Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Book Review: Artificial Condition

Artificial Condition (The Murderbot Diaries, #2)Artificial Condition by Martha Wells
Book 2 of The Murderbot Diaries

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


I want to write a song about how awesome Murderbot is... Although I'm not sure where to start. But it should be accompanied by a video that involves a lot of "BAM", "CRUNCH", "WHOOSH" like graphics like in the old school Batman TV show (with Adam West as Batman). And in said song there would be lines that quote Murderbot's funny quips and thoughts on ridiculous humans. But alas I am not a song writer so you'll have to settle for my review about how great this book (and series) are!

Murderbot is still a girl to me
I dunno what is, but just like in the first book Murderbot (our androgynous AI robot lead character) is still female to me. Maybe I just really like women who are strong, powerful and fight? Whatever it is I cannot get this image of 'her' out of my head. Maybe that's the real power of Murderbot overall is that you can make them anything you want. Whatever race, culture, gender, sexual orientation, etc. that you identify with.

Kicks a lot of butt
The best part of this series is when Murderbot turn it all on in a fight and takes people out. It's not super violent, and never a graphically described way; more fighting in that fun 'old Batman' style. In Artificial Condition we are taken to a sketchy out of the way mining area to see if we can learn about the 'incident' that resulted in Murderbot naming themselves Murderbot. Lots of action, new friends (and enemies) and hacking happen in Martha Wells follow-up to All Systems Red. Very much like the feel and attitude of the first one.

Read in any order!
It's really rare that I feel it's okay to read a book out of order in a series. But Wells does a fabulous job of recapping what we need to know, without boring the reader to death if they just read the first book. I loved how succinct Wells is with her moments where she reminds us that Murderbot did this or that happened in the past. While this book is less than 200 pages, a lot happens and very little is redundant.

Overall
This is the funnest series I've read in a long time. It's over the top at times without being outrageous, Murderbot is so relatable (considering they are a robot) and it's a nice easy read. I laughed, cringed and gasped during this novella; and at the end immediately ordered book 3. I hope The Murderbot Diaries keeps going for a long time as it's quickly becoming my go to for a need-a-quick-break book series. As always the best thing I can ever say about a book is that I bought a hard copy of this ARC for my personal library.

To read this and more of my reviews visit my blog at Epic Reading

Please note: I received an eARC of this book from the publisher via NetGalley. This is an honest and unbiased review.

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Thursday, January 3, 2019

Book Review: The Last Watchman of Cairo

The Last Watchman of Old CairoThe Last Watchman of Old Cairo by Michael David Lukas

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It took me about 30% of this book, a good 100 pages or more to really 'get' The Last Watchman of Old Cairo. At first it felt very disjointed. There were multiple timelines and people but none of them were meshing in my brain and I couldn't figure out how each generation was related to the next as we jumped around. However, there is a point at which it just clicked for me. I hope for other readers that point will come earlier than it took for me as this is a wonderful story once you get into it.

Plot
It's all about a scroll. That's not clear from the beginning but if the One Ring in LOTR is the plot driver then the Ezra Scroll is the plot driver in Michael David Lukas historical story. Where is the scroll? Who has the scroll? Is it magical? etc. These questions are asked over and over again by each of our characters in all the different generations that this story spans. There's other things happening as well. Lots of hiding, sneaking, and even some minor spying. But for the most part this is a story about protecting a synagogue and it's treasures (of which the scroll is purported to be one).

Characters
The two older ladies in this book are my absolute favourite. They are not a part of the line of watchmen that we follow in the other timelines; but they are just as adamant about protecting and 'watching' over the previous documents than any of our watchmen are. Additionally I felt like I got the most out of their analysis of the situations and things that may have happened. Without them in the middle I do not know that I would have been able to understand all the nuances of this book as easily. While all the other characters are men I don't think this is a gender bias (as I am female); but instead just the overall way the ladies can look at the larger situation helped to see the whole picture at a different level than our watchmen can see it.

Forgiveness
There is an interesting tone throughout The Last Watchman of Cairo that I was not expecting. This is actually a book about forgiveness and knowing when it's okay to say a mistake is tolerable. Our characters make lots of mistakes in Cairo and many of them are forgiven in some way or another. This was a piece of the story I didn't expect based on the blurb or the beginning. It was nice to see such a clear morale in the book that didn't have anything to do with revenge or vengeance; but merely with what a measure of a man (or woman) might be. If they are a worthy person then they should ultimately be worthy of forgiveness.

