Crystallum: (Save the Queen, #1)

Crystallum: (Save the Queen, #1)
by Michael Alexander

Rating: 3.75/5

This part one of the Save the Queen series is very promising indeed. I have to admit I had a little of trouble comprehending the world here built because of how the information was delivered – as if the reader already new the story – but by rereading it I think I have a good grip on it now. However, I did have to reread it, so it took me a lot longer to finish it.

The other thing that put me off a bit is that there are basically 2 prologues, that is, two actions in a different time and place than the main narrative, of which we will only receive explanations much later. None of them are in this first book. I wonder if I would remember them at all, were I to read the other books in the series.

There are some things I would have liked to have explain, like why it was such an offence to Cerio that Zanthus would wear the colour reserved for his army or why Qor missed his chance to be trained as a mage, and I am sure all that will be explained later on and it definitely served to pique my interest, but I do like to feel some closure when I finish a book, no matter how small.

I recommend this book to fans of hard fantasy. I suspect the sequels will be worth reading as well.

Disclaimer: I thank the author for providing a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Read from February 25 to 26, 2015
GR Review

Buddy Read – Bald New World

Bald New World
by Peter Tieryas

Selected by Publishers Weekly as one of the Best Science Fiction Books of Summer 2014 and listed on Buzzfeed’s 15 Highly Anticipated Books of 2014, Bald New World asks the question:

What if everyone in the world lost their hair?

Nick Guan and his friend Larry Chao are a pair of eccentric filmmakers who choose to explore the existential angst of their balding world through cinema. Larry is heir to one of the most lucrative wig companies in the world. Nick is a man who’s trying to make sense of the tatters of his American dream. Taking place throughout China and America, the pair set off on a series of misadventures involving North Korean spies, veterans of an African War, and digital cricket fighters. Their journey leads them to discover some of the darkest secrets behind wig-making and hair in a hairless world.

“After my heart gives out and I’m on the operating table for emergency surgery, I will have told my physicians and surgeons to replace my heart with Peter Tieryas Liu’s Bald New World, or any of his books really, because that’s what I think of when I think of Liu’s writing–heart. Similar to the work of Philip K. Dick, this parodic dystopia is steeped in futuristic technology that further bridges the gap between man and machine. Still, whether watching the latest episode of the immensely popular reality show Jesus the General or sparring against an opponent in the blood-sport known as cricket fighting, the humanity of our narrator shines through. Although we humans are capable of doing and creating sad, funny, glorious, devious things, we also persevere and adapt, survive. I wonder what Huxley would think of this, but he’s dead. You’re not, so read this book, feel alive.”
-Jason Jordan, author of Pestilence, editor of decomP

“The boldly imaginative Bald New World follows Nicholas Guan, a military type tasked to digitally touch up scenes of carnage, in his misadventures from Korea to a futuristic California and in his frenzied dash from Gamble Town to China . The novel tells of beautifully flawed characters, the blurring distinction between reality and virtual environments, the comical yet chilling wave of religious fanaticism, and a world battling a strange malady called the Great Baldification, an ingenious symbol of human vanity. Peter Tieryas Liu’s Bald New World is vivid, exhilarating, and wildly entertaining.” –Kristine Ong Muslim, author of We Bury the Landscape and Grim Series

“Bald New World is a hypnotic, surreal, and insightful novel, blending Blade Runner and The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle to create a dark, funny, and captivating story. One of the best books I’ve read this year.”—Richard Thomas, Staring Into the Abyss

Book Lair will be doing a buddy read of this book soon.

We plan to start around March 1st, though the date may be changed to whenever is most convenient to the participants.

We got the book via Negalley and it is still be available, with no set archive date.
If you think this is something you might want to enjoy participating in, just click the buddy read link above mentioned!

Book Lair

I would like to tell you a bit more about my GR group, Book Lair.

Click to view Book Lair

I joined GoodReads on August of 2014 and shortly after created this group. Even though I made it open for all genres, I had two goals in mind: meeting people from all over the world who had similar tastes to mine and discussing all things related to books. Since then, I have broadened my horizons when it comes to genres and got to meet a great bunch of people. Currently we have a very lovely community.

