Cannonball Read IV

A bunch of Pajibans reading and reviewing and honoring AlabamaPink.

Archive for the tag “Alexis”

Alexis #CBR Review 20: King of Thorns by Mark Lawrence

mark lawrenceI don’t buy hardback books and I DEFINITELY don’t pre-order new release hardbacks. With the notable exception of the final Harry Potter, Mockingjay, and now King of Thorns.

After reading the previous book, Prince of Thorns, last spring I immediately put this one on my watch list. Because never have I found a world as richly imagined, an honest to god dark protagonist (not one of those shiny heroes who just needs a little polish), and a truly original take on the classic medieval fantasy tropes.

Prince Jorg is now a king of a small, inhospitable corner of the empire. But the Prince of Arrow, on target to unite the empire under a single rule. But if there is any truth in Jorg it’s that he hates nothing more than loosing, and has no intention to let the noble Prince of Arrow roll over him. Unfortunately, Jorg has no army and scant friends. He burns for Katherine but she has more reasons to hate him than appendages to count. Jorg has also placed a bit of his own memory in a box (along with some spare change and a ticket stub from last Sunday) and has been told that he did so because the memory drove him to madness. However that memory may hold the only clue to defeating the Prince of Arrow.

This is not a fast read, you’ll need to pay attention to the details or they’ll escape from you. Jorg is hard to root for (in fact you may not). But it’s like a great meal, you’ll enjoy it thoroughly while reading and think back fondly after it’s over. My only regret is that now I have to wait another year to find out what happen next.

If you haven’t already read the spectacularly dark and enjoyable Prince of Thorns you would want to start there. Lawrence is not an author who feeds you the relevant backstory so this is not a series you would enjoy jumping into at the midway point.

Alexis’s #CBR4 Review #19: Monster Hunter Vendetta, Larry Correia

It was like that time where I accidentally purchased a really horrible possibly self-published book on Amazon and read the whole thing just because I was convinced that it would have to get better at some point, but it didn’t.

I’m always looking for a hidden gem and have stumbled across more than a few by relying on Amazons “customer’s also bought…” list. Especially when they’re available in the 4 for 3 deal. Admittedly the cover art of this book gave me pause (I am not a 13 year old boy so….) but 55+ reviewers giving it 5-star reviews made it seem promising.

Owen Zastava Pitt was once a lowly accountant until he realized he could fight monsters, which live among us, joined an elite underground monster fighting operation and became a master monster hunter. The story starts promisingly with a monster hunt gone south, an unexpected zombie infestation, and a visit from a powerful creature who wants to bring Pitt to a different dimension where the Dread Overlord is seeking vengeance for the events of the first book (this is book #2). Pitt escapes this creature but now the chase is on, the book full of various action sequences involving vampires, werewolves, ogres, crazy cultists, real live garden gnomes, etc.

Through these adventures we learn that Pitt is bald and not super attractive, but he’s incredibly strong, capable, loyal, and good. He’s exceptionally good with guns, his fiance is utterly gorgeous and devoted to him, and all of the other monster hunters hold him in high regard. Which all feels very Mary Sue/wish fulfillment so I went to the author’s website to read his bio and yep – he basically modeled Pitt entirely on himself. There are no complex characters in this book. The band of monster hunters have names but don’t need them, Hunter #1-#7 would have sufficed. Pitt’s finance has no story arc, relevance, or job to do other than make a brief appearance to occasionally reaffirm her love of Pitt.

The dialogue is stiff and riddled with cliche. “Need me as bait? I’m not down with that. Get yourself a different worm for that hook, Meyers. I don’t trust your people at all. And it’ll be a cold day in hell before I put my life in the hands of that jackbooted thug.” There is lots of action but without a cogent plot or interesting characters it’s just literary noise.

Which leads me back to the rave reviews (Amazon, GoodReads, etc.). My theory is that Baen publishing has an online book community (called Baen’s Bar) and that their authors and general members help each other out with positive reviews for each other. Because I can’t come up with any other possible explanation for Monster Hunter Vendetta to receive any 4-5 star reviews.

