Skulduggery Pleasant (#1) – Derek Landy

Standard

5 Stars out of 5

In short: Still one of the best books I’ve ever read. (And that’s not only because of the walking, talking skeleton – but seriously, HOW COOL IS THAT??? OMG!!!!) I’ll try to write a full review in a few days (hopefully), but right now this will have to do.

Okay. And now for something a little more coherent…

Then again… I’m still a bit hung up on the thought if Derek Landy knows me personally somehow. Like, did we go to the same school and I forgot all about it, or some such. (Well, obviously not, because completely different countries and stuff. – But we were born in the same year, so that would check out… Anyway.) Because that book seems to have been written for me. I mean, a “living” skeleton who works as a detective!? Come on! I have loved skeletons (for whatever reasons) since I can remember, and I usually read only crime stories.

I was still a bit… hesitant, because Fantasy just isn’t my genre anymore (save for a very few exceptions), but well… You can’t find new authors you like, if you don’t try to read anything written by them, right? (And it helped that I’ve already read the German translation of this book, like, two years ago or so, I just haven’t written a review for some reasons. But I’ve been hesitant back then, too, so there.)

And the risk was absolutely worth it.

Stephanie Edgley, our heroine, is a twelve year old girl, and probably a bit too “old” for her age, but Derek Landy manages to not turn her into an obnoxious, annoying, knowing-it-all brat who succeeds in  everything immediately, but a likable, down-to-earth (despite all the magic stuff) character who has to learn a lot, and is at times very insensible and extremely persistent, but never annoyingly so. At least not to me, and I’m easily annoyed.

Skulduggery Pleasant has a pretty dry sense of humour, is far from perfect and not everything he plans goes exactly according to said plan, but he always pulls through in the end. Plus, he really does his best to not get Stephanie killed. Or harmed. In his line of work that sometimes can’t be helped, though, and since Stephanie had insisted on becoming his apprentice,… Well, there you are.

This book has a lot of likable characters in any case. Even the evil ones are not all unlikable. And there are some… “shady” characters you don’t know what to make of yet. Like China Sorrows or Mister Bliss.

The case itself is pretty straight-forward, and they manage to solve it. Which means: this adventure is completed and can be read as a stand-alone.
So in case you wanted to give this book a try, don’t like it and don’t want to read any of the following stories, you’re not left with a cliffhanger or unanswered questions.

Also: Derek Landy is obviously a master in naming characters. Everybody who can come up with names like Nefarian Serpine, Vaurian Scapegrace, Kenspeckle Grouse or Ghastly Bespoke deserves a reward. (Oh wait…)

The absolute best thing in there? No romance! No far-fetched, incomprehensible, cringe-worthy love story! Between none of the characters! Yay!
But then, Stephanie’s only twelve years old in the first book, and I’m sure she’ll age through the following nine parts, so I’m pretty sure I won’t be able to dodge that particular bullet, but I hold out a little hope that the author might be able to write it in a way that I don’t want to burn the book and never want to have anything to do with this series ever again.

I also like that there are vampires in this book, and they don’t sparkle in the sun or look sexy!

I’m not sure whether this is a children’s book, though. I mean, it will probably depend on the child’s age, but if you’re a parent and want to be on the safe side: read it first! There’s some pretty dark stuff in it, and from what I’ve heard already it’s getting darker from here on out. (I mean, the whole setting is kind of a clue, but if you’re expecting something like Sonja Kaiblinger’s “Scary Harry” books: they’re nothing like that!)

Advertisements

The Raven Boys (The Raven Cycle #1) – Maggie Stiefvater

Standard

3 stars out of 5.

It took me quite a while to get into this book, though it’s not badly written.

On the contrary. Maggie Stiefvater has a truly wonderful way with words, and I really like her style. When she describes feelings and surroundings, she excels in creating pictures in your mind, movies even, including smell and sound.

