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Kribu

I have to admit I'm actually glad this series is going to be over next year, with just one book left to go. It's been a fun, exciting, awesome ride - but it's definitely time for it to be over soon.

I've been complaining about the formulaic-ness of these books for a while now, I think, and this was really no exception. The quest-based formula in itself doesn't really lend itself to a lot of change, it seems - sure, it's exciting and all that (although I admit I struggled with the first half of this one; it was rather slow going not because of the plot, but because I found it hard to stay engaged and to care), but the basic story is the same.

Every. Single. Time.

Demigods have to do stuff, demigods go out on a quest, meet some monsters, kill some monsters, are in life-threatening situations, kill some more monsters, finish the quest more or less victoriously but the victory never means it's all over - nope, they have to start all over again.

This is the formula. It works, because, as I said, it's a formula that allows for an exciting, fast-paced, entertaining adventure. It's just that after nine books, I find it harder and harder to stay engaged - the feeling of deja vu is stronger with every book.

All that said, The House of Hades was by no means a bad book - not at all.

 

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Hmm.

I finally got around to importing my books & reviews from Goodreads. (Didn't want to rush to it as I assumed the import feature might be busy when the GR exodus started!)

 

Still not entirely sure yet I like Booklikes well enough to use it actively - the Tumblr-like format is a little uncomfortable for me (to use, not in any emotional sense). We'll see, I suppose. I'm not particularly worried about any of my GR reviews or shelves getting deleted, as I've tended to stay away from controversial authors or books, but it's nice to have a backup of my read books & reviews in any case.

 

At least the import seems to have worked well enough, if lacking in a lot of book covers and using wrong or weird covers for other books. (Is there actually a way to correct a wrong book cover? At a quick look, at least one book seems to have acquired the cover of a completely different book, with another title and all, and I can't find any place to correct this.)

House of Secrets  - Chris Columbus, Ned Vizzini I didn't adore this book - it lacked a bit of something I can't really put my finger on (depth? character depth?) but it was an entertaining, fun children's fantasy adventure.

Of course when I say "children's", I have to pause; I'm not really entirely sure whether it's meant to be a children's book or YA - the protagonists ranged from eight to fifteen, and while it mostly seemed to be aimed at younger kids, I got the feeling it tried consciously to go for crossover appeal with shoehorning in some wannabe teen romance (while being very cautious about it) and I'm not sure it was an altogether successful attempt.

Anyway. For younger readers (those not too squeamish anyway), I think this would be awesome fun - there are mediaeval savage warriors, there are giants, there are pirates, there is fighting, there are life-threatening situations, there is magic...

For older readers, I did feel something was missing. At ~550 pages, even if rather large-print pages, this was a reasonably long book, so even though it's only the first in a series, I'd have been happier with a bit more character development. There was an attempt at it, true, but to me it fell a bit flat (probably not helped by the fact that I never really warmed to any of the kids - they were okay, but not gripping).

That said, there's clearly a larger plot at play, and I'm rather looking forward to seeing where that goes - and I've read enough series where the first book just sets the stage with a rather straightforward adventure and the rest then take some time to develop into something with much more depth, later on. I'm not incredibly sure this is going to happen here, but it was entertaining enough that I'm happy to read on, whenever the next book comes out.

The next Harry Potter this isn't, in any case; I'm pretty sure of that.
The Last Policeman: A Novel - Ben H. Winters I can't really decide what I felt about this book. It was interesting, certainly, but mostly in the concepts - maybe I was just too tired when reading it, but for some reason it never gripped me, no matter how much I hoped it would.

The murder part of the plot was decent enough, and the whole pre-apocalyptic bit - how different people act and react when there's half a year to the end of the world - was, in theory, fascinating, but in practice... as I said, it just failed to grip me. Might have been the pacing, might have been the main character (if I ever read "holy moly" again, it will be too soon); not sure.

I might some day read the next book, because, again, the concept was great, and I'm vaguely curious as to what might happen in that world, but ... not sure.
Not a Drop to Drink - Mindy McGinnis Can't quite decide how to rate it - it feels like a better book than three stars, but on the other hand, I'm not sure I can say "really liked it" about it, so... three it is.