Don’t believe the hype. This is not worth your time.

Alexis’s #CBR4 Review #17: The Warded Man, Peter V. Brett

The world is infested with demons (see also vampires, zombies, etc.) that rise from the ground like mist at sunset. They are incredibly powerful, all but impossible to kill, and are ravenously hungry. Anyone caught outside the protection of magical wards is doomed to a grisly death. People live in remote villages unable to communicate or travel due to the impossibility of being caught outdoors at night. Although a few stalwart messengers travel the land, braving the nightly demon onslaught with portable warded circles.

Arlen is a young boy living in a remote village who is so horrified by his father’s cowardly refusal to suffer almost certain death to save his mother that he runs off into the night (presumably to become demon chow) only through unbelievable luck, is saved and brought to a remote city where he can pursue his dream of becoming a messenger.

Although really what he wants to do is get all these people to stop huddling in their semi-safe warded houses at night and take the battle back to the demons. So he travels to the warrior desert people of Krasia (read: middle easterners) who are warlike, make their women wear burkas, are suspicious of foreigners, but routinely battle demons. Of course the mean Krasians steal the legendary spear Arlen has found. But not before he copied all the super special wards that were on the spear. He then travels the desert close to death, starving, and tattooing his body with powerful wards. I don’t want to spoil any surprise for those who didn’t see this coming from the very beginning but Arlen becomes…..the warded man.

This was a reasonably enjoyable book that felt like an amalgamation of better books (Wheel of Time, The Passage, Name of the Wind, etc.). The concept of demons who have all but overtaken man seemed original at first but then quickly settles into your basic “young boy journeys to become powerful hero” stuff. The main characters are all brave, kind, smart, and wonderful. Also flat and forgettable.

Also there is an undeveloped romance shoehorned into the end of the story that particularly bothered me. This woman is gang-raped by bandits (mercifully we learn about this after the fact and don’t have to actually read the nitty gritty) and suffers no emotional trauma due to this. So she happily has a romantic interlude with the hero just a few days after this brutal episode. To which I say no. Just no. If you don’t want to deal with a woman loosing her virginity by being raped by a troupe of heathens then don’t write it into your story. But if you DO choose to have her suffer this fate then there damn well better be some repercussions. Because this is a pretty heavy thing to have a young girl just toss off like it was nothing.

There will presumably be a Book 2 to follow but I’m neither intrigued enough by the author or the story to care to continue.

Alexis’s #CBR4 Review #16: The Scorpio Races, Maggie Stiefvater

book review scorpio racesI loved this book and hate to write a recap or review because my clumsy prose will just make it sound cheap. So don’t bother with what I have to say, just know that I loved this book more than The Night Circus, which I thought would easily be my favorite read of 2012.

On the island of Thisby the capaill uisce come out of the sea to roam wild and monstrous in search of fresh meat. They can be caught and ridden like horses, which they are not, and to forget this for even a second means it will be your last. In November tourist come to watch the capaill uisce and their riders race down the beach in the infamous Scorpio Races. Many will die. The winner brings home a fortune on an island where most have just enough.

Sean, quiet and masterful, spends his days working with the horses and capaill uisce in his care with the dream that someday the capaill uisce, Corr, that he has raced and won with, can be fully his. Corr is all that matters and to loose the race is to loose him forever. Puck is the first girl to ever enter the Scorpio Race and she’s doing it with her beloved island pony Dove. She’s driven by desperation bound by loss and poverty to win and keep some measure of her family together. There can be only one winner.

Maggie has written a number of bestselling YA romance books (The Faerie Lament, Shiver, etc.) so many have lumped this one in with them. Which is short-selling both the book and the author who has far surpassed her earlier books with this one. This book is about love and loyalty, home and hope, magic and mystery.

Every so often, I can see the head of a capall uisce in the water, far out from shore, driven toward the sand by the November current. The ones we have caught struggle against us in bridles hung with bells and red ribbons, iron and holly leaves, daisies and prayers. The water horses are hungry and wicked, vicious and beautiful, hating us and loving us.

