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Coral Smith
27 September 2015 @ 11:12 am

Mikael Blomkvist’s Millennium newspaper has decided to run an exposé on the sex trade and human trafficking into Sweden. Their plans are to publish an issue that exposes police and other high ranking officials who have slept with underage girls forced into prostitution.

When the two main authors of the article are murdered right before the story goes to press, the Millennium staff is determined to find out who killed their colleagues. But when the police reveal that the finger prints they’ve recovered from the murder weapon belong to Lisbeth Salander, Mikael finds himself drawn into a conspiracy that has spanned Lisbeth’s lifetime.

While Lisbeth comes face to face with her past, Mikael risks his life to repay the debt he owes to her and prove her innocence.

I liked this book for the most part though it was a dark and depressing read.

I’m not sure if the author wanted us to suspect Lisbeth for a time, but there was a stretch of chapters where we weren’t getting anything from her point of view that went on a little too long for me.

There are a lot of unpleasant secondary characters in the book and it was frustrating that at least one of them makes it to the end of the story without being punished for his inappropriate actions.

Grade: B

Coral Smith
20 September 2015 @ 10:06 am

On the night of her birth, a prophecy was given to Guinevere. She would be the greatest lady in the land but would betray her husband.

At thirteen, Guinevere doesn’t believe in the prophecy but knows that it still has power over her life. It was why she was sent from her father’s small kingdom to live with her aunt Alyse – it will provide her with more opportunity to marry a powerful man. It is why Queen Alyse – still harboring resentment for the years she spent as the unfavoured sister to Guinevere’s mother Elen – is determined to ensure her own daughter rises before Guinevere. She also learns that it is the reason that the tribes called the Old Ones protect her.

While her Uncle King Pellinore is away, answering the call of King Arthur to ride to war against the Saxons, livestock begins to go missing from Pellinore’s lands. As Alyse has people looking into this crime, they stumble across truth of a larger plot.

Now, as Guinevere unwittingly finds herself in the middle of this plot, will she be able to save not only herself, but her cousin and her uncle’s kingdom as well?

Out of all of the books I’ve read by Nancy McKenzie, this is probably the one I’ve liked best since The Child Queen, mainly because there wasn’t anything really objectionable in this book.

I got a little frustrated when I realized that the story wasn’t going to get to Arthur and Camelot and his knights, because that’s what I’m looking for when I read stories about the Arthurian legend.

I thought that the story was setting itself up to be a new take on the legends, where a character we meet at the beginning would be revealed to be this novel’s take on Lancelot, for example, but by the end of the book it no longer seemed to be going in that direction.

Grade: B

Coral Smith
13 September 2015 @ 09:24 am

Journalist Mikael Blomkvist has found himself on the wrong side of a slander lawsuit. Having been found guilty, not only is he looking at jail time and a hefty fine but the loss of his professional reputation.

Taking time away from his job before his jail sentence begins, Mikael is approached by Henrik Vanger, a member of the wealthy Vanger family, who wants to hire him. Officially, Mikael will be writing the story of the Vanger family. Unofficially, he will be looking into the disappearance of Henrik’s great-neice Harriet, who went missing forty years ago.

He is aided in his investigation by Lisbeth Salander, a private investigator and computer hacker. Together they did into both the events surrounding Harriet’s disappearance and Harriet’s life. As they did deeper, they become convinced that Harriet stumbled on evidence of a terrible crime. Did learning this secret cost Harriet her life? And, in trying to solve the same mystery, will it cost Mikael and Lisbeth theirs as well?

I liked this book for the most part, despite a couple of very disturbing and graphic scenes.

I though the Harriet mystery was nicely wrapped up in the end (I, of course, did not guess the ending).

I was a little disappointed in how another part of the mystery wrapped up. Without giving too much away, the crime that Harriet and then Mikael and Lisbeth stumbled over was, I felt, wrapped up in such a way that there were victims who never got their justice.

Grade: B

Coral Smith
29 August 2015 @ 09:16 am

Though a member of the powerful Howard family, Catherine Howard is one of their poorer relations, as her father always find himself in debt. Sent to live with her grandmother Agnes, who runs a kind of boarding house for all the unmarried young women of the Howard family, Catherine dreams of finding a way out. She hopes to be named to service of whoever will be King Henry VIII’s next queen, not expecting to catch his eye herself.