There were definitely things about it that I liked - fairly solid writing, survival story rather than one girl trying to take on the government or what not, relatively less-used scenario of the country running out of drinkable water (I never felt that was explained in a truly satisfactory way, though). Lynn's growing up was well done, and I liked how she didn't instantly change into mushy needs-protection girl the moment the love interest boy turned up - and I rather liked the way that love interest thing ended up, too; it felt fitting with the rest of the book and the way things happened.

Also, I liked Stebbs.

On the other hand, I guess I didn't feel the book quite measured up to the hype I'd been seeing before its release - it was a relatively standard, straightforward post-apocalyptic-ish survival story, all grim and stuff. Competent and interesting enough, but not groundbreaking or phenomenal - and while I liked the main characters well enough, I suspect that in a week I'll have forgotten all about them and their sufferings.
Model Misfit (Geek Girl #2) - Holly Smale This was pretty much as enjoyable as Geek Girl, the first book was - lots of humour but also quite a bit of depth & realism to it (certainly more than one might expect from a funny teen-girl-turns-model book).

I honestly didn't expect to enjoy these books as much as I have - contemporary YA doesn't tend to be my thing, and all I know of modelling comes from seeing bits and pieces of 's Next Top Model. But enjoy them I have, and largely thanks to Harriet; there's something about her character and her voice that makes me smile.
The Thin Man - Dashiell Hammett Meh. Choppy writing, dull banter, uninteresting characters. And I think I got second-hand alcohol poisoning just by reading this book.
The Beast of Babylon (Doctor Who 50th Anniversary E-Shorts, #9) - Charlie Higson Not a bad story at all, but it suffered from the same problem I've had with nearly all of these stories - a lengthy, relatively detailed introduction followed by the middle part (where the actual plot happens) that is hurried and not nearly meaty enough, and a short, rushed ending.

I wasn't initially happy to find out Nine wouldn't have Rose as his companion in this one, both because I liked Rose a lot better with the Ninth Doctor than with Ten and because I expect this means she'll be in Ten's story instead of Martha or Donna (both of whom I liked much better in Ten's era), and, well, Nine & Rose just seem like an inseparable package deal.

That said, and slight disappointment aside, I actually ended up liking the way this was handled. It was nice to get an alien as a companion even though she thought and acted a bit too human-like for me to suspend disbelief entirely - I assume it was part of the whole reveal, to make Ali sound like a regular human girl to start with and then only gradually reveal that she's not from Earth and then, in a way clearly designed to surprise the reader, describe her very much alien looks and beliefs. And also, it fit into the canon TV timeline better than I'd expected, and Rose was certainly present enough in spirit, if not in body.

The plot itself... not the worst I've read and not the best I've read. Ancient Babylon was a cool destination, but I felt the Starman part of the plot was rather weak.

On the plus side, I could actually hear Christopher Eccleston's voice for Nine's dialogue, so at least to me, Higson got Nine's voice down just right.
Fangirl - Rainbow Rowell Fangirl is not a particularly exceptional book in any way, but it is a good book.

I enjoyed it pretty much from beginning to end (although I admit to skimming some bits towards the end, when Cath and Levi spent a while doing nothing but making out, which was rather, well ... I don't want to say dull, but it didn't interest me, and also several of both the fictional Simon Snow excerpts and the fanfiction excerpts).

Oddly enough, considering I've been a fangirl for a very long time now, I think the fanfic parts - while I appreciated what the author was trying to do - were the weakest, and not just because they weren't particularly good; I've just never managed to be interested in fanfic for anything I'm not actively a fan of myself and as much as it was clear that Simon Snow was, uh, heavily modelled on Harry Potter, it didn't really come off as anything I would be a fan of...

Other than that, I found the book good. I liked the characters - well, Cath, mostly - although I didn't actually get attached to them; I found Cath's development realistic and believable; and I was glad to see the author "got" fanfic and fandom reasonably well.

(Any time those concepts make it to mainstream publications, fiction or non-fiction, I approach it with a certain trepidation - far too many people who write about it just don't get it at all, and I'm always slightly worried that there'll be some kind of moralising of the "okay, now you're an adult, you should stop doing this childish thing and get invested in real life / real writing" kind.)

