Fantasy

Review: Equal Rites

Cover of Equal Rites, featuring a purple wizard hat with light purple designs surrounded by a ring of stars and the female symbol (a circle with a cross sticking out of the bottom)
Image from Terry Pratchett Books

Title: Equal Rites

Series: Discworld #3, Witches #1

Author: Terry Pratchett

Genre: Fantasy

Trigger Warnings: Misogyny

Back Cover:

On Discworld, a dying wizard tries to pass on his powers to an eighth son of an eighth son, who is just at that moment being born. The fact that the son is actually a daughter is discovered just a little too late. The town witch insists on turning the baby into a perfectly normal witch, thus mending the magical damage of the wizard’s mistake. But now the young girl will be forced to penetrate the inner sanctum of the Unseen University–and attempt to save the world with one well-placed kick in some enchanted shins!

Review:

This is not technically my first foray into Terry Pratchett’s work, as I read Wintersmith in middle school, but literally the only thing I remember about that book is that the main character’s name was Tiffany, so I count this as my first Discworld experience.

And oh boy was it an adventure.

The two main characters are Esk and Granny Weatherwax. Esk is the girl who accidentally got wizard powers. She’s eight years old in most of the story, but except for a few moments of childish petulance/impulsiveness, she seems a lot older. She’s very intelligent and naturally good at a lot of things (probably the wizard power, but still), and I frequently forgot she was so young. She was the kind of “everybody underestimates me but I still come out on top” character that I love to read about.

Granny Weatherwax is the town witch. She knows a lot of stuff about herbs and magic and such, but her magic is just as much convincing people she’s magical (muttering nonsense “charms” and such) as actually doing magic. She very much has an air of being Too Old For This Nonsense but at the same time an attitude of Everything Will Bend To My Will Or I Will Make It Do So. And she can be very intimidating.

When you write it out, the plot is very simple. Esk gets wizard powers as a baby, Granny Weatherwax tries to turn her into a witch, but when the wizard powers get too much they decide to take her to the wizard school and convince them to take on their first female student so Esk can learn to be a wizard. But it’s the adventures along the way and the fascinating side characters that make it interesting.

For one thing, Esk and Granny Weatherwax keep getting separated. Esk is busy making her own way towards the Unseen University, wizard magic helping her along, and Granny Weatherwax spends a lot of the book annoyedly trying to find her. They both encounter interesting people and have unique takes on everything.

And while I’m on the subject of unique takes – this book has some of the best turns of phrase I’ve ever read. They’re creative ways of describing things and often don’t fit into the magical Discworld at all. Such as “a light that would make Stephen Spielberg reach for his copyright lawyer.” There’s a lot of lines like that, and a lot of really creative descriptions, and it’s overall delightful to read.

In short, I throughly enjoyed this foray into the Discworld, and I intend to return to it again. Maybe not with the next book in the series, since I’ve heard the Discworld books can pretty much be read in any order, but I’m sure my local library will have a few of these books that I could get my hands on.

The Witches Sub-Series:

  1. Equal Rites
  2. Wyrd Sisters
  3. Witches Abroad
  4. Lords and Ladies
  5. Maskerade
  6. The Sea and Little Fishes
  7. Carpe Jugulum

The Discworld Series:

There are over 40 books in this series. Just check out Goodreads’ list.

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Classic, Horror

Review: Carmilla

Cover of "Carmilla," featuring a black and white drawing of a girl in bed, looking at horror at another girl standing in the doorway with her back to the viewer.
Image from Fantastic Fiction

Title: Carmilla

Author: J. Sheridan Le Fanu

Genre: Horror/Classic

Trigger Warnings: Death, blood

Back Cover:

Laura, a young woman deprived of much social interaction on her father’s isolated estate, is disappointed when an expected visitor dies before arriving at her father’s chateau. So she is thrilled when a carriage accident leaves another young woman staying with them until her mother returns from her urgent journey. But there is something darker hiding inside the captivating and charismatic Carmilla.

A classic Victorian vampire novella, Carmilla influenced Bram Stoker’s later treatment of the vampire mythos in Dracula.

Review:

I saw a post on Tumblr recommending this, and it was free on Project Gutenberg and a short read. (Short enough to read while waiting for my fiance to stop snoozing his alarms and get out of bed, actually, which was about 40 minutes.) It’s a short novella, so this is going to be a short review.

