Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Lazarus by Lars Kepler: review

4/5 stars on Goodreads

Lazarus by Lars Kepler

This was my first book by Lars Kepler, a Swedish husband and wife duo writing Joona Linna Nordic noir thriller series set in Stockholm, Sweden, under a common pen name. I received a free review copy from NetGalley and ended up starting with book seven of the immensely popular series, but I gave it a go nonetheless.

Lazarus wasn’t necessarily the best book to start with, as it wasn’t a stand-alone like some thrillers are, where action matters more than the characters’ personal lives. Every character came with a heavy baggage I knew nothing about, likely accumulated through several books already. Most importantly, the old emotional and psychological scars of the main character, Joona Linna, surface when the severed head of his late wife is found in a freezer of a murder victim, and they influence much of his actions. Since I hadn’t been there from the start, it took me a while to enter into the emotions of the characters and I wasn’t able to anticipate some of the punches.

That being said, all the backstory that mattered for the plot was explained well enough and I had no trouble following the story or feeling the tension build. I hadn’t been there for the original hunt of the serial killer in focus here, but even I could surmise that though he is presumed dead, the killer is back. There were some other details left out though, that I would’ve wanted to know, like how old is the main character, for example, or why he had been in prison yet allowed to return to the police force, but I could ignore them and concentrate on the plot that kept me in its grip to the end.

This is very dark Nordic noir, with graphic details and psychological evil. Writing is in present tense, which adds to the sense of immediacy, though the narrative style was slightly distancing at times. The NetGalley copy had no chapter breaks, so there were no breathers to ease the pace either (maybe this is the case with the finished product too?). There were many point of view characters and I didn’t connect with all of them, but their subplots mattered in the overall story. And as a Finn, it tickled me that the main character is Finnish. I think I got more out of him than most readers of the English version. The translation by Neil Smith was good and there was no attempt to anglicise the Nordic names, which suited me, but might be a bit difficult for English readers.

If you’re a fan of Nordic noir, I can recommend this book. But if you’re new to the series, maybe don’t start with this one; read the other six books first.


Friday, November 20, 2020

The Part about the Dragon Was (Mostly) True by Sean Gibson: review

4/5 stars on Goodreads

The Part about the Dragon Was (Mostly) True by Sean Gibson

The long title is pretty descriptive of the kind of book this is. The Part about the Dragon Was (Mostly) True, Heloise the Bard 1, by Sean Gibson is a comedic fantasy that relies heavily on verbal acrobatics. It’s told by Heloise the Bard (or was it Heloise the Beautiful, as she is very fond of reminding the readers), a half-elf bard (I don’t remember what the other half was) who sets out to give the reader a true account of what went down with the red dragon (the false account of which she is also responsible of.)

We follow an odd-ball team of would-be adventurers who want to make name for themselves by killing the dragon (though they probably should’ve been taking care of the mad wizard they accidentally unleashed), lured there by Heloise’s somewhat inflated promises of the dragon’s gold. There’s a half-dwarf, half-halfling street magician (I’m sorry, prestidigitator), an elf archer (though aren’t they all), a rock giant who’s both slow and sweet, and a wizard who belongs to a race that look like rats. Heloise joins them to be able to tell their story accurately (to the readers anyway; the tavern folk get the official version because it pays better). They’re not exactly a seamless and accomplished team, but they’re getting (mostly) there.

This was a fun book, but not quite laugh-out-loud funny; clever rather than comedic. It’s a bit slow read too. Heloise has a tendency to go off on a tangent (or a tangent’s tangent) in practically every paragraph and I had to read everything twice to remember what the actual sentence was about. Moreover, there are two stories going side by side, the official one and the truth, so the plot takes forever to get to the point. After a while, I began to skip the official accounts that were helpfully in italics. They weren’t as interesting as the truth anyway. But despite the slowness and the tangents (or maybe because of the tangents, as the cleverest bits tended to be there), this was a pleasurable read where the characters turned out to be something other than their stereotypes and the truth was stranger thanwell, I’ll let you find out yourselves.

I received a free copy from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.


Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Hex Breaker by Stella Drexler: review

3/5 stars on Goodreads

Hex Breaker by Stella Drexler

Hex Breaker is a readable story that suffers from not knowing what kind of book it wants to be. The cover promises fantasy with magic; the back cover description promises urban fantasy mystery. It tries, but fails. I received a free copy from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

A mystery from the shared past of the main characters threatens the life of Devin Rayne. But instead of investigating the past, the PI duo Alexandra Quinn and Rio Mondragon (though mostly Quinn, because Rio is useless) run after random clues that don’t really lead anywhere except by accident. A great production is made of acquiring one clue that turns out to be useless. There are flashback chapters that I foolishly presumed would reveal what happened ten years ago and foreshadow the baddie. My money was on Rio. But the baddie turned out to be a rando we’d barely met with random motivations, which is just about the worst mistake a mystery author can do. One star for that.

So it’s not a good mystery. It could be a romance. Quinn certainly has her fair share of men to choose from. Two she declares to be the loves of her life, though she takes her time to admit it (and I still don’t know why there was such antagonism between her and Devin in the first place if she’s always loved him). One is there for sex and random conflict. But there is no proper happily ever afteror even happily for now. I give the pair that forms six months the tops.