One of my favourite features about the group is our Buddy Reads. We have a specific topic where people can post their suggestions for a buddy read, as well as browse for existing ones, and then we open a new topic for the new buddy read, setting up a date that works for everyone.

I have found that reading a book along with other people provides an amazing experience. Not only do you find things you may have missed but you can also tell if a problem you are having with the book is being experienced by others. Sometimes we have pretty interesting discussions.

More often than not, we do buddy reads of books we get for free from authors who post in our group, from Netgalley or at amazon and other sites; but all books are game, obviously. It’s just that those are more easily accessible to the members and we get to help new authors while discovering new voices in the literary world.

So from now on I will be posting the buddy reads we are holding and estimate day to start, which is always subject to change, in case another date is more convenient to the participants.
You are all welcome to join us! Hope to see you there :)

Day 6 – Slowly finding a voice

You may have noticed a slight difference in my last review post, Emissary by Thomas Locke.

Since I could not find an easy code to hide spoilers, I decided, following Melaslithos‘s very helpful advice, to match that text and respective background colours, so that the readers who want to view the spoilers can do so by highlighting it and the ones who don’t will not risk reading it.

Emissary

Emissary (Legends of the Realm #1)
by Thomas Locke

Rating: 2.25/5

Emissary tells the story of Hyam, who up until his 21st birthday was a plain farmer’s son who enjoyed hunting. And that is all I could tell of who the guy was. He was dull and his emotional range appeared minimal to say the least.

Anyway, it’s his 21st birthday and it appears that he is not a regular human after all. He has powers. Powers which only manifest themselves at that specific age. Why? You tell me. Apparently it’s in his race. People turn 21 and boom – they get powers. Does that answer satisfy you? It sure didn’t please me.

When his mother dies he goes to tell his estranged father on some wizard school city place, since she begged that of him. When he first leaves his village to go on that trek we are told that he isn’t allowed to hunt. Why? You tell me.
So, very grudgingly, he arrives at the place where people were so mean to him, beating him senseless (Why? No clue.) to tell the man who abandoned him at a young age of his mother passing, except the guy is dead too.

So he gets there and talks to the place’s mistress. He refuses to accept what he is told about his heritage and to take the advice of this very smart old woman, who we are told Hyam instinctively knows is very clearly speaking the truth. However, it seems that he either doesn’t believe her or, if he does, he plans to do nothing about this new information. And then, when he develops the powers she said he would, he still refuses to follow her advice and go seek help from someone we can obviously tell is also trustworthy. Why? You guessed it! You tell me.

So there he is, very willingly practicing his awesome new powers in a secluded place. With mastery, I must point out – apparently just because he remembers some words in another language which he had learned years ago very grudgingly. How can someone who is now discovering they have powers control them like that? Again, feel free to tell me.

So he uses his powers with great skill, murders a bunch of people (bad guys, granted, but still people) and doesn’t seem to feel a thing. Now I would like to think he had never murdered anyone up to that point, so yes, I would have expected a bit of emotion there.
He takes one of the bad guys’ treasures and his horse and goes on his merry way, making plans to visit a very special city. And here I must note that, for someone who is so reluctant to go on this so called quest, he sure gives away the only home he knew rather quickly.

When he gets a supposedly extremely smart dog as his companion, you’d hope there would be room for some creative interaction here but nope, he just travels by the mutt’s side, neither uttering a sound (Crazy as it seems, not exploring this relationship was one of the things about the book which upset me the most. I mean, seriously. A super smart part wolf-part dog-part something else which name I cannot recall who is usually destined for royalty? Such a waste…).

Both the wolfhound and the horse Hyam got by murdering its owner (call me petty but considering how Hyam got it I never considered it his horse) seem to grow instantly attached to Hyam and give him their complete loyalty. Why? Uh… Right.

We are fed a lot of information too quickly about all the races and can tell how not all of it is accurate, although not why or how or which parts. So while reading I kept thinking ok hmm we are going on this assumption but it’s probably wrong.