This is an old book, and it’s written with a definitely older writing style – dense, exposition-heavy, and packed with vocabulary words that may make you turn to a dictionary. It did take some getting used to (it’s been a while since I’ve read an old book), but I do like that kind of style.

The characters are pretty bare-bones, but that’s kind of expected in a book so short. (And in my opinion, the elegant and lengthy writing made up for what lacked in characterization.) You get the impression that Laura (who narrates) is overall happy with her life but still lonely. Carmilla gets the most characterization – she was charismatic and vibrant, though prone to physical weakness, and intensely affectionate towards Laura, but there are also hints that an equally intense temper underneath her veneer.

I also found it interesting that the female vampire only preyed on female victims, and there were definitely some gay vibes in Carmilla’s affection for Laura. (Of course, that could be my modern brain reading things into 1800s ways of expressing feelings, but I like to think it was at least a little gay.)

Carmilla was a short book, but it was good. It had interesting vampire lore, a cool vampire character, and actually a pretty good atmosphere for as short as it was. Plus, it’s free on Project Gutenberg, so why not give it a shot?

Science Fiction

Review: Republic’s Chosen

Cover of "Republic's Chosen," featuring a multicolored feather curled inside a circle
Image from Goodreads

Title: Republic’s Chosen

Series: After the World Ends #1

Author: Rory I

Genre: Military Science Fiction

Trigger Warnings: According to the book: Background and secondary character death, bullying, discrimination (macro and microaggressions), in-combat violence and cruelty, institutional bigotry, mentions of PTSD, mild sexual content, sexual assault, spousal neglect. I add: Blood/gore.

Back Cover:

The world had never seen utopias until the Latin Republic was established. Equality, respect, humane treatment – all of those drive the society’s philosophy after the Great Disaster.

Yet humanity has not learned to leave war behind. When the Republic sends summons to Liana, she knows it’s illegal. Her immigrant status forbids her from fighting in the army, but the country’s leaders want control over her and they won’t stop at anything to get it.

Under the pressure of a tough training regime, threatened by a complicated political plot she must quickly untangle, it is no surprise Liana’s marriage begins to crumble. Tossed in a training campus and immediately involved in its intrigue, Liana needs allies quickly, but all she wants to do is crush the system which holds her hostage. With each passing day, it’s becoming harder to reconcile the need to hide her real identity and the desire to protect her immigrant countryfolk from harm.

An old friend returns to her life just in time to give her the leverage she needs. There is no chance she’s ever coming back to her peaceful life in hiding.

A strong bisexual lead, a secret identity, Special Forces soldiers, true friendship, and a headstrong trauma survivor trying to accept her role in saving the world.

Review:

I was really excited to read this book. I got a free ebook copy through the Sapphic Book Club, so it promised to be pretty gay, and the description sounded right up my alley. (The description I read also included something about Liana being former special forces and totally showing up everyone else in the army, which is a trope I love, but I can’t for the life of me find the description I read.)

Overall, Republic’s Chosen was good, but disappointing.

I liked Liana, to a point. She was skilled way above the basic training camp she was sent to, which I really enjoyed. She was also insubordinate and a troublemaker, which sometimes I enjoyed and sometimes seemed just too much. Mostly she was just stifled by the strict rules of the military – which I understand, but I didn’t like. (Also I don’t recall it mentioned anywhere on-page that she’s bi.)

Liana’s husband Marcus was most definitely not my favorite character. At the beginning, I thought he was a kind of a dick. By the time I got to the end, I wouldn’t necessarily call him a dick, but he definitely rubbed me the wrong way. I just couldn’t put my finger on why.

A lot of the minor/less major characters were really good, though. Most of them were queer (and it’s a common practice in this world to state your pronouns when you introduce yourself), and they all had little things that defined them, even though they often didn’t get a lot of page time.

I feel like the world could have been good if there’d been more of it. You don’t get a whole lot about this world, other than there is a big conflict between the Latin Republic (which I think encompassed the Americas?) and the Slavic … countries? I don’t know, that wasn’t very clear. And you get little details about things in the Latin Republic (unimportant stuff, like the women wear eye makeup under the eyes instead of on the lids) from Liana’s perspective, but you don’t get anything about how it came to be the Latin Republic, what the Great Disaster was, or even what the society’s philosophy is. The book was stuck on the military base, and that made it difficult to explore the world.

