And I am genuinely sad to see it end.

The Blood of Olympus, concludes the story of the fight against Gaia (Mother Earth) and her giant offspring’s attempts to weaken the gods by setting their Greek and Roman aspects off against each other, and destroy the world. The time for Gaia’s resurrection is finally drawing close and our cast of Greek and Roman heroes must race against time across Greece to the Acropolis at Athens to prevent it, knowing that at least one of them is prophesied  not survive the encounter. Meanwhile our secondary heroes, Nico and Reyna, must return to America to forge peace between the Greek and Roman camps before they wipe each other out.

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Unseemly Science, Rod Duncan

Unseemly Science, Rod DuncanUnseemly Science by Rod Duncan First Published: 2015 Pages: 346 (Paperback) Form: Novel Series: The Fall of the Gas-Lit Empire #2 Rating: 4/54/54/54/54/5

In the divided land of England, Elizabeth Barnabus has been living a double life – as both herself and as her brother, the private detective. Witnessing the hanging of Alice Carter, the false duchess, Elizabeth resolves to throw the Bullet Catcher’s Handbook into the fire, and forget her past. If only it were that easy! There is a new charitable organisation in town, run by some highly respectable women. But something doesn’t feel right to Elizabeth. Perhaps it is time for her fictional brother to come out of retirement for one last case…? Her unstoppable curiosity leads her to a dark world of body-snatching, unseemly experimentation, politics and scandal. Never was it harder for a woman in a man’s world…

The Bullet-Catcher’s Daughter, the first book in Rod Duncan’s steampunk series, The Fall of the Gas-Lit Empire, was one of my surprise favourite reads of last year. It had so much to love; a competent (crossdressing!) and pragmatic heroine, a genuine female friendship, gripping plot, fun victorian/steampunk trappings, limited hints at future romance, and wonderful alternate-history world-building. And all set in a part of the UK that I was pretty familiar with too (Leicester pride!). It had literally all the things I never even realised I wanted when I picked it up as a light holiday read. The sequel is not as strong. It is slower to jump into the ‘main’ plot and there is a lot more going on. For the first half of the book it relies more on the character of its protagonist, Elizabeth Barnabas, than it does on fast paced action (though there’s still plenty), and isn’t as instantly gripping ‘what’s going to happen next!?’ as the first book. But actually, I’m pretty fine with that. I love Elizabeth and I don’t object at all to spending more time in her head with her thoughts. Continue reading

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Victory of Eagles, Naomi Novik

Victory of Eagles, Naomi NovikVictory of Eagles by Naomi Novik

First Published: 2009

Pages: 345 (Paperback)
Form: Novel
Series: Temeraire #5

Rating: 4/54/54/54/54/5

As is the nature of longer series, the blurb contains spoilers for previous books. So everything goes below the cut this time.

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The Lies of Locke Lamora, Scott Lynch

The Lies of Locke Lamora, Scott LynchThe Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch

First Published: 2006

Pages: 537 (Paperback)
Form: Novel
Series: Gentleman Bastard #1

Rating:4/54/54/54/54/5

The Thorn of Camorr is said to be an unbeatable swordsman, a master thief, a friend to the poor, a ghost that walks through walls.

Slightly built and barely competent with a sword, Lock Lamora is, much to his annoyance, the fabled Thorn. And while Locke does indeed steal from the rich (who else would be worth stealing from?), the poor never see a penny. All of Locke’s gains are strictly for himself and his tight-knit band of thieves: The Gentlemen bastards.

The capricious, colourful underworld of the ancient city of Camorr is the only home they’ve ever known. But now a clandestine war is threatening to tear it apart. Caught up in a murderous game, Locke and his friends are suddenly struggling just to stay alive.