Writing Style
The best part of this book isn't even the exotic (to me) setting of Cairo (which I learned lots about!), nor is it the religious 'clash' between the Jews and the Muslims; instead it is the style of author Lukas. There is a melody, pace and cadence to Lukas' writing that is stunning. Once I got into the story and was really pulled into the events and characters I realized that part of my struggle to get into the book was to find the beat that Lukas used to write it. Similar to some poetry where you need to understand the cadence of a poem for it to sound right. I don't know at what point I realized it was a gorgeous and unique style of writing; all I know is that by the end I was sad to let the beat go.

Overall
The Last Watchman of Cairo was a truly magical book, even if it held little to no actual magic. There is a gentleness with which Lukas has set-up the religious clash and dangers of Cairo (in each time period) that contributes to the way we view the characters and actions. If you have interest in reading about a different history than you've probably ever heard, in a city that is not often written about; then I definitely recommend this book. Lukas has really captured a story that intrigued me; and the best part of it all, much of the story is true! I do love these historical books that have nuggets of truth in them and where the authors have spent time to research and understand the place, people and times that they are writing about. I will be on the lookout for more stories from Lukas and I hope they are just as unique and interesting as this one is.

Please note: I received an eARC of this book from the publisher via NetGalley. This is an honest and unbiased review.

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Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Book Review: A Little Snake

The Little SnakeThe Little Snake by A.L. Kennedy

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I clearly missed something in this book. I did not get it.
Obviously it's an allegory about life and circumstances in life but I just couldn't get into it. There may be one obvious issue that held me back here, and it's not the literary writing...

Personality of Snakes
I am a long time snake owner (10+ years). My husband and I have fostered over a dozen snakes over the years and had many of our own. Today we have 3 (an 18-yr-old cornsnake, a 4-yr-0ld ball python, a 4-yr-old boa) and so I intimately know that snakes have personalities, and they are all different. No one snake is the same as another.
While the snake is the star of A. L. Kennedy's book The Little Snake; what it's really missing is a feel for the snake. I wanted to love this snake (even if his purpose in the world is dark), I wanted to connect with him and feel alongside him. I believe you are meant to sympathize with the snake and connect with him. For me it fell flat.
There were too many weird descriptions of the way the snake moved, changed and otherwise interacted with the humans it encounters. Now, before you get all upset with me, yes I know it's a mythical talking snake; and yes I get that it's fiction. But imagine a book where a cat or dog is the lead character and where the descriptions of the animal don't match up to what you personally know about that type of animal. Say they describe a dog that can't swim or a cat that likes water; you'd be put off too right? This is the kind of feeling I got about the snake.

Plot
It seems to be a theme lately with literary books that they are seriously lacking in plot. Something needs to drive the story forward and I'm getting tired of it being 'just because time passes'. This is really not a good enough reason for me. Existing is not plot. Even though this is a short story I'd have liked to see there be more purpose given to our characters (including the snake) so that it felt like the story was propelling forward.

Boring
Honestly, this was sooo boring. Even if I hadn't disliked the snake characterization I don't think I'd have liked this book. It was just dull, predictable and all around boring. It's not an original idea necessarily, we have lots of literary fiction about learning about love or pursuing a life built off love. And so I wanted more from this. There are a few quotable lines for sure; but this feels like a book written just to bore some poor future high school students into trying to find minding behind the words. *yawn* I just don't want to work that hard. A book can be an analogy or allegory, written at a high literary standard and still be interesting and readable. Unfortunately, The Little Snake is not one of these.

Overall
The best part of this book is that it's short. So If you really want to read it (even if you end up hating it) not a lot of time is lost. Perhaps for someone besides me this is a life changing book that connects with them in an intimate way. And if that is the case then I'm very happy it was written and so important to others. For me it just misses the mark in a lot of ways. But hey, it's short and I can't complain about that.

To read this and more of my reviews visit my blog at Epic Reading

Please note: I received an eARC of this book from the publisher via NetGalley. This is an honest and unbiased review.

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Book Review: Krampus

Krampus: The Yule LordKrampus: The Yule Lord by Brom

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Sometimes we are very lucky to read an author that has thoughts and sentiments so close to our own it's as though we were cut from the same cloth. For me, at this moment, it is Brom. Ironically I met him many years ago (before he had written any books) at a comic expo where he was showcasing his Gothic art. Brom came across as a quiet and thoughtful person who didn't have much to say that wasn't shown in his art. I wish at the time that I met him I'd known how alike our thoughts might be! I also wish I had talked to him more to get a real sense of him as a person.

I intentionally savoured this book. I read it slowly, thoughtfully and made it last. I haven't done this with a book in a long time and didn't plan to do it with Krampus; but I just didn't want this amazing story to end too soon. This book had a real voice to it that sang to my soul and (as cheesy as this may sound) reminded me of who I truly am.

