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review 2016-09-26 08:49
Review: The Whole Art of Detection
The Whole Art of Detection: Lost Mysteries of Sherlock Holmes - Lyndsay Faye
"I require your assistance, and you suppose you're too good for my money! Well, you aren't, Mr. Holmes!" "On the contrary. I suspect that I've been too good for better people's money as a matter of fact."

The cases Holmes investigates in pastiches are often grand and important. Conspiracies that involve powerful people. Killers that are so clever nobody but Holmes even knows that they're out there. Cases where the future of the world is at stake (or worse: The future of England). That doesn't have to be a bad thing but to me the point of the original stories has always been that Holmes didn't investigate important cases. He investigated interesting cases. And sometimes it would turn out that there wasn't even a crime behind it all, only an interesting story. But that was enough.

 

The Whole Art of Detection captures exactly that spirit. All but one stories are about mundane things but that doesn't mean that they're boring. Just because somebody's actions don't have far-reaching consequences doesn't mean they can't do really clever things that are interesting to read about.

Now in some of the stories the solution was quite easy to guess which is a minor drawback but since I enjoyed everything else about them so much I didn't really mind it. Especially because apart from engaging mysteries Faye is also great at writing the relationship between Holmes and Watson and showing how much they care about each other. If you want to be nit-picky you might argue that it's a bit too much. Not because they express their emotions in a manner that would have been inappropriate for Victorian gentlemen but because almost every story has a few lines (or more) that show that, while Conan Doyle used such scenes very sparsely. I, however, am not nit-picky about that. I just enjoy it very much.

 

ARC received from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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review 2016-08-03 10:01
Review: Tears of Pearl
Tears of Pearl - Tasha Alexander

Even before Emily steps off the Orient Express in beautiful and decadent Constantinople, she's embroiled in intrigue and treachery. The brutal death of a concubine in the sultan's palace allows her first foray into investigating a crime as an official agent of the British Empire--because only a woman can be given access to the forbidden world of the harem. There, she quickly discovers that its mysterious, sheltered walls offer no protection from a ruthless murderer.

 

"I don't think I could survive if anything happened to her. She's been beside me my whole life."
"You would. I'd make you."
"I'm not sure I'd thank you for it."
"You forget how persuasive I can be."

In which Emily is worried about her best friend dying and Colin is slightly creepy. Don't get me wrong. I'm sure he means well...but couldn't he have said how he'd help her through it instead of 'I will make you survive'? Also, two lines later they are talking about their sex-life again in that cutesy Victorian wink-wink-nudge-nudge way that did have me grin the first two or three times they did it but once every private conversation they head led to the same I wanted to yell 'Can you screw each other without constantly talking about it?'.

The mystery was just ridiculous. It involved so many coincidences that I just couldn't stretch my suspension of disbelief that far. And yes, cozy mysteries are books in which the main characters just keep stumbling over dead bodies or met people who just have but even for that genre the coincidences were over-the-top. 

 

I did like that death in childbirth was a topic since I can't remember many novels that are set in an era where that is an issue that talk about it. (No matter if they were written in that era or in the present day). But the way it was discussed left me mostly unmoved. Emily's fear of it was told rather than shown. Its only result were some long internal monologues and her not telling Colin about the fact that she thinks she might be pregnant. (And even that can just as easily be attributed to the fact that she fears Colin would stop her from doing more dangerous things once he knows). 

Ivy's storyline again did nothing for me. This book makes it painfully obvious that Ivy is just the foil to Emily. Ivy is the 'good Victorian woman' in the eyes of her contemporaries, while Emily is the one with too many strange ideas for her pretty little head. Ivy will always do what she is told and she'd never dream of demanding answers. Even if the answers concern her and even if she's scared. Ivy is there to tell the reader who 

Ivy is there to tell the reader how Victorian women were expected to behave and how much the good old days sucked. Ivy is there so that Emily can worry about her. Ivy is not in any way a character in her own right with interests, hopes or anything. She's a symbol, somebody Emily can angst over and occasionally a plot device.

 

Talking about characters that aren't really characters: Every single woman from the harem. They were there so that Emily could have discussions with them about whether women in the West are better or worse of than their counterparts in the ottoman empire. 

And while I think that that it's not intentional, it has some unfortunate implications that the only woman who is unhappy in the harem is the one who is secretly Christian. Because only if your religion tells you it's wrong, you'd be unhappy in such a place. Now that brings me to my biggest gripe with the book.

Spoiler alert. It's not directly about the mystery part but it is intertwined with it and it concerns events at the very end of the book so read at your own risk.

 

Roxelana, the unhappy Christian in the harem wants to flee. Because she hates her life in the harem and because she has a lover outside. And she wants Emily's help. After some reluctance Emily agrees. The escape fails and Roxelana has to return to the harem but - for contrived and absolutely nonsensical reason - she won't be punished further. Her lover (who is an idiot and screwed up badly in the course of the book) considers that a fitting punishment for his screw ups. Yes, you read that right. He will now suffer the punishment of not being able to screw the hot chick.

 

 

Meanwhile, the girl (full disclosure: she was also was stupid and screwed up...she was also terrified) is going to remain a sex-slave. Which she will hate because her religion tells her it leads to eternal damnation. (So does suicide so that wouldn't be a way out either). And she will be so popular with the other women after her attempt to flee, I'm sure.