It was good to see this didn't happen in Fangirl - Cath was allowed to grow up and develop without having to give up an essential part of herself, to cast aside something she's enjoyed for years just because she's almost a grown-up now.
The Dream Thieves (The Raven Cycle, #2) - Maggie Stiefvater It's probably me, and not the book, but .. yeah. This was a struggle to get through, from beginning to end, and while there were a handful of nice moments, overall it was a mighty disappointment.

Not even going to bother with the third book in the series. Going from having loved The Raven Boys to this .. eh, I really wish there'd been something - anything - in this one that I could have enjoyed, but there just wasn't anything.

Even the characters bored me. Ronan in particular irritated me to no end - he must be the most perfectly clich├ęd paranormal YA bad boy ever, all tortured and broken and dark and dangerous and yet with a soft centre and mysterious and magical and dangerous and ... also, if I ever see "dangerous" applied to a person in narration again, it will be too soon. Ick. Adam ... well, Adam I mostly wanted to punch in the face. And Blue and Gansey were pretty much non-entities. As for Noah, I think the author forgot about Noah in the end as well; I certainly did.

I can't say much about the plot because 90% of this book seemed to be taken up by cars. Boys caressing cars. Boys sniffing cars. Boys wanting to make love to cars. Boys waxing lyrically about cars. Boys getting high on the smell of vinyl and gasoline. Boys streetracing. Boys dreaming about cars. Boys talking about cars. Cars, cars, cars.

I'm not a car person. I don't really like cars. So, this wasn't just dull but excruciatingly dull. :-/

Locked Rooms (Mary Russell, #8)

Locked Rooms (Mary Russell, #8) - Laurie R. King Not among my favourite of this series, but still very readable.

It took me longer to get into this than it did with the previous books, possibly because this was the most introspective of the books so far, focusing on Mary's past and her issues regarding facing that past, remembering it. Once I got into it, I did enjoy it - and the way the mysteries of her past were solved were really rather satisfying.
Devilish - Maureen Johnson This started off so well - I really enjoyed the first quarter or third of the book. Jane, the narrator and protagonist, had a great voice, snarky and funny without crossing the line to irritating, and I actually liked all that US highschool stuff.

Unfortunately for some reason once the paranormal stuff kicked in, either the book lost focus or I did, and while the last half of the book was still a quick, easy read (even though I wandered off to play Plants vs Zombies when my Kindle told me I only had 20 minutes left to read in the book, instead of just, well, getting it over with), it somehow lost its shine and ended up more "meh" than even "I liked it".
The Screaming Staircase - Jonathan Stroud Although this was one of my most anticipated new releases of 2013 - I basically preordered it the moment I heard about it - I approached it with a certain trepidation.

You probably know the kind: you've loved an author's previous work (in this case, for me, this was Stroud's Bartimaeus series) so very much that you're not really even sure you want to try their new work because it cannot possibly measure up.

Still, it sounded excellent, so I dove in predisposed to love it.

And ... there was a lot to like about it. There really was.

Lucy, for starters, is a very likeable protagonist; brave, sensible, yet impulsive and not numbed by her line of (very dangerous) work of ghost-busting. Her co-leads, Lockwood and George - Lockwood clearly designed to be likeable from the start, George less so but a character you grow to appreciate nevertheless.

The atmosphere - spooky. The world-building - imaginative and intriguing, this world that is so much like ours and yet not (a trait this series shares with the Bartimaeus books, although this is a rather different take on our contemporary-yet-changed world). The writing - wonderful, with some really lovely turns of phrase.

So... with all that said, why the three stars? I suppose it's more like three and a half, but I asked myself whether I liked this book or really liked this book, and came away with "well, liked, not really liked". I enjoyed it; it's a lot better than many other books I've rated worth three stars. On the other hand, there's the inevitable comparison not just with any other books but with my own expectations for Stroud's work, and this book just lacked that "wow" feeling that I had with the Bartimaeus books.

Not only because it didn't have a character I could instantly adore, as likeable as the cast was, but also because it just... I don't know, maybe I'm too old and jaded for this particular kind of book? I got the feeling it relied heavily on the spookiness, and while I appreciated the writing, it didn't once actually evoke any deeper feeling in me. I didn't feel the horrors, I didn't feel the fear. I just read a story. A well-written, interesting story where I wanted to know what would happen next, but I didn't get immersed in it.

