Review – The Almost Girl

Cover of The Almost Girl, by Amalie HowardThe Almost Girl, Amalie Howard

Received as an ARC from Netgalley. Like all Angry Robot/Strange Chemistry books, this is a compulsive read: I started it this afternoon and just finished it now. I think I’d have been more enthusiastic about it when I was younger, and I’m almost positive my sister would really enjoy it. Even now I found it interesting, and got swept up in the action.

Part of the problem for me is the very teenage focus on attraction and love, which is not something I’m particularly interested in. On the flip side of that, all Riven’s issues about family ring clear no matter what, I think. And that’s not the only aspect of the plot, of course: there’s also the technological aspects, the half-glimpsed history of the world, which I enjoyed piecing together.

Some plot twists were fairly obvious to me from the beginning, and I was a little disappointed that a certain character turned out to be twisted all along: I prefer some ambiguity and would’ve liked to see Riven’s reaction, faced with him and with everything she’s done all along.

I’m interested to see how Riven’s character develops, after the revelations of this book and the changes that’ve come up — both in her society and for her personally.

Review on Goodreads.

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Review – Seven Markets

Cover of The Seven Markets by David HoffmanThe Seven Markets, David Hoffman

I got this as an ARC from Netgalley far too long ago. If it hadn’t been a Netgalley book, I don’t know if I’d have finished it. Maybe I would’ve; I’m stubborn like that at times. I did actually enjoy this until about halfway through, but then it stopped obeying its own internal rules, stopped explaining things — quite frankly, it stopped making sense. The idea of a story that melds fantasy and science fiction is interesting to me, so I didn’t dismiss it out of hand for that, but… everything just happened, without rhyme or reason as far as I could tell.

The structure was ambitious too, and again, I wouldn’t automatically discount it. But that combined badly with the plot, making it unintelligible. The idea of a plot of seven chapters, each following three days in each hundred years, sounds fascinating. But the jumps between were just too much.

The characters… I was ready to like Ellie, and her love for Joshua, very much. In the first chapter, it’s warm and feeling. Almost a nostalgic smile at a first love. But that warmth just dropped out of it, and for me Ellie turned out to be very unpleasant.

It’s not a bad book, per se, but I do think it was unsuccessful.

Review on Goodreads.

What Are You Reading Wednesday

What did you recently finish reading?
Reza Aslan’s Zealot was the last thing I finished, and before that it was Fables vol. 3: Storybook Love, by Bill Willingham et al. I’m really ambivalent about the Fables series, somehow: I’m interested and I want to see where it goes, but when I read other people’s criticism, I can’t help but agree. It uses some tired old tropes, and the stories often feel banal. Still, there’s something in the sheer interest of watching characters from fables navigate the “real” world, and in recognising them and guessing ahead how their unique properties will affect the story.

What are you currently reading?
I’m mostly trying to work on ARCs that I still owe reviews for, so I’m currently reading David Hoffman’s Seven Markets. The structure is a little awkward, but it remains to be seen whether that ends up working for the story or not. I still have my “book prescription” to read, too, Christine Ingham’s Panic Attacks; I think I’ve barely started it. There’s a lot of other books I’m technically partway through… Oh, I did start The Unexpected Mrs Pollifax, by Dorothy Gilman, which is fun enough but not really keeping my attention.

What do you think you’ll read next?
I think I’ll be trying to finish Seven Forges (James A. Moore), from my ARCs list. Although I just got a couple of new ones, and I’m very tempted by Strange Chemistry’s The Almost Girl (Amalie Howard)…

Books acquired:
I think it might be none. I got the latest issue of Young Avengers in the last week, I’m sure, but other than that, I really think it might be none. My most recent ARCs were The Almost Girl, The Cormorant (Chuck Wendig), Iron Wolves (Andy Remic), and Shadowplay (Laura Lam).

Review – Zealot

Cover of Zealot by Reza AslanZealot, Reza Aslan

I got access to Zealot from Netgalley before the now famous interview on Fox (which you can view here), though that interview did make me more interested in reading the book. There have been responses to that interview since that somewhat cast doubt on Reza Aslan’s integrity in that interview, stating that he doesn’t have the qualifications and background he claims to have, etc. I’m not really going to refer to those, but here’s a link to one of them in case you’re interested.

It might also be helpful to note that I’m not a Christian, I’m a Unitarian Universalist, and I think that the gospels are for the most part a beautiful story which can help teach us how to live. The “real” Jesus needn’t even have existed to be an example. I have a fairly literary take on scriptures of all stripes, so Reza Aslan isn’t stepping on my toes here.

