“The House” by Simon Lelic

The House(Author: Simon Lelic) + (Year: 2017) + (Goodreads)


Review:

The House was, at first, a suspenseful and quick read, and I managed to get through the first half in a matter of hours.

However, that was the moment I realized that this book is not going to live up to my expectations and that it’s not at all what it seemed to be at the beginning.

Judging by the description, I expected a truly “grisly” story with many twists and turns. Yes, there were twists, I will give you that much. But there was nothing very grisly, as there was also nothing very scary. And ultimately, the climax of the book was so ordinary and unpredictably predictable that I kept reading expecting something more to happen, because this just could not be it. It was. The book ended and I could not, for the life of me, believe that this was the actual event that we had been waiting for.

The things that The House did wrong for me were, as follows:

  1. After reading the book, I saw that many people highly appreciated the prose. Which part, though? Half of the time the characters were chatting among themselves. That was the first thing that made an unpleasant impression on me. The chapters were going back and forth between Syd and Jack and the two of them were bickering and correcting each other, mumbling, leaving half-finished sentences… I just imagined the two of them in person and they seemed like the two most annoying people that could have been telling this story.
  2. The abovementioned Jack and Sydney were such horrible people! How could any person actually root for a spineless momma’s boy and a bitch who is coked out of her mind? Seriously? Both of their narrations were of childish, immature people, who are barely hanging on the balance of their existence, both asocial, awkward and troubled. And what’s more: neither one of them actually achieved any personal development at any point in this book. Jack was annoyed that Sydney was doing drugs, but he didn’t actually try to stop her, he kind of just offended her on the topic. And Sydney did all sorts of despicable things which he just accepted because he lacks backbone. That never changed either.
  3. The villain of this book? Also the two supposed main characters. The person who was accused of being the bad guy was just so unconvincing and had such a minor presence, that I just couldn’t accept that this is actually happening and that that person is actually the direct cause of all of the events. The supposed villain’s indirect effect on the story is completely palpable, that much I can say. But at no point did they seem like they actually belonged in the present-time events in the book.
  4. The ending: generally, I support justice and retribution. So if I had known how the story ends before reading the book, I would have expected to like the ending. Yet, I absolutely did not. What happened did not seem like justice. It seemed like the origin story of yet another villain, or villains. I believe that out of the ending of this book, and namely the effect it had, or did not have, on the main characters, only more evilness and insanity could arise. No, thank you.

“Prague Nights” by Benjamin Black

(Author: Benjamin Black) + (Year: 2017) + (Goodreads)


Review:

Don’t let the beautiful cover and the fairytale-like description fool you, this book is nothing like what it seems.

I was beyond excited to request Prague Nights on NetGalley. And I can’t tell you how happy I was to start reading it.

Sadly, it was in vain.

Prague Nights is a dreary, boring, uneventful narrative about some equally boring events that did not happen in the court of Rudolf II.

In theory, this book could have been fantastic. Rudolf II was obsessed with the occult, with different curiosities, he was a patron of art and magic. Looking for the philosopher’s stone in 16th century Prague? How awesome is that?

Not very awesome, in this book.

The narrator and main character, Christian Stern, is a person who needs a hard slap. He is not remarkable in any way, he is not particularly talented, nor is he very smart, for that matter. Christian Stern is ordered by the emperor to investigate the death of a young girl. What he does instead of that is snoop around the court affairs, have sex, and think how he should investigate but isn’t. There is not a drop of suspense, because the narrator is in no way engaged in the drama unfolding in the palace. He is no part of it, he doesn’t know what the relations between the other characters are, he is usually at a loss as to how to act and what to do. The main event of the book being the death of Magda Kroll, Christian Stern plays no role in solving it. He just follows what other characters tell him to do and ends up learning information that is completely inconsequential, as everyone else already has the knowledge. Even in the end, he is just a passive observer. He doesn’t manage to achieve absolutely anything.

More so, out of what could have been an absurdly beautiful scene for the events of the book, my dream city of Prague, what we get is usually Stern’s cold house where he has sex. No enchanting adventures in the maze of streets of old Prague, no hidden treasures, no magic, no life in this book.

All of the events simply happen and we are forced to read about them from the view-point of the most uncharismatic outcast in the court of Rudolf II.

Lastly, what could have been the two most interesting characters in the book, Rudolf and his son Don Julius Caesar, are just mentioned as background information, and often mocked, while in reality, they were both probably insane, but also very interesting people.

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“Nailbiter, Vol. 1: There Will Be Blood” by Joshua Williamson

Nailbiter, Vol. 1: There Will Be Blood(Author: Joshua Williamson) + (Year: 2014) + (Goodreads)


Review:

I’m not giving this volume a higher rating, simply because it was a very vague beginning of the series. Other than that, the idea is a pretty original one and I am definitely interested to see what happens in the next volumes.

The story of Nailbiter takes place in a small town with a really big number of serial killers. Now that a new serial killer has appeared, the detectives both have to stop the serial killer, and figure out why there are so many of them in such a small town.

The entire volume was a very long setting for the story to come, so it was rather uneventful, considering the length. Of course, there were things happening, but it was obvious that we are seeing the creation of a larger story. I would have preferred it if more was revealed, because that would have made the first volume substantial and would have given it its own story and main event.

The main characters were not that much to my liking. None of the ones that appeared often were very charismatic or interesting, but I guess they worked out fine as a team.