I also wasn't quite convinced by the pacing: the book starts off with some excitement, which is then followed by a relatively lengthy flashback / backstory sequence, and only at about halfway into the book (i.e. over 200 pages in) did I start to get the feeling that now we're getting somewhere; that now the plot was starting to creep in (in hindsight, it had been there all along, or at least in that starting bits, but it didn't feel that way when reading). There was some excitement towards the end and a relatively decent mystery, at least.

All that said, I'm more than willing to give the next book(s) in this series a go - I trust that there will be more character development and less world-building history in the next books, which might help.

Invitation to Die

Invitation to Die - Helen  Smith Meh. I actually struggled to finish it - the writing was choppy and the characters stereotypes. It did have some interesting observations about people, but otherwise, I can't really say all that much about it.

Last Stand of Dead Men (Skulduggery Pleasant, #8)

Last Stand of Dead Men (Skulduggery Pleasant, #8) - Derek Landy 9 September 2013. OK, I think I've put it off long enough. For some reason, this is probably the hardest book for me to review, ever.

For starters, and for full disclosure, I should probably mention that it's hard for me to be completely unbiased. I am after all a character in this book - or rather there is a minor character in this book named after me (I'm not going to go as far as to say "inspired by me", even though she's sensible and reasonable and what not, ahem), amongst all the other dozen or so fan cameos who made it into this book, so... yeah.

Other than that (i.e. being a total fangirl of this series and of its author, posting on SP forums and interacting to an extent with other fans as well as the author online), I have no affiliation with either the author or the publisher. I have received no free copies in exchange for that five star review - in fact, I've already purchased three copies myself (Kindle to read + hardback & paperback to be signed) and, I suspect, will be buying some more.

Anyway. I don't want to spoil things too much, so I won't be going into plot detail, but be warned that there will be reactions here - and spoilers to the extent that have been hinted at in the description, or Derek's blog posts, or Derek's Twitter posts, i.e. anything publicly available before the book was released.

Of course, if you've read this far into this series - and have taken a look at the cover, with this cover art and the "No one is safe" tag line, it probably goes without saying that Things Happen in this book, and that not all of those things are fun, light-hearted and fluffy.

Overall impression: this is, without a doubt, in my opinion, the best Skulduggery Pleasant book written yet. By that I mean the plot, the twists, the writing, the sheer complexity of this eighth - and penultimate - full volume.

Is it my favourite book in the series? No. No, it's not. Mostly because of reasons - reasons that have to do with Last Stand of Dead Men leaving me heartbroken and crushed and numb once I was done.

"Children's book", they say. "Humour," they say. ... No. Yes, children can read it (if they're okay with all the bloodshed and the sexual innuendo, which by now isn't always even innuendo but pretty straightforward relationship stuff, or the swearing, which is very much present and IMHO very much justified when there), and yes, like every other SP book, it contains a lot of humour and howlingly funny moments and scenes and dialogue, but this is neither a children's book or a predominantly humorous book.

This is a book about war, and about betrayal, and about the things people do. The things good people do, when there is a need, and the things good people do, when they cannot resist the temptations and the lure of absolute power and freedom and magic any longer. It's a book about how far we - or the characters, anyway - are willing to go, and a book about the breaking points of strong people.

There is torture, and there is death, and there is bloodshed, and there is backstabbing, and there are political machinations, and yes, there is also love (because no matter how one interprets the love between Valkyrie and Skulduggery, whether one reads it as completely platonic or something a bit different, I can't see how one could deny it's there in so many ways, but Val & Skul, central to the book and the series as it is, is by far not the only relationship touched upon) and there is heartbreak and hurt and sadness.

I would love to talk about characters here, but that would take me straight into spoiler territory. Suffice it to say that Valkyrie's path - the path she has been on since the first book, the first day, but more pronouncedly since the end of Dark Days - has taken another turn, sharper than ever. And I have no idea - no idea at all! - how things will turn out in book nine, the final book. My heart is hoping for a happy ending; my head is saying it's not going to happen.

