Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (No Spoilers)

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This week’s book was Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by J.K. Rowling. It’s celebrating it’s twentieth anniversary so now is as good as a time as ever. It’s impossible to overstate the importance of this books and series in my life. This book sits alongside Fellowship of the Ring, as the novels that nurtured my love of reading. Like so many other people this book pulled me in and didn’t let me go for years.

I read and reread the books so many times when i was growing up. I wanted badly to go to Hogwarts, to live in J.K Rowling’s world. As such, it’s impossible for me to take off my nostalgia glasses and properly review this book.

I hadn’t read it in years and yet the magic inside was just as I remembered. The book is extremely charming and witty. It pulls you into the deep world, telling you just enough to give you little glimpses of it.

The characters feel real and you immediately root for them. Coming back and seeing how Harry, Ron, and Hermione all become friends was great. I always love the moments where great friendships are born and this is one of my favourites.

Pacing is a real strength of this novel, the plot speeds along at breakneck speed. At their core Harry Potter books are mysteries and this one is no different. Rowling leads the readers to ask certain questions and provides clues to keep them guessing.

I know people have issues with the series but I feel that they come along in later books when the plot becomes more complicated and the magic more involved.

Overall the Philosophers Stone is a great read, easy and addicting. If you haven’t read it yet I can’t recommend it enough. The magic that resides within it’s pages is too good to not be experienced.

You can follow my reading and writing adventures on Twitter at James Bee  

 

 

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The Warded Man Review (No Spoilers)

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The Warded Man by Peter V Brett is this week’s novel. Well, It finally happened, I ran into a book that I didn’t like enough to finish. I almost always finish every book I start. Even if I dislike it initially, the though that it might get good drives me on. I made it 250 pages into this novel before I gave up.

Honestly, I’m unsure exactly what i didn’t like about. The setting was interesting, demons rising each night, humanity struggling to survive their relentless attacks. The magic was cool enough.

Yet I couldn’t get into it. More than that, I found myself annoyed, struggling to turn each page. I feel like two things mainly contributed to this. One was the age of the protagonists. I find it’s hit or miss with children protagonists for me. If they’re too smart, too perfect i find it hard to believe. Something about these children did that for me, though I can’t exactly say what it was. I just found them off putting.

The writing style, mainly dialogue also put me off of this book. Like the characters this is a personal grievance, it wasn’t bad by any means.  It just didn’t jive with me. It felt very on the nose, leaving nothing up to the reader to figure out.

It should be said that this is a highly regarded series, many people like it. It has a 4.27 rating on GoodReads and has a multitude of gushing reviews behind it. It just wasn’t the book for me, though I could see why many people would like it.

This reminded me of the Wheel of Time books, which I also couldn’t get into. Though if i’d found them when I was younger i’m sure I would have. It’s very likely that the Warded Man is similar. The book may have just come to me at the wrong time. Still, if you like horror fantasy you should give it a look. My opinion certainly seems to be in the minority.

You can follow my writing adventures on twitter at James Bee

 

 

The Price of Valor Review (Spoiler Free)

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This week’s book is The Price of Valor by Django Wexler. It’s the third instalment of his Shadow Campaigns series. This novel picks up the story where the second left off. In fact, I found that this one is even stronger that the second novel. The few complaints I did have were largely fixed.

The conflict in this novel comes from both outside and within. Both in terms of the characters struggles and the overarching conflicts. Moreso in this novel than the others I felt the fingerprint of history. I would hazard that Wexler took lessons learned from revolutions and social uprisings and brought them to bear. Certainly this novel echoes the French Revolution’s bloodthirstyness.

Overall the stakes are raised nicely, forcing the characters to develop and grow. My one grip with this book is a certain love situation grows repetitive and frustrating, though that very well may have been the goal.

The star of this series for me has been the battle scenes and this novel is no exception. The action is fast and vivid, both large scale set pieces and more intimate personal conflicts. Though I’ve found that the characters started to feel invincible. With so much combat this kind of plot armour can be problematic.

