Book Review: Ecstasy by Irvine Welsh

Ecstasy by Irvine Welsh

This book contains three stories that revolve around romance and ecstasy among other things.

Lorraine Goes to Livingston is the first story. It was titled a “Rave and Regency” romance. Famed regency romance novel writer Rebecca Navarro (who writes stories such as Lucy Goes to Liverpool and Yasmin Goes to Yeovil) has a stroke, which jolts her out of her dreamworld. When she actually takes a look at reality, she realizes that her husband is a prick who’s using her for her money, and he uses her money for all forms of debauchery. She, along with the help of a nurse — Lorraine, plan revenge on her dear husband.

This was my favorite story in the whole book. The next two stories are powerful, especially the one following this one, but this one held the most value to me. When you first meet Rebecca, you don’t really like her much, but you feel empathy for her. And Lorraine is one of those characters that you can relate to. She’s a single woman who has questions about her sexuality and wishes that everyone would stop trying to force love down her throat. Then, of course with this being your typical Irvine story, you have drug abuse, raves, and some bizarre, disgusting sex practices (bestiality and necrophilia for this particular story).

Fortune’s Always Hiding is the second story and is subtitled “A Corporate Drug Romance”. The story revolves around a woman, who was the unfortunate victim of a drug marketed in the 60’s, and a man, who’s obsessed with soccer (or fitba, as they commonly say ;Þ). The woman is hell-bent on revenge and the man is in love and would do anything for her.

Another powerful story revolving around revenge, but this time it’s against a big corporation who refuses to take responsibility for destroying people’s lives. They’ve given money, but they aren’t truly remorseful about their actions. I loved how Welsh jumped back and forth giving us tiny portions of what happened to the woman, Samantha. This one is my second favorite story in the book as well.

The Undefeated, an Acid House Romance, is about a jobless, drug dealer-slash-raver named Lloyd, and a unhappy, sexually frustrated housewife named Heather.

There’s not a lot that I can say for this story. Most of the story is spent following their everyday struggles and few pages are actually dedicated to their meeting up. Lloyd’s side of things didn’t interest me all that much. It was interesting at times, but most times, I found his commentary lacking. Heather’s side of things was quite fascinating though. It was just something about reading about her going from “good” Heather to “bad” Heather that really kept me reading her chapters.

It seems like I liked the stories in the order they were written. I loved the first and was only partially impressed by the last, even though, I did really love the hopeful ending we get at the end of the last story. Yeah, I’ll admit the characters aren’t all that drawn out, but this is only a 275 page book. What do you expect? Shrek’s analysis? A wonderful addition for people who collect Welsh’s off-beat works.

Final Verdict: 
3 of 5 stars

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Mogsy: A Book That Makes You Sad

 

 
Can I take “Book that made me sad” to also mean “Book that made me bawl my friggin’ eyes out so hard that I couldn’t even see well enough to finish the last page”?

If so, this would be it. 11/22/63 isn’t really that sad per se, but the ending is gut-wrenchingly bittersweet. I found myself at the kitchen table the morning I finished this book sobbing so loudly my husband rushed in from the back of the house to ask me if anything was wrong.

“Uh, yeah,” I said. “Stephen King actually made me cry!”

Yup. Stephen King. Made me cry. I doubt he’d be the first one to come to mind when naming authors adept at pulling heartstrings, and in fact, I believe King has been criticized in the past for his awkward handling of scenes that involve any deep emotion or feeling. For example, you wouldn’t think romance would be his forte.

11/22/63 would prove that wrong. Obviously, the book isn’t a tearjerker romance (Note: it’s not horror either; personally I would say Thriller/Suspense). Still, I can’t deny those emotional factors made it even stronger, and ultimately it’s the love story in the end that stayed with me.

But the book is about so much more! Basically, it’s one giant “what if” scenario involving John F. Kennedy and his assassination by Lee Harvey Oswald that fateful day in 1963. It’s got aspects of time travel, alternate history, historical fiction, thrills and chills — honestly, it’s great. But I’d say the less you know about the story going in, the better the experience is going to be. It’s just one of those books!

