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Kingdom of the Wicked  - Derek Landy ETA: Second read finished, just in time for book eight next week. It's still pretty damn powerful, and I think I noticed more details this time around - details that should very likely be relevant for Last Stand of Dead Men.

I'm not ready for LSODM. I'm really not. But at the same time, I can't wait. (Knowing that there will be one more book after LSODM, I'm relatively sure some people will have to survive. Probably.)

Original comments from 1 August 2012:

Just finished, and...

A more coherent review will have to wait for the re-read, I think. Because right now I have extreme problems putting my thoughts into words.

It was, well... more than I expected. Also, more serious, more plotty, more grown-up. There was still plenty of humour, and lots and lots of wonderfully gory violence, but overall, I'm now anticipating the next book with an equal share of fear and lust. (Can one lust for a book? One can, right?)

So many gutpunches in this one, for the reader.

God, I love Skulduggery.

I think I'm going to cry once this series is over in just two more books. Whichever way it ends, I'm going to cry.
Spore (Doctor Who 50th Anniversary E-Shorts, #8) - Alex Scarrow Spore, the Eight Doctor story in the Doctor Who 50th Anniversary series, is ... well, it's a perfectly passable story.

The writing is decent, the plot okay, there's some nice bits about Gallifreyan history, the brand new supporting character created by Scarrow (considering Eight rather lacks TV canon travel companions, making up a new stand-in was quite okay by me) wasn't particularly remarkable or memorable but neither was she awful.

Three stars because, once again, I just cannot find a short story satisfying enough - it wasn't a bad effort but I didn't really connect with it on any level at all.
Death Bringer - Derek Landy ETA 22.08.2013: third re-read, review not changed (except that I obviously know a little bit more about the "what next" things, but not yet everything).

When I read this for the first time, way back in late August, the only comment I could summon was "whoah".

Then I let it simmer for a month, and then picked it up again for a re-read. This time, I didn't devour it in five hours - instead, I took it nice and slow, spending nearly a week with it, savouring every bit of it.

And my main comment is still "whoah". Even though I now knew all the twists and reveals and jokes and heartbreaking moments there were. But it was just that good, also the second time around, now that I had time to linger over certain passages, appreciate the light-hearted moments, wince at what I knew was coming...

Of the series so far, this is my favourite. Not necessarily because of the twist and the reveals, but ... I enjoyed the plot, but this, more than any of the previous books, was all about Valkyrie and Skulduggery and their relationship. The latter was certainly put to test here, and ... I think my heart broke there, for a moment, before it got better again.

Not everyone is going to love this one; not even every fan of the series so far. Those who complained about the darkness in Dark Days and Mortal Coil in particular will find this one, with the extra helpings of gore and violence, even worse, I suspect. Because, oh yes, there was gore, and there was violence, and I can see that many would hesitate to give this book to their nine-year-old (although I'd suspect that nine-year-old would be far more likely to go "ohh, co-ooooooool!" about it all than their mother would; then again, I'm the age of the typical mother of a typical nine-year-old and I thought "ohh, co-oooool!" too, so who knows).

I love these characters. I do. The more twisted and grey they get, the more we find out about them, the more fascinating they become - it's that struggle, that struggle with their own nature, which makes them so wonderful. Skulduggery is on a path towards redemption, but by following him, Valkyrie is now on a path towards tidal waves of darkness - oh yes, she doesn't want to, but which part of her is going to win? And China... oh, China. The past is catching up with her, as it is with Skulduggery. Where will they go from here?

I'm so intensely curious about what is going to happen in the next book and the final trilogy in general. Kenny's story, framing this book as it was, left so many possibilities dangling in the air. What is going to happen?

I have my theories, but I trust they will all be wrong, and I'm going to love being wrong.

Now... all that said, the reason I'm giving this book five stars is because I loved, loved, loved it. Objectively, it's not perfect. There are bits - especially some of the parts with Caelan - that, well, felt a little lazy. I mean, I loved them; I laughed, I rolled my eyes, I enjoyed them, but honestly, to me that didn't come off as Landy's best writing ever. Of course the whole Caelan thing was always going to be a parody of Twilight, but at times, it came off a bit too much as a cheap shot at it. Still, I liked the message, and making fun of Twilight is just fine as far as I'm concerned, so I'm not all that bothered about it.