It is time for the Scorpio Races

Alexis’s #CBR4 Review #15: The Black Prism, Brent Weeks

brent weeksWeeks creates an original take on the traditional magical fantasy realm by adding a little color. Some people are born with the ability to take color and create “luxin” (which I imagined as colorful plexiglass) in various shapes and consistency. Everybody has a set color they can work with, and “throwing luxin” in your color evokes certain emotions/mental states based on the color. A few lucky people can throw luxin of multiple colors. The most powerful is The Black Prism who can work with any color to an almost limitless degree. Thus he is revered and feared in equal measure.

However being able to physically manifest color has a significant drawback, namely that it eventually turns you mad. And then you are put down like a rabid dog. Although other then that it’s pretty awesome.

Gavin is The Black Prism who is both the hero and the guy who has secretly had his brother (long thought dead) locked in a windowless prison for the past 10 years. Make of this what you will. He’s an interesting guy who like the assassin in Beyond the Shadows is somebody you root for despite his questionable decisions. He’s got a lot to deal with including the appearance of an adult bastard child, a soulmate who loathes him, a mother who wants him to kill her, and a mad upstart who wants to takeover the world.

This is the fourth book I’ve enjoyed by Brent Weeks and the first in what will undoubtedly be many more about the Black Prism. Weeks’s books have some common threads with lively action, banter, grey-ish heroes, heartbreak, and creative additions to standard fantasy fare. And frankly I’m a fan.

Alexis’s #CBR4 Review #14: Hounded, Kevin Hearne

I read Book 1 of the Iron Druid Chronicles a few weeks ago and am struggling to recall enough details of the plot to write even a brief recap. And perhaps that is all the recap you really need.

Atticus is a super hot druid (see cover) which is impressive as he is actually thousands of years old. He lives in Arizona selling tea and tarrow cards to old people and college students (respectively) while romping about the desert with his talking dog/banter buddy Oberon. Ages ago he managed to get his hands on the legendary sword Fragarach and now Aenghus Og, the powerful Celtic God and original owner, has decided he wants it back.

Atticus is the James Bond of Druids. He’s powerful, routinely underestimated, has lots of nifty cool gadgets, and women frequently drop their panties for him. Although Atticus doesn’t have much time for lady-fun because has his hands full battling the minions of Aenghus Og. Luckily for Atticus he is near-immortal due to an arrangement he made long ago with Morrigan, Celtic Chooser of the Slain, who has agreed to not come for him. So that’s handy.

Seems like a decent setup for a fun romp. But too many things bothered me about Hounded:

  1. It reads like watching a video game. Atticus battles increasingly challenging minions until finally facing the big bad. Also, like video games, Atticus regenerates life points quickly by sleeping next to mother earth.
  2. The ability to regenerate quickly and being near-immortal frankly removes a lot of the tension from the battle sequences.
  3. There are never any consequences to things Atticus does. The most obvious example was when Atticus beheads a baddie in full view of a mortal neighbor who basically shrugs it off because Atticus is a good guy and wouldn’t have done so without a good reason.
  4. Atticus has no personal or emotional journey. In fact he doesn’t really seem to want for anything beyond being left alone to play with his dog and hang out in his shop. He’s simply reacting to the stream of baddies that show up on his front door.
  5. Is there such a thing as too much action? There is so much action going on that I started skimming. It wasn’t like I was worried about how it was going to turn out (see point #1 & #2).
  6. I think the dog (Oberon) is supposed to be funnier than he is. Yeah Oberon is continually asking for a harem of french poodles to frolic with. Eh…OK.

This is a hugely popular series that gets rave reviews on Amazon. It is definitely better than your average Urban Fantasy, filled with lots of action, a large cast of immortal characters, and snappy banter. If you’re looking for fun, light, accessible fantasy, this definitely fits the bill. But it’s also sort of forgettable. I considered buying the second book in the series but I suspect it’s probably a lot like the first (if I’m missing out on greatness, please let me know). I figure I could save $8 by just putting this on the shelf and re-reading it in a year or so.