That said I still had a lot of difficulties to relate to any of the characters. I didn’t even like them at first, to be honest. The four Raven Boys seem to be your all-time-stereotyped rich boys (even if Adam really isn’t; rich, I mean), and Blue is so deliberately meaningless, that in the end – to me – she was just that: meaningless. I mean, I guess she’s important for the plot somehow (she has the ability to kind of “amplify” magic, to “make everything louder”, after all), but I just couldn’t bring myself to care about her or about what happens to her. I don’t dislike her, but I don’t like her, either. I just don’t care. I don’t know yet if that’s going to change in the following books, but at the end of book one it’s just like that.

Which made it also incredibly hard to see why any of the Raven Boys would be even remotely interested in her. Especially Gansey, who – on a helicopter flight with his sister, the rest of the gang, plus Blue – felt incredibly drawn to her.
Seriously: Why?
At that point he had interacted with her exactly twice. The first time she was pissed off by his behaviour and accused him of implying she’d be a prostitute (which he didn’t), and the second time she’d been in the same room with him (and practically every other character in this book) when her mother took a “reading”. But he’s attracted by her. Sure. Why not?

Thankfully the love story (stories?) is not the only plot line, and the “Drama, baby!” you have in so, so many other books (not only YA books but other books, too) is pretty much non-existent, so it’s not really annoying (so far), even if a little incomprehensible at times.

I also had trouble with the constant “POV-hopping”, but as interrupting to the reading-flow it was for me in the beginning, The Kathis were right: You get used to it. 😉

The story itself is very interesting, plus the book is really picking up steam towards the end. It adds a little bit of Crime to the Fantasy, the characters are more defined, I finally could understand why they’re doing what they’re doing (or at least I could get a good idea about it; well, most of the time), and it sort of… “fell into place” a bit more.

I still don’t know what to do with Blue (I’m so sorry) and I really don’t like her mother, but I LOVE Noah (poor soul!), I really like Adam and Gansey (even if Adam can be a real asshole sometimes; even more so than Ronan, and that’s saying something), I think Ronan is starting to grow on me, and Blue’s “aunts” are bloody brilliant (especially Calla and Persephone). 😀

All in all it’s a good read, and I’d like to know more about the Raven Boys, so… yeah. Book two, here I come. 🙂

Star Trek TOS: Ice Trap – L. A. Graf

Standard

5 of 5 stars.

The book focuses on Kirk and McCoy on one hand and Chekov and Uhura on the other. There is a bit of Spock, Scott and Sulu, but mostly it’s the aforementioned four and some “Red Shirts”, which we get to know well enough that it actually hurts when/if they die.

As in “Death Count” everyone is very professional and well-trained and I’m still a bit in awe that L. A. Graf managed to pull that off without the book becoming unbearably dull or way too serious. Even in the most dire situations (and in “Ice Trap” there are many) there’s always something to give you hope, to look forward to, to make you smile a bit, because that’s EXACTLY how the characters would react and think like.

I have no idea if the science is sound, but it sounded sound to me, so there.

It was a joy to read.

Star Trek TOS: Death Count – L. A. Graf

Standard

5 of 5 stars.

Spock-Lovers beware! There is not much of our favourite green-blooded hobgoblin in here!

Sadly, I mean it. He has a few lines, but overall he’s not one of the main protagonists.

Which doesn’t mean it’s a bad book.

On the contrary.

When I jumped into the Star Trek fandom in the late 80s/early 90s there were A LOT of books written about the various TV shows: The Original Series (TOS, Kirk, Spock, McCoy etc.), The Next Generation (TNG, Picard & Co.) and Deep Space Nine (DS9, I can’t even remember anyone but Odo and Dr. Bashir). (Voyager and Enterprise came later, when I had already lost most of my interest.) In other words: I read a lot of Star Trek books.

For all non-Star-Trek-fans: The books were NOT the episodes in written form. The books were either tie-ins with the series or completely new, stand-alone stories.

