Archive for book review

blood hunt [book review]

Posted in Books, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , , on October 28, 2018 by xi'an

I realised just lately that I had not read the early non-Rebus novels of Ian Rankin (written as Jack Harvey) and thus ordered cheap used copies of three of these, which waited for me on my (new) desk when I returned to Warwick. The first one I tried is Blood Hunt, a 1995 conspiracy novel that is so full of clichés that it feels like several volumes long..! I almost left it in the common room before heading back to Paris! To wit, a second-rate journalist is after a big international chemical corporation that is poisoning the entire planet. As he gets too close to exposing the truth, he is assassinated in the US. Fortunately, his brother is a super-hero, an ex SAS soldier, living on one of the Outer Hebrides in massive isolation and getting a living [while remaining very fit] by training “weekend soldiers”. If this sounds like too much of a coincidence, the story gets downhill from there and the suspension of belief gets so heavy that one could walk on it all the way from Uist to Skye! With the main character achieving on his own more than a dozen Jason Bourne, despite a horde of killers set after him. The only thing of interest in the book is how old it sounds, being set before 1995, with hardly any cell phone available and money running out of call cards. The action taking place in France is rather well documented, including a visit to Orly airport, except for the unfortunate mention that entries are found both left and right on the Périphérique! It is fortunate that Rankin chose to adopt a highly different perspective on a similar character when writing Knots & Crosses and creating Rebus, as I would not have possibly continued reading this type of books! And be waiting for getting my hands on the novel House of Lies, which I saw in the airport when leaving.

patterned random matrices [not a book review]

Posted in Books, pictures, Statistics, University life with tags , , , , , on October 24, 2018 by xi'an

grey sister [book review]

Posted in Statistics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 21, 2018 by xi'an

Unsurprisingly, as soon I got my hands on the second [hardcover] volume after Red Sister, Grey Sister, I could not resist reading it. Nursing a serious cold, gotten while visiting Warwick wearing only summer gear (!), helped and I thus spent my Sunday reading feverishly through Mark Lawrence’s latest book. As I enjoyed very much the first volume, immersing into the same “boarding school” atmosphere was easy, reuniting with most characters, including some I though had been dead and missing others I had not realised they had been killed (no spoiler, just my imperfect memory!).

“The greatest threat to any faith is not other faiths or beliefs but the corruption and division of its own message”
With this bias inherited from the earlier volume, read four weeks ago, I cannot say I did not enjoy the book. Actually, the first half of Grey Sister is more enjoyable than the first volume because the training of the young novices in the Sweet Mercy monastery gets more focused, with more complex challenges, and less boarding school bickering nonsense. Except for one main thread that weights too much on the plot in my opinion (no spoiler, again, as it is almost obvious from the start that the rivalry between Nona, the main character, and a high born novice is there for a purpose). There is an Ender’s Game moment that I particularly enjoyed, with an Alexander’s resolution of a Gordian knot, which comes to signal the end of the almost peaceful part. I liked very much less the second half, taking place on the run away from the Sweet Mercy monastery, where there are too many coincidences and too many intersections of paths that one wishes the author had gone for this Alexander’s resolution of a Gordian knot himself! I think the plot almost peters out at this stage and only survives by sheer inertia, too many boulders loose at once to all stop at the same time!
“The sky above was a deep maroon, shading towards black, strewn with dark ribbons of cloud that looked like lacerations where jagged peaks tore the heavens.”
The style is sometimes repetitive and sometimes on the heavy side, as the quote above I wish someone has re-read. Despite  the grand (and somewhat nefarious) schemes of Abbess Glass, the story is too homely, which may be why the part “at home” feels more convincing that the part outside. The main villain’s plans for taking power over the whole country and the artificial moon are incredible, unconvincing and definitely sketchy, even when explained in the middle of a royal brawl. However, the continued description of the ice-encased universe, saved from complete freeze by an artificial moon and four nuclear reactors, plus an increasing role of magic, make the background compelling and leave me eager for the final (?) volume in the series.

provenance [book review]

Posted in Books with tags , , , , , , , on October 6, 2018 by xi'an

While looking for a book to read in a café of Courtenay, B.C., I came upon a nice bookstore called Laughing Oyster (!) and among other findings, Provenance, a novel taking place in the same universe as the Ancillary Justice trilogy of Ann Leckie that I appreciated very much (along with the voters of the three major science-fiction prizes!). I read Provenance in a single afternoon, as the book is not particularly long, especially when considering it uses rather large fonts! Given the depth and complexity of the said universe, the current book is captivating enough for a warm summer afternoon read, but not at the same level as the original trilogy, as it feels too homely, i.e. based on a tiny set of people that are or get interconnected and manage to save the confederation of worlds from a major crisis. Which is alas a common occurrence in science fiction (and fantasy) novels, but remains annoying! And the characters are less complex and more predictable than in Ancillary… The book is thus capitalising upon the earlier series, but nonetheless enjoyable on… a warm summer afternoon!

red sister [book review]

Posted in Books, Kids, Travel with tags , , , , , , , , , , on September 21, 2018 by xi'an

“It is important, when killing a nun, to ensure that you bring an army of sufficient size. For Sister Thorn of the Sweet Mercy convent Lano Tacsis brought two hundred men.”