Urban fantasy isn’t my thing. I love the Kate Daniels/Magic Bites series. But generally most of what I’ve read (Patricia Briggs, Jeaniene FrostKaren, Marie Moning) has left me cold. So maybe this book is better than I think it is, and it’s simply just not my thing.

Alexis’s #CBR4 Review #13: Poison Study, Maria Snyder

Poison Study reviewYelena has been convicted of murder is literally dragged from her own death-by-fire and offered an alternative to a fiery end – a lifetime position as the Commander’s food-taster/poison checker. She chooses poison tasting and is immediately given some starter poison to work with. She’ll need to turn up for work each day to receive her daily dose of antidote. The previous food-taster lasted about 6 months before succumbing to poison so she won’t have long to dodge the wrath of General Brazell, the father of the person she killed.

Yep, this is a page turner.

Valek, the Commander’s right-hand-man, teaches her to identify poison (ideally by not eating it) and the two form a begrudging friendship. Yelena is smart and driven, not merely content to wait for her poisonous doom or General Brazell to end her days. She takes every opportunity to research a permanent antidote to her current poison problem. And she plots her escape by training with a handful of the Commander’s elite troops. There are also hints that Yelena may have hidden talents beyond her ability to sniff out well-hidden food additives.

This is the first book in what will likely turn out to be a trilogy (don’t they all?) by a first-time author. It starts strong and I felt the whole poisoned poison-taster angle was refreshingly original. Her relationship with Valek is unique and engaging – he poisons her, saves her repeatedly, cares for her, but clearly would have no issue with slitting her throat if the need arose. It looses some of it’s originality in the second half as it starts to track more closely to a traditional fantasy tropes – group of friends with unique powers battling evil. But it’s still a strong and intriguing start.

3.5 stars

Alexis’s #CBR4 Review #12: Prince of Thorns, Mark Lawrence

prince of thorns book reviewThis book is as black and bitter as 3 day old coffee. However unlike 3 day old coffee, you should definitely pick it up and give it a try.

Jorg is a brilliant angry young man pillaging his way through the countryside along with his band of Brothers. The Brothers are as dark and brutal a cast of characters you’ll ever meet, and even they seem like shiny rosebuds compared to Jorg. Despite his youth, Jorg leads these dark men with intelligence and an unwavering willingness to do anything to meet his goals. We root for him not because he is likable (he’s not) or has noble goals (he doesn’t). But because he is immensely capable.

The story unfolds in unexpected directions as Jorg travels to his father’s (King Ancrath) court to find the King remarried and his new wife pregnant with what everyone assumes will be the new-and-better male heir. Despite Jorg’s insistence that caring for anyone/anything simply makes you vulnerable there are painful traces of old hurts as he seeks his father’s approval while simultaneously considering patricide. Yet he unflinchingly takes on a suicide mission that his father sends him on, leading to further revelations about the world these people inhabit and it’s mysterious history.

The book is a gripping dark fantasy. While dark, the story never becomes bleak and is often filled with with effective gallows humor.

I counted a thousand steps, and I only started out of boredom so I missed the first ten minutes of the climb. My legs turned to jelly, my armor felt as though it were made from inch-thick-lead, and my feet got too clumsy to find the stairs. Brother Gains convinced Gorgoth to call a rest halt by stumbling into space, and wailing for a good ten seconds before the unseen floor convinced him to shut up.

I thoroughly enjoyed The Blade Itself (Joe Abercrombie) but the Prince of Thorns is darker and somehow even more enjoyable. 4.5 stars.