Either way: No matter how much I read, very few of them rang true.

It’s not easy capturing an already existing character, getting him “right”, let alone eight, twelve or twenty of them. Especially since every viewer probably has a different view on their favourite Star Trek crew member and what happens to it, and you just can’t get it right ALL the time.

So, to exactly no-one’s surprise, I didn’t like many of the books. (And that in a phase of my life where I was a LOT LESS picky about outrageous love stories and highly unlikely character developments.)

“Death Count” is one of the commendable exceptions.

It takes the already existing characters and makes them BETTER.

Hard to believe, I know, but it really does.

L. A. Graf concentrates mainly on three characters which were always mostly stereotypes and/or prompters in the series: Uhura, Chekov and Sulu. Settled somewhere between the end of the TV show and before (I think) the first movie, Chekov is now with Starfleet Security and Uhura is a Lieutenant Commander. And they’re absolutely not the clowns the TV series sometimes degraded them to be, they’re fully functional, serious and professional Starfleet officers. We get to know a lot more about their personal lives and their friendship that built and strengthened over the years.

There also is a refreshingly mature Captain Kirk who has to deal with Orions, Andorians and – worst of all – Starfleet auditors.

I’ve rarely read a Star Trek book that provides an interesting case, has the characters down to a T (and even develops them accordingly), conveys the seriousness of a dangerous situation without getting silly, and with a dash of humour and the good-natured teasing we’re so familiar with.

As good as it possibly gets.

Murder on Fifth Avenue (Gaslight Mysteries #14) – Victoria Thompson

Standard

5 of 5 stars.

I usually save the Gaslight Mysteries for whenever I either hit a drought book-wise, or couldn’t be bothered reading for a while, OR just want to read a book I already know is great.

It really is that simple.

After thirteen books it’s like coming home.

I know the characters, I know it’s going to be intriguing and I know probably everybody is going to get what they deserve at the end.

So far I haven’t been disappointed.

“Murder on Fifth Avenue” deals with Frank being hired by Sarah’s father to investigate the murder of one of his club mates, and even Sarah’s mother can’t help but assume that it’s some kind of “test” her husband set up for our favourite Irish-American detective. Fully knowing that the rich and mighty of New York usually don’t want to know the truth as long as SOMEONE is convicted for a crime – preferably someone from the working class – Frank does his best to find out who REALLY did it – and then to let Sarah’s father decide what to do with that knowledge. Since Felix Decker IS one of the rich and mighty, that course of action might backfire.

There are also the beginnings of the Italian Mob and we even graze homosexuality slightly.

I’m still completely in love with the relationship of Sarah’s parents – with her AND with each other – and how they try to (and ultimately manage to) come to terms with the fact that their high-society daughter is now a midwife, an amateur sleuth and seems to be unseemly fond of an Irish copper. It’s an absolute joy to read and I dearly hope we’ll see more of them.

Yes, I also think it’s a true marvel that these books just don’t get boring, even if there are sixteen (I think) of them already, and that Victoria Thompson is perfectly able to keep the suspense, the mystery and the characters on the same (high) level as in all the books before. Also, the character development she allows her characters to go through is the best written I’ve seen so far. The main point some people are criticizing – that the characters, and especially Sarah and Frank’s romance, develop so slowly it’s positively glacial – is the most perfect thing for me. Plus, I can’t imagine anything changing fast in Victorian society. Not even in America, and surely not in the upper class.

I’m absolutely looking forward to reading all the Gaslight Mysteries I haven’t read yet.

***SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER***

The relationship between Paul, Hugh and Garnet is the cutest thing EVER and I’m positively thrilled that neither of them did anything wrong.

Dead Weight (Lizzy Gardner #2) – T. R. Ragan

Standard

2 of 5 stars.

I wasn’t exactly thrilled by the first book in this series, but there were some characters I really liked and wanted to “see” again.

