Review: The Word Exchange ~ Alena Graedon

word exchangeISBN ~ 978-0345806031
Publisher ~Anchor
No. Of Pages ~370pages
Links ~ Penguin Random House, Amazon, Alena Graedon

Books, libraries, and newspapers have at last become things of the past. Now handheld Memes allow for constant communication and entertainment. They can even anticipate our needs, dialing the doctor before we know we’re sick, or prompting us with words we can’t recall. Yet a few dedicated wordsmiths are still laboring on the final print edition of the North American Dictionary of the English Language. But one evening, right before it’s released, Anana Johnson finds that the chief editor—her father—has vanished.

In alternating points of view, Anana and her bookish colleague Bart follow their only clue, the word ALICE, down the proverbial rabbit hole, into subterranean passages, the stacks of the Mercantile Library, and secret meetings of an anti-Meme underground resistance, racing closer to the truth about Anana’s father’s disappearance, and discovering a frightening connection to the growing “word flu” pandemic.

1 Thumbs-UpIt’s been a long time since I read a book like this, and I hope it will be a long time before I read another.  This is the only book I have ever read that by the magic page number of 119, I literally threw it aside in disgust.  To say it is a mess of ideas would be being generous, and I’m afraid to say I found it just to be a mess.

The main female protagonist is whiny and just downright annoying, coupled with her is the downright stalkerish alternate narrator combining into two characters I neither liked nor wanted to be bothered reading about anymore.  None of the other lesser characters shone through the pages either, and this would have been a redeeming factor that would have made me continue reading.

As any follower of my reviews will know by now, it takes a lot for me to actually close a book unfinished, but I found the footnotes and the sometimes having to refer to a dictionary to understand what the Author was writing about too much to bear.  In my opinion it was a very verbose piece of writing with very little plot and far too time consuming to be considered a novel.  If this had been written as non-fiction and a reflection on current society’s reliance on technology to the detriment of everything else it would have been much better received by myself; as it was it was relegated to the pile of books I will be parting with shortly.

The only saving grace that kept it from receiving zero thumbs was the cover.  I liked it a great deal and spent quite a time trying to link the cover images with the plot of the book.  I love the English language and the words that are no longer in general use, and this was what attracted me to it in the first place, however over use of the language was a big turn off and because of this I feel I really can’t recommend this book to anyone.

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Review: The Art of Blizzard Entertainment ~ Blizzard Entertainment

art of blizzardISBN ~ 9781608870271
Publisher ~ Insight Editions
No. Of Pages ~ 376 pages
Links ~ Insight Editions, Amazon, Barnes & Noble

Over the past two decades, Blizzard Entertainment has had a tremendous impact on the world of games and global pop culture. From its humble beginnings as a three-person console-game development studio in 1991 to the creation of the blockbuster Warcraft®, StarCraft®, and Diablo® series, Blizzard has a history of crafting stunning worlds of science fiction and fantasy. The company’s distinctive gameplay and storytelling styles have captivated an international audience numbering in the tens of millions whose passion cannot be quelled.

Twenty years after Blizzard opened its doors, the company’s World of Warcraft® boasts the title of the world’s most popular subscription-based massively multiplayer online role-playing game, and the studio is widely recognized as one of the leaders in creatively driven game development.

An epic volume of art and behind-the-scenes insights, The Art of Blizzard® celebrates the studio’s genesis by examining the creative forces behind these games and showcasing their artistry through more than 700 pieces of concept art, paintings, and sketches. Commentary on the art is provided by Blizzard Entertainment’s own Nick Carpenter, Sam Didier, and Chris Metzen, who’ve each played important roles in shaping Blizzard’s game universes over the years.

5 Thumbs-UpWeighing in at 8lbs, this is a coffee table book in the true meaning of the word; my knees went numb as I was reading it on my couch.  Although, if you use the links above, it is hard to find a copy of this book for under $50, I found mine in the bargain priced section at Barnes & Noble, and if you want to splash out more money Insight Editions are selling a specially bound version.  However, if you already own all of the Collector’s Editions of Blizzard artwork books, this is probably not a purchase you will want to make, as many of the illustrations featured in it are in the previously mentioned books.