Alexis’s #CBR4 Review #11: When Beauty Tamed the Beast, Eloisa James

I loved Outlander. Simply loved it. So much so that every once in a while I go on Amazon and get suckered into buying a new book because it’s recommended for people who bought Outlander. And that is how this happened.
book review eloisa james

*sigh*

Linnet Thrynne has just been publicaly humiliated and is considered ruined by the ton. So clearly the only response is to ship her off to the Earl of Merchant who is a surly impotent (not a misspelling) brilliant doctor who lives in Wales. Let’s just call him House. Because he’s House. He limps around his castle with his cane barking at the idiot doctors while simultaneously solving medical riddles nobody else could figure out. He and Linnet get together. There is some lame sex scenes (spoiler: he’s not really impotent). House brutally kicks Linnet out for reasons I still don’t clearly understand. Linnet falls deathly ill prompting House to save her with his mad medical skills while realizing that he will die if he can’t be with her. End scene.

While I’ve definitely read worse, this wasn’t great. I suspected as much when the book showed up with a picture of a hot pink prom dress on it. If you’re a house fan/shipper you may enjoy this. There is some clever banter in the first half (prior to the lame sex) as Linnet and House verbally tussle. If you don’t require realistic historical detail in your historical romance, this may be enough to make this book work for you. But it didn’t work for me.

I love me a richly detailed historical romance. This wasn’t it.

Alexis’s #CBR4 Review #9: Blade of Fortrui, Juliet Marillier

Juliet Marillier wrote one of my all time favorite books, Daughter of the Forest. Having read it prior to becoming a cannonballer I can’t technically review it here. However this book is so good and so relatively unknown that it deserves a brief mention. It is an epic Celtic fairytale based on The Six Swans. When Sorcha’s brothers are turned into swans, she is the only one who can save them, although the price is her almost unbearable silence and servitude. This book is gorgeous and lush, the pace is crisp (despite the silent protagonist), and the ending is somehow both painfully romantic and heartrending. Five stars.

So like anybody who finds an amazing book, I went on to read almost everything else the author has written. The Sevenwaters Trilogy (of which Daughter of the Forest is the first) are all pretty good. Of course the second two don’t quite live up to the breathtaking first book, but when you start that strong it’s hard not to suffer a bit in comparison.

Her second series is based in a fictional land called Fortrui which is loosely based on the pictish people in Scottland. Blade of Fortrui is the second book. It focuses on Ana, a lady of noble blood, who is sent to marry a unknown lord and secure a much needed treaty for her King. Faolan, the King’s friend, adviser, and assassin, travels with her to ensure she is safe and that the treaty goes through as needed. As they travel Faolan realizes that Ana is not the pampered and useless princess he thought her to be. Ana realizes that Faolan is not the heartless killer she thought him to be. Faolan falls in love with Ana. Ana seems mildly fond of Faolan.

When we meet Ana’s betrothed, Alpin, he unfortunately turns out to be a bore and a bully. But this treaty is more important than Ana’s desire to not have to copulate with this gross person who frequently reaches over to tweak her boob. Gentlemen – please note – boob tweaking is not an effective seduction technique.

Faolan is unable to talk to Ana because Alpin is also a jealous bully. But she does meet, briefly, Alpin’s unbelievably gorgeous brother, Drustan, who is kept in shackles hidden in the basement. Drustan may possibly be a killer, insane, or both. Of course they find a way to chat through a crack in the wall which leads to them falling desperately in love with each other. Obviously.

The story which started on fairly shaky ground begins to dissemble at this point. There is a somewhat awkward love rectangle (Faolan, Alpin, Drustan, and Ana). Ana is a total Mary Sue. Drustan is never give much to do except be beautiful. Alpin is a one dimensional Snidely Whiplash. Faolan is somewhat more interesting in that he has some depth and backstory although we are told far too often how clever and amazing he is, we don’t actually see him do much of anything.

The second half of the book starts skipping between our uncomfortable love rectangle and a critical battle (which necessitated the treaty that launched the whole book) and frankly the battle is so disconnected from the primary story that I skimmed most of it. I don’t think I missed much except for the fact that the King inexplicably trusts somebody he barely knew and clearly shouldn’t have trusted.

Frankly after this book I should be finished with Juliet Marillier. But the last book follows Faolan’s exploits and I’m just (barely) interested to want to see it through to the end. Damnit.

Daughter of the Forest will remain on my bookshelf to be read again. So skip this unromantic mess and pick up Daughter of the Forest.

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