This book was just far too military for me. It was too focused on the training camp and the military exercises and the recruits and the rules and the hierarchy. I’m not a fan of the military industrial complex, and I expected there to be less obedience and submission to the military’s rules and regulations than there was. The structure and hierarchy felt like it was suffocating the story (which I suppose was intentional, since it was restricting to Liana, too).

I also didn’t like the married couple aspect of it. I don’t know why, and it’s completely a personal preference, but the conflict in Liana’s marriage in addition to everything else just didn’t fit for me. It felt like it added just another layer of complicated on a book that already had too much going on.

This was a long book – 400+ pages. And even with all that page time, it felt like there was too much happening. Liana and Marcus had conflicts with almost everyone, it seemed, as well as with the military structure in general. Then there was their marriage under strain from the being in the military thing. And everywhere they turn running up against restricting military regulations. And did I mention conflicts with almost everyone, including friends from their special forces days?

Okay, this review is a little disjointed and I’m trying to say a lot in a small space. I’m not completely sure what I’m trying to say, though. I did not like this book, but I can’t put my finger on exactly why. Military scifi is definitely not my thing, but there was just too much going on and I didn’t like the characters enough to actually enjoy this. If you like military scifi, though, you’ll probably enjoy this much more.

The After the World Ends series:

  1. Republic’s Chosen
  2. Blacklight (After the World Ends 1.5)
  3. Republic’s Reach (not yet released)

 

Horror

Review: Salem’s Lot

Cover of "Salem's Lot," showing the head and neck of a feminine person whose skin is nearly white; their head is tilted back and there are two bleeding puncture wounds in their neck.
Image from Stephen King

Title: Salem’s Lot

Author: Stephen King

Genre: Horror

Trigger Warnings: Death, blood, gore, child abuse, spousal abuse, rape mention

Back Cover:

Stephen King’s second novel, Salem’s Lot, Is the story of a mundane town under siege from the forces of darkness. Considered one of the most terrifying vampire novels ever written, it cunningly probes the shadows of the human heart–and the insular evils of small-town America.

Review:

Now, before you go, “horror? Jalyn doesn’t read horror” – I know. This isn’t the kind of thing I would normally pick up. But my fiance is a HUGE Stephen King fan and he’s been pestering me for ages to read something by him. Eventually, I ran out of library books and agreed to give it a try.

(This was back in late November, mind you – my fiance’s mass market paperback copy is 631 pages and I just now finished it.)

This book has the biggest ensemble cast I think I’ve ever read, so I’m not going to talk about every character. It spends some time with pretty much everyone in Salem’s Lot. But the character who gets the most page time is Ben Mears, a moderately successful writer who grew up in Salem’s Lot and returned to work on his newest book. He also hopes to be able to process his feelings about the decidedly creepy Marsten House and the trauma of, as a child, being the one to find the body of Hubert Marsten in the house.

The rest of the characters mostly rely on stereotypes for you to get to “know” them – like the town gossip or that one guy who everyone thinks is weird but he doesn’t mind doing that job no one wants so they put up with him. But somehow King manages to make that stereotyping feel artful, so I didn’t mind it at all.

The first half of the book goes really slowly. It spends a lot of time building atmosphere – it’s a small town, with all its small town positives and negatives (which will be quickly recognized by anyone who’s lived in a small town), but there’s also something eerie and possibly a little evil living there, and it’s centered on the Marsten House. It also spends a lot of time on characters, especially Ben and how everyone in the town reacts to him. If you’re the kind of person who doesn’t like in-depth character studies or would rather sacrifice atmosphere for action, you will hate this. And honestly, I liked it and it still took me two months to get through it.

I feel like anything I say about the second half will be a spoiler, because the book spends so much time setting up the mysteries and vague uneasiness that gets revealed in the second half. That’s where the vague uneasiness grows and becomes the full-blown horror. I also think it dragged a little towards the end – the last hundred pages were a slog for me. They weren’t bad, I just wanted to find out the ending and wanted King to dispense with the lengthy descriptions and get on with the story.

