Category Archives: Books

The Curse of Malenfer Manor – Iain McChesney (review)

I got this book for free through the LibraryThing Member Giveaways in exchange for a review.

The Curse of Malenfer Manor is set in France during (in flash-backs) and just after the First World War. During the war an Irishman, Dermot Ward, and a French nobleman, Arthur Malenfer, get stuck together in a tunnel which has partially collapsed after being bombed. Dermot is rescued in time but Arthur isn’t as lucky and dies soon after Dermot has pulled him out of the tunnel. Flash forward several years and Arthur’s ghost finds Dermot in Paris trying to escape the guilt he’s feeling with alcohol. Arthur tells Dermot his younger brother has died, leaving the Malenfer family without a male heir and asks Dermot to go to Malenfer Manor to find the birth certificate of his illegitimate sons so the Malenfer name does not cease to exist. At the Manor only three remaining Malenfers live, Madame, Arthur’s mother, Sophie, Arthur’s widowed sister, and Simonne, Arthur’s niece. Simonne is regarded as the black sheep of the family, but she is the sole heir to the Malenfer estate and is engaged to the son of the Mayor of the nearby village. The reason why the Malenfer name is in danger is because of a curse a witch has spoken out over the family centuries ago, since that day very few Malenfers have lived into old age and died of natural causes. The twins, who work and live on the estate, are in danger of the curse now it is known that they are Malenfers. When people are starting to die it’s up to Dermot, Arthur and Simonne to solve the mystery and try to get rid of the curse of Malenfer Manor.

Normally I don’t like novels where war plays a major role. However, I did like this book, the scenes set during the war and the fighting give a good explanation why the various characters behave like they do. I really liked the atmosphere in this book, of the maybe haunted Malenfer Manor. I also liked how McChesney makes you doubt if the deaths are due to the curse or if they have a more mundane cause.

My only point of critique is that I would have liked to know more about the witch. At the beginning of the novel she is hanged because of accusations she had made and more could have been done with that; why did she made those accusations, were they true or not?

Nonetheless a very good read.

Doctor Sleep by Stephen King (review)

Although The Shining wasn’t my first Stephen King book (that was Silver Bullet) it was one that I read soon afterwards, curled up in bed at night losing sleep because I couldn’t put it down. I reread The Shining about a year and a half ago, years after my last reread and I was disappointed. Although I liked it, I didn’t love it as much as I remember.

I was a bit afraid that Doctor Sleep would be disappointing, too. I shouldn’t have been afraid because it was the best Stephen King read since I read Duma Key (that is not to say I didn’t like the other books of him I read since).

Doctor Sleep pick up a little while after the Overlook Hotel has burned to the ground, Wendy and Danny are still in contact with Dick Hallorann, who helps Danny with problems relating to what happened at the Overlook. Flash forward about 30 years and Dan is, like his father, an alcoholic with a temper. After an incident he moves on to a new town where he gets a new job and his boss helps him joining the AA. A few years later Dan works and lives in the local hospice, where he’s got the nickname Doctor Sleep because he,and cat Azzie, help the clients die peacefully. In a nearby town a girl named Abra is born shortly after Dan has joined the AA, like Dan she’s got the shining. From about 5 months old she’s in contact with Dan off and on, until she get a shining “emergency” message from another boy with the shining who is killed by a group of people, the True Knot, who travel through America in RVs and live off the “steam” of children with the shining. Abra now asks Dan to help her, because she is in danger of the True Knot, who want to kidnap Abra since she has the brightest shining they’ve ever come across.

It’s a worthy follow up to The Shining. Where The Shining was about the evil within (people and the hotel) and had an almost claustrophobic atmosphere Doctor Sleep is about the danger that comes from the outside. The scare isn’t in blood and gore but psychological; what people can do to each other and how desperation can drive people.

You don’t have to have read The Shining to be able to enjoy Doctor Sleep, although it helps understanding all the references.

The Lamp of the Wicked (Merrily Watkins #5) – Phil Rickman

I’m really enjoying Rickman’s Merrily Watkins series. Which tells the story of a female vicar in a small parish near the English and Welsh border. Not only has she become vicar not too long after it has been decided that woman can become vicars in the Church of England but she’s also the Deliverance Consultant (a nice term for exorcist) for the Hereford area. Merrily is a young widow with a teenage daughter, Jane. What I like about this series is that it doesn’t only deal with the exorcist part of Merrily’s job but also her own and her daughter’s life and stuggles. Throughout the series all regular characters have changed. Also, when dealing with Merrily’s job as Deliverance Consultant it isn’t done in an over-the-top way. It’s dealt with as I think it might be dealt with in real life, with care and some scepticism.