With over 700 illustrations this book covers the artwork from such iconic Blizzard games as Warcraft, Diablo and Starcraft, with accompanying commentaries by the artists themselves.  It gives the reader a fascinating insight into the creative talents of the company as well as providing a visual history of Blizzard games.  What I found particularly interesting about this book was how clearly apparent the evolution and refinement of the artists techniques became as time passed, it was almost as if I were seeing physical proof of their confidence in what they were doing growing before my eyes.  Another aspect of the book I liked was the fan art submissions and how some of them were actually recruited into the Blizzard team.  This book covers everything from the early sketches right up to the completed box artwork; one of my favourite in the Diablo section was the Mistress of Pain.

Full of magnificent scenes and characters, what little text there is in this book has been thoughtfully placed so as not to intrude on the main stars of its pages, in fact in some places the writing is rather quite difficult to find and read.  This didn’t spoil my enjoyment of the book in any way, but for anyone who has a visual impairment and wants to read the text for the back story to the images it may prove to be a challenge.

However, this book does not just focus on the well know side of the company, in this book there is also a section with conceptual art for games that never were as well as a spoof chapter containing holiday themes using the more well-known characters.  In reading this book you actually get a sense that you are in the same room with the creators, listening to them discuss, accept or reject ideas for the next project whilst also sharing with them a trip down memory lane.

I would highly recommend this book whether you are a fan of Blizzard games or just a lover of fantasy art; this book touches all the bases..

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Review: The Queen of Subtleties: A Novel of Anne Boleyn ~ Suzannah Dunn

queen of subtletiesISBN ~ 978-0060591588
Publisher ~ William Morrow Paperbacks
No. Of Pages ~ 320 pages
Links ~ Amazon, Barnes & Noble

Anne Boleyn and Lucy Cornwallis: queen and confectioner, fatefully linked in a court rife with intrigue and treachery.   She was the dark-eyed English beauty who captivated King Henry VIII, only to die at his behest three years after they were married. She was both manipulator and pawn, a complex, misunderstood mélange of subtlety and fire. Her name was Anne Boleyn.

In The Queen of Subtleties, Suzannah Dunn reimagines the rise and fall of the tragic queen through two alternating voices: that of Anne herself, who is penning a letter to her young daughter on the eve of her execution, and Lucy Cornwallis, the king’s confectioner. An employee of the highest status, Lucy is responsible for creating the sculpted sugar centerpieces that adorn each of the feasts marking Anne’s ascent in the king’s favour. They also share another link of which neither woman is aware: the lovely Mark Smeaton, wunderkind musician—the innocent on whom, ultimately, Anne’s downfall hinges.

1 Thumbs-UpI picked this up in the local thrift store, and it will be heading back there just as quickly as it came home.  After my seemingly bad run of luck with books recently, I was hoping that a historical piece of fiction might help break the dam; it was not going to happen with this book and, to be honest I didn’t finish it either.

I had many issues with the book as far as I read.  The character of Anne Boleyn was rather insulting when compared to what is known of her from historical documents.  In this interpretation of her character she is portrayed as being the innocent pawn of her Families’ ambitions to rise higher within the Tudor Court, rather than the driven and confident woman who readers are used to.  As one of the narrators of the book, the language she uses is far too modern for the time period in which it is set, and this was the reason for my not finishing the book.  The language used by both Anne and the other narrator was extremely distracting and, I can’t help but feel the Author wrote this book in this manner to make her work more accessible to the modern reader.

I wish I could say something good about the contents of this book, but the only saving grace about it for me was the cover image, which I kept returning to look at time and again and this was the reason for my 1 thumb review.  I will not be reading anything else by this Author, and find it a hard book to recommend to anyone who enjoys a good historical novel.

