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review 2020-06-24 22:23
Naomi Novik - His Majesty's Dragon
His Majesty's Dragon - Naomi Novik

An enjoyable first part of a fantasy series - not so much as a single book, though.


When I picked up the book, I was intrigued by the premise: an alternate universe where almost everything is (mostly) similar to ours in the 19th century, except dragons exist, they're sentient and are used for war, and because of this they and their riders very sought after by the armies of most countries and empires.


From the premise, I guessed it would have either been a silly fun romp, but the world building did turn out to be much more deep and well crafted than I would have imagined. The author could have gone with a full blown high fantasy world, but instead she decided to stick to the real world of the time, and she definitely did her research. If the next books will focus a bit more on the other countries and how they fit into this world, or at least on other foreign characters, I will be definitely read more of this series.


However, a few things didn't completely grab me: the main characters, both Temeraire, the dragon, and Laurence, his human rider, aren't really that compelling, at least so far. There are a few elements in the story that I hope will be explored in future books, but for the moment there isn't much of note to them - aside form the fact that they both speak like dapper gentlemen, especially Temeraire. If I had a shot everytime either of them says "pray" instead of "please", I'd need a new liver.


The story itself is a pretty standard "boy and his dragon" kind of plot, not done badly and with some nice twists due to the realpolitiks of this world, but still a bit predictable in some parts. At points the book feels a bit more like a set up for the rest of the series than an enjoyable story of its own. I have a few more thoughts, but I'll hold them back until after I've finished the second book in the series.

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review 2020-05-17 10:25
Agatha Christie - Cat among the pigeons (and very belated thoughts about the Buddy Read)
Cat Among the Pigeons - Agatha Christie

Even if I joined in pretty late in the game, the three weeks during which I managed to follow the Reading Away the Pandemic Buddy Read were a fun experience. I've done some Buddy Reads with other people in read life, but never online, and it went better than I would have imagined.


The only thing I regret was that I wish I had been more active, but the fact I'm a bit of a slow reader and real life issues didn't really help; while I finished "Tenant for death" in time, it took me a bit longer to get through "The daughter of time" and "Cat among the pigeons". Not that it was that huge an problem, since that way I did manage to enjoy them with more calm - as I said in another post, I have the bad habit of rushing through the last few pages of a book.


The BR was also a new experience for me in another way: I'm the kind of person who prefers watching my cozy mysteries in movies and TV shows, rather than reading them, so this was an interesting change of pace for me. All in all it was a very fun experience that I'll definitely try again, though hopefully at a time when I'll have fewer things to deal with, so that I can fully concentrate on it.


Now, on to the book itself, Agatha Christie's "Cat among the pigeons". While I'm familiar with Poirot and the general concepts and atmosphere of her works, especially those with Poirot, I haven't read much written by her - I remember reading a couple of her books as a kid, during the summer holidays, but I don't have a clear memory of them.


All in all, I found the book very enjoyable, even though it I didn't find it as good as the other two we went through during the buddy read. Solid mystery, even if some of the details and twists were predictable. I didn't mind Poirot entering the story that late, since it gave time to build up a very interesting background, and the international intrigue angle was very well done.


That said, I found the pacing really sluggish at points, and like I mentioned above some elements were easy to predict, which didn't fully pull me in. For me, this was the least interesting of the three books I've read - but it wasn't a bad book, at all.


Fun fact: the official title of the Italian translation of this book is "Gruesome quiz". Weird choice.

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review 2020-05-04 22:03
Josephine Tey - The daughter of Time
The Daughter of Time - Josephine Tey

It was a very unexpected read, I must say. When I joined the buddy read, I wouldn't have imagined I would have stumbled upon a story like this, almost experimental in the way it plays around with expectations, and at times doesn't take itself completely seriously.


At the same time, I'm the kind of reader who often jokes that I'd love to read a famous detective busy with an armchair treasure hunt, and I guess this pretty close to it.


I took a bit longer than I should have just to get to the end of the book with calm, enjoying the dialogue and the investigation with as little pressure as possible (I have this annoying habit of rushing through the last pages of most books I read, especially when it's just the epilogue. I try to make up for it by going back to those pages later, but obviously this way the enjoyment of that last part isn't the same, having spoiled some elements).


The only thing that didn't really work was how, at times, the quotations supposedly lifted from the reference books are very dull, which I guess was the intent but they still stick like a sore thumb among the rest of the beautifully written book.


Before this I wasn't familiar with Tey, and what a great introduction this was. I imagine that the other books starring Grant will be more traditional detective stories, I just hope I'll enjoy them as much as I did this book.

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review 2020-04-27 11:35
Cyril Hare - Tenant for Death
Tenant for Death - Cyril Hare

A mixed bag, with the good outweighing the bad, but the weirdness was still noticeable enough to pull me out at times.


On one hand, I really enjoyed the prose, the banter between Mallett and Frant, the satirical edge in the characterisation, the mystery is solid and how in the end things are wrapped up in the end, in a surprisingly dark choice.


On the other, at times the pacing slows too much, to the point I found myself distracted and thinking of other things, and at least in this book Hare doesn't seem to have a deft touch for working in the satirical aspects. It might just be me, but while reading the first few chapters I had issues telling if the satire was supposed to be in the way the characters acted and spoke, of it the whole story was supposed to be a parody that just happened to have an investigative plot. Going further on in the book cleared up that doubt, but it was still slightly confusing.


Still, it was a very enjoyable read, and in the future I might pick up other books by Hare, if only because of the prose.

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review 2020-04-23 17:30
Jin Yong - Legends of the Condor Heroes / A Hero Born
A Hero Born - Anna Holmwood,Jin Yong

I've been wanting to try out a wuxia novel for a while, so after learning that there was an English translation of "Legend of the Condor Heroes", one of the most renowned and adapted stories of the genre, I picked up a copy.


As pointed out in other reviews, the comparison to "The Lord of the Rings" on the cover is very misleading - "Song of Ice and Fire" is more like it, in that while Tolkien was clearly trying to write high literature with LOTR, as he set out to rewrite a modern epic based on the classic Nordic ones that, as a philologist, he had studied through, Martin seems to have started what turned out as his own magnum opus mostly to have fun, and at most to make a more ambitious tale than the ones that were available when he started writing.


To me it seems that, while some parallels and callbacks are inevitable, Jin Yong didn't set to rewrite "The Romance of Three Kingdoms" with this story (at least from what I can tell from this volume alone), as much as he wanted to create a fun romp, one that stands out for the number of characters, the complexity of their relationships and the level of intrigue, political and not. And it makes for a really enjoyable and fun read, in a not completely mindless blockbuster kind of way.


So if you enjoy martial arts movies or anime where characters casually level mountains as if nothing were, you'll enjoy this novel. I docked a few points because of the translation; the translator is going for some old style pulp novel narration here, and while at times it works, in other point it makes the action a bit too wordy, and even dull. And the way the names of the characters get translated literally in English can get silly, especially for certain characters that have obviously meaningful names, and take the reader out of the flow.


Aside from that, it's a solid recommandation if you're into it. I'll definitely get the second volume as soon as internet book stores will start delivery to my country again.

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