Book Review: Seraphina by Rachel Hartman

Seraphina byRachel Hartman

Know how I’ve always marveled and pondered the many ways authors handle the subject of dragons? Well, in Seraphina, they are intelligent, possess advanced technology, and have a magical ability that lets them take human form. The book takes place in a world where humans and dragonkind exist in a constant state of mistrust. After warring with the humans for time eternal, the leaders of the two races had finally come together to agree upon a peace treaty.  

Now forty years have passed, and while dragons walk amongst humans at court and in their cities as scholars and ambassadors, bitter feelings still exist between the two sides. The tension reaches a fever pitch in the days before the dragonkind leader arrives to commemorate the treaty’s anniversary, and a human prince of Goredd is found dead, his head missing–presumably eaten by a dragon. 

These events hold terrible implications for our protagonist Seraphina Dombegh, a half-dragon hybrid who has struggled to hide her secret for most of her life. Circumstances draw her into the murder investigation, and she finds herself working with handsome Prince Lucian, Captain of the Queen’s Guard, despite her position as the court musician’s assistant. With the day of the anniversary celebrations fast approaching, they have limited time to tease apart a dangerous conspiracy plot.

The world-building in this book is phenomenal; as in, a lot of thought seems to have been put into every aspect of the setting. For example, its rich history adds a lot to the story, and to a certain extent, the reader has to understand the significance of past events to fully appreciate the impact they have on the present. Then there is the complex religion, which encompasses a fair number of saints to which the people of Goredd look to guide them. The religious aspect certainly isn’t central to the book, but at the same time, it adds a layer of context to the story and characters, making them feel more refined.

Then there are the dragonkind and their culture. Let’s just say when it comes to emotional suppression and denial of their feelings, the dragons in Seraphina make the Vulcans on Star Trek look like cuddly puppies. The idea that they can look like humans is also very interesting, if not wholly original, but what I found amusing are the dragons’ general impressions on having to take human shape; I just wished there were more details on the magic involved during the actual changing process.

And speaking of magic, on the whole, the concept of it in this book is quite abstract. Seraphina, for instance, has to regularly “tend a garden” in her mind in order to control the debilitating visions that overtake her, thanks to the powers she inherited from her unusual parentage. If you’re anything like me, it’ll take some time to wrap your head around this bizarre idea, which really is more a part of Seraphina’s abilities than a metaphor, which I know it sounds like.

So why am I not absolutely crazy for this book, like I should be? Unfortunately, some books that by all rights I should adore are diminished in my eyes by the characteristics of the main protagonist, and this was the case for Seraphina. Try as I might, I just couldn’t connect with the eponymous heroine as I’m usually not a fan of the “wallflower-type” character. Granted, Seraphina has all the reasons in the world to be the way she is, but she’s still a bit too far on the meek side of things for my tastes. It’s true she displays moments of strength and determination, but then also wallowed in her self-pity one too many times for me to truly engage with her narrative.

Don’t get me wrong, this book was a wonderful read and I’m glad I picked it up, but being able to like the main character is a biggie for me, and it was that one thing that prevented me from giving it a higher rating. Overall, however, Seraphina is an impressive debut featuring excellent world-building and very imaginative elements. It’s classified as Young Adult, but a wider audience could definitely appreciate this.

Final verdict:
3 of 5 stars

 

Wendy’s Book Haul (aka Book Lootz!)

I told Mogsy that my latest BookCloseOuts order had arrived and she demanded visual evidence. So here it is!

 

Book Review: A Natural History of Dragons by Marie Brennan

A Natural History of Dragons: A Memoir by Lady Trent byMarie Brennan

Wow, I really liked this book — everything from the story and the characters and the writing down to its stark yet elegant cover which first drew my eye to its spot sitting on a store bookshelf. I blame my background in the biological sciences, since it seems I can’t help but be intrigued by anything that looks like it has anatomical drawings on it.