This fifth installmant is about a possible serial murderer who is inspired by the Fred and Rosemary West killings. Merrily is having a lot on her plate in this book; the fire of Gomer Parry’s yard (killing his nephew), her relationship with Lol, Jane’s depressed feelings, a new parishioner who anonymously donates a lot of money Ledwardine’s church (but what does she want for it in return?), DI Bliss’ need to prove himself and Huw’s personal history with the murderer and victims. This book also deals with hypersensitivity for power lines.

All this might make a confusing story but Rickman pulls it off without confusing the reader. At times I got a bit exasperated by Jane’s behaviour (even if she’s a teenager) and I loved how Lol is starting to find himself. It’s also interesting to see that Merrily and Lol’s relationship is not so very different from Jane’s and Eirion’s, despite Jane and Merrily thinking it’s very different.

Like the previous book this book has a faster pace than the first three, which I like. Usually when reading a series in relative fast succession I burn out after a couple (Sigma Force, Charlie Parker) but I still want to come back to this series soon after I finish a book. It’s just that I want to know what’s coming next for the characters, how they are going to deal with situations that have arisen and how they will progress.

I can really recommend this series to anyone who likes mysteries. It’s almost a cozy mystery series, but not quite.

City of Bones (The Mortal Instruments #1) – Cassandra Clare

To be honest, for a long time I’ve been trying to avoid popular Young Adult books, and especially series and then in partical series that aren’t finished. I read Harry Potter, which I start just before The Goblet of Fire came out, and loved it. I read Twilight, after all of them were released, and I was disappointed. And I picked up The Hunger games, again after all books were released, and really liked them (except for the ending). However, with all kinds of YA series going around, being popular and being made into movies I was hesitant to start *another* YA series which has magic, vampires and paranormal stuff in it. But after recommendations of both a friend of my sister and from people on my ebook forum and a need to read something quick and easy (not meant as a negative!) I caved and got the first book in The Mortal Instruments series, City of Bones, by Cassandra Clare, and I’m glad I did.

City of Bones tells the story of Clary, who lives in New York with her mother, her father having died in a car crash when she was young. Clary’s only real friend is Simon, a nerd and novel starts when they are going to a club (which Simon of course hates but goes along because Clary likes it). There Clary sees a group of three young people lure another boy into a maintenance room and kill him. It turns out that the victim was a demon and the three murders are demon hunters, or a Shadowhunter. A couple of days later one of the three, Jace, catches up with Clary and when she receives a call from her mother, who is obviously being attacked and tells her not to come home, takes her with him to the Instute after he finds her, hurt, in her apartment after she did go home and was attacked by a demon. The Institute is one of several scattered around the world where Shadowhunters can go and the one in New York is ran by the parents of the other two Shadowhunters, Isabelle and Alec who also live there.

It turns out that a bad Shadowhunter, Valentine, isn’t dead. Fifteen years earlier he almost destroyed the Shadowhunters and thought to have commited suicide. Clary’s mum, who is kidnapped by Valentine, turns out to be a Shadowhunter gone into hiding and has taken with her and hid the Mortal Cup, which can turn normal humans in Shadowhunters, from Valentine who wanted to create and army with it. With the help of not only the three young Shadowhunter but also Simon Clary is on a mission not only to find and rescue her mother but also to retrieve the Mortal Cup and bring it to safety.

Of course there are a lot of elements that you can find in Harry Potter and many other YA novels; a teenager that never felt to fit in with her peers turns out to be special, the quest for an important and dangerous artifact, the return of a Big Baddy thought to have died after trying to destroy his society, the Big Baddy wanting a “pure”  society and not to forget betrayal and the importance of friendship.

That said, it was a quick and very entertaining read. Whilst reading I thought, occasionally, about the similarities between this book and the Harry Potter series but it didn’t really bother me. The book had a good pace, with a lot of action, and during the more introspective moment I did want to smack Cary in the head at times (how can she be so blind?!). It certainly isn’t the best book, or even YA book I’ve read, but it does what I like in books: entertain. It’s a nice and easy summer read in my opinion. Hopefully the next books won’t disappoint.