Although Catherine loves another, Thomas Culpeper, an usher to the king, she has little choice but to marry the King. With court intrigue surrounding her, Catherine’s past may doom her to the same fate as her cousin, Anne Boleyn.

I had a hard time with this story, as it seemed to leave a lot of details out (although I am not an expert on the Tudor era).

I guess because the story set Catherine and Thomas up as a doomed romance, the author didn’t want to bring up the rape charge that was brought against him.

Having only the portrayals I saw in The Tudors as a basis, I found the author's characterizations in this book a bit jarring.

I know historically Catherine trusted Lady Jane Rochford with the knowledge of her affair with Thomas Culpeper, but I don’t understand why she does in the book. One second she is thinking about how much she dislikes her and the next Jane is with her while she and Thomas are having a secret meeting.

Also considering all of the political intrigue surrounding her, you would think that Catherine would know better than to take into her employ a person recommended to her by someone who doesn’t like her. Of course he’s going to be a spy!

I found it odd (again not knowing a lot about the history maybe I’m wrong about this) that Henry’s daughter Mary and Charles Brandon were both completely missing from the book.

I did like reading a different take on Catherine Howard, as her character here was definitely a lot different than her character in The Tudors. Her whole situation is sad and tragic, even if the book wasn’t the best.

Grade: D

Coral Smith
23 August 2015 @ 10:44 am

This is the fourth book published but the first book chronologically in the Branion Realm series.

Camden DeKathrine has always felt out of place in his family. Having a great affinity for the Wind, he wishes that he could be dedicated to that Aspect, but as a squire to his older brother Alec, he is instead dedicated to the Flame.

After the death of his father, Cam feels even more adrift. He finds himself drawn to one of his cousins, Danielle DeKathrine who notices his connection to the Wind and reveals her own connection to the Sea. Invited to spend the summer with Danielle and her father, his Uncle Celestus, and two other cousins staying with Celestus Quinton DeKathrine and Alisha DeMarian, Camden finds himself drawn into a heretical conspiracy that threatens to destabilize the Prophetic Realms ad destroy the DeMarian family itself.

I found this book to be quite boring. I felt that there wasn’t really a lot that happened in the story. There was too much time spent on Camden and his cousins training and, for me, not enough time spent on the actual conspiracy.

I don’t think the book was helped by being mainly set six years after the initial conspiracy and then flashing back first to when Camden and his cousins first came together and formed their circle. I feel there is no suspense when in the first couple of pages I’m told what the result is of their past plotting and even who died before the flashbacks catch up to this point. Later on in the “present” it's revealed that someone involved in the conspiracy has escaped their prison, basically again removing all suspense from the flashbacks on their fate in the past.

Although I complained about the time jumps in book three, given the smaller time frame in this book I think that the book should have been told in that narrative form. It could have started when Camden met his cousins, spent some time on their training, then jumped to the initial failed conspiracy, spent more time on the years in between the failed conspiracy and the “present” main time of the novel and then to the escape and all of the actions that followed.

I actually think that if the book had spent more time exploring the relationship between Camden and his family after his initial arrest I could have understood his decisions in the last section of the book, especially considering some of his earlier actions seem to be in conflict with his later actions.

Though the flashbacks were supposed to be told mainly from Camden’s point of view as he is telling his story to a friend, there are some flashback chapters told from other people’s point of views. Given this, I wish there would have been some chapters from the point of view of his cousins and fellow conspirators.

Out of the six books I have read from Fiona Patton I am actually a little shocked that I’ve only kept and really enjoyed two. I like a lot of aspects about her worlds, like how gendr equality is a normal part of them, where men and women can be soldiers, lords or rulers without anyone thinking anything of it. I also like how sexuality is handled in her stories, with everyone pretty much being bisexual or it not really mattering the gender of the person you love. I just wish that some of her stories were better plotted.

Grade: C

Coral Smith
14 August 2015 @ 09:08 pm

When workers building a new hotel in Alexandria uncover an old tomb inscribed with a Macedonian name, the archaeological community believes, at first, that they have found a Ptolemaic era tomb.  But when the Dragoumis family - a family with strong ties to Macedonian separatism - learns of the dig, they are convinced this tomb contains clues that will lead to the discovery of Alexander the Great’s tomb.