To be honest, I didn’t find it that horror-y. But I think a large part of it was that I was reading it in bright light, sitting on the couch next to my fiance while he played video games, and kept getting distracted by the game and interrupted by my fiance’s occasional comments. I’m sure if I’d read it alone at night (or even in an environment where I wasn’t interrupted frequently), it would have been much scarier.

I will say one thing – Stephen King can write. Not that I was surprised, since he’s such a hugely bestselling author, but it was good. Lengthy and lyrical, but he has a remarkable knack for descriptions and I didn’t even mind how lengthy they were. It just added atmosphere. Whether or not you like his subject matter, he’s certainly a master of writing. (And this is only his second novel, I’m sure his later ones are even better.)

Okay, this is already pretty long, so I’m going to finish up with this: Salem’s Lot really wasn’t my kind of book, and I highly doubt I’ll read another Stephen King. But King is an excellent writer, and even though I wasn’t particularly invested in the story, he made me need to know how it ended. It’s not good in the sense that I liked it (I’m still not sure if I did or not), but it’s definitely good in the sense that it is a solid, well-written book.

Dystopian

Review: The Handmaid’s Tale

Cover of "The Handmaid's Tale," featuring two women in red cloaks and white bonnets standing near a tall brick wall
Image from Margaret Atwood

Title: The Handmaid’s Tale

Author: Margaret Atwood

Genre: Dystopian

Trigger Warnings: Heterosexual sex, rape, misogyny

Back Cover:

Offred is a Handmaid in the Republic of Gilead. She may leave the home of the Commander and his wife once a day to walk to food markets whose signs are now pictures instead of words because women are no longer allowed to read. She must lie on her back once a month and pray that the Commander makes her pregnant, because in an age of declining births, Offred and the other Handmaids are valued only if their ovaries are viable. Offred can remember the years before, when she lived and made love with her husband, Luke; when she played with and protected her daughter; when she had a job, money of her own, and access to knowledge. But all of that is gone now …

Review:

I’m still not sure what to make of this book.

I picked it up because my fiance and I got Hulu and I wanted to read the book before I watched the show. It took me a while to work through, for no particular reason.

And it was … odd.

There really wasn’t a plot to speak of. Like, seriously. At first I thought it was just slow to start, but nope – I got all the way through it and there still wasn’t really a plot. But it’s okay, because it’s really the world that grabs you. It’s one of those things where you get off the bat it’s an oppressive regime, but it’s slowly revealed how horrifying it is, what life was like before, and how it suddenly changed (although it didn’t make completely clear why it changed).

And the world is horrifying. People of other religions (or varieties of Christianity that are’t the regime’s particular brand), doctors who performed abortions, gay people, and anyone else who doesn’t conform and obey are executed and hung on a wall for everyone to see. There are only a few options for women – if they aren’t wives of regime-approved men, they could be Handmaids if they were fertile, Marthas (who do all the housework) if they weren’t, or Aunts (who indoctrinated the handmaids-in-training)  if they were … I’m not sure what the qualifications for Aunt are. Women aren’t allowed to read or do much of anything – wives are allowed feminine pursuits like gardening and knitting, but not much else, and Handmaids aren’t allowed anything.

The details – and even the main ways society functions – fall into place slowly, bit by bit over the course of the book and even by the end I still felt like there were some things that I wasn’t aware of yet. It was beautifully built, engrossing, and enough for me to keep interested despite the lack of plot.

I grew up in a Christian fundamentalist world. This all made sense to me. I honestly didn’t realize how completely horrifying this would sound to other people until I started explaining it to my fiance, who was appalled that this would make sense to anyone, and extremely disturbed that there were fundamentalists who actually praised this as an ideal society. If you’re not used to religious fundamentalism (such as the Quiverfull variety), it’s going to be a horrifying introduction. If you are, it’s going to be eerily familiar and still horrifying.

Okay, we’ve gotten this far and I’m still not sure what I’m trying to say about this book. (Samantha Field, one of my favorite bloggers, wrote a great post on it that’s more eloquent than this one and I highly recommend it.) This is the kind of book you really have to read for yourself, because there’s no way you can get a sense of it just from a review.

