Month: May 2014

Review: Cyador’s Heirs (Saga of Recluse) by L.E. Modesitt, Jr.

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Title: Cyador’s Heirs

Author: L.E. Modesitt, Jr.

Publication Date: 20 May 2014

Genre: Fantasy

Let me preface this with telling you that this is the first book I’ve read by L.E. Modesitt, Jr. I don’t know really anything about his other series or the books that are chronologically before this. There are 16 books in the Saga of Recluse series that come before this one.

However, L.E. Modesitt doesn’t write in a way that requires you to have an extensive knowledge of his works in order to read and enjoy this work. Perhaps one of the most impressive parts of this novel is that fact. Modesitt’s work is approachable to those who’ve never picked up his work before.

Cyador’s Heirs follows the young second son of the Duke of Cigoerne, Lerial. Lerial is constantly frustrated by his inability to best his older brother, his father’s lack of praise, and his own sense of inadequacy. At only fifteen years old, Lerial already feels like the world he was born to doesn’t really want him. When Lerial’s father sends him away to the countryside for reasons unkown to Lerial, he feels utterly abandoned. He works for months, knowing that the only way to get back to his home is to follow the mandates of the Majer, an old war veteran who is assigned to train him.

When Lerial does come home, he finds that the world he left is in even more dire streights than the one he left behind. Raiders have been attacking the northern outskirts, his father and brother have left on campaigns, and now, under his father’s orders, Lerial must go to Verdheln, a forest land that wants to be incorporated into his father’s lands.
Cyador's Heirs by L.E. Modesitt, Jr.
Modesitt’s magic system works through the ability to control order and chaos, two forces that surround and create the world. Chaos mages are powerful in battle and both Lerial’s father and his brother Lephi are chaos mages. While Lerial can practice a bit with chaos, we’re shown early on that he’s more adept at order, typically considered to be a woman’s power and commonly used in healing. Lerial is taken under his aunt’s wing in his order use, but it’s made clear that his ability to use order needs to be hidden from his family who might otherwise think he’d be incapable of fulfilling his duties as a future army commander.

When Lerial is sent to Verdheln, his company, led by the Majer, is attacked. The neighboring country proceeds to send three batalions of trained forces and six chaos mages against Lerial and the Majer’s two squads of men and the untrained Verdheln citizens they were sent to train. What seems at first hopeless changes as Lerial realizes (largely from the experiences he gained in healing and under his aunt’s tutelage) that, if chaos and order really must be in balance, then perhaps there is more to be done.

There are a number of aspects I really enjoyed about the book. In particular, I really enjoyed the way that Modesitt build up the magic as something that can be practiced, where strength of magic is earned, and where weakness is built into one’s use. This made it so that no matter how powerful that anyone may be, they don’t have unlimited power and there doesn’t need to be any kryptonite type counterpoint to their power. It also is refreshing to see a magic system that actually physically affects the user.

Lerial as a character was very well done. He was understandable as a person. More importantly, he really develops. The Lerial we see at the end of the book has grown vastly from the young boy we met at the beginning. Not only are his experiences changing who he is in a tangible way as he experiences them, we are shown how quickly he has had to grow up, especially in contrast to his older brother, Lephi, who does not appear changed by the raids he faces up north.

The Majer is a solid choice for a leader and a teacher. He commands but doesn’t push and he encourages the type of critical thinking that builds new leaders. In part, we can see this in Lerial’s development. It’s his military tactics that help them to survive, not Lerial’s solely strength as an ordermage.

Modesitt must have a love for military strategy. A great deal of the book is exactly that, strategy and battle plans. It makes the war seem plausible and thought out, at least on Modesitt’s part. It also does a great deal to point out that magic is a secondary force that may not always be there to help. This is especially true with his magic system and we see it when Lerial has overextended himself and is unable to use his power.

Modesitt makes some interesting points about women and really contemplates the way women are relegated to home or domestic tasks. He shows powerful women throughout the book, women who are strong and women who are willing to fight. I was very impressed with how deliberate these choices were. He’s clear that initially many women were placed where they are because there aren’t enough men in Verdheln, but that they are not less than their male counterpoints. Then he proves it.