Skulduggery... Let's be honest, I've been in love with Skulduggery since his first appearance. Since I saw the cover of the first book, probably. But this book, this book made me fall in love with him all over again. He's magnificent when in charge, he's loveable even when jealous, he's sweet and adorable when smug... and truly, I think this was finally his book, one where we see him through the eyes of multiple people, not just Valkyrie.

And oh, how my heart aches for him.

If this is Skulduggery's book, it's also the book of a multitude of secondary characters. We get more points of view than ever before, more chapters from secondary characters' POV, and while I wished deep down that we'd focused more on Skul and Val instead, I do think the multiple points of view enriched the book, emphasized the sheer scope of it (as well as providing some much needed laughs at times, even if Scapegrace and Thrasher have become much more than just comic relief by now).

And then there were the twists and the reveals. One of them I had guessed, sort of - I was about 98% certain of the identity of a particular character, who until this book was only seen pulling strings behind the scenes, mostly by the process of elimination (or in other words, no matter how much I tried to assume otherwise, every hint, every path of reasoning kept leading me back to this one specific person). So when that reveal happened, I wasn't surprised by the who, but I was still shocked about the how.

Another of the Things That Happened... I had not expected. I hadn't expected it to happen in this book, in any case, or in this way. And that one hurt, even more than the first twist, and it's the primary reason why, for the first time in all these years I've been reading this series, I'm not anticipating the next (and final) book with excitement but rather dreading it.

That said, bring it on. I'm scared - terrified, in fact, and right now I'm nowhere near ready yet, emotionally, to face that final chapter in what has become my absolute favourite book series ever - but I trust Derek Landy and most importantly, I trust him to do what is needed, not what the readers might want, no matter how much it might hurt. (That said, I'd be delighted if "what is needed" turns out to be a happy ending, with Skul & Val walking hand in hand into the sunset. Heh.)

ETA 29 August 2013. I'm done. I've read it. And ...

Just. God. That's all.

I'll leave a review later, if I ever get my thoughts coherent enough. But .. wow. Okay. I don't think any book has had this kind of an emotional impact on me before, and I'm just .. reeling. Numb.



ETA 25 August 2013: SO I HAVE JUST LEARNED ONE TEENY TINY SPOILER ABOUT THIS BOOK AND I AM NOW GONE. NO. I AM IN THE BOOK. I am in this book. Cameo thingy. YES.

ETA 29 July 2013: ONE MORE MONTH. One more long, LONG month. How will I even survive this waiting?? Gah. I don't know if I've ever looked forward to a book more than this.


ETA 24 May 2013: I have officially died. THAT COVER. I ... I have feels, you see. So many feels. And with this cover, Derek & Tom Percival have caused my premature death.

*curls up in a corner, whimpers*

Yay! We have a title!
And even more yay! We have a synopsis! Which is making me wibble and quiver and shudder with worry. And with fear.
The Maleficent Seven (From the World of Skulduggery Pleasant) - Derek Landy ETA: Re-read; review below unchanged.

I admit: I expected this book to be fluffy fun, but considering that it's essentially a side story in the Skulduggery Pleasant universe, focusing entirely on secondary characters and not even featuring either Skulduggery or Valkyrie, my expectations were, well, somewhat limited.

Oh boy. Was I wrong.

Right now - admittedly, I'm still on that high from finishing it - I'd rank it as one of the very best of the entire SP series. It's shorter than the main series novels, yes, but being still novel-length, it fit in more than enough - plot, some excellent character stuff, back stories for several characters, lots of action and even a fair bit of romance (hey, it even has a love triangle of sorts - and anyone who knows me even a bit knows what I think about love triangles in general, but this being Derek, it was awesome, as usual).

The feels. Ye gads, the feels this book gave me. I officially managed to fall in love with Springheeled Jack. I loved the banter, both among the good guys and the bad guys. I enjoyed the action. I ... there are twists, towards the end, that I did not see coming. I came pretty damn close to tears at one of them.

I think this is as close as I can get to a "review" without getting into spoiler territory, and I just don't want to do that right now. But... yeah. Awesome.

I'm terrified of Last Stand of Dead Men, now. Not that I wasn't before, but... yeah.