As indicated by its title, the novel is told in the form of a memoir from the venerable Lady Trent, leading research and expert on the matter of dragons. But in the time her story takes place, she was known simply as Isabella Camherst, a newly married 19-year-old lady of Scirland in a society where women were still mostly restricted from taking up the scholarly pursuits. This book is an account of how her love for dragons and science manifested at a very young age, and how a serendipitous opportunity to join an expedition to study dragons changed her life.

How interesting could this book be, I initially thought to myself. Is this whole thing going to be about some fictional old lady waxing nostalgic about her life researching dragons? I think a part of me expected nothing but a collection of anecdotes. I also might have had it in my head that this was going to read like a fantasy version of something like Jane Goodall’s Through a Window, except with dragons instead of chimpanzees.

In the end, none of what I thought came even close, because there actually was a plot, and a pretty good one at that. I was surprised to see there was a thread of mystery woven into the story: something strange is afoot in the host village Isabella and her companions are staying in, and on top of that, the native species of rock-wyrm has become prone to attack humans, which isn’t their usual behavior. These are the questions that Isabella has to answer while their expedition is in the Vystrani Mountains.

Of course, there ended up being the anecdotes I’d been expecting too, but they mostly came near the beginning. I didn’t like these as much as I liked the main story about the expedition, but they did give pretty good insight into Isabella’s character and personality. I didn’t care much for some of her childhood experiences because often she came across as too much of a brat, but I did love the story of how she met her husband Jacob. It was such a sweet, awkwardly romantic scene that I swear my eyes practically started watering up along with Isabella’s when she burst into tears of happiness.

My favorite thing about the book, however, was its overall concept. I didn’t think I was going to take to the writing style, what with the stuffy narration from the get-go, but it actually came across in a very natural way that was nowhere near as distracting as I’d expected. What struck me is that you could also easily contrast the young, impetuous and excitable Isabella in the memoir to the older, more mellow and experienced Lady Trent who is “writing”, and still get the sense she retained all that determination and humor in her personality. I thought it was a cool way of presenting the novel, and Marie Brennan pulled it off perfectly.

Also, I’ve seen fantasy deal with the subject of dragons in many ways; sometimes they’re the monsters for the heroes to kill, sometimes they’re intelligent and have the ability to speak, forming partnerships with humans or even taking human shape, etc. However, I personally liked how this book tackled the matter by painting dragons as simply another kind of wild animal species, as well as the main character’s biologist/naturalist perspective to want to observe and study them. Like I said, perhaps it’s due to my own educational history and interest, but this aspect of the book really appealed to me.

This was just a great read all around, the experience made even better for me because it was such an unexpectedly pleasant surprise. To summarize: A very good book featuring an interesting concept, engrossing plot, and a refreshingly strong female protagonist.

Final verdict:
 4.5 of 5 stars

Wendy: Favourite Female Character

I have several favourite female characters, two of whom have already appeared in Character Appreciation Posts. For the reading challenge, I opted for someone a little more unusual. In fact, Vergere is a Star Wars character that I mocked, initially, because really? She’s a Jedi chicken! How could I possibly take her seriously? Then I read Traitor and Vergere was transformed from a source of ridicule to a subject of respect, curiosity and maybe even some awe and adoration. She may have even surpassed my previous Jedi Masters, Kreia and Jolee Bindoo, taking the deconstruction of the force and the ways of the Sith and the Jedi to an entirely new level, as manifested in her pupil, Jacen Solo. She shreds her pupil to his core, separating him from everything that he is and pushing him towards uncertainty. In the end, he learns a truth about the force that I have always wished would be explored within the Star Wars realm. Vergere is identified most readily as Sith and therefore evil, but her actions and teachings spoke much louder than that simple definition.

“Everything I tell you is a lie.”

Comic Review Bites

Mystery Society by Steve Niles and Fiona Staples

A sexy couple with the means and the motivation to solve some of the more unusual crimes are recruiting members for their new Mystery Society. Conveniently, a ghoul named Secret Skull and Jules Verne’s brain encased in a quirky robot body apply for the job. Add the atomic twins that Nick Mystery rescues from Area 51 and we have the makings of a really fun team.

