Review: Born a Crime

Born a Crime, by Trevor Noah

Genre: Non-fiction, Memoire

Rating: 5 stars

This might just be the best non-fiction book I’ve ever read. I’m about the same age as Trevor Noah, but never knew anything about apartheid, growing up in Canada. It ended before I became aware of politics, and it must have been too recent to learn about in history classes. I had heard of Nelson Mandela, of course, but didn’t know much beyond his name.

This book gave me a real understanding of life, on the ground. Trevor’s experiences are harrowing, and it’s amazing he’s a) still with us, and b) a comedian. Given the difficulties he faced, it’s amazing to me that he maintained his sense of humour through it all… it’s all too easy to see how others who lived through those times did not fare so well.

The book bounces around a bit through time. It will feel like you’ve moved on, and then the next chapter goes back to revisit something important. And each time, you’ve learned something from a previous chapter that helps you understand something in the later ones. It’s amazing the way the story unfolds.

Having seen Trevor Noah on TV for a while now, it’s easy to hear his voice in my mind while I’m reading through it. You can feel the incredulity in his voice as he describes some of the situations he lived through.

I encourage everyone to check out this book.

Review: Clash of Kings, by GRRM

Clash of Kings, by George RR Martin

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: 4.5 stars

After the events of the first book, I like how GRRM played with my expectations by shocking me when characters DIDN’T die. I was full of righteous fury when I heard about some deaths, and then to find out that events hadn’t gone the way everyone thought, I felt a great sense of relief.

And that’s how this book goes. There are so many battles, with the seven kingdoms being torn apart from within, and there are hints of serious outside threats coming along in the near future, too.

I think my only complaint (and the reason for 0.5 stars being knocked off) is that a lot of the battles, and even some that are vital to the story, are merely alluded to. We hear about them after the fact, as characters recount what happened, but I really wanted the chance to see what happened first hand. Sure, the book is already huge, and I can’t think of anything that could have been cut, but seeing the battle at the river beyond Tyrion’s PoV would have been great.

That said, I’m excited to see what happens next!

Review: Tow-Truck Pluck

Tow-Truck Pluck, by Annie Schmidt

Genre: Children’s

Rating: 5-stars

I don’t normally leave reviews on kids’ books, but I really, really like this one. We received it as a gift a few years ago when my daughter was little, and she loved it. I just read through it with my son, and he loved it, too!

It’s the story of a boy with a tow-truck who goes around solving people’s problems (and sometimes getting into some of his own!). There are many sections to the story, each a few pages long, sometimes with some cliffhangers that’ll have your kids begging for “just one more section!”

There’s a great mix of characters that Pluck interacts with, from Dolly the pigeon, to the Stampers, Zaza the cockroach to the Tootenlisp (a magical sort of shell). It’s great fun, and I look forward to reading it with my kids again and again!

Review: Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones (Book 1 A Song of Ice and Fire), by GRRM

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: 5 stars

People are often shocked to hear that I haven’t read these books or seen the show. “But you write fantasy!” they say, voices laden with judgement. After not enjoying Wheel of Time (I got to book 4 and stopped) and worrying about the slow pace that GRRM writes, I figured there was no rush. The idea of starting an epic series with an older author who’s in no rush to finish his saga just wasn’t appealing to me.

“So what made you change your mind?” you ask.

Well, a Boxing Day sale, if I’m honest. The e-book was available through Amazon for a steal, so I thought, “Eh, might as well give it a shot.”

I’m glad I did.

This is not a story for the faint of heart. Truly terrible things happen throughout the course of the novel, often unexpected and sudden. The dialogue is strong, and characters come alive on the pages, each with their own unique personalities. The cast is large, but they’re introduced in such a way that I didn’t have any problem keeping track of the major characters… even most of the minor ones. After quitting WoT when the cast ballooned beyond my ability to care about, I thought the same would happen here, but it didn’t. Maybe it’s because the story started out with a host of characters, so I grow to enjoy them all at the same time, instead of feeling like I’m not getting to see the characters that I had grown to enjoy over the first couple WoT books, only to see less and less of them as more “distractions” were thrown into the mix. I don’t know, but this series handled the large cast expertly.

But my favourite part of the story is the tension. You never know who’s going to make it or not, because important characters die. It ups the ante every time there’s a conflict, because you never know who’s going to make it out alive.

Now, I had one of the major deaths spoiled for me ages ago, but even still, the way it happened was alarming, and my hatred of Joffrey is without equal. That kid had better die a terrible, awful death at some point, because if any of the characters in this book deserve it, he does.

And I have hope that justice will be served in the end. After the crowning of the dragon, I have high expectations that the truly vile people in these books will meet the most terrible ends.

I think I’ll need to pick up book 2 very soon.

