Book Review: The Gunslinger by Stephen King


The Gunslinger by Stephen King

Can you believe I’ve never read any of the Dark Tower Series by Stephen King? I picked up The Gunslinger in high school (back in the stone ages), and got about halfway through before being distracted by something or another. The poor book has languished on my TBR ever since. Now, though, with The Dark Tower movie coming out, What better motivation to read through the series at long last?

The Gunslinger introduces us to Roland, last of the gunslingers. Roland is pursuing the mysterious and sinister Man in Black across a blighted land. The land is at once alien and hostile, but strangely familiar. Ragtime versions of “Hey Jude” ring out from western-style taverns, and remnants of an all-too-familiar society blight the landscape.

This is one of the first major things Stephen King ever wrote, and you can feel the rawness of it. Reading The Gunslinger, you can see glimmers of King’s talent for allowing the horror of his story to creep off the page and run down your spine. Still, as the first book in the series, there is always some awkwardness in balancing setting the scene and introducing the characters without sacrificing pacing and plot. King sets us down in the middle of the chase and provides background information in small morsels.

 In all, I have to say that this isn’t the best of King’s books. But, as it’s the first of the series and one of his first works, I feel like he gets plenty of leeway. I’m excited to read the next book in the series, and see not only how Roland and the others evolve, but also how King’s writing grows over the course of the story.

P.S. – Thank you to The Nocturnal Reader’s Box for the gorgeous Dark Tower series themed bandana (from the June “All Hail the King” box)!

Book Review: Paper and Fire by Rachel Caine

Paper and Fire

Paper and Fire by Rachel Caine

This is the second book in The Great Library Series, and so there are inevitable spoilers for the first book below.

 

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Now that the requisite spoiler alert is out of the way, let’s get down to business.

Jess finds himself as a lowly grunt in the Library’s Garda. Forced to abandon his dream of becoming a Library scholar, and very aware of the dark underside of the Library’s rule, Jess uses his smuggling past to try to find more information of the imprisoned Morgan and murdered Thomas. When Jess uncovers a bombshell: Thomas is alive and held captive by the Library at a secret prison, Jess must reunite his old friends (and frenemies) in a desperate rescue attempt. Little does he know that this act of rebellion will spark a violent chain of events which could threaten the world as he knows it.

Paper and Fire is a good sequel to Ink and Bone. The characters seem to have grown up quite a bit since we first met them, and the danger from the Library and its minions seems more devious and omnipresent than ever. We are given more information about the inner workings of the Library, and learn more about its past. I always enjoy the second book in the series, we’ve gotten over the awkward introduction phase and the characters can really stretch their legs. Caine lets Jess and his friends grow, but avoids the simple and comfortable and keeps things on a more realistic and complicated plane.

If you enjoyed the first book in the series, you will almost certainly like this one. If you haven’t read Ink and Bone yet, then you really shouldn’t be reading this review, should you? But either way, fans of the Harry Potter or Hunger Games series will enjoy these books, which manage to be both about teenagers and very adult at the same time.

Book Review: The Bedlam Stacks by Natasha Pulley

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The Bedlam Stacks by Natasha Pulley

The book is a slightly less-than-direct prequel to The Watchmaker of Filigree Street. Though you do not have to read that book before you read this one, I would highly recommend doing so.

Merrick Tremayne is a shadow of his former self. Formerly employed by the East India Company as a smuggler, an accident has left him with a crippled leg and no prospects for the future. But when an expedition is planned to seek out quinine in the mountainous jungles of Peru, Merrick’s knowledge and family history make him indispensable for the success of the mission.

However, once he arrives at New Bethlehem, the village founded by his grandfather, Merrick finds that the fairy tales and stories he grew up with may hew closer to the truth than he ever could have guessed. Merrick must discover the secrets of this strange village–and Raphael, the mysterious local priest–in order to continue his mission.

Natasha Pulley has a real talent for incorporating magical and fantastical elements into a thoroughly believable historical setting. Her melding of history and fantasy is organic and subtle, and a fine example of how magical the genre can be. I also enjoy how Pulley steps out of the usual tropes of this type of fiction–exploring the Japanese Civil War in Watchmaker, and taking us into the mountains of Peru (and the shelling of Canton) in The Bedlam Stacks. Pulley explores colonization, international intrigue, and imperialism in this new book, and amidst the magic of her location, she reminds us of the ever-increasing consequences of invasion and interference.