And I'd have liked an explanation about the Alice/Alison name change - I'm willing to believe this wasn't a mistake and Alice is a nickname for Alison, but it didn't really come off as one. Or why wasn't Ravel counted among the Dead Men when Ghastly named them at the Ball? Did he leave Ravel out because he was still angry with him? Had Ravel not joined the others yet at that point? Or was it just an error that no one caught? Add those bits to the occasional typo and missed word, and I think another round of copy-editing might have done the book a world of good... that said, the problems weren't major enough to take me out of the story.
The Game (Mary Russell, #7) - Laurie R. King I'm trying so hard to pace myself with these books, because I just don't want to risk getting tired before getting done, or exhausting the series too quickly, but, well, best laid plans and all that.

Anyway, this was another very enjoyable read. It did take me a bit to get into the right mindset this time - I'm not really sure why - and certain things, while absolutely understandable and reasonable in context of time period, class, necessity and so on and so forth do require a conscious decision to accept and/or ignore.

On the plus side, while Russell and Holmes spend a considerable amount of time separated, as usual, I almost found their relationship stronger than in some of the previous books, perhaps because the affection they have for each other was a little more obvious this time. I love them as partners in crime (or in the solving of crime, as it may be), but while I don't require a lot of overt romance, it is good to see a glimpse of these two being more than merely two people working together.
Earth Star (Earth Girl, #2) - Janet  Edwards I enjoyed Earth Girl a great deal - enough to pre-order Earth Star, even though I was a little worried: would the second book stand up? Would it be as good?

It did, and it was. I'm sort of hovering between four and five stars here, really - it's only a few minor things that don't quite allow me to give it the full five (which I'm trying hard not to hand out happily to every single book I've enjoyed).

Anyway. The story in Earth Star picks up very soon from where Earth Girl ended, and builds directly on the events of that first book, so I'm rather glad I didn't have a long wait between the two (although major points are recapped, briefly). Jarra, the main character, is a bit more balanced and clearly a bit more mature in this one - she's still a teenager, and she's not done a 180° turn, obviously, so there's still some impulsiveness, some hesitation, trouble with opening up and all that, which makes a lot of sense, but I've enjoyed seeing her actually develop from the (understandably) angry girl of the first book into someone who will almost certainly become a mature adult some day.

I'm generally not one for teen romance in books, but I have to say I like Jarra and Fian. Fian is such a thoroughly decent young man, which is so refreshing. He's a capable, intelligent boy; he's not a doormat, and he's got enough sense to put his foot down when needed, and he's just genuinely decent, funny and respectful (when needed) that, well ... as I said, it's a refreshing change from all the usual dangerous bad boys in YA books. (Also, no triangles. And while Jarra and Fian hit it off pretty quickly in the first book, it doesn't come off as the usual YA insta-love - there's physical attraction, certainly, but they've also got problems, and they're actually working at their relationship.)

Also, I adore Playdon. Like Fian, he's just also so thoroughly decent. It's so nice to have characters like that. I was really hoping that this book would continue enough from the first one to keep the same cast of characters, and it did - and to my great relief Playdon was still in it, too. :D

As far as plot goes ... on the one hand, when I'm being a realist, it is, of course, rather silly to believe that the military would draft an 18-year-old - granted, an 18-year-old with skills and experience far above average for her age group, but still a relatively inexperienced 18-year-old - into a significant role for a First Contact situation. We all know it wouldn't happen - not on 21st century Earth, and probably not some centuries in the future either.

On the other hand, a relatively inexperienced teenager taking charge and achieving the impossible is a staple of YA fiction, speculative and otherwise. There's a legion of very young literary heroes doing the impossible - and being handed the responsibility to do stuff by their elders. It's a convention of the genre, and one where I'm perfectly willing to suspend disbelief. In this particular case, I appreciated how this was actually pointed out, repeatedly, by Jarra herself - and how there was at least a good attempt to explain it in the narrative, to give reasons for it. And the way it happened, basically going from Jarra being drafted to flush out the more prejudiced members of the Alien Contact teams to deciding to make her the face of the campaign (after she made some good suggestions and offered a fresh and different angle), while making it very clear that the experienced people, the experts, were doing most of the hard behind-the-scenes work - that worked for me well enough.