Having enraged his boss Hassan, a very powerful and dangerous man, disgraced archaeologist Daniel Knox is running for his life. With no way to leave the country, Daniel hides out with his friend Augustine, who has been called in to help excavate the tomb beneath the hotel. But the archaeological community is a small one, and Daniel’s past - not to mention the men Hassan has sent to kill him - combine for a deadly race to prevent the tomb of Alexander from falling into the wrong hands.

Considering this book was about finding the tomb of Alexander, I thought not enough time was spent on characters following the actual trail of clues. There were too many subplots, with the Dragoumis family, Daniel’s past with the Dragoumis family not to mention his past with Gaille's - the site translator's - father, hotel builder Mohammed and his sick daughter, not to Hassan and the men trying to kill Daniel. It was just too much.

I hated the way that Daniel was introduced, with him being indecisive about stepping in to prevent a woman from being raped by Hassan, because it was yet another female character that was put in jeopardy solely for the purpose of adding to the story/pain/motivation of the male character. The book spent almost no time on what she experienced in the aftermath, with quick mentions of her being caught by henchmen but would probably maybe be released. The never let her be a character in her own right. What happens to her next we’ll never know because her victimization was never about her but about Daniel’s reactions to it.

I don’t really know how small the archeological community is, but based on this book I would assume small, because every character who came to work on the Alexandria dig were connected from several past events. It was a little hard to believe.

As Daniel is running from the men Hassan has sent to kill him there is a line about how he has no time to go back to his hotel to get his belongings including a passport but a few pages later, without a break in his headlong drive to escape, Daniel suddenly has his passport to hand over at a checkpoint station.

For a main character, I actually think Daniel had very little to do with the plot. Considering at numerous times during the book he is running for his life, he doesn’t have a lot of time to devote to solving the clues surrounding the location of Alexander’s tomb.

While Daniel being a bisexual main character would have been interesting, for Gaille to assume that just because her father was gay that any man in his presence was his lover is ridiculous.

I won’t spoil anything, but I also thought the end of the book was ridiculous. I guess it was a way to connect all of the separate story lines together, but I didn’t find it a realistic ending.

Grade: F

Coral Smith

The Last Battle is here.

If facing the Dark One, hoping to kill him and forever remove evil from the world, wasn’t enough, Rand must also unify all the nations of the world behind him. Unfortunately, this also includes the Seanchan, as many nations refuse to fight in the Last Battle if Rand can’t guarantee their safety from the Seanchan’s invading armies.

Meanwhile, the remaining Forsaken will stop at nothing to bring the Dark One to victory.

With the fate of the world in the balance, Rand gets ready to make the ultimate sacrifice, hoping that it will be enough.

Finally, after all these years (I think maybe 20 years as I think I read the first five books close to their original publishing date) I have finally finished the Wheel of Time series. I’m not actually sure how I feel about the ending, though. There were some good moments, some moments I didn’t really like, but I didn’t feel like there were any amazing moments or twists that I would think about or remember years from now (or, for bad books, twists that I will still hate or be disgusted by years from now).

I’ve known for awhile that I wouldn’t like how the final book handled the Seanchan and I was right. I know Rand needed to get them on his side for the last battle, but I feel like he gave in to too many of their demands, especially about their keeping the women they had captured. I had brief hopes that another character had negotiated a better agreement with them, but events that happen afterwards make me think that the Seanchan won’t abide by the terms of that deal. Plus, Tuon always seemed to be looking for a way to remove the Seanchan from the battle, feeling like as the Empress she had the right to back out of any agreement she wanted to once it was no longer beneficial to her people.

I wish the series had a more final feel to it. I want to know what happens with the Seanchan, if the nations managed to leave under the Dragon’s Peace treaty that they signed. While the main battle was decided I think there were still some loose plot threads that didn’t end up getting tied up in the end.

Another book and another Perrin subplot that I just really didn’t care about. Slayer was a villain I thought should have been defeated a couple of books ago. I felt like the subplot was kind of shoe-horned into this book.

Considering this was the Last Battle (and the last book) I knew that there would be a lot of battle/fight scenes, but I felt like the author could have cut down on their description to allow for the inclusion of some elements I personally felt should have been included in the book. I would have liked to have read a reunion scene between Mat and his father (or any of his family) or the teased discussion between Hawking and the Seanchan empress. I would have liked to know more about the Sharans and how they came to the Last Battle. Considering how he had been built up over the series, Padan Fain was dealt with too simply in this book, in my opinion, and I wish his role could have been expanded. Another villainous character whose role should have been larger in the last book was Shaidar Haren. I found myself disappointed with how both of these arcs ended.