UPDATE: The Hulu Show

I only watched a few episodes of it, because I wasn’t a huge fan. The show tried to include a lot more plot than the book, making Offred mostly interested in finding her daughter (not a huge thing in the book) and bringing in the underground resistance movement in the first episode (which wasn’t until later in the book, and Offred wasn’t all that involved). It also put events in a different order, which bothered me. It wasn’t a bad show and I understand why they made a lot of the choices they did (after all, it’s hard to make a show when there’s not much of a plot), but I think I’d have liked it better if I’d watched it before I read the book.

And as an aside, there were a surprising number of non-white Handmaids. Normally I’m all for diversity in media, but in this case it surprised me because racism is a major thing, especially in American Christian fundamentalism. Having grown up with a very similar breed of fundamentalism, it seemed unrealistic to me that the women of color weren’t all Marthas or exiles to the Colonies, viable ovaries or not.

Contemporary

Review: The Thursday Night Club

Cover of "The Thursday Night Club," featuring a lit lamppost with snow falling around it
Image from Steven Manchester

Title: The Thursday Night Club

Author: Steven Manchester

Genre: Contemporary

Back Cover:

Five college friends have been getting together every Thursday night to share humble meals and an abundance of laughter. But when tragedy takes one of them, leaving the others to question the fairness of life, the Thursday Night Club decides to embark on a contest in memory of the generous spirit of their fallen friend. The objective of the contest is simple: whoever performs the kindest deed by Christmas night wins the pot – four quarters. And there are only two conditions: the benevolent deed must be anonymous, and it cannot cost a single penny to pull off.

As the four friends undertake the contest, the healing begins and they become inspired beyond their expectations. There might be a winner in this competition, but it is very clear there will be no losers.

Review:

I picked up this novella on a whim – partly because it was short, and partly because I liked the concept of a “good deeds” competition. It took me a while to get around to starting it, but once I did, I devoured it in about an hour.

The Thursday Night Club is very short, bordering on short story length, so I can’t really say I got to know any of the characters really well. There were Kevin and Randy the pranksters and Jesse the slightly-less-prankster, all typical college guys, and Ava and Izzy, nice if somewhat bland girls.

The plot is pretty simple, and pretty well explained in the blurb. Surprisingly, the character who dies doesn’t die until about a third of the way through the book. The first third focuses on a prank war between the boys – which was okay, but was not what I signed up for (plus, I’m not a huge fan of pranks).

The good deeds competition, though, was awesome. I loved watching the four remaining friends figure out ways to help people and meet specific needs in their community. It made me want to go out and do something for people in my community. And there were some great life lessons on generosity and helping people, too. (And it was also kinda Christmasy, which made me happy since Christmas is so close.) I honestly wish that part had been longer.

I expected to enjoy this story, but I didn’t expect to love it – or to feel so inspired when I finished. It left me wanting to go out and do something like that with my friends. Or maybe just do something on my own. I recommend the read just for the story, but maybe once you’ve read it, you’ll be inspired to help people, too.

I received a free review copy of The Thursday Night Club from the author. His generosity in no way influenced, or sought to influence, this review.

 

Classic, Science Fiction

Review: A Princess of Mars

Cover of "A Princess of Mars," featuring a nearly-naked man carrying a naked woman; they are standing above the corpses of several green aliens
Image from Loyal Books

Title: A Princess of Mars

Series: The Martian Tales of Edgar Rice Burroughs #1

Author: Edgar Rice Burroughs

Genre: Science Fiction/Classic

Back Cover:

Suddenly transported to Mars, John Carter found himself captive of the savage green men of Thark. With him was Dejah Thoris, lovely princess of Helium. And between them and rescue lay a thousand miles of deadly enemies and unknown dangers.

Review:

This book has been on the bookshelves in the office for a long time (it came in a box of adult sci-fi and high fantasy books Dad got off eBay), but I avoided it because of the naked people on the cover. Then we got the movie John Carter on Netflix, and when I learned a really good movie was based off this book, I decided to give it a try.

I was surprised at how much I liked John Carter. He was a Confederate soldier in the Civil War, then a gold prospector, but always a gentleman. (Having learned a lot about the Civil War recently from a pit stop in Gettysburg on my way to Washington, D.C., most men were gentlemanly back then.) He could fight (and he was good at it), but he was also kind, protective, and respectful.