Niggling issue (that is at least partly responsible for the loss of that fifth star): I loved Playdon "flashing his evil grin" the first three times or so. But at one point in the middle of the book, it happened just way too often. Half the times would have sufficed.
Justice Hall (Mary Russell, #6) - Laurie R. King I'm sure that objectively, there'd be plenty of things to point out as not perfect in this book, or to complain about, or what not, but ... for me, it was pretty much what a book should be.

Not much of a review, I know, but, well, what can one do?
The Holders - Julianna Scott Okay, so "ordinary kid finds out one day that he/she has magic, turns out to be very powerful, has to fight Evil Enemy who wants to destroy the world and Powerful Kid is the only one with the power to stop the Evil Enemy" is ... not exactly a unique, original premise.

That is not a problem. No, really. I mean, yeah, it gets used a lot, but a lot of basic plots/premises do, and as a premise, it's not that bad. Cliché, yes, but it promises action and adventure and fun and magic and ... basically, a lot of great stuff that I like, if the story built on that promise is solid and the characters good.

Unfortunately The Holders was sorely lacking in both. I liked the first third or so of the book. I thought that yeah, well, I've seen all this before, and Becca, the heroine, is a bit annoying, but her heart's in the right place and she's just had a whole lot of stuff to deal with, and whatever, and basically this sounds good and exciting and I'm going to love this.

That was not to be. If I hadn't read this in ebook form on my beloved Kindle, I might actually have been tempted to throw the book down in disgust at some point or another. As it is, I barely skimmed the final parts as I'd completely lost interest.

Flat characters. Oh god, were they flat. Also, all the "good" people loved and adored Becca; but you know, the one character who has a crooked nose and is old and ugly and doesn't care for her is bound to turn out to be a bad guy - which of course no one else would believe, because they all trust him, but Becca, being an obnoxious teenager who labels someone a "jerk" 0.5 seconds after first seeing him because crooked nose and old and ugly and not instantly wooed by her, knows better.

Insta-love. OH GOD was there insta-love. Soulmate bonding insta-love for that matter. Five seconds after first meeting the - of course gorgeous, wonderful, incredible - young man, there was insta-love and pining. I could even deal with that at first because there was refreshing self-awareness in Becca at first, realising that this was a crush and it was silly to crush someone five seconds after meeting someone but, well, she couldn't turn it off either, and ... then it turned the entire rest of the book into soppy gooey lovey-dovey stuff. I think the plot kinda disappeared at that point. Bad guys? Saving the world? Huh? Who cares, when there is a boy to pine for?

And Becca's complete and utter stupidity really clinched it for me. She was supposed to be some genius-level supersmart teen and what not? Graduating at fifteen, accepted into all the best universities whenever she felt like joining? While whining over "language learning sucks, too complicated, grammar is stupid, I don't wanna do this, let's drop out after one hour" and never learning anything? Uh, yeah. Whatever.

Also, wilful ignorance and obnoxiousness never wins points with me. Teenage stubbornness is one thing, stupidity is another, and the kind of "shut up I'm not interested" stuff when people try to tell you important things is yet another thing again. Urgh. Also, she was just laughably stupid about the whole Alex thing, but whatever.

Also, I still wonder where the plot went to. Maybe there'll be more books following, where it returns? Bad guy? Trying to end the world? There was something that felt like a not very good attempt to build up for future stuff, but ... I'm not going to be reading that, if so.

Two stars only because I did enjoy the first third of the book. The rest ... not so much.
Biting Bad (Chicagoland Vampires, #8) - Chloe Neill It took me a bit to get back into the world of Merit, Ethan and Chicago's finest house of vampires, probably both because I've been drifting away from urban fantasy lately and because some of the previous books in the series felt a little tired to me, as if the author was starting to run out of juice, but this eighth instalment turned out to be a great return to form.