Overall, I really enjoyed this novel. It carried and advanced the story ahead and made me really hungry for the next one. I would fully recommend this series to anyone who likes military fantasy, as this is one the greatest examples of it that I’ve read recently. 

Lords and Ladies Review (No Spoilers)

 

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This week’s book is Terry Pratchett’s Lords and Ladies. I was looking for a quicker more comfortable read then the past few novels. I’d heard a lot about Granny Weatherwax, having seen her top a number of lists about favourite fantasy characters.

This novel fully delivered on the praise heaped up it. Pratchett was in great form, filling the pages with jokes, interesting ideas and a variety of complex and interweaved plots and subplots. There was as much ridiculous shenanigans as I was hoping for, balanced against a number of serious critiques and criticisms.

However, my favourite part of the book was it’s interesting take of elves. In most of the fantasy that I’ve read, elves are clearly superior to humans. They live forever, often have powers, aren’t likely to have the same weaknesses as plain old humans. It was fascinating to see Pratchett take this notion and bring it to it’s conclusion. This mixed with a number of ideas about folklore and multiple dimensions kept me stimulated and interested throughout the whole novel.

Honestly, theres not much I can say about his novel that I haven’t already said about other Discworld books. It had a lot of heart, was well written and was just uniquely Pratchett. It hit all the beats that I wanted it to and I really enjoyed it. I would recommend it to anyone who has any sort of an interest in fantasy.

You can follow me on twitter at James Bee

James Reads The Sapphire Rose (Spoiler Free)

Photo on 2017-05-22 at 7.09 PM #2.jpgThe Sapphire Rose by David Eddings is this week’s book. I’ve read a number of his novels but not in any seeming order. They just tend to slip their way into my bookshelf via some sale or another. They are in many ways, the essence of fantasy novels. Nigh invincible knights mixed with magic, intrigue and deep  world building.

The Sapphire Rose is no exception. Eddings stuffs the book full of well worn and familiar cliches. From the start you can guess the path the characters will take and what will happen to the obstacles and antagonists that stand in their way. In fact, Sir Sparhawk may as well have just crushed them with the might of his plot armour.

Despite this, the book is both comforting and extremely entertaining. The writing is so earnest and the treatment of the genre so loving that you can look past it’s shortcomings. Endless cheesy banter and a pace that could give you whiplash aren’t enough to make me dislike this book. Sure the characters might be thin and certainly lean towards stereotypes but you still like them, even when their murdering just for the convenience of it.

The plot is perhaps where Eddings shines the brightest in this novel. It is engaging and sharp, with enough odds and ends to keep you both intrigued and focused. The antagonists have reasons for their actions and the ending is satisfying.

Overall this is a difficult book for me to recommend, not because it is in any way bad, but because it is so far from where the current fantasy meta is at the moment. This novel was published in 1991, two years before I was even born and the age shows. Still, I loved it as I have loved all of Eddings work that I’ve come across. I would say it is at the very least worth picking up, if you can find it for cheap and seeing if you like it.

   You can follow my reading and writing adventurers on twitter James Bee

The Shadow Throne Review (No Spoilers)

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This weeks book is The Shadow Throne by Django Wexler. It is the second novel in the Shadow Campaigns series. Second books often tend to struggle. Executing them properly can be extremely tricky.

Firstly they have to keep the momentum of the first book going, while simultaneously raising the stakes. This is key to keep the readers interested in the characters. They must be given room to show their growth while still remaining underdogs. Furthermore, they must continue to develop and grow, which can be a challenge. Finally, the second novel must end strong, in order to keep interest building for the next book.

I found that the Shadow Throne was largely successful in accomplishing these goals. The pace remained as quick as the first with the plot chugging along at a good pace. New and interesting characters and locations are introduced while meshing well with the characters from the first. Wexler manages to keep many of the same strengths from the first book in this one. The characters are immensely root-for-able and interesting. The battle scenes crackle with energy and the conclusion leaves you wanting more.

