Clariel (Abhorsen #4) by Garth Nix

Have you ever read Garth Nix? Wait, no. More specifically, have you ever read Garth Nix’s Abhorsen series? If you haven’t, you should go out and get them. Train, plane, kindle, library, stealing/borrowing from your local bookstore (or the more traditional route of buying the book..) however you wish that will get your eager little paws in possession of these stories, it’s imperative you go for it.

The first three, Sabriel, Lireal and Abhorsen are wonderful. They’re all incredibly distinct adventures in this world Nix has created. A world that teeters between the normal world, in a city named Ancelstierre, much like our existence (no magic) and the Old Kingdom (full of magic.)

In the first adventure a young lady named Sabriel is at school in Ancelstierre when her father, the Abhorsen, goes missing. The Abhorsen is the person who protects the world from the malevolent dead. Those spirits that have been enslaved, gone astray or are naturally evil. The Abhorsen uses bells to bind and send the spirits where they’re supposed to go, beyond. So in a search for her missing father, Sabriel dones a set of bells, accompanied by a smart-aleck cat, Mogget, who talks, accidentally wakes up a prince and goes on an adventure to save her father.

In Lireal we meet the Clayr, cousins to the Abhorsens. They see the future and can give a hint to how it all ties together or what needs to be done to avoid disaster. Lireal, never having gained the sight, feels unwanted and out of place in her home with the Clayr and ends up embarking on a journey that will show her who she is and what she is meant to become.

In Abhorsen, Lirael’s adventures are extended as she learns what it will truly take to save the world from an ancient evil.

And then, comes Clariel.

Thus far, all of the Abhorsen stories have more or less ended positively. The characters undergo great losses and suffer quite a bit, but in the end they mostly end up with a brighter tomorrow for the greater good and their own life journeys. Clariel, though, is a bit darker.

Clariel is forced to move away from her beloved forest to live with her family in the city of Belisaere. She hates the masses of people, the high walls, the politics, the society and how her future is being decided for her. The King is disintegrating into his own mind and the Guiltmaster Kilp is taking control to use power for his own evil ends. Her parents are blind to all of it due to their grand new life as part of the Goldsmith’s guild. As a plot to put Clariel on the throne and overthrow the king comes to light, Clariel ends up running for her life. She seeks help from an unreliable source which eats away at the very essence of her being and changes her path to an irrevocably destructive one. Though Clariel’s intentions are good, some mistakes cannot be fixed. Though she survives her adventures, Clariel’s fate is a dark one foretold in the earlier Abhorsen books.

And though we suspect that she is who we think she is, as the ending creeps closer we can only hope it is untrue and that we’re ultimately wrong. We hope that some magical resolution will make Clariel’s story a little brighter, a little less despairing. But in the end, it is all as we feared and nothing more.

Clariel is yet another excellent addition to the Abhorsen series, if a darker, more hopeless version than anything we’ve read by Nix before.

I Am Half-Sick of Shadows by Alan Bradley

…that left only Father Christmas. He would be coming again in less than a week and, in order to settle the question for once and for all, I had long ago laid plans to trap him. Scientifically.

Flavia de Luce, the 11-year-old mastermind chemist detective, is determined to find out if the slippery St. Nick is real. He always seems to come and go without a trace and she is determined for this year to be different. Christmas is only a few days away and Flavia, being the clever minx she is, plans to catch him. She concocts a nice batch of bird lime in her laboratory to slather onto the roof to prove, once and for all, that he exists.

A few days before Christmas, Flavia’s father, Colonel de Luce, announces that a movie company will be taking over Flavia’s home, Buckshaw, to use it as a set for a film. Shortly thereafter, the famous Phyllis Wyvern has descended upon their crumbling English mansion with her director and film crews. As they begin to film, the town Vicar convinces Wyvern to perform a little Romeo and Juliet for the townspeople to help raise money for charity at Buckshaw. The night of the performance a blizzard hits, trapping all the townspeople at the mansion overnight. As everyone beds down the evening, strewn across the entryways and floors like a big sleepover party, Flavia sneaks out of her room to wander. Amid the late night snores and shuffles she hears the slap-slap-slap of a film endlessly circling at the end of its reel. She follows the sound and finds, as Flavia always does, that someone has been murdered.

With each Flavia de Luce mystery that is written, I am scared I will not enjoy them as much as the last. As with most series that have no end in sight, I tend to open the books with a mixture of excitement and trepidation. Will this one be as good as its predecessors? I always wonder. No fear this time readers! Bradley hasn’t lost a whit of his writing fire.

I am Half-Sick of Shadows was a great book. I started it last night, reading until I had to sleep, and then finished it this morning. This Christmas themed addition to the series is just as amusing, heart warming and enjoyable to read as the three that preceded it. Flavia is as clever as ever. Though this mystery is full of her whirlwind schemes, chemistry experiments and constant battles with her sisters as usual, this book offers a bit more.