The plot didn't offer anything shockingly original, but it was solid, there was some nice action and another few steps forward in the general political arc, and - and this took me by surprise - this was the first book where I'm not even going to complain about Merit/Ethan. Maybe it's because they're so solidly a couple now; maybe it's because Ethan (while I still find his physical description about as far from appealing as can be) is finally growing on me, largely thanks to being more than a possessive alpha/Master but also a man whom, as I finally see and believe, genuinely cares for Merit.
O Jerusalem (Mary Russell, #5) - Laurie R. King Hovering between 4 and 5 stars for this one ... 4.5, really, and very close to rounding it up to five, but in the end I think it's a smidgen closer to the Goodreads rating of "I really liked it" than to "it was amazing".

Anyway, I really did enjoy this much more fleshed-out return to the Palestine & Jerusalem visit barely touched on in the very first book in this series, both because it was an excellent mixture of adventure and mystery, and because I loved getting another glimpse of Holmes and Russell in their pre-married state.

I've enjoyed the more sedate pace of a few of the previous books, but this more action-filled tale was a wonderful change that, I think, fits well into this point of the series. I grew to enjoy the characters of Ali and Mahmoud, and the friendship of Holmes and Russell - filled with righteous (and quite understandable) irritation at times on her side as it was, while at the same time so obviously full of deep affection and caring for each other - was a joy to read.

Also, I think in this book even more than in any of the previous ones, I got a real, proper, strong sense of time and place - I don't often feel "transported" into the setting of the book I'm reading, but this time, it almost did feel like it.
The Moor (Mary Russell, #4) - Laurie R. King Perhaps a little weaker in imagination and general themes than the previous three books, but it held a certain charm for me - including those interminable ramblings across the moor.

I could have wished for a little more Holmes, once again, because I do like the moments of him and Russell working together, as partners, very much indeed (and I cherish the rare moments in which we are assured that as much as he can sometimes try her patience, their bond is as strong as ever and the affection still mutual, still there), but the book worked well for me as it was and the plot kept me intrigued (I must be the only person in existence who has no familiarity with The Hound of the Baskervilles other than the title!).
The Cuckoo's Calling - Robert Galbraith A really nice, solid, enjoyable murder mystery. I can't say it particularly blew me away in any way, or that it was head and shoulders above other good novels in this genre, but in spite of the rather slow pace it never once bored me and the characterisations, in true JKR fashion, were excellent.

I admit I didn't think I'd like Cormoran Strike a lot from his first appearance in this book, but he definitely grew on me, and both he and Robin are characters I'd gladly read more books with. So here's hoping that there will indeed be more Strike books in the future, even if the secret's out about the author now.
A Letter of Mary (Mary Russell, #3) - Laurie R. King I enjoyed this one as well, quite a bit, but somehow I find myself at an utter lack of things to say about it. :-/
A Monstrous Regiment of Women (Mary Russell, #2) - Laurie R. King I approached this second book in the Mary Russell series with a certain apprehension - after enjoying the first one so much, I wasn't at all sure if the next books in the series, by necessity different in tone, would give me as much enjoyment.

It did and it didn't.

I thought the book excellent - it was certainly a much more coherent narrative, focusing more on one single storyline (as opposed to the multiple plots, interconnected as they were, in the first book) and without the hops and jumps in time. I also found the theological parts more coherent and easier for a completely non-religious person such as myself to follow - either they were explained better, or they just made more sense in the narrative, being a necessary part of it.

While yes, this was a murder mystery, with chases, kidnappings, injuries and deaths, the feminist (and theological) aspects were, to me, much more pronounced and important than the mystery plot, which felt almost incidental, there to support the deeper ruminations of the characters. This, even more than the first book, felt like Mary's coming to age tale, and while my main complaint (and a major reason of rating this a mere four stars instead of five) is that there wasn't enough Holmes in here for my preferences, I do think that after the more introductory nature of the first book, this one was needed to establish Mary as a capable, intelligent and independent adult, able to function and work also without Holmes' continuous presence by her side.