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Review: The White Queen (The Cousins’ War #1) ~ Philippa Gregory

The white QueenBrother turns on brother to win the ultimate prize, the throne of England, in this dazzling account of the wars of the Plantagenets. They are the claimants and kings who ruled England before the Tudors, and now Philippa Gregory brings them to life through the dramatic and intimate stories of the secret players: the indomitable women, starting with Elizabeth Woodville, the White Queen.

The White Queen tells the story of a woman of extraordinary beauty and ambition who, catching the eye of the newly crowned boy king, marries him in secret and ascends to royalty. While Elizabeth rises to the demands of her exalted position and fights for the success of her family, her two sons become central figures in a mystery that has confounded historians for centuries: the missing princes in the Tower of London whose fate is still unknown. From her uniquely qualified perspective, Philippa Gregory explores this most famous unsolved mystery of English history, informed by impeccable research and framed by her inimitable storytelling skills.

With The White Queen, Philippa Gregory brings the artistry and intellect of a master writer and storyteller to a new era in history and begins what is sure to be another bestselling classic series from this beloved author.

1 Thumbs-UpAs with anything to do with the War of the Roses research, and in-depth good research has to be a key to writing a riveting book.  Regardless of personal feelings the aim is to create a piece of fiction that supporters of both Houses will enjoy, unfortunately this was not the case this with book or series.  Yes, despite not liking this book one bit, I gave it the benefit of the doubt and read the whole lot of them.  What a waste of time and a big disappointment for me.

As with most written works on this time period, there are many different ways the story can be related, and from many different points of view; be it that from a purely Lancastrian bent or from the idealised House of York side, this Author threw all this out of the window and took a route that was so unbelievable it almost made me think that, despite the main characters being based in history this could easily have been a fantasy novel.

This neatly brings me onto the issue of characters.  With so much material available to a good researcher, the way in which this Author treats her characters is an insult to them and the period of time they inhabited.  The central character and the person who the title surrounds, it depicted as a witch.  What more can I say, not much really.  Anything and everything bad that befalls those around her is attributed to witchcraft from the first meeting with Edward IV right up to the withering of Richard III sword arm.  At every opportunity this woman bleats on about the death of her Father and Brother so much that I found myself at yet another bemoaning of this event telling her to move on, it’s the times you live in, everyone suffered during the war of the Roses.   It wasn’t Elizabeth of Woodville that I disliked, love her or hate her she is historically portrayed as a strong and opinionated woman for her time, definitely a force to be reckoned with especially when the reader considers that she managed to remain as Queen through some very turbulent times; what I disliked was I felt the Author took the easy way out when writing about her, it’s a lot easier to run with the same old witchcraft guff than develop a true to life character.  I could go into in-depth detail about the mistreatment of her other characters too, but that would take me almost as long to write this review, if not longer, than it did for the Author to write the book.  What I will say though is Margaret Beaufort, really?  The Author needs to be grateful that these people are not around to read her depiction of them.

When it comes to the rest of the book, either this part was missing in mine or the Author chose to ignore a definite historical fact, what happened to Middleham Castle where Anne and Richard spent a great deal of time and where their son was born?  Why does the Author have them constantly hanging out at Warwick Castle?  This is the main reason that this book received the 1 thumb review it has, the facts were either just not there or extremely loosely adapted for the book.

I can’t, with a clear conscience recommend this book to anyone, and I have a suspicion diehard fans of this Author may have a hard time liking this, amnd defintiely not like the review I have just written.  However, if you do enjoy reading about this period of time, and especially about the House of York (I wrote my Masters dissertation on them) I would highly recommend Sharon Kay Penman’s The Sunne in Splendour as it relies more on history and has some very strong characters.

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Review: Asylum (Asylum #1) ~ Madeleine Roux

AsylumFor sixteen-year-old Dan Crawford, New Hampshire College Prep is more than a summer program—it’s a lifeline. An outcast at his high school, Dan is excited to finally make some friends in his last summer before college. But when he arrives at the program, Dan learns that his dorm for the summer used to be a sanatorium, more commonly known as an asylum. And not just any asylum—a last resort for the criminally insane.