I Am Half-Sick of Shadows revolves around stalking Father Christmas and solving the movie set murder, but we also get to learn about the people in Flavia’s life. Dogger, their faithful handyman, her father Colonel de Luce and even her relationship with her sisters grows as the story progresses. I thoroughly enjoyed this one and I think it may be my new favorite of the series.

If you haven’t read the Flavia books before I’d suggest starting with the first, The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie. They’re all wonderful and can be independently read, but it is more fun to read from the beginning of Flavia’s adventures.

If you have already read the Flavia books and are waiting to start this one, stop waiting! Its a jolly good read with lots murder mystery fun, but also, cartloads of Christmas cheer.

The Son of Neptune by Rick Riordan

“Um…is that thing tame?” Frank said.
The horse whinnied angrily.
“I don’t think so,” Percy guessed. “He just said, ‘I will trample you to death, silly Chinese Canadian baby man.’

Though I have liked reading the Kane Chronicles, I was overjoyed to get another installment in the Olympians series. And not only another installment, but we get Percy back as narrator! Whether it is simply because for many of us he is the original voice of the Olympian books, or he is just a stronger character than Jason (I think the latter), it is a relief and a joy to have him back telling the story in The Son of Neptune.

In our last adventure with The Heroes of Olympus, Jason (of the Roman camp), Piper, and Leo made their way to Camp Half-Blood and went on a quest. In The Son of Neptune, we get to visit the Roman camp at last with Percy. He has lost his memory, been trained by wolves and finds himself entering the Roman camp as a new camper. This camp is quite different from Camp Half-Blood, a little more intense, a little more.. Roman. If you make a mistake or betray someone, you can be put to death as punishment. Instead of beads, you get tattoos to mark your progress. Capture the flag is a serious game where you can build castles and use deathly weapons to defeat your opponents. But there are positives to this new camp that readers will discover quickly as well, even aspects that we wish existed in Camp Half-Blood because they give us hope for the demigods and their future.

This book did feel a little like a repeat of Percy’s first trip to Camp Half-Blood but it is enjoyable to see all the differences and experience camp the Roman way. Percy has been put to sleep for months by Juno, which is why we didn’t hear from him in the last book. Now he is finally awake, has been trained by wolves and arrives at camp in his usual hectic manner, running for his life. He quickly proves himself, gains a couple of misfit friends (doesn’t he always?) and then is off on a quest. This quest goes beyond the borders of the Roman/Greek god’s powers, which adds a new element of the unknown to the plot.

Percy is, as always, funny, charming and undeniably, badass. His sidekicks have new powers we’ve never seen before and they encounter troubling new foes. The entire book is great fun, cover to cover. Fans of the Olympian series will definitely enjoy this installment.

I am already impatiently awaiting the next book because, as we all know, the next book is when both camps come together to save the world (the world seems to get into a lot of trouble eh? ) and I think it could be the best book yet.

Ghost Story by Jim Butcher

  “People adore monsters. They fill their songs and stories with them. They define themselves in relation to them. Do you know what a monster is? Power. Power and choice. Monsters make choices. Monsters shape the world. Monsters force us to become stronger, smarter, better. They sift the weak from the strong and provide a forge for the steeling of souls. Even as we curse monsters, we admire them. Seek to become them, in some ways. There are far, far worse things to be than a monster.”

Harry Dresden. A sarcastic, witty, cynical and generous wizard that lives in the shadows of Chicago trying to do good, help people and stay alive. He barely wins his fights, gets his ass kicked regularly and often, isn’t quite sure what is going on. The fact that he is full of star wars references and other geekified jokes is just icing on the cake to those that have followed along throughout this entire series. And what a series it has been.

At the end of Dresden’s last adventure, Changes (the 12th book), Harry Dresden was killed. May I say, it was to my horror and delight. Seeing as I had stuck with him through 11 books, I was appalled-thrilled that something so outrageous could happen to him. Especially when he was finally going to be in Karrin’s life the way we had all hoped for, well, the last 11 books. Mr. Butcher, I love your writing, but 11 books? That’s a hell of a long wait. Then to just go and off the guy seconds before we see that relationship resolved, well that was downright cruel. And awesome.

Now, to give those new to Harry’s adventures and misadventures a little background. In the last book Harry’s daughter was endangered and his former love Susan (who is his child’s mother) was becoming a vampire for the Red Court. Battles, death, destruction, fights, fireworks, sarcasm, witty repertoire, this book had it all. Then it went and blew your mind. Harry took out the entire red court by murdering his wife and sending that ultra destructive (and freakin’ fantastic) spell back on those who would have used it to wipe out his whole family. Instead, he wiped out the entire Red Court of Vampires. At the time, I’m pretty sure everyone reading the book was dancing around in little circles of joy while making fist pumps of victory in the air. Go Dresden!

Of course then we had to wait a year for the next book, which entitled ‘Ghost Story’ just instilled further excitement and despair about Dresden’s future. In my mind it went like this (in a panicky shaky voice): If hes a ghost, then he is really dead. If he is really dead, is this the end of the series? Well I can’t answer that question for you (I wouldn’t dare ruin the ending!) but I’ll tell you a little about Ghost Story.

