Review: Brandon Sanderson – Alcatraz verses the Evil Librarians

Alcatraz verses the Evil Librarians
Brandon Sanderson

The Smedrys are blessed with Talents. Or cursed, depending on who you ask. Alcatraz Smedry has a powerful Talent that has meant that he has broken everything in his foster homes so far. When he receives a bag of sand for his birthday, this starts him on a quest with his very odd grandpa and a series of even odder cousins – with talents from falling to waking up ugly!

In these novels, Sanderson breaks all the writing conventions, especially the ‘fourth wall’. The author (Alcatraz) is writing these memoirs and is fully aware of how writers make novels and how to make readers cry out in anger! Particularly with meandering introductions to chapters or going off topic, or just generally being irritating. It’s a style of writing that is either going to drive you crazy or have you laughing out loud.

For example, in the fourth novel, Alcatraz versus the Shattered Lens, Alcatraz starts skipping chapters and labeling chapters odd things. He works his way through all of the writing conventions and mixes them around. He skips parts and pretends that the chapters just went missing!

Strangely for a Sanderson novel, I probably wouldn’t reread these ones urgently. I’m thinking I’m too old and jaded for these novels. I’m perfectly happy to accept writing conventions and roll with them. We all know how I feel about using stupid languages (see my scathing reviews of Munmun and Storm-Wake). I’m going to test them out on my 9.5 year old reader and see how she goes with them.

Review: Shea Ernshaw – The Wicked Deep

The Wicked Deep
Shea Ernshaw

Penny lives on an island outside a small town called Sparrow. 200 years ago, three sisters were drowned as witches. Since then, they have returned every year on June 1st, and stay for a few weeks to possess the bodies of girls and take their revenge by drowning boys in the village that betrayed them.

This was a nice, light book that was a pleasant time-filler. I appreciated that it was short and sweet, and a book that I could read once, and move on from (instead of a larger book, or a series, where I remain invested long after I’ve finished reading). The book felt, at least to me, as if it was split into three distinct sections that each had a different feel and that I enjoyed differently.

The first section of the book was confusing for me to read. Although the blurb stated that the three sisters did exist, the book itself didn’t make that clear until around 1/3 of the way in. This meant that I spent the first part of the book unsure if it was meant to be a mystery or a fantasy novel, and as I read the two types of books differently, it was hard to immerse myself in the story.

The middle third of the book was much better than the first, as I was able to commit to the story now that I had some idea of what was happening. I don’t have a whole lot to say on this section, apart from thinking it was well-written and reasonable, although not outstanding.

The final part of the book was by far the best. The progression of events forces Penny to make difficult decisions, and I really enjoyed reading through her reasonings. That said, it felt like Penny spent a lot of time pitying herself – which wasn’t fun or interesting to read through – and the ending was predictable. The enjoyment of this third section of the book was very dependent on already having formed a bond with the characters and being invested (at least somewhat) in their romance.

The romance in this book was pretty average. It begins in such a predictable manner that I already lost some interest before it had hit full steam. The trope of ‘a mysterious person saves the main character, and they instantly have a connection’ is so overused in books that it doesn’t interest me much anymore. It wasn’t terrible, but it was predictable and not very engaging. Their relationship also felt like it moved much too quickly, going from first meeting each other to falling in love in a few weeks, with not a lot of time spent on their interactions. That said, this was a very short book, and I feel that fleshing out the relationship too much could have made the book feel bloated.

Review:Mercedes Lackey – A Scandal in Battersea

A Scandal in Battersea
Mercedes Lackey

Christmas is an important season for people wanting to revisit their childhoods or live vicariously through the children of others. Nan and Sarah enjoy the season with Suki, John & Mary Watson and the indomitable Sherlock Holmes. But evil also likes to cross at this time of year, and as more husks of women show up everyone will be needed to combat the problem.

Ugh, take me back to the older style Elemental Master’s series! I don’t care that they were ‘just’ re-imagined fairy-tales. Yes yes, it’s important that the psychics and the clairvoyants (and Celtic Warriors) get airtime (readtime?) but give me some air elementals any day. None of the other Elemental Masters get more than one novel devoted to them, so why should Nan and Sarah (3 books and counting)?