Review: As You Wish

As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride, by Cary Elwes

Genre: Non-fiction

Rating: 5 stars

Cary is immediately disarming with his charm and humbleness. The entire story of how he was headhunted for the part of Westley, right to the end and describing his love of his fans, was amazing. There are snippets from the other people involved in the film, too. It all came together to make a highly enjoyable read, and I can’t recommend it enough for fans of The Princess Bride.

The only thing I found curiously lacking was much on his time with Robin. I’d heard before (and in this book) how Cary had been smitten with Robin from the start, but if you’re hoping for juicy details, you won’t find them here. Too much the gentleman to kiss and tell. (Although the section on the most perfect kiss was pretty great!)

There were parts of the book that had me laughing out loud, and I really need to watch the film again, knowing so many tantalizing details about it to keep an eye out for.

Have fun storming the castle reading the book!

Review: The Roundabout

The Roundabout, by Andy Goldman

Genre: Science fantasy

Rating: 5-stars

The last book in The Only City Left trilogy is out, and I snatched up a digital copy straight away! I’ve been following this series since it started, and couldn’t wait to dig in.

Allin, Tyena, and Tumble are back to try to save the Earth from the epic cliffhanger of the second book. With a fleet of warships in orbit, they have been given a week to turn in fugitives who have been hiding on Earth.

The Only City Left started out with just Allin’s point of view (POV), and The Fifth House added Tyena’s. This final installment adds Tumble. You might think three 1st person POV’s sounds like a lot, but each chapter clearly labelled whose head you were in, so there was no confusion. I was glad to see events through Tumble’s eyes, and I think knowing what all three of them were up to was good, since leaving out any one of them would have left a gaping hole in the reader’s understanding of events.

The pacing was excellent, as usual, with tons of action and intrigue. Nearly every scene ended with a cliffhanger, and I couldn’t wait to pick up my ereader for the ride to and from work to see what happened next. Usually I’ll alternate between reading and playing games on my phone, but ever since I started reading this one, it was all reading, all the time.

The only problem I had was that it was a long time since I read the first two books, so although I clearly remembered the main characters and major events, there were side characters I had no memory of. Even by the end of the book, I couldn’t place where they’d joined the story, and I think this will be a series that I’ll re-read. That’s rare for me, as I’m not a fast reader, but these books are worth it.

Goldman is definitely on my “must buy” list after finishing this series. I hope he comes back to these characters at some point!

If you’re looking for a new, complete series to read, I highly recommend this one.

Review: All These Shiny Worlds

All These Shiny Worlds anthology, edited by Jefferson Smith

Genre: Sci-fi and Fantasy

Rating: 4-stars

Anthologies are tricky to rate, because there are good stories and there are not so good stories.

This anthology proclaims to include the best of the best indie authors… first the authors have to survive the 40 minute Immerse or Die challenge, then they have to do well on a full read through, then authors are asked if they would like to submit a short story to the anthology, then the stories are judged by a panel of three judges. Also, authors who get invited are given the chance to invite one other author. The anthology is free, with the idea that after showcasing their work in the anthology, readers will find new readers to follow. I really like that, and overall this anthology was quite good. That said, I didn’t like every single story, and I had low hopes after reading the first one…

1 First Man in the World – 2 stars – People who like traditional sci-fi might enjoy this, but for me it lacked any sense of humanity or struggle. Just a vague how-to terraform a planet. Not my cup of tea.

2 Three Demon Gambit – 4 stars – I enjoyed the twists and turns in this story, even though I didn’t like the protagonist, a student in a school of magic. Dealing with demons and rival students was interesting.

3 Rolling the Bones – 4 stars – disturbing use of necromancy, found it difficult to parse the characters at first, but once I figured out the king and wizard were two different people, it flowed well and I enjoyed following the protagonist through his difficult choices surrounding the morality of using necromancy to preserve the peace.

4 All the Way – 4 stars – A future where dying people can upload themselves to robots and work in space. Quite a human story, however, and I felt quite bad for the robot’s ex-wife.

5 Scales Fall – 4 stars – I’m not even sure if I fully understood this story, with how it jumped around in time, but I enjoyed it a lot. It all felt so familiar, possibly because I read a lot of ancient Egyptian stuff as a kid.

6 The Ant Tower – 5 stars – Here was a story I didn’t want to end. The shifting in time with each scene took some getting used to, but the story was excellent. By far my favorite up to this point. With plenty of twists and turns, this trek through the desert didn’t end the way I thought it would. I want to read more from this author.

7 Heft – 3 stars – I found this spy story with a twist rough at first, and I’m not sure I fully got the ending. I think I did, but the uncertainty left me feeling unsure how to rate this one. I was left with the feeling that there was something clever that happened, but it wasn’t explained enough for me to understand in its entirety. Maybe if I read it a second time, but it wasn’t a story I enjoyed enough to do that with. The philosophy behind it was some next-level stuff that isn’t too hard to imagine actually happening, though.