As Dan and his new friends, Abby and Jordan, explore the hidden recesses of their creepy summer home, they soon discover it’s no coincidence that the three of them ended up here. Because the asylum holds the key to a terrifying past. And there are some secrets that refuse to stay buried.

Featuring found photos of unsettling history and real abandoned asylums and filled with chilling mystery and page-turning suspense, Madeleine Roux’s teen debut, Asylum, is a horror story that treads the line between genius and insanity.

1 Thumbs-UpOh dear.  I could leave this review at that, but it really doesn’t express what I found so disappointing in this book and, as it is only possibly the third time in my blog history I can remember giving out a one thumb rating, maybe I should elaborate, I’m sure if I’m wrong in this someone will correct me.

I had such high expectations for this based on not only the synopsis but the cover image, and none of those expectations were filled.  As I read through this I got the uncomfortable feeling that, not only was this Author aiming to produce a novel with the calibre of Miss Peregrine’s House for Peculiar Children but somewhere in the mix the Author had actually submitted a draft copy to the publishers instead of their final edited copy.

The characters are supposed to be 16 years old, so unless the baseline for all 16 years old has now changed, these were not in that age group.  The protagonist is not the kind I was expecting in a book of this genre; he was whiny, possessive and had a superiority complex bigger than any I have seen in a novel.  Throughout the novel he is constantly telling the readers about how much better he is than anyone else, and after a time this becomes tedious to the point where I wanted to ground him in his room at home without any outside contact;  yes I wanted to put him in solitary confinement.  Despite him gradually losing some of these traits as the book progressed, the damage had been done and I found myself being unable to like or even care about him or what happened to him.  Too many of the characters were written in a stereotypical manner, or how the Author visualized teenagers to be; the female character who the Author felt they had to reminder the reader every few sentences how beautiful they were, the cookie cutter girls’ gay best friend.  This may have been acceptable in this book had the Author only taken time to give the characters depth and something interesting that the reader could catch hold off, unfortunately I found them all to rather too one-dimensional for my tastes.

Abandoned asylum, strange happenings.  All the workings of what could’ve have been a very good horror tale were buried so deeply in this book that they were gasping for air.  I’m also not sure what yardstick the Author used to decide this would be scary reading for the intended audience but, in my experience of teenagers I think only those with a very weak constitution would have found this remotely disturbing compared to the daily horrors they are subject to in the media.  The book does contain some very stunning photographs, unfortunately these are not the Authors original works, which led me to believe that they couldn’t even be bothered to take the time to discover original locations for inclusion.

With good editing and maybe a little more plot and character development this could have been a better book than it actually was; the one thumb rating is purely because I finished it.  I’m not going to be reading any other books by this Author and I understand this is the beginning of a series, which will also go unread.  However if you looking for a book that doesn’t contain a taxing plotline and deep meaningful characters that you can connect with, this may be the one for you.

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Review: Dark Paradise ~ Robert Macklin

dark paradiseNorfolk Island isolation, savagery, mystery and murder.

Aren’t remote South Pacific islands supposed to be paradise? Perhaps, from a distance, Norfolk Island looks a peaceful place lush with tall pines. But look closer and that idyllic facade is shattered.

For all of the 220 years we have known it, Norfolk s story has been one of darkness, pain, rage and horror. Long-buried bones and axes hint at the violence before Captain Cook arrived and claimed the place for England. And then the horror truly began. From its earliest days, the isolation of life on this rocky outcrop took its toll.

Robert Macklin, author of the bestselling SAS SNIPER, tells the vivid, bewitching story of how a unique lifestyle and culture evolved amongst the almost two thousand inhabitants. From a brutal penal colony, a refuge for descendants of the Bounty mutineers when they outgrew Pitcairn Island in 1856, to the murder of Janelle Patton in 2002, Norfolk Island is exposed like never before. A place full of shadows and wrongful deaths, its history is a mesmerising tale all the more powerful because it is true.

I have to tell you, Satan lives here. Norfolk Island resident to the author, 2011.

1 Thumbs-UpOh dear.  I was so looking forward to sitting down and soaking up an intriguing and interesting read when I read the synopsis for this book and, unfortunately I was sorely disappointed.