I set myself up expecting to be disappointed by this novel, so I was a little surprised when it was readable and the plot was not completely transparent. That being said, Sarah and Nan are one-dimensional characters and I actually liked the ‘evil sorcerer’ and his brilliant ‘sidekick’. I was happy with the ending for these guys! Nan on the other hand – what were you thinking? Maybe some exercise would do you some good so that you can actually adequately channel your Celtic Warrior.

Consider this novel another addition to the latest so-so offerings from Mercedes Lackey and join me in hoping that she gets some of her mojo back soon. Perhaps a Five Hundred Kingdoms novel? 3 stars from me for this one. Don’t rush out and buy it, just let it come your way and don’t feel like you are missing out if you don’t get it.

Review: Brandon Sanderson – Snapshot

Brandon Sanderson

Anthony Davis’ job is to participate in the same day twice to catch crimes as they happen – to provide data to people in the here and now. In the ‘Snapshot’ time passes again exactly as it did the first time the day ran, except there has been a cop inserted into the scene o observe it. As the day unfolds, Davis finds himself moving on with his life… until the twist.

It’s a novella, so it won’t take you long to read at all. Sanderson still manages to fully realise his characters and build a vivid world within a world for the reader to look at. The premise itself is rather mind-bending and I tried not to think about it too hard. You can’t change the past… but you can view it and hope you don’t change it too significantly.

I admit that I didn’t actually work out what I was supposed to work out by the end of the novel. When I read the afterword by Sanderson I was confused. I hadn’t seen the ending coming at all! I was totally wrapped up in Davis’ perspective. Thus I really wanted to read it again to see what I had missed.

I was just browsing by the shelves of Sanderson novels because I wanted to reread Way of Kings before starting Oathbreaker. And then I saw Snapshot! So of course it went home with me, and I read it immediately. 5 stars from me, and I need to own it myself ASAP.

Review: Mercedes Lackey – The Herald Spy Series

The Herald Spy Series
Mercedes Lackey

Mags and Amily are ready to get married, but there’s a plot afoot that may have Valdemar at war with its previously peaceful neighbours (Closer to the Heart). Mags and Amily will have to divide and conquer to save the monarchy. Or perhaps they will need to combine forces to overcome a preaching bunch of misogynistic men (Closer to the Chest).

If you couldn’t tell from my introduction to this series, I’m thoroughly unimpressed with it. The characters are sketchy, the concepts have been overworked (see ‘Take a Thief‘ for something better) and enough of that darn dialect! Mags, you should know better by now. Sure, play it up when you’re in character as a ruffian, but the rest of the time, please use language that I don’t have to decipher first!

There’s loose plot ends everywhere here. There’s lots of references to Violetta, who I only vaguely remembered, and some things that I was like, when did I miss that happening? Mags is sometimes so self-absorbed that I found myself wondering why Amily put up with it. I feel like this is one of the only series where there are two protagonists where both are Heralds, but so much more could have been done with their partnership. Every time it looked like things might be difficult Mags subsides into Amily’s arms in bed… and then there were no words.

Lackey seems to be pushing an agenda here by pulling out story lines that make women seem like they are pathetic and have low self-esteem that causes them to throw themselves in a river. Or have nothing better to do than get married. I’d hope for a useful commentary or a way to actually take this down in modern life, but there isn’t one. Even Amily spends half the time accepting that Mags has to be able to save her. Pathetic.

So I spotted the second two novels in this series at the library during an URGENT drop in for a 4th book in a series for my 9-year old reader. Eh, I thought to myself. I haven’t read the first one, but the latest Lackey books have been underwhelming, so I bet I can get along without them. Then I got to Goodreads, and it turns out I did read the first. And gave it a pathetic 2 stars. These were an ok way to pass the time while trying to ignore my anxiety about a job interview! But nothing special that I feel like I need to own or reread. 3 stars for being passable.

