Sunday, July 31, 2011

Poison: A Novel of the Renaissance

Title: Poison: A Novel of the Renaissance
Author: Sara Poole
Genre: Historical Fiction
Published: 2010

Recommendation: Pretty fun, but needs better writing.
Rating: 7/10

Summary: Francesca Giordano is 17 and after her father's brutal murder she connives her way into the service of Rodrigio Borgia as his personal poisoner, taking over her father's trade. Hard work is ahead of her since Borgia is making plans for becoming the next Pope and competition between the cardinals of the church is getting fierce.

Reactions: This book came to my attention because of a pretty good review I've read and since it was only $2.99 for the Kindle edition, I decided there was little to lose here. Overall, it was an entertaining book, but not a particularly well-written one.

From the very beginning my beef with this book was the narrator's voice. Francesca is presenting her story in 1st person POV and unfortunately in quite a few places the author just seems to speak out of Francesca's mouth instead. In one instance the description of Rome by Francesca sounds a lot more like something out of a modern tour guide than out of someone living in the actual Rome of 1490's. In other instances, she presents views so modern that it's hardly believable a girl of her age could possibly conceive them. This inconsistent narration was #1 reason I didn't give the book a much higher rating.

For all the issues, the author managed to create a fascinating world with interesting characters, intrigues, breath-taking adventures, assassination attempts, love and sex. It's an entertaining yarn from start to finish and it was quick and enjoyable reading -- until one or another of Francesca's remarks would annoy me.

The plot also follows a number of real historical events around the death of Pope Innocent VIII and the election of Pope Alexander VI. It's not an era I am particularly familiar with and it was an interesting introduction to the politics of the times. In fact, reading the book prompted me to read a number of related Wikipedia articles on the Borgia family and other associated characters which was quite interesting and educational to boot.

To sum it up, the book itself is not amazingly well written, but entertaining and a pretty good catalyst for learning about Rome. Not sure I would entirely recommend it, but if the plot sounds appealing to you, it may be worth picking up.

Friday, July 22, 2011


Title: Coraline
Author: Neil Gaiman
Genre: Children
Published: 2002

Recommendation: A horror novel for children and adults alike.
Rating: 7.5/10

Summary: Coraline and her parents move into the new house where she discovers a door that looks bricked, but actually leads into another apartment just like her own, and at the same time very different.

Reactions: I haven't watched the movie based on this book, but I have a pretty good opinion of Neil Gaiman and I enjoyed The Graveyard Book previously, and thus I ended up purchasing and reading Coraline.

Coraline is the title heroine and a pretty interesting character: smart beyond her years, brave and curious. She sounds like entirely the sort of character I love in a book, but somehow she didn't turn out too likable in this novel. I still rooted for her and applauded her wit, but I didn't feel as emotionally drawn into the book as I hoped to be.

Perhaps, it's that she is a little too smart for her years. Just take the following quote:
"I don't want whatever I want. Nobody does. Not really. What kind of fun would it be if I just got everything I ever wanted? Just like that, and it didn't mean anything. What then?"
Yes, all she says is true, but when would you ever hear such a thing from a little girl?

I did enjoy the suspense in the book though. The book is very atmospheric and even scary in places. At the same time, it's definitely targeted at young audiences in the type of scary things it uses. I believe a kid could easily relate -- but so could I, which is a mark of good writing.

All in all it was a fun book for bedtime reading and a book that would be fun to read out loud to someone else. Recommended.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

The House on Durrow Street

Title: The House on Durrow Street
Author: Galen Beckett
Series: The Magicians and Mrs. Quent, book 2
Genre: Fantasy
Published: 2010

Recommendation: A really fun installment into the series, recommended to everyone who enjoyed the first book.
Rating: 8/10

Summary: Ivy Quent is back in the city and is in the process of repairing her father's house on Durrow street. In the house she discovers two door that have been covered up before. Ivy also finds her father's diary, left under the floorboard of her bedroom which starts to provide her with information on what her father's work was all about. Yet there are many more unanswered questions yet.

Reactions: I really enjoyed The House on Durrow Street. Despite being pretty busy over the last couple of weeks I found an hour here and there to read and stayed up late a few times unwilling to put the book down. The sequel turned out to be even better than the first book.

Since it's written in Victorian style, this is not a fast-paced novel. Nevertheless I didn't feel like it went too slow as things continually happened and I very much enjoyed following Ivy's discoveries of the old house as well as her continued relationship with Mr. Rafferdy. My only complaint about the book is that Ivy becomes a little too popular, it just seems unlikely that everyone likes her that much at all times. Other than that, I did enjoy her move into society and some of the new relationships she establishes in the book.

Part of the book follows Mr. Garritt and his advancements in the arts of illusion. His story was also well-told and eventually ties into the main plot of the book quite neatly. The author does a great job bringing the story lines together and tying off the loose ends. Clearly the series is not finished, but at least we aren't left with a cliffhanger waiting for the next book.

Nevertheless, I am very much looking forward to the final installment in the series that's scheduled to come out in 2012. There aren't that many well-written Victorian-style fantasy stories to read after all.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Blog Design

My blog design hasn't really changed since I started this blog in 2009 and I finally got to changing it. This is just something I am trying out, it may still change dramatically or stay as-is. We'll see how it goes. Mostly I got tired of my rounded corners and narrow posts. Trying something simpler and wider.

The Ghost Brigades

Title: The Ghost Brigades
Author: John Scalzi
Series: Old Man's War, book 2
Genre: Science Fiction
Published: 2006

Recommendation: A well-paced and well-written sci-fi that's fun to read.
Rating: 7.5/10

Summary: Charles Boutin has turned traitor to the humanity and conspires with Rraey, Enesha, and Obin to destroy them. In order to figure out why, the military creates a new member for the ghost brigades, Jared Dirac who is implanted with the recorded consciousness of Charles Boutin. His job will be to find Boutin and bring him back.

Reactions: I was a bit disappointed in The Ghost Brigades. Part of the reason is that the book doesn't continue the story of John Perry. I found him to be a much more interesting protagonist than Jared Dirac. We do get to see Jane Sagan again in this book, but her role in the story is rather secondary. There are a few amusing scenes with her taking on her superiors which I really enjoyed.

And all-in-all I still liked The Ghost Brigades. It just didn't have the same oomph that Old Man's War had for me. The writing is still excellent and I read the book really quickly. The plot moves along at a good pace and there is plenty of action as well as character development.

From the preview, it seems the third book in the series actually goes back to John Perry, so I will probably be returning to this world to see what happens next to the characters.

Friday, July 1, 2011

June Recap

Half a year of reading had come and gone. Amazing how quickly the time flies! I have not read nearly as many books as I hoped to in the first half year, but I have enjoyed many of the ones I did read. I believe I completed 20 books and a surprising number of them were great! I hope the second half of the year will treat me as well.

This month I finished:
  1. A Fire Upon the Deep by Vernor Vinge
  2. Naamah's Blessing by Jacqueline Carey
  3. The Local News by Miriam Gershow
I have trouble choosing a favorite between Naamah's Blessing and The Local News. Both are outstanding, but in very different ways. It's action vs. introspection and hope vs. despair. I think I will declare The Local News a winner overall, due to its novelty for me whereas Carey's book is solid, but stylistically familiar.

Happy Canada Day, everyone! Enjoy 4th of July festivities this weekend if you are in the USA.