Some aspects of the plot are similar to those in Watchmaker. We are again confronted with a man we are unsure if we can trust, even as Merrick grows closer to him. The mystery of the danger lurking in the forest outside of New Bethlehem, and the questions surrounding Raphael are well written. The book moves slowly in parts, but the climax of the book is actually quite creepy. While the magic here is more fantastical than that on display in Watchmaker, I feel that Pulley did a wonderful job of integrating it into the story.

If you enjoyed Natasha Pulley’s first book, you should certainly check out The Bedlam Stacks. Any fan of historical fantasy should look into the series.

An advance copy of this book was provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: Ink and Bone by Rachel Caine

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Ink and Bone by Rachel Caine

The Great Library was started to ensure that the wisdom of mankind was safeguarded. However, since its advent during the reign of the Egyptian Pharaohs, the Library has stagnated, hoarding its knowledge, and stifling any dissent.

Jess is the son of a book smuggler. Printed books outside the Library’s control are contraband, and the penalty for owning these forbidden tomes is death. Though he has lived his life defying the Library’s hold on the printed word, he understands the value of protecting knowledge. When his family is able to get him a coveted position to train as a Library Scholar, he is secretly excited for the opportunity. Once his training starts, however, he discovers he may have been safer as a smuggler.

First of all, I can’t believe I waited this long to read this book, it has been filling up my feed for ages now, and the third book in the series is due out soon.

The world building in this book is fantastic. Caine manages to combine steampunk with dystopian near-future, and it works. This is a world built on steam, alchemy, and high technology. It manages to feel both nostalgic and futuristic at the same time. The characters that inhabit the book are similarly complex and well-crafted.

As Jess starts out his training with the Library, we begin to hope that we can stay with the “Hogwarts with Books” aspect. Alas, soon any illusions about the Library are tugged away and we find ourselves in a dystopian world where knowledge is a coveted resource, and this supreme entity will go to any lengths to keep their monopoly.

Honestly, it’s a bit like Amazon took over the world. The Library is a repository of knowledge, and the information deemed “acceptable” to be released to the public is done via “blanks,” electronic books to which the texts can be sent via alchemy. In a world where increasing digitization has vastly changed the concept of ownership, Ink and Bone feels like a cautionary tale. It certainly made me look at my kindle in a new light.

This book is a great adventure story, and fans of books like the Hunger Games will enjoy this series. Though I’m sure this book is considered YA, the subjects being dealt with are mature and complex, and there is a lot here for older readers (like me). Now I’m off to get the next book in the series (hard copy, not in kindle format).

A copy of this book was provided by the publisher via Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: The Wrath of a Shipless Pirate by Aaron Pogue

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The Wrath of a Shipless Pirate by Aaron Pogue

This book is the second in the Godlander Series by Aaron Pogue. If I have to tell you by now that there are spoilers ahead, I’ll be very disappointed. (My review of the first book in the series, The Dreams of a Dying God, was written pre-blog, but you can read it here, if you like.)

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I read the first book in the series several years ago, started this book, and promptly became distracted by something shiny. The poor thing has been sitting on my shelf ever since, and as I’m trying to be good about getting through long-timers on my TBR, I thought it was high time to give the book another try.

Corin Hugh has returned from the ancient city of Jezeeli and emerged in the present day with the favor of a God. Tasked by Oberon himself to kill usurper god Epithel, Corin first sets his sight on some satisfying revenge. Corin sets his sights on killing Ethan Blake, his mutinous first mate who left him to die in the ashes of the great city’s ruins. Unfortunately, it seems that Blake may actually be one of the Vestossis, powerful politicians and rulers who enjoy the favor of Ephithel himself. With the help of a druid ally, Corin must learn to use the magics given to him by Oberon to exact his revenge.

If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times: time travel makes for messy book keeping. While an interesting concept, Corin’s traveling 1000 years in the past in the first book can only complicate the plot from here on out. Fortunately, Pogue seems to sidestep most of those issues by placing Corin’s first adventures in something analogous to a dream, as envisioned by the God Oberon (kind of a literal deus ex machina).

The story itself is engaging. However, it does take about 70-ish pages before you start to feel like you’re having fun. Once the book settles into its rhythm though, it becomes a rather entertaining swashbuckling, monster-fighting, ship-exploding, revenge-seeking, pirate-killing extravaganza. I would recommend reading the first book prior to this one, but, as I didn’t reread it prior to reading this book, you may be able to get by reading this book as a stand alone.

I would recommend this book to fans of straight-up fantasy. It does take some work, but once you muddle through the first few chapters, it really does become quite a bit of fun.