Unfortunately, the other characters fell pretty flat. Dejah Thoris was beautiful. Sola, the green woman assigned as John Carter’s servant, was peaceful for a green person. The rest of the green people were wild and violent. And … that’s about it.

The rescuing Dejah Thoris plot that is mentioned on the back cover? Dejah Thoris doesn’t even show up until halfway through the book. The first half is John Carter adapting to life as a sort-of prisoner of the green men and fighting his way up from prisoner to chief of sorts. Then Dejah Thoris gets captured, and since the green men and Dejah’s people are enemies, they decide to kill her. So about two thirds of the way through the book, John and Dejah escape.

The John Carter movie had a lot of similarities to the plot of A Princess of Mars. The movie producers didn’t follow the same timeline as the book and glossed over some parts, which made for a better movie. But the parts they skipped made for a better book. I loved John Carter’s time with the green men, and I highly enjoyed learning about their society. Of course, once they escaped, I enjoyed that, too.

The biggest thing that bothered me about this book was that clothes apparently don’t exist on Mars. Everything was done in the nude. Nothing is actually described, and it’s not awkward for the characters, but I just felt a little weird knowing that whatever is going on, everyone is naked. (On the bright side, the cover makes sense.)

Like a lot of classic books, the writing is a little dense. Despite being an action book, it’s still full of long paragraphs and heavy on description. For the most part, I didn’t mind (although I did find myself glossing over paragraphs here and there), but if you’re used to snappy action, this would certainly be a change of pace.

Did I enjoy this book? Yes. Will I be reading the other 10 books in the series? Probably not. Besides the fact that we don’t own the rest of the series, I think A Princess of Mars had a perfectly acceptable ending and see no reason to continue past the conclusion.

The Martian Tales of Edgar Rice Burroughs:

  1. A Princess of Mars
  2. The Gods of Mars
  3. The Warlord of Mars
  4. Thuvia, Maid of Mars
  5. The Chessmen of Mars
  6. The Master Mind of Mars
  7. A Fighting Man of Mars
  8. Swords of Mars
  9. Synthetic Men of Mars
  10. Llana of Gathol
  11. John Carter of Mars

 

 

Science Fiction, Suspense/Thriller

Review: Jurassic Park

Cover of Jurassic Park, featuring the silhouette of a t-rex skeleton on a white background
Image from Michael Crichton

Title: Jurassic Park

Author: Michael Crichton

Genre: Science Fiction/Thriller

Back Cover:

An astonishing technique for recovering and cloning dinosaur DNA has been discovered. Creatures once extinct now roam Jurassic Park, soon-to-be opened as a theme park. Until something goes wrong … and science proves a dangerous toy ….

Review:

I lost interest in dinosaurs in second grade, I’m not a big fan of adult books, and I wasn’t a huge fan of the Jurassic Park movie. So until it was a book club book, I had no intention of ever reading this book.

So, I want to mention characters, but I’m not sure which ones to mention. There’s Grant and Ellie the archeologists, Ian Malcom the mathematician (and my favorite character for reasons I’m not sure of), John Hammond who created the island, Hammond’s grandkids Tim and Lex, and various employees. All of them played an important part at some point or another, and I liked (or in some cases, hated) them all in varying levels. But none of them stood out as “I really liked him” or “she’s the main character.”

I was surprised that I enjoyed the plot. The movie missed a lot of details, which was sometimes a good thing but most of the time managed to keep me interested. And the rampaging dinos managed to keep my attention. Sometimes it wasn’t as thriller-y as I think it was supposed to be, probably because I didn’t care about the characters as much as I should have, but I still occasionally found myself hoping certain characters would survive (and sometimes that others would get eaten). There was a lot of gore at times, sure, but I’m not sure a book about carnivorous dinosaurs could have got away without it. Overall, I was happily interested.

My biggest problem with the book was that it got bogged down in scientific details every once in a while. I don’t care which isotopes they extracted to piece together the dinosaurs’ DNA. All I need to know is that it can be done. And as not a huge fan of chemistry or biology, I found most of the sciency stuff boring.

I didn’t exactly enjoy Jurassic Park, but I was pleasantly surprised that I didn’t hate it. Do I plan on reading any more of Crichton’s books? No. But I don’t regret this read.