As this story opens, Dresden is a ghost in limbo. He is told that he has two choices: 1.) to move on to heaven or hell or wherever 2.) to go back as a ghost and find his killer. He is told that if he doesn’t go back, three of his friends will be hurt. Dresden being Dresden, goes back. (Obviously…we wouldn’t have a book otherwise.) The Chicago that Dresden goes back to has changed in his absence. Although it felt like minutes, 6 months has passed. Chicago is in darkness. The death of the entire Red Court has left a power vacuum that all kinds of evil supernatural beasties are trying to fill. His best friend/unresolved love interest Karrin is scarred, hardened, paranoid and crippled with sadness. His apprentice, Molly has become a dark terror on the streets, living in filth and death. What is left of his friends has formed an alliance to help Chicago not be devoured by the numerous forces of evil that are trying their best to destroy it. Dresden floats his ghost self into their lives just in time to help resolve the current threat and maybe, possibly, help his friends find some peace with the fact that he is dead.

Experiencing Dresden as a ghost has its charms. He is more of an observer and he experiences all new challenges because he is part of the spirit world. He also tends to look back on a lot of the havoc he has caused in his lifetime. He can see his triumphs and his mistakes. As a result, we learn more about him as a person. We see past events from other books (and their consequences) more clearly, as does he.

Unsurprisingly, Ghost Story was worth waiting for. It is a bit more serious that those which have preceded it but I believe that is to be expected since he is after all, dead. Though it is more serious; it is also funny, thrilling and touching. We experience lots of good ol’ throw down fights and brawls (as always) and we also get to see a lot of emotion in those he has left behind.

The ending is, in a word, superb. I will reveal nothing in detail, but once he is done with his adventures Dresden has to make a choice. A choice to stay in limbo or to move on to what is next. Only those who read, will know.

Game of Thrones by George Martin

“What is honor compared to a woman’s love? What is duty against the feel of a newborn son in your arms . . . or the memory of a brother’s smile? Wind and words. Wind and words. We are only human, and the gods have fashioned us for love. That is our great glory, and our great tragedy.”

If you’re anything like me, you heard that a new show based on a great book series was coming out on HBO and you thought “hey, I should read those and see if they’re good!” After all, we always read the books before we see the movies or tv shows right? (right?!) So maybe now you’re looking around, seeing if its worth reading and if anyone else has read it recently. Maybe you’ve courted it a bit in the bookstore, picked it up, put it back, debated buying it a few times. Or maybe you downloaded it or borrowed it from a friend but you haven’t opened it yet. Well I’m here to tell you, you definitely should. Its awesome.

I was recently talking to people on twitter about this series and basically, they had two things to say “It only gets better.” and “No one is safe!” which sums up this series so well. I am on the second book and I can tell you, it keeps getting better. I’m hooked. I can’t put it down. I may have to carry around my copy like a security blanket or a third hand until I finish it. Then, undoubtedly, I’ll have to run out and buy the third book. I’ve heard it’ll rock your socks off (or your shoes, boots, footsies or whatever footwear you happen to be wearing.)

But lets back up a bit and talk about the first book. (The one you’re going to go out and get a copy of after this review, right?)

In a world where summer has lasted for years and the coming winter could be even longer, a throne is in peril. The King, Robert, is teetering on the edge of an abyss. He is surrounded by subjects and family who are less than loyal, all struggling to achieve their own ends, which in fact, are one and the same. To be King of the Seven Kingdoms on the Iron Throne. Some are knights, some are sellswords, some are wizards, some are assassins and some are just treacherous friends with a bottle of poison or a knife in their hand. There are a few loyal subjects in there too, hoping to make the world better and live or die by their honor. But the loyal subjects aren’t always who we expect, nor do they always act by their convictions. To complicate things a little more, there are plenty of creatures such as Direwolves, the Others and the Children of the Forest to lend danger from the world outside the Wall. The wall is a protection that shields the Seven Kingdoms from the outside, but the wall is crumbling and the protection no longer stands strong.

In the beginning of this great saga, we are introduced to multiple families and main characters. The Starks, loyal and honest from the North where it is sparse and snows even in the summer. The Lannisters, with golden hair and deadly smiles, their plots are as common as their relatives. The Targaryens, the last brother and sister of the old royal line, living in exile and dreaming of recapturing the throne that was taken from them when Robert was made King. And King Robert, who was once a great man and a strong ruler, slowly dwindling into drink and ignorance, losing hold of his throne.

As we meet and grow to love or hate each character, they change and surprise us as the plot progresses. It is delightful to see the characters, especially the Stark children in this first book, grow up, mature, live, die and reap the consequences of their actions, deserved or not, fair or not.

There is good and evil in this story. But in the Game of Thrones, good doesn’t always triumph and evil doesn’t always look as you thought it would. Their world is dark, funny, bloody, unfair, corrupt, intriguing and exciting to behold.

The best part about this book is that you’re never sure what will happen next. The loyal may die, the honest may crumble, the corrupt may pursue true justice and the innocent may be betrayed when they are most vulnerable. No one is safe. And best of all, this is just the beginning.