I approached Zealot with some doubt, in any case, because it sounded too wonderfully inflammatory to be really an unbiased scholarly attempt. I actually liked Aslan’s writing style, and this felt less like a scholarly work, closer to a semi-fictionalised biography or something of that sort. If it was a story, it was somewhat dry; if it was a scholarly work, it was too informal. I also very much missed the presence of footnotes: there are some notes at the end of the book, but in the ebook they’re not easy to access and they seem to contain almost as much commentary as the original chapters!

There is a separate bibliography which is extensive and clearly laid out, but… overall, I can’t shake the feeling that we are being presented Reza Aslan’s personal convictions about what research he has done, not meticulous careful and, what’s more, original research. The actual areas where he quoted something and explained why it helped form his views seem actually quite few and far between, and his judgements on their reliability a bit patchy.

An interesting read, and a well-written book, but not something I can place too much faith in.

Review on Goodreads.

Review – Between Two Thorns

Cover of Between Two Thorns by Emma NewmanBetween Two Thorns, Emma Newman

Technically, I’ve both received this to review on Netgalley and received a copy as a competition prize from Angry Robot, so it’s high time I got round to it. My review will, of course, be an honest one.

In fact, I’m not entirely sure what to make of this. I enjoyed reading it, but it didn’t seem to pull together at the end — instead of the first book of a trilogy, it felt like the first part of a book. It’s not even exactly a cliffhanger ending, it’s just… some things wrap up, but most things don’t, leaving several plot threads dangling and a major mystery unsolved. I’m interested in reading the rest of the trilogy, but this way of ending the book didn’t feel right.

Anyway, the most interesting thing about this book is the world-building, the Fae world and our world, and Exilium. There were times when that felt rather like other books (Daughter of Smoke and Bone came to mind pretty strongly during the Shopkeeper chapters, and Tad Williams’ War of the Flowers comes to mind as a comparison too), but it was intriguing enough to keep my attention. The characters, less so — Cathy is made a bit too average, I think, and Will a bit too perfect, but in that cocky self-assured way that never fails to irritate. I want to know what happens to them, but I’m not convinced I care.

There’s nothing about this book (other than the ending issues I mentioned above) that makes me dislike it, but I think my feelings on it will alter (or not) depending on what the other two books of the trilogy are like. Unfortunately, I don’t have Any Other Name, so that might be a while from now.

Review on Goodreads.

Review – Swords of the Six

Cover of Swords of the Six by Scott AppletonSwords of the Six, Scott Appleton

I got this on Netgalley a while ago in exchange for an honest review. (Can you tell I’m trying to catch up?) I was a bit dubious about it from the start — mostly I agreed to review it so I could tell my sister if it was any good: she loves anything involving dragons. But it’s pretty much all that’s bad about epic fantasy: overwritten, full of epic battle scenes that convey little plot and less emotion (because you haven’t got to know the characters first).

It’s not too rife with mistakes of a grammatical nature (though some of the attempts at “ye olde English” didn’t read right), but it’s just… not my thing. Too simplistic. It’s like the author knew that he needed a hook, and figured a huge battle scene with epic displays of courage and loyalty would do that. Well, yes, maybe, if I’d known who the characters were, what the stakes were, what was going on at all.

Not something I’d pick up by choice if I got to pick it up in a bookshop and flick through.

Review on Goodreads.

Review – A Gift Upon the Shore

Cover of A Gift Upon the Shore by M.K. Wren A Gift Upon the Shore, M.K. Wren

I received this book on Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. I really wanted and expected to like it; it’s a reissue of a book published in 1990, and offers a more female viewpoint on the story of nuclear apocalypse and survival, even regrowth. Unfortunately, I just couldn’t get into it: the pace is slow, the writing feels stodgy, and it feels more than a bit judgemental about Christianity — or Christians, at least. I don’t see any reason why the more Christian a character professes to be, the more dogmatic and intolerant they behave. I’m very close to some very serious, devout Christians: whatever they believe about me (the fact that I’m a Unitarian Universalist, the fact that I have a same-sex partner), they treat me with compassion and understanding.

As for the writing, it’s little repetitive tics that give it the sense of stodginess and clumsiness. Every other chapter for at least the first quarter of the book starts by telling us what ‘Mary Hope’ is doing — bludgeoning the reader over the head with that pointed surname. To me, the structure of alternating present first person and past third person chapters felt clumsy too: quite often the one introduces the other, and yet little happens in either to justify taking up a whole chapter, let alone two.

I like the idea, but I think it would have been better served by simplicity of language, structure and style.

Review on Goodreads.