The Jurassic Park series:

  1. Jurassic Park
  2. The Lost World
Did Not Finish, Historical

Review: The Walking Drum

Cover of "The Walking Drum," featuring a caravan of people in medieval-style peasant clothing
Image from Shonari

Title: The Walking Drum

Author: Louis L’Amour

Genre: Historical

Back Cover:

Warrior, lover, and scholar, Mathurin Kerbouchard is a daring seeker of knowledge and fortune bound on a journey of enormous challenge, danger and revenge. Across Europe, the Russian steppes and through the Byzantine wonder of Constantinople, gateway to Asia, Kerbouchard is thrust into the heart of the treacheries, passions, violence and dazzling wonders of a magnificent time. From castle to slave gallery, from sword-racked battlefields to a princess’s secret chamber, and ultimately, to the impregnable fortress of the Valley of Assassins, Kerbouchard is on a powerful adventure through an ancient world.

Review:

I had not planned on reading this book. Louis L’Amour writes westerns, after all. But my dad told me that The Walking Drum wasn’t a western, and he liked it. My father and I have similar tastes in books (sometimes), so I decided to give it a try.

Unfortunately, I didn’t end up finishing it.

Mathurin Kerbouchard wasn’t exactly a bad main character. He was brave and daring and chivalrous, and loved to learn. My main problem with him was his problem with women.

It seemed that every five chapters or so, Kerbouchard fell “in love” with a new woman. They were together for a few chapters. Then they separated for one reason or another. Next thing I know, he’s come across another woman.

And for the most part, it seemed his romances were the main plot. Sure, I knew he wanted to find his father and get revenge on the guy who killed his mother. But he got his revenge before the halfway point, and at page 250, where I gave up, his quest for his father had just started in earnest. Page 250 was just over halfway through the book.

One thing I did like was the historical details. For the most part, they were worked into the story so it didn’t feel like the author was mentioning facts for the sake of mentioning facts. And they were actually interesting. I’d never really thought about this time period – I believe it was second-century Europe – before.

But overall, The Walking Drum was a super-long book with hardly any plot. I am not a fan.

Historical

Review: The Hessian

Cover of "The Hessian," featuring a blue-and-black sketch image that is hard to decipher
Image from the LDL

Title: The Hessian

Author: Howard Fast

Genre: Historical

Back Cover:

When a troop of Hessians hangs half-wit Saul Clamberham, everyone living on the Ridge panicked. They call out the militia and ambush the Hessians, killing all but the drummer boy, who escapes. The ruthless and unrelenting hunt for the boy is on, but doctor Evan Feversham isn’t sure he wants to be involved. And when a Quaker family calls on him to take a bullet out of a Hessian’s back, he begins to doubt that the boy is really a threat. But if the terrified villagers get their hands on him, the fact that he’s sixteen and wasn’t a part of the hanging won’t matter…

Review:

I probably wouldn’t have picked this book up on my own. I don’t usually like historical novels, and this one didn’t seem to have much of a plot. But it was a book club book, and so I read it.

Unfortunately, I didn’t enjoy it.

Evan Feversham, the narrator, was a wimp. He didn’t do much, rarely made a decision (to paraphrase his own words, “most decisions are best left to God”), and generally went along with whatever people wanted him to do. When it came to the Hessian, there are at least three scenes where he just laments to his wife about not knowing what to do. And he ends up doing nothing. At all.

Other than him, there’s a handful of characters that move in and out of the story – members of the Quaker family, so many of them that I can’t seem to keep track of them, even now; Abraham Hunt, the hotheaded jerk who led the hunt for the Hessian, the Hessian himself, who is semi-unconscious for two of the four scenes he’s in.

I was right in my judgment about the plot, too – there wasn’t much of one. Most of it was Evan Feversham trying to decide if he should turn the Hessian in or not. Maybe the main plot was his emotional journey? Either way, I was not interested.

This story is set in the Revolutionary War era (I believe just before, but I can’t be sure), and it reads like it was written back then – and not in a good way. It was dense and stodgy with a very old tone that reminds me of the kind of classic nobody reads.

Overall, this was seriously not my thing. Characters, plot, writing style…I wasn’t a fan of any of them. This is one of those books that you won’t miss anything if you decide to skip it.