However, in my opinion it is a weaker book than the first. At times the chapters did drag as the book’s momentum was ground to a halt. This was only for a short time but I did find myself struggling. The first book was filled to the brim with the discovery of the unknown. This is not as evident in The Shadow Throne and the book suffers for it. In addition, the antagonists fell a little flat when compared with the ones from the debut. I felt as though I was not delivered what was promised in that regard.

Despite this, I still really enjoyed the novel and I am looking forward to continuing the story. If you are a fan of military fantasy, I would strongly recommend taking a look at this series!  

As always you can follow me at James Bee

You can pick up this book up on amazon  here

Pyramids Review

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This week’s novel was Pyramids by Terry Pratchett. The last few books that I’ve read have been long, dark, and full of complicated intricate and complicated plots. Pyramids was a much needed and enjoyable palate cleanser. Lighthearted and hilarious, Pratchett takes you on a memorable romp through it’s pages.

As in all of his books, Pyramids is chock full of interesting and ridiculous characters that play off of each other very well. Jokes that at times make you laugh and groan are scattered like mines throughout the pages. In particular I found that the dialogue was particularly sharp in this novel, requiring the reader to pay close attention.

Pyramids takes a very close, and critical look at religion, royalty, and tradition and the lies that must be told to keep them in check. With almost vicious abandon, Pratchett tears them apart, uncovering the folly that lays beneath. As you would expect by the title, the ancient civilization of Egypt is largely the butt of the joke. Mummies, cat worship and the like are all examined and found silly.

In fact, this may be the most silly and absurd of the disc world books that I’ve read, which is saying quite a bit. The intersectionality of time and different dimensions make for a variety of truly ridiculous situations and encounters.

Overall the novel was extremely enjoyable and I sped through it happily. While it was at times quite lighthearted, I was left with quite a lot to think about. What traditions and dogma’s exist in my mind, only because they have always existed? What in our society do we believe in whole heartedly because we have always done so? As always when you look through the microscope you inevitably see some part of yourself. Pyramids was Pratchett at the height of his powers, weaving charming characters with a engaging story, topped off with a generous helping of gags and jokes. I thoroughly enjoyed it and I would fully recommend it to anyone who enjoys his work or fantasy at large! 

As always you can follow my reading adventures at James Bee

Red Seas Under Red Skies Review

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Red Seas under Red Skies by Scott Lynch is this week’s book. Or more accurately these last two week’s book. This novel is the sequel to the Lies of Locke Lamora, and is the second book in the Gentleman Bastards sequence.

The Lies of Locke Lamora was probably one of my favourite books of last year. A rare novel that not only lived up to the hype heaped upon it but for me exceeded it. The worldbuilding, character development and sheer fun of the dialogue stunned me. If the First Law books are what made me want to write, The Lies of Locke Lamora nearly made me give up out of sheer jealousy.

Red Seas Under Red Skies very much holds up as worthy successor to the first. Many of the same elements that made the original great shine through. Firstly, the novel is built around the bromance of Jean Tannen and Locke Lamora. Their relationship is nuanced and cleverly built with no shortage of strife and bickering to threaten to drive them apart. Just their banter alone is worth the price of the novel.

In this book there are a number of new settings which all feel as alive and complicated as Camorr did. Lynchs’ descriptions suck you in and make you feel as though you’ve visited them yourself. (Though you probably wouldn’t want to.)

A new cast of characters are introduced and promptly begin making lives difficult for the protagonists. I say characters but each are built deep enough to feel like real people, not cut outs. A brief description and some few lines of dialogue are enough for the reader to understand who they are.

As in the first, the odd are promptly stacked against Jean and Locke. This allows the reader to easily and readily root for them as their underdog status is well and truly deserved. A variety of plots, schemes and scams are present and Lynch keeps the reader guessing the whole time with a multitude of clues and breadcrumbs.    