Review: Marie Lu – Legend

Marie Lu

June is a prodigy who scored perfectly on her Test and is on a fast-track to military greatness. Day spectacularly failed his test and took to the streets to eek out a living and help his family as he can. Their paths cross when June’s brother Metias is murdered and Day is the prime suspect.

This was a clean teenage fiction with a tight-timed plot line and some chaste kisses. It was refreshing to read something that didn’t really want me to think too hard. I easily swapped between the perspectives of June and Day. Day watching over things actually reminded me strangely of Aladdin! Things often moved very quickly and so the characterisation sometimes suffered. The interactions between June and Day still seemed genuine though.

Ok, so I have to say it. The world-building sucks. I never got a concrete grasp on what parts of the world were ‘Republic’ and which were the ‘Colonies’. The pendant’s secret sort of filled in where the world was, but not really. But I wonder whether this was deliberate on the author’s part, because Day and June don’t actually know very much about what is going on in the world outside either. Perhaps the next book will illuminate things further.

I’m thinking a direct comparison to Divergent here in terms of the Dystopian world that is built. It’s not hugely different from the world we live in now, just with some subtle changes. I picked up this novel from a Goodwill store while I was still on my USA adventure. I liked the look of it enough that it followed me home, but I only just got around to reading it. Now, unfortunately, I need to get my hands on the next novel, especially as other reviewers on Goodreads have said that this series improves.  4 stars from me.

Review: Lucy Christopher – Storm-Wake

Lucy Christopher

Moss has always lived on the flower island with Pa and fish-boy Cal. Pa controls the storms, and Moss growing older, but he can’t control Cal. With the storms getting worse, and Pa’s Blackness creeping in, will Moss ever be able to see her Birthday Surprise?

What am I supposed to feel about this whole concept? I read that this is based loosely around ‘The Tempest’, which now makes the chapter/section headings make sense. Reading it just as a novel without this novel makes the reader confused as to why things are Act 1, Scene I etc. Why has the author chosen to do this? I honestly have no idea why the author did ANYTHING in this novel.

The characters are devoid of any introspective thoughts or higher level planning, mainly aided by the lack of language. The novel meandered through deep drug hazes in flowery (haha) language that drove me crazy with its childish repetition and semi-made-up language that runs into itself. This kind of writing reminded me of MunMun.  To top things off, there is no conclusion to this novel. What is real, and what isn’t? What are the chances of people actually being able to swim that far?

It’s not fantasy, but it’s not clear fiction either. It’s a made-up world that I regret spending a couple of hours in my life in. Just like Neverland, I forced myself to finish reading this novel in the hopes of a redemption that didn’t come. 1 star.

Scholastic | 1st July 2018 | AU$16.99 | paperback

Review: Adrian Owen – Into the Grey Zone

Into the Grey Zone
Adrian Owen

The world-renowned neuroscientist Adrian Owen reveals his controversial, groundbreaking work with patients whose brains were previously thought vegetative or non-responsive but turn out—in up to 20 percent of cases—to be vibrantly alive, existing in the “Gray Zone.” This book is the modern equivalent of The Man Who Mistook His Wife for His Hat.

I very happily read this book and described it in great detail to my almost-wife. She found it a bit creepy thinking about the fact that some people who are vegetative are actually in there, and can’t communicate! The technology is getting better, and maybe eventually we will be able to identify people who are still present in their helpless bodies.

I was so disappointed in the last chapter of this book. Not because it was bad, but because I wanted to keep reading about the fascinating insights we are gaining into the human brain. The chronological sequencing works perfectly – from the early cases where the radiation burden meant that patients could only be surveyed once, to the modern day tricked out EEG van that can peer into the brains of patients at home.

It is a very specific skill to be a scientist and be able to communicate effectively with non-scientists (I even teach a university subject about this concept!). Adrian has that gift – Into the Grey Zone is accessible to those who have little to no scientific background, and he takes the time to explain important scientific concepts without going into too much overwhelming detail.

This was an excellent non-fiction book that I will be keeping and referring to. I’m going to lend it to a Jewish nursing friend because I know that we will be able to have a robust discussion of what it means to be conscious and when consciousness appears. The ethical implications of this novel are fascinating, and in part reminded me of The Easy Way Out. How many people have been ‘murdered’ when their vegetative bodies were turned off, but they were still ‘at home’ inside their brains?