If it were a film, this book would be something like Harry Potter meets Clockwork Orange meets The Seven Samurai meets Fight Club! In the sense that it is set in a school (convent) for young girls with magical powers who are trained in exploiting these powers, that the central character has a streak of unbounded brutality at her core, that the training is mostly towards gaining fighting abilities and assassin skills. And that most of the story sees fighting, either at the training level or at the competition level or at the ultimate killing level. As in the previous novels by Mark Lawrence, which I did not complete, the descriptions of fights and deaths therein are quite graphic, and detailed, and obviously gory. But I found myself completely captivated by the story and the universe Lawrence created [with some post-apocalyptic features common with his earlier books] and the group of novices at the centre of the plot [even if some scenes were totally unrealistic within the harsh universe of Red Sister]. Despite the plot being sometimes very weak. or even incoherent.

“I’ve never deleted a page and rewritten it, some authors rewrite whole chapters or remove or add characters. That’s going to make it a lengthy process.”

As the warning from the author above makes it clear, the style itself is not always great, with too obvious infodumps and repetitions. And some unevenness in the characters that suddenly switch from pre-teens in a boarding school to mature schemers to super-mature strategists, from one page to the next. And [weak spoiler!] the potential villain is walking with a flashing light on top of her, almost from the start! Still, this book I bought on my last day on Van Isle, in the bookstore dense town of Sidney (B.C.) kept me hooked for a bit more than a day, from airport waits to sleepless breaks in the plane and the night after at home. And ordering the next volume of the trilogy almost immediately! One point reassuring in the interview of Lawrence is that he wrote the entire trilogy before publishing the first volume, contrary to Robert Jordan, George Martin, or Patrick Rothfuss!, meaning that his readers do not have to enjoy special time-accelerating powers to be certain to reach the date of publication of the next volume.

sharp ends [book review]

Posted in Books, Kids, Travel with tags , , , , , , , on September 2, 2018 by xi'an

A chance encounter with an itinerant bookstore at the market of Tofino, Van Isle, BC, led me to buy this collection of short stories by Joe Abercrombie, called Sharp Ends. All set in the same universe as the great series of novels he wrote in the past ten years, involving second, third and fourth rate characters, with a few major ones popping in on the side. Including my favourite, Ninefinger. These short stories have appeared here and there across the years, but reading them together (for the first time) within a few days (of vacation) was utterly pleasant, with some threads running through most and some enjoyable recurrent characters. I remembered enough of the original First Law books to settle back in their universe, ten years later! And short stories are quite suited to Abercrombie’s style of stories, the dark and grim ending occurring always too quickly for the main character! Now this set me wondering as to why there was no recent book by this author, except for the disappointing young adult Half something trilogy. Which  read I did not complete. Reading his blog for the first time in many years, I learned that a new trilogy is in the making, set in the same universe (and avoiding mixing dark fantasy with western!). Looking forward this new series!!!

the ocean at the end of the lane [book review]

Posted in Books, Kids, pictures, Travel with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 24, 2018 by xi'an

While in Vancouver, waiting for a friend at the Waterfront ferry station, we entered the Simon Fraser University bookshop across the street. This was a most disconcerting experience in that the bookstore contained essentially no book! Just a tiny bookshelf with local authors and another one with a medley of genres. Including Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane. Which I bought against my better judgement as I had tried to read American Dogs years ago and failed. (But liked very much Neverwhere, again a chance occurrence on a bookstore shelf!) As I started reading the book on the ferry to Vancouver Island, hence on the Pacific Ocean!, I first thought this was about the author’s childhood in rural Sussex, with no other friends than his books, finding some ways to relate to the story of a modest household in the early 60’s, only to be interrupted by three whales swimming along the ferry route. The cheek of them! When I picked up the short novel later in Tofino (with Tonkin Beach above), reality started to unravel (in the book!) and horror to creep in (!). Without getting into spoilers, the  other world or old country starts appearing to the narrator, a seven year old, with about everything taking another and sinister meaning. And no-one else in his household paying any attention to his warnings. What I really enjoy in the book is the sheer ambiguity of the tale, where one cannot be sure this is pure fantasy made up by a lonely seven year old who strongly dislikes a new nanny and is impacted by his parents’ relationship, or an opening into that alternate reality and its dangers that he and only he is able to enter. The book never concludes and this is a strength of the story. Which works for both adult and children readers. It also reminded me of Miyazaki’s Chihiro Spirited Away (千と千尋の神隠し), in that the supernatural beings here and there are neither evil nor good but simply utterly alien. (This fantastic² movie is considered by my daughter as the most traumatic one she ever saw as a child!) Concluding about the book, this was a very good read, somewhat on the light side although full of forking paths.