A copy of this book was provided by the publisher via Goodreads Giveaways in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: Hollow City by Ransom Riggs

Hollow City

Hollow City by Ransom Riggs

All-too-familiar Caveat: This is a review for the second book in the Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children series. That means there will almost certainly be spoilers here for the first book. Rather unavoidable, really.

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Now, then. I have finally gotten around to the the second book in the Miss Peregrine series (Yay!). If you’re interested, you can read my review of the first book here.

So the kids, led by Jacob and Emma, have escaped Cairnholm Island with a severely injured (and unable to transform) Miss Peregrine in tow. On their own in 1940, the children, already exhausted from their battle with the wights, must journey through the bomb-scarred British countryside to find someone capable of healing Miss Peregrine. The war-torn landscape gives perfect cover for hunting wights, and the children must race both time and their enemies in order to save their ymbyrne.

Okay I’m going to come right out an say it: this book wasn’t nearly as much fun as the first one. The first book gave us the joy of experiencing new worlds, new folks to meet, and while we got a good dose of creepiness, it was still fun. Hollow City is, in a word, grim. Traipsing through the wartime English countryside is not really an enjoyable pastime. The antique photos, used to such great effect in the first book, take on a new cast here, sometimes seeming like the sole factor driving the story at points. And be warned, some of the photos in the book are of dead bodies. I don’t have a problem with this in and of itself (after all, dead folks are my field), but photos of actual dead people in a young adult book is a bit surprising. Maybe I’m being too delicate. After all, I’m old, and don’t know what the young people are into these days (presumably dead folks. Good for you, young people).

So bottom line: Hollow City isn’t nearly as good as Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, but it’s still a fine example of the young adult genre. I’ll hold off on judging the series as a whole until I’ve read the third book.

Book Review: The Visionary Mayan Queen by Leonide Martin

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The Visionary Mayan Queen: Yohl Ik’nal of Palenque by Leonide Martin

This is a historical fiction novel about Yohl Ik’nal, a Maya queen who ascended to the throne of Palenque in 583CE. The book is the first in a trilogy detailing the early years of Yohl Ik’nal and her reign.

I didn’t finish the book. I had my doubts when it began with Yohl Ik’nal meditating in the jungle, then abruptly mind traveling to speak with a young (Scottish? Scandinavian?) girl who also visited the “realm of faeries.” While I’m not opposed to fantasy, I generally expect historical fictions to trend more towards history than outright fiction.

I also found the dialogue to be stilted and lacking in subtlety. Characters simply state their feelings to one another, or allow the omniscient narrator to tell us exactly what so-and-so was thinking. While Maya culture is formal and regimented, I feel there are better ways to demonstrate this than through awkward dialogue. Along these lines, Martin also gives the reader explanations and translations for various aspects of Maya life, often in parentheses within the paragraph. While this isn’t entirely a bid idea, this approach is more appropriate for an academic work; within a fictional setting the effect is jarring and tend to take the reader out of the story.

Leonide Martin is a scholar of Maya history, and there is no debating her knowledge. However, her strengths do not seem to lie in the fictional realm. A less fictional, more historical/anthropological work might be better suited to showcase her attention to detail and intimate knowledge of  the subject matter. Something along the lines of The Woman Who Would Be King, by Kara Cooney, which stays mostly within the verifiable history but adds in conjecture by the author would have worked well here.

In all, I feel like the fictional aspects of this book are not as engaging as they could be, and the historical aspects are not well integrated with the fictional portions of the book. Yohl Ik’nal is a fascinating figure, and one certainly deserving of wider attention. Maya history enthusiasts may still want to investigate this book, but this may not be the best for the more casual reader.

A copy of this book was provided by the author in exchange for an honest review. The Visionary Mayan Queen is currently available for purchase.

 

Book Review: Warren the 13th and the Whispering Wood by Tania del Rio and Will Staehle

Warren the 13th and the Whispering Woods by Tania del Rio and Will Staehle

This is the second book to feature the weird looking protagonist Warren the 13th. In the first book, Warren the 13th and the All-Seeing Eye, Warren had to fight off an evil witch to regain control of his family’s historic hotel. Click on the link above for my full review. Necessary caveat: Spoilers ahead for the previous Warren the 13th book.

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So now Warren is the happy proprietor of the Warren Hotel, which is the only hotel in the world to move around on legs, bringing its guests to new and exciting locations. His friends Petula (the trainee witch hunter) and Sketchy (the octopus monster) help him run the hotel alongside his buffoon of an uncle, his kindly tutor, the piratical chef, and Petula’s mother, world famous witch hunter and chief of security.