Overall, I was impressed. A big thanks to Tor Books who provided me with a galley copy.

Rating: 4.5

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Bout of Books 10.0 Wrap Up!

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For my first BoutofBooks, I must say I’m not disappointed. I read quite a bit, though not much more than I usually do, and I had the chance to reflect on my reading habits. 

I finished:

-The Road by Cormac McCarthy

-Let Me In by John Ajvide Lindquist

-The Assassin King by Elizabeth Haydon

-The Julian Chapter: A Wonder Story by R.J. Palacio

and 

-Saga Vol 3 by Brian K Vaughn and Fiona Staples

 

I also read 60 pages of Cyador’s Heir, L.E. Modesitt’s upcoming novel.

I wanted to read more. I didn’t get around to Pathfinder by Orson Scott Card and I spent two days not reading at all. I was called to work until ten at night (an almost twelve hour shift) twice over the week and spent the weekend mostly taking care of some family things. I’m not really upset about it though. More than anything, it gave me a chance to really remember what I have to value. 

Total page count runs at 1460 pages, so not too bad. Plus, I did read two out of the three books I set on my “For Sure” TBR. 

What did you read? How did your goals play out? 

Review: Let Me In by John Ajvide Lindqvist

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Title: Let Me In/Let the Right One In

Author: John Ajvide Lindqvist

Publication Date: 2004

Genre: Horror, Fantasy

 

Linqvist’s Let Me In is a roller coaster ride of a story. It follows Oskar, a twelve year old, who is terribly bullied and who feels wholly inadequate. When Oskar comes home after a beating he goes to the woods to unwind. There he meets Eli, a young girl with a strangely adult way of behaving. Oskar falls in love for the first time, but Eli has a secret, and a series of brutal murders is putting a damper on everything.

The first thing that struck me about this book was how relatable a subject Oskar was. Lindqvist managed to write a novel about a boy that was both reflective of the character’s age, social status, and general experiences that also didn’t read like it was written by a twelve year old. This can be a tough thing to pull off, especially when trying to narrate the character’s thoughts. Not only are writers often adults long since distanced from pre-adolescence, but conveying those thoughts in a way that is true, but also does not lost sight of the audience is a very precarious balancing act.

The quick transition in which Eli becomes a common figure in Oskar’s life was also well done. Though it was fast in scope of time, it didn’t feel unnaturally fast for their relationship to develop the way it did.

When the murders start happening, a rash of characters are introduced. Admittedly, it was pretty head spinning. It wasn’t always clear who was speaking or what relationships the speaker had to the other characters. It took a while to really see all of the connections between the characters and their stories.

However, the intricate ways that the stories tied together was impressive.

I think what I enjoyed most was that instead of gathering suspense (in a more traditional horror story way) to keep the reader going, the intensity built on the relationships of the characters. I’m admittedly a huge chicken about horror stories. They’ll keep me up all night jumping at imagined creaks and groans. Lindqvist, however, didn’t go for the typically terrifying horror story feel. It was a much more approachable, though no less intense, type of horror story; it focused far more on the terror of the transformation and infection than on the monster story that usually reigns.

I was, however, a bit bewildered at some of the way sex and sexuality was used in this novel. While it wasn’t the main focus, per se, the use of gender identity and homosexuality in the novel was very clearly present. I don’t mind any of these as a plot point, but it seemed that, with a few exceptions, the topics were present without actually motivating very much.

In later parts of the book gender identity and sexual orientation during adolescence is brought up as a topic. Lindqvist, in fact, spends a lot of time detailing a situation that would be confusing for any person, but especially so for a twelve year old. It was a bit surprising to me that the situation was left as it was. There was quite a bit of discussion between two of the characters and Oskar’s inner turmoil about sexuality was shown, but it didn’t really seem to affect the relationships Oskar was having with the other characters.

This wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. I think for many people, sexuality and gender are things that, for the most part, just are. It’s confusing for a time, but many people can come to accept that gender and sexuality aren’t always as clear cut as they might be.

It seemed, though, that Lindqvist spent a great deal of time outlining these as well as a number of horribly abusive tales that were related to the subjects without really making a clear point about them. It seemed like he wanted to, but that it just didn’t appear.

Maybe it’s just me. That’s always a very real possibility.

Overall, a great read. It’s fast paced and outstandingly detailed.

Rating: 4.5

Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Let-Me-John-Ajvide-Lindqvist/dp/0312656491

Book Depository: http://www.bookdepository.com/Let-Right-One-John-Ajvide-Lindqvist/9780312355296

 

Bout of Books Day 4 (Thursday)

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So, I’ve been doing alright with my Bout of Books 10.0 Challenge.

When I started, I set out to read:

The Road by Cormac McCarthy
Let Me In by John Ajvide Linqgvist
and
Pathfinder by Orson Scott Card

I was able to finish up The Assassin King by Elizabeth Haydon. I wanted to make sure I read it to give me some context for the ARC I have for her upcoming book. I was finished with it by the end of day one.

I then started in on McCarthy’s The Road and have really enjoyed it. That same day, I read a novelette by R.J. Palacio, The Julian Chapter: A Wonder Story.

Day three, though, was a slow one.

Work was hard and I wasn’t able to get anything read. I came home exhausted and read a total of 30 pages. I was pretty uninspired to read.

I did pull out a graphic novel, though. I finished the first half of Manifest Destiny Vol 1. It’s a pretty campy story about Lewis and Clarke. It features buffallo headed men and plants that turn humans into zombies.

Today, I’m getting into Let Me In . I’m almost a hundred pages in and it’s starting to roll. It’s a better feeling.

Let me know what’s up with you. What’s going on in your Bout of Books challenge?

Review: The Road by Cormac McCarthy

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Title: The Road
Author: Cormac McCarthy
Publication Date: 2006
Genre: Post-Apocalyptic

This book hit a lot of powerful notes. It focuses solely on the journey of an unnamed father and son. They’re travelling south in an attempt to escape the harsh, post-apocalyptic winters. The world has fallen apart, murderers are everywhere and food is extremely scarce. They scavenge together along the road during their journey and the father is waning both in health and spirit.

One of the things that McCarthy does very well is show the desperation that the father is feeling. He’s desperate to protect his son, to keep moving, to find shelter and food. The father is especially desperate to keep his son hopeful and good, despite his own negative influence on his son.

The son is consistently empathetic. He’s never known a world other than the deathly end-of-the-world one in which they now live. However, he’s a good soul. He has no real tolerance for force or violence and seeks the good in others. His father consistently reminds him to be vigilant, less trusting than he is. The son can’t seem to stop searching for good people.

The contrast between the two characters is striking.

There is some gore, but I didn’t find it overwhelming. That’s probably just me, though. McCarthy’s world is so barren that people resort in some cases to some very violent and disturbingly intentional cannibalism. In some cases, humans have been trapped or hunted by others. If this isn’t something you can deal with, be warned, but it isn’t overly graphic or detailed.

McCarthy does show: sometimes life is so bad that you wish you weren’t alive.

The only part I was disappointed in was the end. I enjoyed the end up until the last bit where others become involved. It wasn’t a bad ending, but I thought it was too easy and I couldn’t help but think that none of the danger posed by others seemed prevalent or to stay in the characters’ minds.

McCarthy’s narrative style is presented in short paragraphs detailing the events as they happen. The dialogue is unmarked and there is a serious, though intentional, lack of punctuation. I thought this lent quite a bit to his story. It allowed him to transition between scenes and the present and past easily. The lack of punctuation may have been distracting if it weren’t so understated. It read more like you were listening in to the conversation than like you were reading it. I liked that aspect in particular.