Then the voice changes and we are introduced to Joelle. I immediately thought uh oh… Feisty girl with similar background of being a prisoner and not belonging, a couple years younger than main character, similar wizard powers… I smell forced romance. And was spot on. From the moment Hyam sets eyes on her he is smitten with her, solely due to the fact that she is a prisoner in a Long Hall just as he was. He smashes through the place cause he is almighty and stuff, and gets her. From the moment he meets her face to face till they get married what, a week after they met? – there is literally no clue that they fell in love with each other (as if possible), only that there was a moment of intense physical attraction. I would have had much more respect for the author and the story had he made them develop a kindred sibling relationship. If the rest of the book felt out of context then this bit right here takes it to a whole new level.

Moving back a bit, his role of emissary is explained, bestowed and accepted by him in a manner that made me think Huh? That’s it?
Even though he is guaranteed protection, he is apparently abandoned. Why he wasn’t helped, as promised, after things died down beats me.

And I will stop specifying what happens in the book now; it’s pretty pointless given the book’s length, and as a rule I don’t appreciate doing this at all, as I prefer the reader to discover things as they unfold.
However, in this case I felt this introduction was required to make it very clear that, as I was following Hyam around, I was left with this hollow and confused feeling of not knowing why things happened and why the narrative developed the way it did, and this was something that accompanied me throughout the book. There were no clues that I could refer to thinking oh so that’s why that happened until pretty much the end of the book, and by then it was too late.

Take the main character. Hyam starts off as a sort of ornery type who has never come to terms with his past and refuses to deal with the information given to him about his heritage. However, over the course of the book, I sometimes felt I was reading about a guy in his 40s, one who had suddenly gained all sort of moral values and a self-confidence and bravery that I had not seen before nor realized where it came from.
We are told that he had barely stepped out of his village all his life, certainly not very far, and suddenly he is giving orders left and right, owning all the places he visits, as if it was the most natural thing in the world to him, and having all sorts of people pledging alliance to him. All the crazy easy magery that happens is justified by the fact that he is, apparently, someone really, really special. Now while plenty of people may be happy with that explanation, especially because of the interesting world creating, to me it just felt extremely forced and overly simplistic. Not to mention extremely convenient.

I simply could not feel involved in the narrative nor relate to the any of the characters, the main one in the least. Whatever chance there were for bonding between characters was obliterated. The plot lacked direction for at least 3/4 of the book, nothing felt natural. Reading Emissary made me feel like I was watching a board game unfold. Ok, main character is here, so I am going to move hiiiim…. Here. Yep, sounds good. Now, this happens. And now let me move him to another square in… this direction seems good! The action never felt progressive. I felt that one minute I was in a place and then in another with no transition. I wasn’t in the story, I could not feel what the characters were feeling nor was I particularly interested in knowing what came next. I was actually more curious to see if the dog would do anything interesting.

In a nutshell, all the focus of this book is clearly on the world building, completely deterring character and plot development. Things happened not because they make sense but because it was convenient to where the author wanted the book to go. Yes, there are good things, particularly towards the end of the book, but not nearly enough to make it one worth reading, in my opinion.

It did start to pick up a bit on the last third or so – at least we were finally getting some explanations and some sense of direction – although even then things which could have had tremendous impact were given miserable treatment/null development/utterly rushed) and the hidden for a thousand years line got SO freaking old. But you know what? Whatever was mildly enjoyable came too late. By that point, the book had succeeded in almost completely losing me, because I had been fed piles and piles of descriptions about the places Hyam and the others visited and, well, that was about it. I kept trying to hold on to the plot, to why certain things were happening or to even remember aspects that seemed important. But I just couldn’t get a grip on the narrative because the situations were presented out of the blue, events unfolded with no clues whatsoever to get the reader to arrive to those conclusions by him or herself until it was too late to enjoy; stuff was just planted.

I cannot tell if this negative experience is due to me not being a native English speaker, the progressively archaic, sometimes even presumptuous, writing or because my mind kept wandering, since nothing there told seemed to interest me and I could not relate, but the fact is after a while, against all desire to just give up, I just trudged on and, for the most part, it was not a very pleasant experience. And then things became so predictable and disappointing, especially the romance bit, that I felt like reading this book was a huge waste of time.