The film of this book is released in cinema on the 22nd of August in the Netherlands, the trailer looking promising.

Reading update July 2013

In Dutch there is the saying, when things go wrong, that something has thrown soot in the food. This is especially appropriate for my reading situation. Due to the fire next door and the huge cleaning task we’re still in the middle of to get rid of the soot, smoke and especially the smell my reading challenge has taken a back seat.

That isn’t to say I’ve stopped reading. The first days after the fire I didn’t read at all, after that I slowly started reading again. Because of the clean up and trying to get the store clean enough to open again (after almost seven weeks today was that day!) I haven’t read as much as I normally do but according to GoodReads I’m still 9 books ahead, so I might still make it to a hundred, or not.

All my challenges are on hold, I might go back to them later in the year but at the moment I read to relax. I’ve been reading easy books, not necessarily short ones. The only challenge I try to keep is not to keep the number of series down to a manageable number. I allow myself to read the first one, maybe two, of a series to determine if it’s worth continuing and if it is it’ll go on my next-series list.

I’ve been enjoying most book, lately. I tried the first book of Jo Nesbo’s Harry Hole series, normally I find Scandinavian literature tough going but this one was a page turner. However, that leaves me with a dilemma: the English translation of the second in the series won’t be released until December (yes, I’m a stickler for reading series in order). So I can wait until December with continuing (and get a chance to finish some ongoing series), skip it or read the Dutch translation.

I’ve also enjoyed the fourth installment of Phil Rickman’s Merrily Watkins series, The Cure of Souls, I liked the first three but this one was a quicker read and that’s something I enjoy.

Another book I really liked was the first Will Trent, Triptych, by Karin Slaughter. I’m reading her Will Trent and Grant County books in publication order because there are cross-overs in the series.

The White Queen, by Philippa Gregory wasn’t a success. I just didn’t like the main character, so I won’t be continuing with that series.

Yesterday I finished the first book in The Order of the Sanguines series, The Blood Gospel, by James Rollins (Sigma Force series) and Rebecca Cantrell. I’ve read the teaser short story when it came out, which also contained the first chapters of the novel at the beginning of the year. I really loved this book, a combination of adventure (as with Sigma force a quest for a religious artifact), thriller and fantasy. I hope the next in the series won’t take too long to write.

For my summer reads I will probably continue with the Grant County/Will Trent series, Merrily Watkins and pick up Sigma Force again. I might give the Mortal Instruments series a go. But most of all, I’m going to enjoy myself. After The White Queen I decided that I will abandon a book I don´t like sooner than I have done in the past.

Reading challenge 2013 a quarter in

It’s already mid April, which means I’m over a quarter of the into my 2013 reading challenge. How have I been doing? Up until now I’ve read 43 books, 12305 page and 3712538 words. The high number of books read is thanks to Sean Platt and David Wright’s serialization. I’ve been reading their Yesterday’s Gone series and have now read two seasons, a total of twelve episodes. Each episode is between 74 and 143 pages long. These are quick reads, it does mean my average length of the books I’ve read is only 286 pages long (last year it was 354 pages).

My classics challenge (reading one classic a month) is doing good. However, of the three classics I’ve read so far two weren’t on the list I made, but I’ve decided that doesn’t really matter. My age challenge, which isn’t a 2013 challenge but one that spans two years, is also doing good. I’ve read five books out of thirty four so far.

The challenge of keeping the number of active series down isn’t going so well lately. I’ve been discovering a lot of series I want to read. It does help make me decide which series I want to continue with and which I want to either stop or put on the back burner. But the number of series taken off the active series list are lower than the number of series I’ve added.

Lately I’ve been going through a phase where I don’t know what to read. I’m all over the place when it comes to genres. Normally I stick to one or two genres I’m reading, occasionally dipping into other genres for a bit of variety. At the moment there’s no clear genre that I like, I’m reading post-apocalyptic followed by and adventure thriller after which I read a romantic ghost story. The only thing that’s clear is that I’m not in the mood for hard and/or long reads. I want my book to be relatively quick and/or easy.

If I’m going at the pace I’m currently going I will read 43320 pages this year, which is just over 6000 more than in 2012. I doubt I will make that, the cold and grey weather is very good for reading, but when the weather gets better I’ll probably read less.