Allen & Unwin | 27th September 2017 | AU$29.99 | paperback

Review: Michael Gerard Bauer – The Things That Will Not Stand

The Things That Will Not Stand
Michael Gerard Bauer

Sebastian and Tolly are going to Open Day to find out what they might like to do with their futures. Tolly knows what he wants to do, but Sebastian is more uncertain – he’ll just have fun with what he can. He like Rom-Com movies and hopes that he will meet the girl of his dreams. However, the girl he meets is more like his worst nightmare.

Slow, this novel was very slow. Perhaps that’s because similarly to They Both Die at the End the action is across a single day. I wanted to like this novel but I need more than a day’s worth of character development to keep me satisfied. The ‘action’ was hardly action at all.

Nothing happens – they just wonder around the uni campus and talk sweet nothings at each other. In the case of Frida her inconsistencies frustrated both me and Seb. I hope that most teenage boys’ minds do not operate like Seb’s because he is an idiot! Because of this (or despite of it?) this book is a likely candidate for a year 7 English book.

I think the title of this novel was stupid. The things that will not stand could be huge! But ultimately they don’t play a strong role in the crux of the novel. I thought I was familiar with this novel’s author – he is also the author of The Pain, My Mother, Sir Tiffy, Cyber Boy & Me. It turns out I didn’t like that novel either!

I picked up and put down this book a bunch of times so that when I got to the big reveal at the end I had forgotten why it was surprising or particularly important.  What I did like is that in the end Sebastian’s good nature won over his dopey idiot attitude. 2 stars from me.

Scholastic | 1st October 2018 | AU$18.99 | paperback

Review: Cecily Gayford (Ed) – A Very Murderous Christmas

Christmas should be a time of joy and family. In these 10 crime short stories written by the best classic crime writers Christmas becomes a time of murder and mayhem instead. Well… as long as you are in the Northern Hemisphere and have a snowy Christmas.

So I’m not usually one for crime novels, and you wouldn’t expect me to enjoy a set of crime short stories. However, I’m in a bit of a reading slump at the moment, and I figured what would it hurt if I read it? As I have always said, short stories are a good way of working out whether you want to read more by a specific author.

The Man with the Sack by Margery Allingham – Nifty! I actually rather liked this one. I’m not sure it was the right short story to start the volume though, not enough oomph.

The Adventure of the Red Widow by Adrian Conan Doyle and John Dickson Carr – I was underwhelmed by this one. I know that Sherlock Holmes is the namesake of crime (along with Agatha Christie), but I didn’t really enjoy the writing style and I would have preferred more clues so I could solve it myself.

Camberwell Crackers by Anthony Horowitz – This was a good one! I find it interesting how so often the ‘bad guy’ briefly exposes themselves with a look, but the detective isn’t sure what to make of it. 

The Flying Stars by GK Chesterton – Eh, average.

A Problem in White by Nicholas Blake – I could have liked this one because it offered me the clues to solve the ‘whodunnit’ by myself. However, I was irritated by the way the different characters were referred to by their types and therefore that I couldn’t always follow who was who.

Loopy by Ruth Rendell – This was an interesting premise, but so loopy 😉 that it didn’t work for me.

Morse’s Greatest Mystery by Colin Dexter – Average. I hardly remember what it was about, and I only just read it!

The Jar of Ginger by Gladys Mitchell – I was keen to read this one from the name. However, it didn’t actually play out the way I expected it to. What kind of ginger was it exactly? Crystalised ginger? I expected powdered ginger.

Rumpole and the Old Familiar Faces by John Mortimer – This actually had a lot in common with one of the other stories (The Man with the Sack) and so didn’t offer much new.

The Problem of Santa’s Lighthouse by Edward Hoch – This one was ok, but I would have liked some more clues so I could solve it for myself.

Overall this set of short stories was rather underwhelming. I’ll still give it 3 stars, but I feel that your reading time could be spent better elsewhere.

Allen & Unwin | 28th November 2018 | AU$19.99 | paperback