In conclusion, Emissary has pretty close to spectacular world building, but without a plot that makes sense, that allows me to connect the dots, is overall well developed and keeps me interested along the way; without characters who have their own personalities, whose relationships are clearly developed, and with whom I can relate in the least – then it just becomes a travel book of beautiful sceneries which I would love to visit someday.

The extra star is for the ending, which thoroughly surprised me.

Read from February 19 to 24, 2015
GR Review

I would like to thank the publisher and Netgalley for providing a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Unfinished books

I have been reading a book for what feels like a week now but is probably less and I got to thinking… I am sure everyone out there has started reading a book and then realized, late as may be, that it is just not for you. So what do you do? Reluctantly stick to it or drop it and move on? I cannot recall how many books I have quit on, but I can probably count them by the fingers of one hand. The only one that comes to mind right now is On Writing, by Stephen King. I found it so boring! But I do intend to give it another try. Someday. Probably not in the near future. The thing is I feel that, if I do not finish the book, then I am not giving it the opportunity it deserves to change my mind about it. I suppose I feel a bit guilty if I do it. Also, if I am writing a review, I want to base it on the whole thing, I don’t feel it is fair to review only the part I have read. So what do you do?

Silverchair – Freak

This one closes the trio of freaky videos from my growing up years.

Happy weekend!

Video description taken from Wikipedia:

The video features the band playing in an oven-chamber, monitored by a scientist in a control room. Their sweat is collected, received by a doctor and taken to a wrinkled-up woman in an adjoining room. The doctor touches part of her flesh with the sweat, and it smoothens. The doctor injects a large amount of sweat into the woman, and she regresses to being middle-aged. The doctor calls for more sweat, so the scientist turns up the heat, as high as 175°F in the oven-chamber, causing the band members to sweat even more. Their sweat drains into a sort of water cooler, where the doctor collects a glass of it. She gives this to the woman, and when she drinks it, her youth returns. However, she is still not satisfied, so she orders and drinks another dose and turns into an alien mutant. She loves the new look and pays the doctor. When this is all done, the heat lamps are turned off, and the room now seems to appear very cold. The band punch out their time cards and walk out.

Soundgarden – Black Hole Sun

Speaking of disturbing videos, I think it is safe to say this one gave me nightmares for a while.
I am pretty sure I had not even entered my teens when this came out.

Video description taken from Wikipedia:

The surreal and apocalyptic music video for “Black Hole Sun” was directed by Howard Greenhalgh,[20] produced by Megan Hollister for Why Not Films (London, England), shot by Ivan Bartos, and features post-production work by 525 Post Production (Hollywood, California) and Soho 601 Effects (London). The video follows a suburban neighborhood and its inhabitants which are eventually swallowed up by a black hole, while the band performs the song somewhere in an open field. In the video, Cornell can be seen wearing a fork necklace given to him by Shannon Hoon of Blind Melon.[1] In an online chat, the band stated that the video “was entirely the director’s idea”, and added, “Our take on it was that at that point in making videos, we just wanted to pretend to play and not look that excited about it.”[21] Thayil said that the video was one of the few Soundgarden videos the band was satisfied with.[22]

The video was released in June 1994.[23] After several weeks of airplay on MTV, a second version of the video was substituted containing more elaborate visual effects than the original, including the addition of a computer-generated black hole.

Radiohead – Just

Now I would like to think I have watched my share of disturbing videos but I have to say this one holds a special place in my heart. It creates a subtle hint of unease and sort of relates to the literature I enjoy reading.

Also, Radiohead are awesome.

Description of the video taken from Wikipedia:

The single’s video was directed by Jamie Thraves, who was hand-picked by the band after they saw several of his experimental short films. It was shot near Liverpool Street Station in London, and intersperses footage of Radiohead playing the song inside an apartment with scenes of a middle-aged man (played by Dorian Lough) who lies down in the middle of the pavement just outside of the apartment building. People start to gather, thinking that something must be wrong with the man, and the band are shown looking out the window at the events below. A heated (subtitled) conversation between the man and the crowd develops, as the people start demanding to know what the man is doing and why he is lying there. In subtitles, the man finally gives in and says, “Yes I’ll tell you, I’ll tell you why I’m lying here… but God forgive me… and God help us all… because you don’t know what you ask of me.” The camera zooms in on his mouth as the man finally gives the answer, but the subtitles have now stopped, leaving what he said open to the viewer’s interpretation. As the camera zooms back out, it shows the pavement covered with the crowd of people, all lying down just like the man. The video is available on Radiohead’s 7 Television Commercials DVD and the EMI released Radiohead: The Best Of DVD.