The Lies of Locke Lamora is one of those fantasy books that, if you’re into fantasy, it’s impossible to avoid people telling you how brilliant it is. And, as is almost invariably the case, it doesn’t quite live up to the hype. It’s a fast-paced, fun read with lots of great characters, a wonderfully creepy atmosphere, some interesting world building, and some surprising twists and turns, so it’s definitely not bad. I certainly won’t be giving people who recommend it as ‘the best fantasy in recent years’ the side eye in the same way I do Joe Abercrombie fans (that trilogy should have been one book, tops!). In fact, they may well be right. It’s a good novel, very good in places but, for me, those places fell mostly in the later half of the book and it didn’t quite come together enough for me to love it.

The book is set in the fantasy canal-city of Camorr and opens with Locke Lamore (the self styled conman the ‘Thorn of Camorr’) and his band of merry men starting a scheme to con a local nobleman out of all his money. These are not the most moral or idealistic or protagonists. But they have a strong bond that lots of readers loved and I found almost instantly tiresome. There’s a lot of banter and teasing, boasting, and laughter in the first half that, for me, felt like watching a group of incredibly self-aggrandising men that I don’t know making in-jokes about how great they are to each other. And my pervading thought was mostly ‘yes, you’re ‘Gentlemen Bastards’, well done, I got that, you’re the best, but where are the women?’ ‘Why are there no women?’.

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The Cuckoo’s Calling, Robert Galbraith

The Cuckoo's Calling, Robert GalbraithThe Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith
(J.K. Rowling)

First Published: 2013

Pages: 550(Paperback)
Form: Novel
Series: Cormoran Strike #1

Rating:4/54/54/54/54/5

When a troubled model falls to her death from a snow-covered Mayfair balcony, it is assumed that she has committed suicide. However, her brother has his doubts and calls in private detective Cormoran Strike to investigate.

Strike is a war veteran – wounded both physically and psychologically – and his private life is in disarray. The case gives him a financial lifeline but it comes at a personal cost: the more he delves into the young model’s world, the darker things become – and the closer he gets to terrible danger.

Before I start, I’m going to admit that I only chose to read this book because the author is J.K. Rowling. I’m partial to a detective story now and then but, without a specific recomendation for Galbraith from someone I trust, I would probably not have picked this novel up on my own from among  the sea of bland identi-covers and samey-blurbs in my bookshop’s crime section.  But Rowling proved (to me at least) that she could write for adults with The Casual Vacancy and she’s proved she could write mysteries and sprinkle clues around ever since The Philosopher’s Stone, so I was interested to see what her crime debut would be like.

 

And it’s pretty good. A fairly standard crime novel, perhaps: a PI with a funny name, a dark history, and a disastrous personal life investigates a death everyone believes to be a suicide, proves it was murder and shows up the police. There’s nothing particularly groundbreaking or exceptional about the story, but it is a solid, enjoyable read, and that’s pretty much all I ask of my detective novels. Continue reading

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Catching Fire, Suzanne Collins

Catching Fire, Suzanne CollinsCatching Fire by Suzanne Collins

First Published: 2009

Pages: 472 (Paperback)
Form: Novel
Series: The Hunger Games #2

Rating: 4/54/54/54/54/5

KATNISS EVERDEEN SURVIVED THE HUNGER GAMES.

NOW THE CAPITOL WANTS REVENGE.

Against all odds, Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Mellark are still alive. Katniss should be relieved, but now there are whispers of a rebellion against the Capitol – a rebellion that Katniss and Peeta may have helped create.

As the nation watches Katniss and Peeta, the stakes are higher than ever. One false move and the consequences will be unimaginable.

Catching up on some reviews that, for various reasons, I never got round to writing in 2013.

Going to be a  brief review because I appear to have lost my notes on this book.

Catching Fire has the unenviable job of being the middle book of a trilogy, more about introducing the main themes and getting characters to where they need to be for book three than in telling its own story. It’s also the follow up book to a story that didn’t need a sequel in the first place. The Hunger Games worked fine as a standalone book and the very set up   – a yearly televised event – makes it difficult to imagine a sequel  that isn’t in some ways just a rewrite of the first book. But, despite both those things, I again really enjoyed Catching Fire as a fun holiday read. In fact it’s by far my favourite of the three books.

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