He was always there though, of course, in her thoughts, and I loved the development of that relationship, through the awkward parts of mutual - if unspoken - understanding of the nature of things changing, the frustration, the apprehension of letting their relationship change into something else, something more, with the potential to destroy that existing partnership of best friends.

I'm certainly curious to see how things will change now that they're married and this tentative, careful pre-romantic relationship part is over.
The Beekeeper's Apprentice (Mary Russell, #1) - Laurie R. King Closer to 4.5 stars than five, but I can't quite find it in myself to lower it down to four, even if I couldn't fully embrace the more theological bits in it, and I felt poor Dr Watson was perhaps left aside a little too harshly.

But other than that, this was a joy to read, and ... well, yes. It's pretty much written for me, really, having more or less everything I could want in a book. (Considering my obsession in the last few years has been another series, a rather different one, where a much older brilliant and feared detective takes a young, sharp-tongued teenage girl under his wing, as an apprentice and assistant at first but quickly becoming best friends and partners who mean the world to each other, with tantalising hints of something more being, maybe, possible in the future, I was also amused by seeking out and finding the parallels, although I doubt they're anything but coincidental.)

Anyway. Yes. This was lovely, and wonderful, and just what I needed. (The mysteries were good, too. :P Well, good enough for me, anyway.) And needless to say, I plan to read more, although I have a niggling feeling this first book will be hard to surpass.

(I do admit I'm not exactly what one could call familiar with the Sherlock Holmes canon. I've never managed to immerse myself in Conan Doyle's Sherlock books, in spite of enjoying his non-Sherlock writings, and no TV version I've attempted to watch over the years has kept my attention. This, frankly, was why I was hesitant for a long time to try this book and this series. I don't know how "canon" or "in character" this version of Sherlock Holmes is, and I can see and understand people deriding this as glorified fanfic, with Mary being not much else than a Mary Sue, but ... it worked for me, and in a literary world where capable, skilled, intelligent, educated, well-liked young male characters, orphans and otherwise, have long been accepted as normal, I have absolutely no problems accepting a similar character who happens to be a young woman instead.)
Ashes - Ilsa J. Bick Wavering between three and four stars, but ultimately it's a bit more towards "I liked it" than "I really liked it", so three it is.

I have a feeling this is one of those books where the verdict depends very much on what kind of a mood one is in when reading. Some other time, it wouldn't have worked for me (e.g. last year, when I bought it, and then realised I was rather overdosed on dystopian and/or post-apocalyptic YA fiction, if I'd actually tried reading it at the time, I'd have tired of it quickly, I suspect); today, it was just what I needed. I actually read the entire book in one day, which isn't something that happens a lot these days.

I sort of liked the world-building (although I'm not at all sure about the plausibility of the scientific explanations given for certain people dying and others changing and yet others surviving as they were) - plausible or not, it was internally (relatively) consistent and I've read and tolerated flimsier plot devices.

Characters ... now that was more of a problem. I actually liked Alex well enough, which helped, but most others fell flat, and the romance was rather cardboardy. Oh, and I could really have done without the triangle thing. Sigh.

The pacing worked great for me though and I was never bored, and that counts for quite a bit for me in books like this. I'm pretty sure I'm going to read at least the second book in the trilogy, too, seeing as I've had that one for a while already as well, but I'm not sure it'll happen any time soon.

Viimane inimene Atlantisest

Viimane inimene Atlantisest - Aleksandr Beljajev,  Kati Karu,  Александр Беляев An potentially interesting enough take on the last days of Atlantis from this early/classic scifi author, it was however far too short and not nearly fleshed out enough for me to truly enjoy - characterisations remained superficial and too much of it felt like an awkward mess between action adventure and a morality tale.

Also, I may be a grammar snob and/or purist, but I truly wish that both the translator and the editor (if one existed) knew that "similar to" phrases require comitative case in Estonian, not allative. Blegh. Yes, it's a sadly common mistake, but that doesn't make it any better.

(Also, I have no idea why I'm commenting the Estonian translation of a Russian book in English. Habit? It just feels weird to not comment in English on Goodreads when all my previous several hundreds of reviews have been in that...)