Sigma Force series

Since watching my first Indiana Jones film I’ve been a big fan of adventure thrillers, be it films or books. Finding ones that I think are good turns out to be hard. In 2011 I started reading the Cotton Malone series by Steve Berry. It started fast paced, had interesting characters and was set all around the world. However, after reading five books I found that the basic story was always the same but dressed differently. It might not be so obvious if your read the books when they came out or farther apart, but if you read them reasonably close together it showed. A shame because the series had great potential.

After that I was a bit hesitant to start a new adventure thriller series, plus last year I was on a historical mystery binge. This year I started reading James Rollins’ Sigma Force series. I’ve read various good comments about the series on the reading forum I attend so I thought to give it a shot.

And now I’m hooked. I’ve read 4 of the 8 books that have been released (plus two short stories). Each story is different, the characters develop over time and they are not perfect. The series stays interesting because there isn’t one main character but a group. Each book usually focusses on two or three characters on the group.

Rollins is also great in setting up two story lines that slowly come together. At the beginning you’re wondering how on earth these two stories lines can relate to each other but bit by bit it is revealed.

I’m trying to pace myself now, not because I’m afraid of burning out, losing my interest in the series but because I want to make it last. I don’t think that plan will work, the fourth book ended on a cliffhanger so I need to read that soon to satisfy my curiosity. I still have 4 books and 2 short stories to go and in June the next instalment is published. Rollins already has revealed that one of the main characters will die.

Review: Kindle 4

I’ve had my Kindle 4 now for just over two weeks and I’m very glad I bought it. Although there was nothing wrong with my Kindle Keyboard the Kindle 4 (K4) is smaller and lighter and thus easier to carry around. When it was announced I had planned on buying the Kindle Paperwhite as soon as it was available in the Netherlands, either through Amazon.com or, when it opened, Amazon.nl. I was glad I wasn’t able to pre-order because of the “colour blob” problem. Depending on you level of colour blindness you might see pinkish, greenish or blueish blobs on the screen of your Paperwhite and Amazon doesn’t seem to be able to solve the problem. I like the idea of a build in light but I know I would be very annoyed if my Kindle had the colour blobs.

However, I did want to get a new Kindle and the choices that were left were the Kindle Touch and the Kindle 4. Although I like the idea of a touch screen I had read that the screen of the Kindle Touch was less sharp, probably because of the touch screen layer, plus I like to have physical page turn buttons (even with a touch screen). Around the time of the Paperwhite’s release Amazon also released a black version of their Kindle 4, although they deny that there was a hardware update people noticed that the screen is a lot better than the older Kindle 4 in silver. This made the choice easy to go for the Kindle 4.

Screen
As I said before, I was very happy with my choice. The screen of the K4 is clearer than the screen of my Kindle Keyboard (KK). I think it’s partially due to the screen of the K4 having a lighter, colder hue than the brownish hue the screen of the KK’s got.

Keyboard and buttons
One of the attractions of the KK is the keyboard, which is very handy when you make a lot of notes. It does, however, add to the size of the KK. The K4’s got an onscreen keyboard and you have the 4-way buttons to select the letter/number/symbol you need which can be cumbersome if you use it to make notes. Since I only used the keyboard to type in the names of the catagories I make to sort my books I can live with a somewhat cumbersome onscreen keyboard. If you regularly make notes I would advice to get one of the Kindles with a touch screen, that should make it a lot easier than using the 4-way button.

One thing I did have to used to was the page turn buttons on the left and right side of the Kindle. I was used to the wider buttons of the KK and found the narrower ones on the K4 hard to press when I first got it.

The KK had a slider to switch the Kindle on and off. The K4 has a button you have to press. I like this better since it seems to me to be a lot more durable than a sliding switch.

System
Compared to my KK the K4 is also a lot quicker, not only with page turns but also loading books, starting up/restarting the Kindle and switching screens in the home screen.

One thing that does annoy me is the implementation of switching wifi on and off. I don’t care that they’ve renamed it to “airplane mode” but it’s much harder to switch it on and off than with previous Kindles (the Touch and Paperwhite also have this problem). Before you could switch wifi on and off wherever you were; inside a book, on the home screen, etc. Now you have to go to the settings page, by going to the home page, using the menu button to go to the settings page where you can switch airplane mode on and off. Not very practical when you just want to switch on wifi to download a book.