Krampus
As a raised Christian, converted Wiccan (15+ years ago); I really wanted to read a book about Christmas that wasn't about Christmas being wonderful; but instead was about how it ripped off Yule. I could not have asked for a better book than Krampus to do this. The devil figure of Krampus, while largely unknown in North America, is prevalent in European history. He beats children who don't behave or pay Yuletide tribute to him and blesses those children who do pay tribute with gold coins. It's all or nothing with this demon. Yule falls on the Winter Solstice (Dec 21) and was practiced long before Christmas existed (a fact many like to forget or look over to make their holiday seem more sacred than it might otherwise appear).
I loved Brom's use of Asgard, Loki and other ancient gods to bring together the backstory of Krampus, Santa and others. It gave a solid backing (with little explanation needed) to base these mythical characters on. Of course you didn't need to have a huge imagination to see the Krampus that Brom envisioned as there are gorgeous full colour, and pencil sketches in this book that show our characters at different levels of detail. The artwork really adds to the telling of this story and I was thrilled at every chapter break to have a new pencil sketch to look at.

The Story Itself
Plot wise Krampus (the book) is quite simple. Krampus (the character) has escaped a thousands of years prison that Santa Claus put him in and is out to destroy Christmas and bring back the traditions and beliefs of Yule. For those not aware many of the items used in popular Christmas traditions today originated from Yule; including decorating a fir tree and using shoes or stockings to fill with treats.
Brom has created a story about (mostly) awful humans and their struggle to survive. Without Krampus' involved at all the story of the humans is interesting enough. Add in some demon slaves (Belsnickel's), magic sand, a flying sleigh and a powerful sack of items (not always toys); suddenly you have a story that is complex, yet easy to follow. I loved the plot so much in Krampus. It drives forward our characters and forces them to make decisions throughout the book. This is not a passive plot by any means. Brom ensures the plot is forced forward whether our characters are ready or not.

Is it horror?
I've read in a few places that people are unsure about picking up Krampus because they believe it might be too gory or involve child abuse. Let me dissuade you from these thoughts, while many deaths happen (and a lot of blood is spilled) there is no more violence or graphic nature to this book than in your average CSI episode or best selling thriller. A few moments might be a bit much for some but they are fleeting and so short it's hard to even remember them amongst all the other details provided.
This is not so much horror as it is Gothic fantasy. There is a darkness to the entire book; but not one that fits the horror genre. Instead Krampus focuses on the horrors of our world that we have become immune to. Examples like alcoholism, strip mining, mindless video gaming and other 'normal' activities that most of society today has accepted are the true horrors. You may come away from this book feeling like your outlook on the world has changed some; but it won't be because you're horrified by gore, instead it will be because you're horrified by what we've allowed our society to become.

Nature and Respect
At it's core Krampus is really about the balance between nature and humans. We are a parasite to our planet (like it or not). We've created holidays and mass marketing to support our consumerism and endorse the greed that humans are naturally subject to. As a Wiccan I found that Brom really spoke to my heart about things I wish I could change in today's society. And even if I can't make any more of a dent in some things than I already am; it's nice to know that someone else in the world understands that what we've done is wrong; even if irreparable. We've lost respect for the 'old ways' and forgotten why they were important (and still maybe should be). Krampus reminds us of these lost traditions and thoughts in different ways and at different points during the book. There is no one moral at the end; instead values are exquisitely threaded throughout the book so that you don't ever feel overwhelmed by it; but also so you cannot close your mind to accepting the reality of our circumstances.

Overall
There are so many more things I could say about this book! Adorable characters like Isabel and her panda hat stand next to the ancient Shawnee who are more demon than human in some ways. Brom brings all our characters together by having them affected by one common thread, Krampus has influenced them in some way, shape or form. It's brilliant the way Brom has allowed everyone to find a small part of themselves in each of the Belsnickel's (Krampus' followers/slaves).

If you love Christmas and Santa Claus this is maybe not the book for you; unless you want to learn a little more about Yule. Brom has included an afterword talking of some of his research and narrative choices that may not be as accurate as they could be or evolved as he wrote. I really appreciated reading this. I knew from the introduction that Brom had to have done research but for anyone that is unsure or doesn't know many of these stories this afterword is reassurance that some thought was put into the scenarios, characters and rituals chosen.
I could easily see myself reading this book every few years in December. A nice reminder that there are others out there that dislike Christmas as much as I do and for similar reasons.

If you are looking for a Gothic read that forces you to look at the world for what it is then I highly recommend Krampus. If you're nervous about it because it is not a 'happily ever after' setting then I recommend reading the first 5 or so chapters to see if it's for you. I think almost everyone will be hooked by that point and unable to put this brilliant book down until the last page. So you better not pout, you better not cry because Krampus is coming to town and he will judge your loyalty to him and his Yuletide traditions.

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