The art was interesting – not spectacularly beautiful, but not ugly either. I rather liked it, so that’s a good thing.

My hopes for the next volume are that they are actually going to reveal one of the main story lines and set up a worthy villain, because it’s obvious that the serial killers are pawns in a bigger scheme.

“Kingdom of Ashes” by Elena May

Kingdom of Ashes (Nightfall, #1)(Author: Elena May) + (Year: 2016) + (Goodreads)


Review:

Disclaimer: I received a copy of the book from the author in exchange for an honest review.

I have been very, very cautious with vampire books in the last couple of years. In fact, I don’t remember the last vampire novel that I read, aside from re-reading The Historian and Dracula two years ago.

However, I read the synopsis of Kingdom of Ashes, and the many positive reviews, and I decided to give it a shot. And I’m glad I did!

This book reminded me why I love YA so much. It was very engaging and it kept me flipping the pages to a point where I skipped lunch with my colleagues in order to read on a bench.

The thing, which, for me, was very original and exciting, was the fact that every step of the way and every part of the narrative was cleverly thought-through. The author took all famous (and silly) vampire cliches and tropes and she turned them into an outspoken joke between the characters. Elena May managed to make everything that could have destroyed the book its exact opposite. For example at one point Myra tried to pull a Scheherazade on the prince and I was sitting there, worried whether this is going to be a real thing, because it was so obvious. And then the prince himself recognized and ridiculed it.

In terms of plot, there was one thing that was a bit of a cliched narrative and that was the fact that (while the book is obviously not doing the Scheherazade) it did go along the lines of Beauty and the Beast. Watching the movie right after finishing the book just made me realize it more clearly. However, I’m not sure that at a time such as ours where we are so over-saturated with pop culture, it’s possible to create anything that doesn’t borrow from absolutely anywhere.

Character-wise, I liked the fact that there was a game of black/white and shades of gray. Myra was on the same boat as me when I was trying to make up my mind about whether the vampires are all evil or all good, or those are concepts that don’t even apply to the situation. For example, many of the points the prince made on humankind were just as challenging as what can be said about vampires in terms of the book. In a world where vampires and humans co-exist and vampires have overtaken the world and wiped out a big part of the population, I think it’s still fair to say that that’s nothing humans haven’t done to other species or even to themselves. The only reason why people generally sympathize with people, and not, say, vampires or werewolves, is simply because we are people. But humans can be just as evil in a completely different way. For example, just yesterday a colony of griffon vultures in Bulgaria was completely destroyed by hunters who poisoned all of the birds. If that’s not monstrous, I don’t know what is.

Having said all of this, while I did sympathize with Myra at certain times, I didn’t necessarily think she was a nice person. Contrary to what I read in the reviews of people who thought she was selfish and self-absorbed, I think that was one of her most likable traits in terms of writing. She was a very realistic person, unlike the perfect/all-I-do-is-effing-magic heroines of other YA books. I wouldn’t like Myra as a friend, but I can read about her and think “Well… that’s true.” And her selfishness is something that can be attributed to most humans. The fact that she is so focused on her book and improving as a writer is to be expected from any person with any artistic capabilities. Then again, she was sometimes obnoxious and she did make stupid decisions, so I’m on the verge with her. But I am also known among my friends as someone who is specifically very demanding of female characters…

As is probably to be expected, I really liked Vlad, because I would say that I both appreciated his attitude, and got where he was coming from. He followed his set of rules and had a reason to act the way he did: I’m a vampire, my nature requires me to drink blood, so I drink blood. I like art, humans make art, I like humans. The end.

I am really excited for the next book in the series, I really hope it comes sooner, rather than later.

* I’m so happy vampires were just vampires, and not vampyrs, vampyres, etc. and magic was just magic instead of magik or magick.

“Trees, Vol. 1: In Shadow” by Warren Ellis

Trees, Vol. 1: In Shadow (Trees, #1)(Author: Warren Ellis) + (Year: 2015) + (Goodreads)


Review:

Yes, please.

I really, really enjoyed this volume. It was what Arrival would be if it was a comic book, except with a lot more characters.

After my streak of bad comic books, I didn’t even expect much from Trees. I was definitely pleasantly surprised.

Trees tells the story of the world 10 years after people discovered that aliens exist. The “trees”  appear all over the world. Wherever there is a tree, life is much darker and harder, and bad people choose the shadow of the trees.

There are several stories which follow different locations where there is a tree (Rio, Cefalu, New York, Shu (China), Mogadishu, etc.). Some of the people there are barely surviving, while some thrive on the darkness.

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It might seem like the entire volume has too many plots and characters, but I, personally, thought that it was a brilliant way to set up the story. Every tree location has a completely different event unfolding and all of them will be important for the future fight. And if so many cities seem unnecessary to some readers, I should remind that every time they present only one city in a similar futuristic plot, people always go “But what about the rest of the world?” Because of this, I fully support the fact that we have all kinds of sub-plots, and nothing seemed out of place to me. On the contrary, every story seemed just right for what is to come in the series.

I also really liked the art of Trees. It was simple but tasteful and pretty. There were scenes including death and sex, but they were not brutal and disgusting, and instead, they seemed mild and satisfying. This, for me, shows that the creators were sure enough of the quality of the book that they didn’t need to shock the readers with unnecessary vulgarity.

I am really looking forward to the next volumes of Trees!

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