Maybe it comes from reading A Song of Ice and Fire, but I felt like there should have been more main characters that died over the course of the series. Counting from my perspective, in this last book there was only one main character who died (for me these are characters who have been central to the main story since book one). There were more secondary and tertiary characters who died in this final book, but I think that over the course of the story there were opportunities where keeping characters alive felt like the wrong narrative call.  I really think Morgause and Moiraine should have been killed off. Morgause never felt central to the plot after she lost the throne. It seemed like she only lived so that her victimization at the hands of Valda would be the catalyst for Galad's taking control of the Children of the Light.  I also feel that Moiraine didn't really need a role in the Last Battle, as even after being rescued there was nothing that she did that couldn't have been done by other characters, like Alivia (but that ties in to some of the other characters I would have killed off below).

Spoilers follow, but in the last book, there are three characters I would have killed off.Collapse )

I have loved and hated a lot of pieces of this series over the many years and re-reads. I just wish that finishing the series had left me with more feelings on how it all ended.

Grade: C

Coral Smith
29 July 2015 @ 10:51 pm

This is the third book published in the Branion Realm series, though it is the second book chronologically.

Guided by a prophetic vision, Llewellyne, daughter of Owain, the elected Prince of Gwyneth, seduces the Essusiate Aristok Marsellus DeMarian in order to conceive a child. Having turned from the Triarch faith 100 years ago, Branion’s aggression against their neighbouring country has increased. Llewellyne’s vision shows her a way to restore the Triarch faith to the throne of Branion and to protect her country.

When Rhys is born, he becomes the heir to the Branion throne in the eyes of all those of the Triarch faith. As a baby, Rhys attracts those Branions of the old faith, who have fallen out of favour with the ruling family. He also attracts unwanted attention from those of the Essusiate faith afraid he will be used as a rallying point to launch a war against them.

And they are not wrong. With the Branion Triarchs, the Gwyneth lords and the Companion Guild (also out of favour under the new religion) supporting him, war breaks out on two fronts, threatening to tear Branion apart.

I liked this book, almost as much as the first book in the series. I like the author’s style of writing across all her books, but I find her world building to be better in this series. The story and the characters in this book drew me in right away.

Oddly enough, as in book two, we have a plot with a hired assassin turning away from their mission, although it’s more believable to me in this book (someone hired as a spy then asked to kill a baby but finds out that they can’t bring themselves to go through with it).

Like book 1, I found myself wanting to know more about what happens to the characters after the book ends and wish there had been a more direct sequel to this story.

There were a couple of time jumps in the book that I didn’t always find believable. If we are to consider the fact that Gwyneth and Branion are practically at war from the moment of Rhys’ birth, I find it hard to believe the first ten year time jump of no hostility that lets him grow up and not be killed (I know the explanation given, I just still found it hard to believe). I would have preferred it if it had taken Branion longer to view Rhys as a threat and then the diversion tactic Gwyneth used could have been brought up with a shorter time jump.

I think because of the time jumps the story felt a little choppy at times, like parts were missing or parts that needed to be explored more.

I like getting the story from multiple view points, but I did feel that overall the Essusiate characters didn’t get a lot of pages devoted to them. I know books 1 and 2 are set chronologically after this book we already know how the battle turns out, so maybe we are supposed to view these characters in a certain way, but I feel like a few of them were more than the villains hunting Rhys and I would have liked it if they had been explored more (especially characters like Drusus, who had a tragic air to him).

I also wish that more time had been spent with some minor characters, including the woman who led the rebellion inside Branion itself. She was an interesting character and I felt like there weren’t enough chapters from her point of view (I can’t remember exactly now, but there may only have been one).

There was one character where I thought it was a little unbelievable that they weren’t killed as a traitor and again this goes with the unbelievable length, for me, of the first time jump.

Coming as I am rereading the Wheel of Time series, there is a story line in this book and that series about two characters who, although they are not related to each other, have a half sibling in common and yet have a romantic/sexual relationship with each other. It’s especially disturbing to me here where characters comment on how the romantic/sexual partner looks like the half-brother they have in common.