It was not an immediate disappointment, it was one that gradually crept up as I progressed through the book, and took the form of some major factual errors which most readers will pick up the minute they come across them.  The result of these were that I felt this Author had not done as much research into their topic as they possible could before putting the words on paper, and from this point onwards for me it rather invalidated any other point they were trying to make.  Yes, the location was part of the British Empire, and yes it was originally used by them as a penal colony; the Author could get this facts correct, what happened with the glaringly incorrect ones?  If ever a book spiralled out of control in the worse possible way, this has to be that book.

In a book of this kind, much could have been gained, and an extra dimension added by including some by including some documented narrative from actual Islanders themselves as to the events covered, unfortunately this was not the case and resulted, in my opinion in a rather flat, one-dimensional piece of work.  There were so many avenues of research that could have been followed, and were left ignored in the favour of the violence and abuse that took place, which resulted in this being a rather dull read.  Another plus that this book could really have used were the skills of an excellent proof reader and a bold editor, there were so many bad typos in this book that, at one point I was beginning to think that somehow the unedited copy had made it into print instead of the finished piece of work; even the synopsis on the back of my library loan had typos, maybe I should have heeded this subliminal warning and left the book on the shelf.  If you are interested in the history of Norfolk Island, this book is worth reading to a point, and that point is that it should not be read as an only source on the subject but in conjunction with other, better researched pieces.

I find, with this book, I cannot recommend it to anyone with a clear conscience, and based on this piece of work I doubt I will read any other works by this Author.

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Review: It Happens in the Dark (Kathleen Mallory #11) ~ Carol O’Connell

It happens in the darkThe reviews called it “A Play to Die For” after the woman was found dead in the front row. It didn’t seem so funny the next night, when another body was found—this time the playwright’s, his throat slashed.

Detective Kathy Mallory takes over, but no matter what she asks, no one seems to be giving her a straight answer. The only person—if “person” is the right word—who seems to be clear is the ghostwriter. Every night, an unseen backstage hand chalks up line changes and messages on a blackboard. And the ghostwriter is now writing Mallory into the play itself, a play about a long-ago massacre that may not be at all fictional. “MALLORY,” the blackboard reads. “TONIGHT’S THE NIGHT. NOTHING PERSONAL.”

If Mallory can’t find out who’s responsible, heads will roll. Unfortunately, one of them may be her own.

1 Thumbs-UpI wasn’t aware, until I received this book from the Publisher that it was in fact part of a long running series.  And to be honest, if they hadn’t taken great pains to point this out in the accompanying letter, I would never have guessed that the main protagonist had appeared in so many previous novels.

Let me start with the main protagonist.  I imagine the Author intended her to come off the page as a strong and independent woman, but ultimately the image portrayed is of a woman who is moneyed, opinionated and knows she’s beautiful; and the reader is reminded of this in almost every chapter of the book.  I’m not sure what the intent of the Author was when they wrote this in every chapter, but after a while it becomes boorish and monotonous, and it doesn’t stop with the main character.  Others that, I assume, have appeared in previous novels are treated in much the same manner, and by the time I was halfway through reading this I felt very much as if the Author were treating me like a sufferer of memory loss that needed to be reminded at every page turn what makes her characters tick; either that or they are trying to justify keeping these tired persona alive.  As this book was number 11 in the series, I was expecting the Author to have got into their stride with providing some step forward in character growth during each novel, but if this one was anything to go by it has not happened.

Although the story had quite an interesting plot line, this too was not up to the standard I have read in some books by Authors just starting out, and I expected better from an established Author; it was choppy and rambling to the point where many times I felt my attention wandering to whether I should walk my dogs or do laundry.  In my opinion, if the Author feels they have reached a dead-end with this character and series, they may need to consider doing their readers a favour and either bringing it to an end or revamping the characters to make it more enjoyable.

I’m sorry but this is one book I just can’t recommend, not only do I feel it would be a waste of money and time but, if the series has a fan base, it is bordering on the insulting to those loyal readers.

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