Most of all Jessica and Hayley, because I think they were more interesting than the main characters and I really wanted to know what happens to them.

Unfortunately the case itself is not very interesting, the story just dragged along and… yeah.

There were a few intriguing characters related to the case, but not enough to actually get me “involved” with them, and at the end of the book it was pretty clear that we’ll never see them again, so there.

I liked that Jared is actually “just” the boyfriend in this and not the FBI agent again, and I also liked that Lizzy got a bit jealous of the model-like, picture-perfect “suburb housewife” neighbour, without transforming into a she-hulk, throwing annoying tantrums left, right and centre.

Alas, that’s the most positive I can say about it.

I didn’t even mind Jessica sort of finding her way and having yet to grow a pair, but what really put me off was Hayley going full-on Lisbeth Salander (only without the computer hacking).

Meh.

No more Lizzy Gardner books for me, I’m afraid.

Abducted (Lizzy Gardner #1) – T. R. Ragan

Standard

3 stars out of 5.

Well, as far as crime stories go this was a pretty straight-forward one.

Not too many suspects to choose from, no unnecessary twists and far-fetched turns, no unpleasant surprises… That was nice. The case is interesting, the characters are likeable (unless, of course, those you aren’t supposed to like) and the author changes the POV a few times, so the reader also gets a glimpse into the reasons and the reasoning of the killer.

So far, so good.

The main problem I had with this book was – once again – the love story, because it manages – also, once again – to undermine the educated, intelligent and reasonable main characters the author had built up until then.

It seems to me that authors often tell us how brave, calm, intelligent, logical and so on and so forth their characters are, but utterly fail to let them actually ACT that way. But – to me – actions still speak louder than words. Just saying.

Anyway.

This love story was not only completely unnecessary, incomprehensible and lame, it also got to the point where it really interrupted the reading fluency. Also, it seemed very rushed and constructed, like someone said, “Okay, we need a love story, otherwise readers will lose interest. There must be a kiss here, a sex scene here and then we’ll see how it goes.”

Which leads to a tough-but-traumatized main-character who actively suppressed her fears for 15 years instead of processing and overcome them, and who suddenly isn’t so traumatized at all anymore when she meets her ex-boyfriend again whom she also hasn’t seen for 15 years. Or spoken to. Or has had any contact at all to. And despite not having had contact for 15 years, despite Lizzy supposed-to-be-still-traumatized and having a fuckload of unresolved problems and questions between them, they french-kiss within, like, the first five seconds after having met again.

Of course, not without endlessly telling themselves and the reader what a spectacularly bad idea that is.

And without stopping to do it nevertheless.

Yeah, right.

Jared is even a profiler at the FBI and studied psychology. He, at least, should know better than to rush things like that. But, well… Apparently “sex sells” and to hell with rhyme or reason.

The worst part is: it could’ve been a very nice love story.

IF the author (or the publishing house?) hadn’t insisted on barging in without establishing a reasonable foundation first. (And, sorry, but “they’ve been together 15 years ago, before Lizzy got abducted and severely traumatized” just isn’t cutting it.)

Jared is a nice guy and Lizzy is fine, too. Towards the end of the book there’s a really lovely scene in which they discuss what would probably have happened if Lizzy hadn’t been abducted and they had stayed together up until now. A scene in which they actually TALK about them, about some things that happened ten years ago. If that had been all that happened between them in THIS book (and maybe a kiss) and the sex had come in the NEXT book, I really could’ve gotten on board with it.

Being as it is, this “love story” feels rushed, listless, lame and leaves the slightly bitter taste of a good idea wasted.

Still, 3 stars out of 5, because, like I said before, I really like the case, most of the characters (especially Jessica and Hayley) and usually people aren’t as nitpicky as I am regarding love stories, and manage quite well to not be annoyed by them. 😉 It’s not a must-read, but it isn’t bad, either.