Compared to the KK has half the space to put books on, 2GB instead of 4GB. Amazon likes you to use their cloud system. I don’t use the cloud system but I never put all my books on my Kindle and delete when I’ve finished one.

Interestingly Amazon contradicts itself when it comes to battery life of the K4. On the international order page of the K4 it lists up to 8 weeks with wifi off and on the page of the Paperwhite and the American page of the K4 it lists battery life as 4 weeks. The KK is listed as up to 8 weeks, as is the Paperwhite. To me it the K4 seems to have a better battery life than my KK, which is probably due to the older battery of the KK not holding it’s charge as well as a new battery. But even if the battery life is shorter than of other Kindles I can live with that, it’s easy enough to charge it overnight.

Weight and casing

I love how small and light the K4 is. The difference is also due of the different cases. For my KK I had an Oberon case, which are beautiful but add quite some weight to the Kindle. For the K4 I ordered Amazon’s case for it (the non-lighted one) and although it doesn’t add much size and weight I don’t like it because after two weeks it already has scuff marks on it (and I haven’t carried it around much in my handbag) and there isn’t a system to keep the case close in my bag. I use an elastic band to keep it closed in my bag so nothing can come in between the flap and the screen, damaging the screen. Eventhough an Oberon case is expensive and adds size and weight to the Kindle I’ve ordered one for my K4, I’d rather have a heavier and slightly bigger Kindle than a damaged screen. I like the K4 enough to invest $64 plus $35 shipping in a good case.

A year in books (2012)

I find it interesting to record my reading over a year. This year it’s the first time I did it in a spreadsheet file. In 2011 I kept track only with GoodReads and although it looks nice, visually, it just doesn’t give you the overview you get when using a spreadsheet.

Looking back I find that in 2012 I was really into historical mysteries, reading series such as Mary Russell and Sebastian St. Cyr. Towards the end of the year I started to tire of historical stories, both historical fiction and historical mysteries, and switched back to mysteries and thrillers.

In the end I read 105 books and 37246 pages, which makes the average book almost 355 pages long. The average rating is a 7 out of 10 (not too bad) and the average year of publishing is 2002 (I had expected it to be earlier). Although I did not finish 2 books I started I still need to learn to put aside a book I don’t like sooner than I do.

For 2013 I continue recording my reading, both in GoodReads and in a spreadsheet, I’ve added a word count and series list to my spreadsheet. My only real goal is to try and read 12 classics this year. Besides that I want to try and keep the series I’m actively reading to a manageable number. That said I’ve decided to take off the Aurelio Zen series of my active series list. I like them, but I’ve found I have to be in the mood to enjoy it, so I’ll continue this series whenever I feel like it, just like James Clavell’s Shogun series.

Changed reading

It’s been just over three years since I bought my first dedicated eReader, a Sony PRS-605, before that I read ebooks on PDAs. When reading on a PDA I only read free classics found on Project Gutenberg.

Before I got an ereader I read both stand alone books and series equally I think. With series I didn’t care to read them in publication order, I bought what was available, cheapest, thickest, most interesting or the one (when ordering online) which would ship fastest. When searching for new books I often judged the book both by its cover and the description on the back.

Since getting an ereader I think I now read more series than stand alone books. Which is partly due to participating in forums as Mobile Read and book sites such as GoodReads. When buying a book now I don’t go by the description or the cover but by the reviews, especially the two and three star reviews. With series I now compulsively read them in the right order. I’ve learned there are series which haven’t got all books released as ebooks (yet) and those I try to avoid. I also read more since getting an ereader, not just by participating in reading challenges, which I did for the first time last year, but in general. It’s just so much easier to get books, I don’t have to go to the store or wait for shipping.

I’ve also noticed I read more books by unknown authors. I was never someone who read all the Top 10 books, but I was dependant on what was available in the store or would ship quickly. Now I can buy almost anything I want and have it on my reader within minutes (especially with my Kindle which downloads new purchases automatically). Ereading also made me take chances more when buying books, which is both due to online communities recommending books and the availability. I’ve discovered The Dresden Files, for instance, I don’t think I would have every bought those in paperback. I am also less hesitant to buy long books because my Kindle won’t get any heavier and more uncomfortable to hold.

For me ereading has been a great success. Because of easy access to books and a bigger selection available but also because an ereader is often easier to take with you than a paper book.