8 The First Acolyte of the Upshan Berental – 5 stars – A story of being true to yourself, even in the face of disapproving authority. I enjoyed the theme, and also want to see all the worlds.

9 Bronwen’s Dowry – 5 stars – This story of a poor shearer and his wife going to a gathering of pipers was genuinely moving. I loved this one.

10 The Spider and the Darkness – 5 stars – This fantasy tale involving an abused girl seeking to escape her lot in life was fantastic.

11 The Dowager’s Largesse – 5 stars – I already bought the next story in this series because I loved it so much. Who doesn’t love the sound of a cursed bounty hunter with a belligerent llama companion?

12 Theriac – 4 stars – A woman who sees demons (maybe? The way others brush off her concerns makes me wonder…) is confronted with the not so difficult decision of what to do about some half-demon children. As written, it’s 3 stars, except that it had me thinking about it afterwards, wondering what the truth of the matter is, so it got an extra star.

13 The Red Flame of Death – 3 stars – This story about a holy man hunting a demon was okay. The pacing and writing were fine, but in the end I didn’t really care how it ended, because the characters were flat.

14 The Blue Breeze – 4 stars – While certainly the most imaginative of the bunch, creating a rich and dangerous world, the elements of the plot felt quite familiar. A forbidden love story, mingled with the thought, “There’s always a bigger fish.”

15 The Rakam – no rating – First person present tense? Ugh. I have other things I want to read, and after struggling through the first paragraph I said, “Forget it.” I won’t count this one toward the average rating, because I couldn’t give it a fair chance.

Review: Black Market

Black Market, by Alexis Blakely

Genre: Urban Fantasy

Rating: 4 stars

This is one of those stories you can just sit back and enjoy… let it wash over you. The pacing is quick, the read easy, with just a few missing/added words sprinkled throughout but no major errors jumping out of the page.

Alex finds herself in a mess again, investigating the murders of old men… but nothing is as it seems. There weren’t a lot of twists and turns that I didn’t see coming, but the story was still entertaining. Teaming up with Chase, her best friend and thief, they need to call in some favours to try to figure out what’s going on. Be prepared to hear how a witch and a mage are different, repeatedly. And I don’t mean that you’ll learn a new facet of how they’re different, I mean you’ll hear how witches are slow and mages are fast several times throughout the course of the story, just in case you forgot.

I enjoyed the three sets of “villains” in the story. And I mean that I really hated one group, and the other two were sort of popcorn villains, so big and bad that they’re almost funny.

The end of the story was really worth reading the whole book for. Some mind-bending stuff goes on, and it’s satisfying. I will likely pick up the third book in the series.

 

There’s an announcement coming later this month, but I’m changing gears with the blog. It’ll be mostly reviews from here on out. If you would like me to review your book, please don’t send it to me. Just let me know about it and I’ll check it out. If it looks like something I’d be interested in (action, adventure, intrigue, fast paced, non-erotic/romance) then I’ll probably pick it up and give it a whirl. I don’t rate books that I can’t finish, because I don’t think it’s fair to judge a book I didn’t get through. If your book hasn’t seen an editor, odds are I won’t read it.

Review: The Road

The Road, by Cormac McCarthy
Genre: Post-apocalyptic
Rating: 4-stars
My aunt sent me a copy of The Road, by Cormac McCarthy, and I finally got around to cracking it open a couple weeks ago.
It… took me a bit to get into. I didn’t like the extremely slow start. The way he chose to write the dialogue isn’t to my taste. And everything was so bleak… something I’m not really in the mood for often anymore, given the current state of the world.
Yet I found myself getting drawn into the story of the man and his son. I found myself caring about these nameless characters, and wishing they could find SOME bright hope in a dying, scorched world.
And I cried at the end of it.
I think the father-child bond was what did it for me. I kept trying to imagine myself in such a dire situation, watching my own children slowly wasting away, and it hit me right in the amygdala. It’s a parent’s worst fear.
And I loved how gentle he was with his son, even as he taught him hard truths of the world, or his son figured them out for himself. He took ownership when things went wrong, and realized that when his son did something incorrect, it was his own fault for not double checking things, or teaching his son how to do it properly.
If you can get used to the style of the writing, the book will grab you and not let go until the very end. If you’re a dad who loves your child(ren) fiercely, this won’t be an easy book to read, but there are some great lessons in the darkness.

Review: Auckland Allies

Auckland Allies, by Mike Reeves-McMillan

Genre: Urban fantasy

Rating: 5-stars

Three low-powered magic users work together to uncover a conspiracy that threatens their way of life. The story is well written with a quick pace and enjoyable characters.

I like Sparx a lot… the non-toxic masculinity was refreshing to see. The banter between the characters was great, and there was a lot of action which always keeps me hooked to a story.

I will definitely continue on with this series, and recommend it highly!