In the end I think this was a New Adult relationship drama, though the characters were over thirty (I presume; they claimed to be under, but they’ve graduated a decade ago). There are several relationships and a lot of drama.

Quinn and Rio are best friends since college turned co-workers. But I didn’t really feel their friendship. Rio did really shitty things to Quinn to either ‘protect’ her or just because he’s an asshole. Quinn and Jack are supposed to be dating, but all sorts of drama come from that. Quinn and Devin are the source of the main drama, past and present, with the added complication of Quinn and Hale. Then there is a random assortment of old college friends introduced for no reason that I could fathom, as they play no role in the story. They’re just word-fillers that come with their own dramas and could (should, actually) all be cut. And to crown it all, Quinn and Aine, her best friend, who casually violates Quinn’s bodily and mental integrity with potions and magic several times, basically just because she wants to, with no compunction or repercussions. She made me root for the bureaucrats who wanted to make every magic user wear a scarlet letter.

As a relationship drama, the book works. I might have given it four stars even, if it weren’t for everything else. On top of the lousy mystery, there were too many empty scenes that served no purpose whatsoever (though the gala dinner works if you think this as a relationship drama); incoherent world-building (I still don’t know where the book took place) and weak character introductions (I thought I was reading a second or third book in a series when I started for all I was able to connect with the characters); and some writing issues, like head-hopping, especially in those chapters that were in Rio’s point of view. With some restructuring and better focus, it could be an enjoyable book. As it is, I’m only giving it three stars.


Friday, November 13, 2020

Lord Lucifer by Jade Lee: review

4/5 stars on Goodreads

Lord Lucifer by Jade Lee

Lord Lucifer is the first book in a new Regency romance trilogy by Jade Lee, Lords of the Masquerade, and I received a review copy from the NetGalley.

Regency romances tend to repeat a certain formula of an innocent maiden paired with a more experienced man. The pair then waltzes through the society season from balls to opera performances that offer private moments for them to fall in love and have hot sex in a side. Some authors are better at making it feel fresh; some less so.

Jade Lee has taken a different approach in her romance. Diana has been married off at sixteen to a much older man to save family finances. Lucas had offered to save her, but his attempts to raise money with gambling had landed him in such hot waters that he had seen it best to enlist and leave the country. Twelve years later they meet again. A fairly average approach so far. But there’s a twist: Diana’s ailing husband is still alive. She’s not a merry widow with whom the hero connects for a second chance. And she’s not a damsel in distress, no matter what Lucas tries to tell herthough there is a villain out to get her.

Most of the book takes place in a sick room and in private parlours instead of balls and other glittering events. Diana is a dutiful wife who has carved a life for herself in her husband’s hostile household. Her husband needs to die, of course, for the young couple to have their happily ever after, and much is made of his death and the causes of it. Lucas is a soldier who sets his duty before anything, and so probably for the first time in a romance history, the hero refuses sex with the heroine unless she agrees to marry him. It works too.

For all that this is a romance, it’s a fairly gloomy book. There’s sickness and death. There’s a murderous villain making everyone’s life worse. There’s a lot of resentment between children and parents. All sorts of issues that have to be dealt with, and while they add depth to the characters, they dominate over the romance. There are a couple of fairly bland sex scenes that fail to engage my emotions, and although I liked Diana and Lucas both, I wasn’t terribly invested in their HEA. She could’ve retained her hard-earned independence for all I cared and kept him in a side. But she caves in the end.

The other two gentlemen of the trilogy are introduced in this book too. A lot is made of itand then they are completely forgotten for the rest of the book. So, as a lure for the reader to continue with these characters, it comes somewhat short. But if I come across them, I may give them a look.

Peace Talks by Jim Butcher

4/5 stars on Goodreads

I’ve also read Peace Talks by Jim Butcher, the long-awaited fifteenth Dresden Files book. It’s one of my all-time favourite series, but it fell a bit short. Harry was still familiar, but the way he interacted with his friends and family felt slightly off. I remember wishing in earlier books that he would be more connected with emotions, but now I sort of found him creepy at times. Especially with how he became aroused by every which woman that he came across, except the one he professed to be in love with. So the author needs to work on the delivery there.

Most of the book was spent with waffling about, likely so that the reader could connect with the characters again. I was still a bit lost for the great part of it, as it had been so many years since I read this series last. And then the plot picks up at the very end, only to continue in the next book. But I’ll read it too, of course.

House of Many Ways by Diana Wynne Jones

4/5 stars on Goodreads

House of Many Ways by Diana Wynne Jones is the last book in the trilogy that starts with Howl’s Moving Castle. It’s a charming book of Charmain Baker, a young woman who would much rather read books than do anything useful. And then she’s given a task to look after her great-uncle’s house while he’s gone.

The uncle is a wizard and his house is a mysterious place where rooms appear where ever, but only if you know how to get there. One is even located in the past. The place is messy and Charmain isn’t terribly practical, but luckily for her, her uncle’s apprentice Peter shows up to help her. Not that either of them is terribly pleased by their circumstances. There’s a plot about the king’s missing gold and a villainous heir to the kingdom. Howl and Sophie show up too to help with that, and it’s nice to connect with them again. In the end Charmain discovers that she’s more capable than she thought she was and that she’s able to do magic. All in all, a nice story about growing up and finding one’s true self.