Day 3 – Mission Accomplished!

Success!

I am now done with adding my existing reviews to the Lair, so anything I post from now on is brand new.

I have also finished putting together the index on the Book Reviews page at the top.
It should be alphabetically ordered by author and books. That way, if you are looking for a specific book, you can go there and click the link to my post about it.

Over time I may or may not create another page for any photographs I take, places I have visited and so on, or just random thoughts accompanied by the pictures, as well as a page for Movie reviews, although I haven’t watched any in quite a while.

What do you think? Do you find these tools appealing and user-friendly?

Please feel free to post your thoughts and suggestions.

Have a great weekend!

Seed

Seed
by Lisa Heathfield

Rating: 3.85/5

The theme of Seed is one I consider particularly scary because it is so real. This actually happens in real life; I have watched reports on cults and am completely baffled at how they strip people from their personality and how the children born into them never knew and probably do not even want to know that there is another reality.

Seed portrays that reality so very well. It’s quite breath-taking reading about a girl who is discovering for the first time everything we take for granted. How she lives in complete bliss because she truly believes everything that is fed to her. How she simply cannot comprehend how someone would want anything other than the perfection she lives in. And how, when someone comes up who tries and explain to her some realities of the world, she simply cannot accept them as true because it goes against everything she was taught her whole life.
All the rituals and rules make perfect sense in the utter controlling environment. You can absolutely see how they would cause Pearl and the others to blindly believe what they are told. I think this is very well done. It’s not like she is stupid. She simply cannot conceive a different reality, because everything that is done there has a justification, one not only plausible but perfect, according to the world she grew up in. This dynamics was brilliantly developed in the book.
The sexual abuse is never openly stated but you know it’s there. And part of the ending was unexpected.

I do think some things could have been better addressed:

– In the beginning of the book, for a long time there didn’t seem to be any other days under than fridays, the day they were allowed to do whatever they wanted; I would have liked to know more about what the family did on the regular days, particularly our main character. We rarely hear about her picking fruit and stuff. The day has 24 hours; what exactly do they do the whole time?

– I think the romance line here was not very believable. I can totally understand Pearl falling for Ellis but not the other way around. He has been on the ‘Outside’. He should find Pearl beyond naïve, simply uninteresting. There is not a single clue that points to her being remotely appealing to him. It seems to me he should be much more drawn to Kate, for example. Granted, there was no obvious romance, but still, the whole ‘I won’t go anywhere without you‘s just didn’t stick to me.

– While the author has done a brilliant job creating a character growing up in this environment, how they would act and think, I believe the transition to when she finally starts realizing what is going on is not very well achieved. It felt to me that one minute she loved Papa S. and the next she hated him. I know there was effort there, but it just wasn’t believable to me. She never even found out what being a companion actually meant, but yet she seemed to loathe it in the end.
I would also like to know what happened to Papa S.’ beard.
I could have done without the whole Elizabeth and Sylvie’s spirits speaking to Pearl thing and especially the vision of her mother stepping over Papa S. It almost disrespects the narrative.

– And finally, I know that they completely believe what they are told but you cannot tell me a bunch of teenagers, in an age where their hormones are probably roaring, feel nothing when looking at each other in their wet underwear. Particularly the boys, it ought to ‘show’, if you know what I mean.

I am giving the book 4 stars because, despite the downsides, the writing made me feel what the character was feeling. Seed is written in a way which can be appreciated by young and older adults alike. It actually made me appreciate nature more, for instance. Not to mention freedom. Something so many of us take of granted. I wonder… What is worse? Being trapped or not realizing you are trapped at all? As they say, ignorance is bliss…

Read from February 17 to 19, 2015
GR Review

I would like to thank the publisher and Netgalley for providing a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.