When word gets out that a famous witch hunter is living aboard the Warren, the queen of the witches sets a bounty on the hotel and everyone in it. When the hotel is hijacked and brought into the Malwoods (where witches live, of course), Warren and his friends must race to save the hotel and one another.

I have to say that I really enjoy these books. Even though they are geared towards children, the plot and dialogue still sit well with older readers like me. Combine that with the Edward Gorey-style artwork, and this is simply a wonderfully fun book. del Rio and Staehle have carried through the puzzles and riddles from the previous book, and readers are invited to solve them themselves as the book goes on. The plot has a surprising amount of layers to it for a children’s book, and let’s not forget that as this is a kid’s book, we can count on a happy ending no matter what.

I would recommend this series for someone looking for a children’s book that is a bit off the beaten path. If you’re tired of happy bunnies and racing turtles and what not, this might be the book for you.

 

An advance copy of this book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: Right Behind You by Lisa Gardner

Right Behind You by Lisa Gardner

This is the 7th book featuring Gardner’s profiler pair, Quincy and Rainie. In case it isn’t obvious, there will likely be spoilers ahead if you haven’t read the other books. Additional caveat: I have not read the previous books in the series, but I was not lost, you can definitely read this book as a standalone if you wish.

The book begins from the point of view of a young boy. Telly loves his little sister, Sharlah, and will do anything to protect her from his drug addicted, abusive parents. One night, Telly’s father goes into a drug-fueled rampage, and Telly is forced to kill him to save himself and his sister.

Fast forward eight years and Sharlah is the foster daughter of Quincy and Rainie, ex-profilers and now private sector consultants. She hasn’t seen or had any contact with her brother since the night of their parent’s deaths. Then a simple “shots fired” call turns into a murder spree, and it seems like Sharlah’s older brother may be the gunman. As Quincy and Rainie are called into the case, Sharlah is forced to face the possibility that her brother may have always been a monster.

I enjoyed this dark thriller. Even without having read the previous books, it was easy to slip into the world of the primary characters. The subject matter is dark but well written, and while the plot seems to be straightforward at first, ample twists and turns will keep you interested. What I most liked was the intelligence of the Quincy and Rainie duo. You know all those niggling little details that occur in every mystery? The ones where you stop and go “Wait, that isn’t quite right,” well, those little things occur here as well, but (rather uniquely in my opinion) those little inconsistencies are picked up on by the protagonists. rather than being used as gotcha fuel later on in the book, those random little details are actually used to further the plot. More authors should make that attempt.

Fans of Jeffery Deaver or Lisa Unger will probably like this book, and I would think that if you’ve been following series thus far, this should be a no-brainer.

An advance copy of this book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Right Behind You will be available for purchase on January 31st, 2017.

Book Review: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (Screenplay) by J.K. Rowling

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them: The Original Screenplay by J.K. Rowling

I can’t believe I’m actually saying this: Make sure to watch the movie before cracking open this book! This is not a novel (or even a novelization), and it is not the lackluster and minimal-effort filler Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them“>mini book  published in 2001. This is a screenplay, pure and simple, and follows script format. If you’ve read Harry Potter and the Cursed Child (see my review here), then you already know what you’re in for.

I mention this know, because when purchasing from Local Bookstore, the poor, defeated woman behind the counter informed me of this not once, but twice. I guess a few people made a stink about the book not being an actual novel.

But as a Potterhead, and a fan of the movie (and, let’s face it, a completeist) I couldn’t not get this book. Plus, have you seen it? It’s beautiful!

Anyhow, the story (again, this is the screenplay from the movie, you should have seen the movie already)follows Newt Scamander, future author of Hogwarts textbook Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, as he travels to the United States to do research for his book, and to conduct some magical animal rescue along the way. He inevitably gets pulled into American wizarding politics, and the dangers of a group known as “New Salem”, who are seeking to unmask and persecute witches. The movie was engaging and fun, while at the same time holding a light onto some important social issues (segregation, conversion therapy, etc.). The scree.play is by Rowling herself (unlike Cursed Child) and so retains a good deal of her whimsy.

So see the movie. The book, being merely a screenplay (a novelization by Rowling would have been spectacular, but perhaps I am greedy), is not a necessary read, nor a necessary purchase, but sometimes I just can’t help myself.

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is currently available for purchase.