But it's important that the guy has accepted that he has to put his dick somewhere else and this is going to be a bit bad for him.

 

(spoiler show)
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review 2016-08-02 17:01
Review: Summerlong
Summerlong - Peter S. Beagle

Retired history professor Abe Aronson is a cranky, solitary man living out his autumn years on Gardner Island, a ferry ride away from the hustle and bustle of nearby Seattle. One rainy February night, while dining at a favorite local haunt, Abe and his girlfriend Joanna meet an engaging enigmatic waitress, new in town and without a place of her own. Fascinated and moved by the girl's plight, Joanna invites her to stay in Abe's garage. It seems everyone falls for the charming and invigorating the waitress, but she is much more than she appears, and an ancient covenant made a millennium ago threatens to disrupt the spring and alter the lives of Abe, Joanna, and all those around them forever...

 

Pleasure is the only thing the gods don't charge for - they can't, they love it too much themselves.

 

There's no shortage of books that are modern retellings of old myths and legends. Summerlong is another one. With the small difference that it's not about the heroes of the myth. It's about the ordinary people they meet. And whose lives they screw up while they relive an age-old story. Now doesn't that sound cheerful? 

 

It is hard to say much more about the book without spoiling too much. I needed to read more than half of it before I could even answer the question 'So what is this book about?' Before that...well things happened but I had no idea why or how those things were connected. But while in most other books, I would have yelled 'Just come to the point already' but Beagle has a way of writing that made me not care about the fact that I had no clue what was going on. (I was reminded of another book of his: The Innkeeper's Song which is also not exactly fast-paced and tight-packed with plot but Summerlong is even more extreme). It's not a book that can be easily shelved into any genre (Fantasy? Urban Fantasy? A love story? Magical realism?) and it's not going to appeal to you if you are looking for anything that fits easily in any of those categories.

It's also not a happy book (but not one without hope either). But it's still a very very beautiful one.

 

 

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review 2016-05-19 19:10
Review: The Fiend Queen
The Fiend Queen - Barbara Ann Wright

Within the walls of her palace, Princess Katya’s best friend lies at her feet, close to death. Her pyradisté is overwhelmed by some mysterious power, and her former lady-in-waiting has stabbed her in the back. Wounded and nearly alone, Katya must find a way to sabotage the magic of her Fiendish uncle Roland, or those who fight for the capitol will be overwhelmed by hypnotized guards and Fiend-filled corpses.

Starbride’s pain is nearly overwhelming. The agony inside her only lessens when she satisfies a strange new desire to hurt those around her. She may hold the key to banishing Fiendish power from Farraday, but only by using it herself. Together, Katya and Starbride must make a final desperate push to take back the kingdom, but even if they survive, can the strength of their love keep them from madness? After all, fighting evil with evil has its consequences.

 

 

This book gets the third star mainly because I still like the series as a whole (and the characters have grown on me) and because I really hate the main trope that is used here but don't think that it's a bad trope generally. There are probably people who enjoy reading about it. But I don't. Really. Not at all.

I'm talking about corrupted by power/demonic possession. Yeah, that thing that is neither really and both a bit. I'm all over corrupted by power, especially, when, like in this book it's connected with questions like How evil do you have to become to fight evil? How far can you go before you just fuck up things differently than the previous bad guy? 

I'm less fond of possession but can still cope with it but the combination of both always feels like a cop-out to me. You see: it wasn't really her doing the bad things! The demon made her do it. Sort of. Mostly.

Additionally, the POV chapters of a corrupted-possessed person are just very tedious reading. In the middle, there are several chapters that are mostly the same: her friends try to reach her, she begins to have doubts, the demon interferes and plays on her insecurities, she believes him, back to square one. (The playing on the insecurities-bit was something I actually quite enjoyed since it gave her better reasons for listening to the demon than 'wants power and revenge') After a few times that got very boring.

 

The end managed to tie up some ends very neatly and leave others too open for the final book in a series. I don't need to know everything about all the characters at the end but I'd like to have an idea of where they're going.

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review 2016-05-15 15:40
Review: Margeau Chapeau
Margeau Chapeau: A New Perspective on Classic Knit Hats (Dover Knitting, Crochet, Tatting, Lace) - Margeau Soboti

Let Margeau show you how to knit the hat of your dreams, from a stylish tweed cap to a playful beanie or a classic beret. Fifteen patterns, all well within the capacity of novice knitters, include earflap caps, a turban headband, watch caps, and other items. The designs offer a variety of attractive silhouettes and shapes, from fitted, traditional items to slouchy, trendy hats. Suggested yarns range from affordable to luxury, all chosen for their softness and sophisticated color palette.

 

 

Well. Undoubtedly this is a book with patterns for hats. And yes, they are all "in the capacity of novice knitters" because stockinette stitch and ribbing is something even absolute beginners can do and the majority of patterns are just that. There are a few with basic cabling and some colourwork that might be a bit more challenging (depending on your stance on that...) but a lot of it is really just the most basic stitch patterns. The variation comes from things like yarn-weight and how exactly the stitches are combined.

I would guess that you can find very similar patterns to those in the book only for free. Of course that isn't necessarily a bad thing. Some people do prefer to pay for the comfort of having all their patterns in one place (and yes, that includes me) but this is some really basic stuff.

Yes, some people might get something out of this book but I don't. Yes, it does say it's a book for 'novice knitters' but I'd still expected a bit more variety.

 

ARC received from NetGalley

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