Unfortunately, in spite of Fiona Staples’ fantastic artwork, this great concept falls flat with sub-par plotting, sub-par subplotting, a lack of mystery, an annoying antagonist and rather lame attempts at wit and humour. This comment is very negative, but I’d like to think that it’s a negative with a lean to the positive. As in, I can see a lot of potential for good old fashioned tongue-in cheek mystery wagon fun with this book, if it can stop trying so hard and just relax and enjoy itself.

2.5 of 5 stars

We3We3 by Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely

Three lost pets are turned into war machines but as prototypes, their phase of the test program is complete and WE3 are set for termination. Their chief handler disapproves of this and gives them the means to escape their fate. Out in the world, they deal with their hunters with brutal precision that reflects their individual natures but in their hearts and minds is a single word: “home.”

I think a true animal lover will find this book even more gut-wrenching than I did, but I can definitely appreciate the emotions attached to it, especially with the lost pet posters that begin each chapter.

This was recommended to me when I asked for a good Grant Morrison story. The story idea was really good and I liked that there was not a lot of dialogue and exposition. Morrison truly allowed the art to speak and Quitely delivered admirably. I loved the way the visuals begin from a pet’s eye view and I loved the unique splash pages, particularly the one that separated the page into a mosaic of frightening violence.

3.5 of 5 stars

X-Men: Magneto TestamentX-Men: Magneto Testament by Greg Pak and Carmine Di Giandomenico

The best thing about this series is that it is not about a superhero/villain or mutant, but about a very human boy forced to become a man during the Holocaust. We’ve always known about Magneto’s past, but we’ve never seen it. Not like this. I kept wondering if and when his powers would manifest, as we’ve seen in various other incarnations of his story, but the harsh reality is … painful.. and educational.

4 of 5 stars

Book Review: The Spirit Thief by Rachel Aaron

The Spirit Thief byRachel Aaron

Rachel Aaron’s The Legend of Eli Monpress is a series that has repeatedly popped up on my recommendations lists in the past; I swear every few weeks I’ll be browsing through suggestions on my online book stores or Goodreads pages as usual and this blue cover will show up, with the man’s face on it flashing his sly little smile at me. It’s like he’s saying, “READ ME! Come on, you know you wanna!”

Obviously, my curiosity gotten the better of me, or more accurately, World Without End’s Women of Genre Fiction Reading Challenge gave me the perfect excuse and motivation to finally pick this book up and read it. And I’m happy to report, I wasn’t disappointed.

The book begins with a kidnapping. Eli Monpress, the greatest thief of his age and also a talented wizard, has decided to pull off the greatest theft the world has ever seen, and what greater theft is there than the stealing away of a nation’s king? His plans to increase his notoriety fall through, however, when he unwittingly brings about political turmoil that could threaten the kingdom and even the spirits of the land. Miranda Lyonette, the spiritualist tasked to hunt Eli, ends up joining forces with him and his friends to put a stop to the evil forces before they can destroy everything.

I’ve noticed that in recent years, the genre of fantasy has evolved towards being darker and grittier, and on the whole I feel it’s a good trend. Still, every once in a while it’s still nice to see something like The Spirit Thief that’s fun, down-to-earth and makes you feel good after reading it. There’s a lighthearted feel to the story, but there’s also enough suspense in it to hook you. I for one found it very engrossing from the get-go.

I also found the magic system intriguing. The wizards in this world don’t perform magic directly per se; instead they make requests or set up arrangements with the spirits that exist in everything from mundane objects like doors to the natural elements like the air, lava, or even full bodies of water. Miranda the spiritualist, for example, maintains symbiotic relationships with multiple spirits who serve her, and in return she provides them safe places to reside and lets them feed off her magic.