Much of the book is pirate themed and the pages are packed with nautical expressions and problems. This makes the novel seem fresh and different from the original and allows Lynch to put his characters is new and interesting positions.

While much of this novel is fantastic, the main gripe I have is with the pacing. Towards the end the conclusions felt rushed and not given the gravity that they deserved. Thus the satisfaction that I received was not as great as it could have been and left me feeling bittersweet as I closed the last pages.

That being said, I still went out and immediately purchased the third instalment of the series. I would recommend this novel to anyone who read the first and liked it. And if you haven’t read The Lies of Locke Lamora then what are you waiting for! Do yourself a favour and go out and get it.

As always you can follow me at @jameslikesbooks

The Thousand Names Review

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There are some novels that are inevitably drawn to a reader. Novels that are inevitable, unavoidable. They simply must be read. For me, The Thousand Names by Django Wexler was one such novel.

Through sheer weight of recommendations alone I would have been compelled to obtain the novel. The fact that it is military fantasy, my favourite sub-genre, was merely the nail in the coffin. I have seen the book described as flintlock fantasy, which seems appropriate.  With muskets and bayonets this novel is very reminiscent of colonial times.

Firstly, I must say that I enjoyed The Thousand Names immensely, as I strongly expected that I would. Wexler does a number of things admirably, but the overriding achievement to me was in his discipline.

Wexler creates and shows the reader a rich, believable world but doesn’t force feed it down your throat. Instead, he parcels the world building out in flashes and snapshots that feel organic and not forced.

There is magic, but it is not over used or over explained. While I do enjoy complex and well fleshed out magic systems, it is refreshing to come across magic that is just that. Magic.

Another way that Wexler shows discipline is in his characters. He is sparing in his use of viewpoint characters. In a literary world where authors seem to be trying to tell their story through as many faces as possible, this choice kept the novel tight. The characters themselves are deep and likeable. Wexler creates a myriad of obstacles and adversaries to keep them busy and struggling. The theme of the everyman, or everywoman, muddling through as best as they can is prevalent and is effective at drawing the reader to cheer for the characters as they succeed.      

However, for me the standout of the novel was in the battle scenes. They were just as I like them, numerous, bloody and easy to follow. Wexler pulls the reader onto the battlefield with the characters, presenting a clear and often gory picture of what was happening. Also importantly, the combat always felt dangerous and had stakes. It must feel as though there is danger for the characters, and Wexler delivered on that.

  Ultimately, The Thousand Names achieved what a first novel in a series should do. It had an memorable engaging story that left me craving more. Immediately after finishing I ordered the rest. Overall, I would fully recommend this novel to anyone who loves fantasy and doesn’t mind a little, (or a lot) of violence.

You can follow my book adventures on twitter @jameslikesbooks

The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul Review

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This week’s novel was The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul by Douglas Adams. I picked up this book at Value Village, solely do to who the author was. Those of you who know that it was a Dirk Gently novel, might have though I chose it to because of the current T.V. series that is based on those novels.

This was not the case. I knew nothing about the story, I didn’t even read the blurb at the back before I starting reading. Thus I didn’t even know it was a mystery. As you might imagine, I spent much of the first few chapters completely confused!

However, despite these impediments, I rather enjoyed the novel. As with his other books, Adam’s writing was hilarious and engaging. The characters had depth and were interesting, and the novel’s pace never slowed, speeding along to it’s conclusion.

To me, the plot seemed a bit muddled, especially when I was fresh from finishing it. There were a number of plots, and subplots which were wrapped up quite suddenly. At just under 250 pages, there was little time to really become immersed in the story.

However, the more I reflect the more I appreciate the subtlety to which Adams brought the story to a close. Rather than bashing the reader over the head with all the details, he trusts that they have the ability to comprehend what has happened. A test I nearly failed.

Overall, the novel is quite short compared to others I’ve read and as it is a mystery novel there is not much more I can say about it. The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul was a delightful read. I has inspired to me to give the show a chance, and I would recommend anyone looking for a tight, well written novel to buy it!