Grade: B

Coral Smith
24 July 2015 @ 10:49 pm

After the fall of Arthur and Mordred, it is Constantine who now rules Britain as King. He plans to forge his own dynasty through his sons: Meliodas, Markion and Pernam. But Pernam chooses a life of simplicity and his eldest son Meliodas, King of Lyonesse, dies, leaving behind a young son Tristan.

Tristan grows into a fine young man, with the heart of a poet, under the guardianship of his uncle Mark. While the people of Lyonesse worry that Mark will never grant Tristan the crown that is rightfully his – already Constantine has displaced Tristan in favour of Mark for the crown of Britain – Tristan loves and trusts his uncle, almost giving his life for Mark’s right to be Constatine’s heir.

But when Mark’s son dies, he is advised to take a new wife to guarantee his own legacy in Britain.  In order to strengthen bonds weakened after the death of Arthur, Markion will take as his bride Essylte, daughter of King Percival.

Tristan is sent to escort his uncle’s bride to be to her new home. But no sooner do Tristan and Essylte meet then they fall in love. Torn between their love and their duties, their forbidden romance will put the future of a united Britain in the balance.

The problem I so often have with books about Tristan and Isolde/Essylte, or about Helen and Paris for that matter, is that the characters themselves know how much they are risking with their romance, so I need to feel like the book has really sold me on their love for me to believe that the risk is worth it. And this book didn’t sell me on their romance. Maybe it’s me, but I need more depth than “love at first sight”. Considering that Tristan was sick and feverish for a lot of their early meeting, it felt more like a reliance on the person caring for him then love.

I dislike how Mark is always the evil character in these books, with no shades of gray, no subtlety to his character. In the book, he doesn’t deny Tristan the crown of Lyonesse, like people feared, and he didn’t take the High Crown of Britain from him – Tristan’s grandfather made Mark heir. And Tristan doesn’t want to be the King of Britain, knowing that he doesn’t possess the qualities of a good king. Tristan and Essylte make Mark and his main advisor out to be jealous or petty respectively when people suspect them of an inappropriate relationship. Considering how bad Mark is in the book, the fact that Tristan and Essylte feel guilty of betraying him is another way of showing how good they are compared to him.

Considering what Tristan and Essylte ask Branwen – Esslylte’s childhood companion – to do to protect them and then how they break their word to her, I don’t think they are the good people they pretend to be.

I’m trying to think of anything about this book that I liked, but I can’t. I mainly read it because I like stories connected to the Arthurian legend and for some reason can’t not read even the bad ones.

Grade: F

Coral Smith

The final battle approaches.

As Lan makes his way to the Borderlands to join the fight, other outposts find themselves overrun by Trollocs.

The Tower has survived Elaida and is slowing working towards unity. But there is still a Forsaken hidden in the Tower that Egwene must smoke out, with her own life as the bait. Egwene also works to turn the nations against Rand’s plan of destroying the Dark One’s remaining seals.

Perrin comes face to face with the new commander of the Children of the Light and must face the accusations that he has murdered White Cloaks.

Mat must deal with the gholam that has been stalking him across the world as he gets ready to set off on his quest to save Moiraine. But he still has that letter for Verin that he resists opening and a wife he misses more than expected.

Aviendha is on her path to becoming a Wise One, but she must confront the unexpected and unbelievable visions of the Aiel’s dark future.

Having secured the Lion Throne of Andor, Elayne now works to take the Sun Throne of Cairhien as well.

Rand has accepted his place in the world and prepares for the Last Battle. Despite Egwene’s protestations, he knows what he must do and he is ready to face what will come.

This was a very slow moving book. It seemed like it was mainly tying up a bunch of loose plots before we get to the final battle next book.

I felt there was a lot of time wasted, especially with Perrin’s plot. I was uninterested in his trial for the murder of the Children of the Light. I was happy to finally see the end of the gholem and of Gawyn’s anger at Rand for the “murder” of his mother.

This was also the book where it seemed like a lot of couples that had either been hinted at or who had been in a holding pattern finally came together. I lost interest in Morgase’s relationship a long time ago (and the character too, frankly; she hasn’t really had much of a purpose since losing her throne) as well as Siun Sanche’s. Egwene and Gawyn’s relationship has been drawn out too long by his inability to listen to her. For me a lot of this felt like wasted time as well.

Considering it was on the cover, the rescue of Moiraine didn’t really take up a lot of the book and was embarked and completed in only a few chapters.

This definitely felt like more of a wrap up that anything else.

Grade: C