My only issue is a minor one. It has to do with the characters and a feeling that they haven’t met their full potential. For one thing, the series’ eponymous character feels merely like a side character, and while Eli is described as roguish and charming, I can’t help but think of him as more cocky and annoyingly obnoxious. Maybe it has to do with how much he’s constantly described as “grinning”, and all I can picture in my head is that cover image every single time. The same goes for his companions Josef the swordsman and Nico the demonseed; both are very interesting, but don’t seem to feature prominently enough for me to truly care about what happens to them. 

My feelings for the characters not withstanding, this was a good start to what looks to be a series I definitely want to keep reading. If the rest of the books are as entertaining and fun as this first one, I think I’ll enjoy it quite a bit.

Final verdict:
 4 of 5 stars

Book Review: World War Z by Max Brooks

World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War by Max Brooks

The thing that sets this zombie story apart from the others I’ve experienced is right there in the title: WORLD War Z. So many other zombie stories are America-centric and work on the vague notion that the epidemic is occurring elsewhere in the world, but there is no interaction with anyone but the small pocket of main characters within the United States. Isolation is a huge part of those stories, which ups the tension and emotion, but it always bothers me that a global apocalypse seems to immediately reduce the world to a handful of people right from the start.

In this case, it starts with a handful of people in China, a small village identified as ground zero, the source of the epidemic, then moves throughout the world as the author interviews various survivors of the horrific events. Brooks has already compiled enough information for an official report on the events, but because of all the information he learned doing so, he is compelled to write a more human report. This is another difference about the book that appeals to me: few of the survivor stories are coming from the “regular” people. A lot of the stories come from people responsible for some of the major decisions and events that took place in the war. It is interesting to note how many interviews take place within various types of institutions, or comment on the breakdowns of the people in power after they are forced to make decisions that amount to the sacrifice of thousands of innocent human lives to contain and ultimately destroy the undead.

The nature of the recounts does not allow for a lot of emotional attachment to any of the characters and the emotions of the characters themselves has to be extrapolated by the reader based on the stories they tell. Ironically, my favourite story was the one of Paul Redeker. An apparently emotionless man who turned the tides of the epidemic in Africa through the implementation of a controversial plan.

I also really liked that this wasn’t just about fighting the zombies. It was a surprisingly in depth look at the various government and military institutions around the world. Their reactions to the event are very realistic and remained so throughout. And in the end, no one country could claim any kind of victory. There is also a lot of emphasis on the guilt that comes with “just following orders.”

Because the book occurs after the events, there is no sense of immediate danger. This might not work for some readers, and evidently, it doesn’t work for the upcoming movie, which clearly pits Brad Pitt against the zombies. I also notice that the zombies are more like freaky carpenter ants in the trailer, speedily climbing over each other to swarm their targets. There is a small moment in the book that describes the zombies as a “swarm,” which I suspect is what inspired the movie interpretation of their movement habits, but otherwise, the book maintains the shambling corpse that is zombie flick standard.

My book club is reading this book because of the upcoming movie. We’re curious to see how far it strays from the source material, as the trailer already seems to depict. I’ll check back later with my report!

4 of 5 stars

Cover Lover: Revolution

Welcome to Cover Lover, a feature on this blog dedicated to book covers! For a long time, I’d wanted a place where I can share some of my favorite covers, or talk about any that might have caught my eye. So when I came across this idea on fellow gamer/book lover Angelya’s site The Oaken Bookcase, I jumped at the opportunity to adopt it as well. The “meme” was originally created by another friend of mine, Jaedia, on her book blog Once Upon A Time, so be sure to check out both their sites and take a look at some of the covers they have featured.

If you haven’t read Promise of Blood by Brian McClellan yet, you’re missing out. It’s got all the good stuff, its story encompassing an epic scope of events unfolding before a backdrop of war, politics and revolution. Not to mention the really cool magic system! Readers of adult contemporary fantasy should feel right at home in this world of Powder Mages and Privileged. You can read my full review here.

As you can imagine, I’m eagerly awaiting the release of the sequel The Crimson Campaign, which probably wouldn’t happen until early next year. For now, I’ll just have to settle for drooling over its cover image.

One word: sexy.