Rating: 4
Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/The-Road-Cormac-McCarthy/dp/0307387895/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1400114781&sr=8-1&keywords=the+road
Book Depository: http://www.bookdepository.com/Road-Cormac-McCarthy/9780330447546

Book Review: The Julian Chapter: A Wonder Story by R.J. Palacio

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Title: The Julian Chapter: A Wonder Story*
Author: R.J. Palacio
Publication Date: May 13, 2014
Genre: Children’s Fiction

When I finished Wonder by R.J. Palacio, I didn’t love it, but I did like it. I thought the characters were surprisingly complex for a children’s book and that the character development was well handled. Wonder had a good sense of timing and humor, and Palacio dealt with some very touchy subjects well. The only real exception to this was Julian, the antagonist.
Julian was cruel to August in the book and Palacio made a point of showing his mother as an enabler. Unfortunately, Julian is rather flat as a character, even in his own novelette.

The Julian Chapter: A Wonder Story

I thought Palacio did a great job of showing complex family dynamics in Wonder, but it didn’t transfer over to The Julian Chapter. Julian’s family is your archtypical Upper East-siders. His mother is a hovering busy-body who thinks that her child’s every cry is a mandate for fulfillment. His father is stern, but distant. He even has a grandmother in France.

Julian’s story begins by explaining that from a very young age Julian has been terrified of zombies and other creatures with malformed faces. He’s had to see a therapist and has only recently recovered from it when August comes to school. Julian is instantly thrown backwards into nightmares.

I know that Palacio is doing this to make Julian’s fear more sympathetic. It didn’t come across very successfully. It was drawn in such a manner as to make Julian come across as a brat rather than a kid who has been haunted by nightmares. Part of this is because of the lack of actual struggle we see and part of it is because of the way Julian’s voice is written.

For most of the other characters in the Wonder universe, the characters go in depth about their worries and emotions. Julian’s story doesn’t get this. We are told that he’s sent to see a “feelings” doctor and that he often had to be taken home at night when he saw scary movies. We don’t hear how he actually felt during those times. We aren’t told how the panic felt or what the embarrassment must have been like. We aren’t told how relieved he felt when the nightmares finally went away or how he eventually came to embrace horror films. Though it is a children’s story, and we should expect some simplification, it lacks the empathy of Palacio’s other narratives.

Palacio compounds the problem by making Julian blow it all off when he’s talking about it. There’s none of the candidness that makes the other narratives resonate.

Julian’s story doesn’t give much credence to his mother’s influence on his behavior. Multiple times throughout the story, we’re told that his mother tries to alter the world around her to be how she wants to remember it (She even alters the skies in their vacation photos so that she’ll remember them blue). This should have some serious effect on a kid. Palacio doesn’t show how this has rubbed off on Julian, potentially contributing to his anxieties, or how it continues to change his behavior, rejecting the undesirable.

The rest of his family, with the exception of his grandmother, who has a very interesting and detailed backstory, really doesn’t seem to interact with any of Julian’s growth or current existence. Though his father shows promise, that falls through, and he has a weird role reversal with Julian’s mother in the last few pages that made no sense.

Overall, there were some good points. Namely, the time Julian spent with his grandmother was well done. The rest left something to be desired.

Rating: 3
Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/The-Julian-Chapter-Wonder-Kindle-ebook/dp/B00IBZ5YKW

* The copy reviewed was obtained courtosey of Random House Kids and Netgalley.com

Review: Red Seas Under Red Skies (Gentlemen Bastards #2) by Scott Lynch

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*This post contains SPOILERS for The Lies of Locke Lamora. For a full review of the first book in the Gentlemen Bastards series, go here.*

Title: Red Seas Under Red Skies (Gentlemen Bastards #2)
Author: Scott Lynch
Publication Date: 2007 (MMP available in 2008)
Genre: Fantasy

For Fans Of: Brent Weeks, Patrick Rothfuss, Brandon Sanderson

I have to say, the second book in the Gentlemen Bastards series is an improvement on the first. Though I thought The Lies of Locke Lamora was a fun, fast-paced book, it also had quite a few flaws. The sequel has more distinctive voices, a more nuanced and well put together plot, and far more emotional connections for its characters.
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