Book Reviews: June 2016

I think I’m going to post my book reviews on the last Wednesday of every month from now on instead of the second-to-last, because I’m not doing the “outfit inspired by book” thing regularly anymore, so last Wednesday is easier to keep track of.

Now, on to the books I read this month. Somehow they echo my previous month of reading: two disappointing books, one good fantasy, and one good non-fiction. And yes, I read two books featuring magical libraries this month. I didn’t plan it, it just happened.


The Invisible Library by Genevieve Cogman:

A steampunk fantasy about a library that exists outside of space and time, and sends its librarians to different parallel worlds to bring back important or interesting books? Sign me up! I was really excited to read this, which is why it was so disappointing when the book turned out to be not very good. The world-building of the library is flimsy, the world of the story itself (a steampunk version of London) is too familiar, and the characters (a junior librarian and her enigmatic new assistant) are flat and boring. Also, I have a big problem with stories where the stakes aren’t high enough – at the end of the day, these people are only trying to obtain a book for their library, you know? It’s not like they’re protecting the last existing edition of that book, or that book is going to save some lives, or anything important like that. So it’s really hard for me to care. 2/5

The Library at Mount Char by Scott Hawkins:

This one is described as “Neil Gaiman meets Joe Hill”, which I kinda see. It has that element of a human being caught in a sweeping fantasy world that is beyond his comprehension like in American Gods, and it has the macabre element of Joe Hill. However, it is another disappointment. Again, it’s the world-building, which is even worse than “The Invisible Library” – basically this book throws you into the middle of the story and you have to read on for a hundred pages before you can discern what is going on, and even then you’re not quite sure if your understanding is correct or not. From what I can figure out, the story is this: the main character, Caroline, was “adopted” as a child along with other children by a figure they call Father, who may be some kind of god (if not the God). Each was assigned a catalogue in his library, which contains all human and supernatural knowledge in that area, to study. Now Father has disappeared, and it is up to Caroline and the others to figure out what has happened to him and who will take over as the ruler of the world.

That could actually be good, if I could understand that earlier, and if I could sympathize with Caroline and her adopted family. The thing is, they are a bunch of psychopaths, including Caroline herself, and the one true human character – Steve, a guy Caroline knew from her childhood and was pulled into the story against his will – just wanders around being confused so I can’t identify with him either (even though I was confused too.) The one thing I’d say for this book is that each individual chapter is quite engrossing, even if you’re not quite sure what’s going on half of the time. And for that I give it 3/5

Interesting Times by Terry Pratchett:

I think I’m not going to bother to review Discworld books from now on. If you like this type of books, you’re already reading the series or have already read it, and if you don’t, my review probably won’t change your mind. So I’m going to keep this short: it’s another Rincewind book (a lot of Discworld fans don’t like Rincewind, but I have a soft spot for him), which also sees the returns of Cohen the Barbarian and Twoflower, and features some pretty spot-on parodies of Oriental culture. 4/5

The Lost City of Z by David Grann:

The story of Percy Fawcett and his disappearance in 1925 while searching for a lost civilization in the Amazon is mentioned in Bill Bryson’s One Summer: America, 1927, which I read last month, so I decided to check this book out. It takes a while to get into, because I think the beginning was a bit all over the place, but soon the story drew me in. I always have a sort of horrified fascination with those explorers who would willingly put their lives at risk and plunge into terra incognita to follow what is sometimes just a wild goose chase, and this book not only vividly describes the hardships they must endure along the way, but also explores the reason behind their madness. I still don’t understand why they do it, but I sure love reading about it. 4/5

P/S: After I finished this book, I thought it would make a great movie, and lo and behold, they are making it into a movie (only Charlie Hunnam may lack the intensity to play Fawcett. I was thinking more along the line of Christian Bale.)

So that’s my books this month. What about you guys? What have you read? Have you read any of the above? Do share!

3 Comments on “Book Reviews: June 2016”

  1. Mike says:

    I like the idea of you posting your reviews the last Wednesday of the month Salazar. It will give me more time to read and write my reviews!

    Unfortunately, I still only have just one book to talk about this month (due to all the trouble I had, I hadn’t felt like doing much reading), but it’s still pretty good and I really enjoyed it.
    That first book you mentioned, “The Invisible Library”, sounds like it could be a good story. Any book that’s about libraries has to be a good story, right? 😉
    Sorry to hear that it wasn’t as good as you were hoping it to be. It’s always such a disappointment when that happens. Still, I may have to keep this one in mind for future reference.

    Anyway, here’s my review on my one book that I finished this month:

    I sort of took an unexpected detour in my book reading this time (tends to happen with me a lot; ah, the life of a bibliophile). While I had recently started the third book in “The Taj Mahal” series, “Shadow Princess”, I came across a children’s/tween/ teen book called “Valkyrie” by Kate O’Hearn. It entails the adventures of a young (in reality, she is over 600 years old but physically appears to be around 14) Valkyrie named Freya and her discovery of what life is really like on Midgard (Earth) and the making of human friends that help show her that humanity isn’t as bad she first believed. Freya, in the beginning of the story, has an indisputable hatred of humans due to what she has seen of their behavior over the centuries, believing them to be nothing more than blood thirsty savages. And because of this belief, Freya dreads her First Day Ceremony in which she becomes an official Valkyrie and must reap (take the soul of) her first human that dies in a valent battle.

    As it turns out, her first reaping allows her to encounter Tyrone, a fallen soldier in the military that has a huge heart as he is concerned for his family that he will leave behind once he dies. Freya is stunned by how dedicated and warm the soldier is when he pleads her to not take him away from his family until he knows that they are safe; her heart begins to warm a little more for humanity after seeing this. But Freya must do what she must and reaps Tyrone and they both travel to Asgard, home of the Valkyries and all of the fallen warriors who have died valiantly in battle. From what I gather, Asgard is like a sort of purgatory for the fallen warriors where they can either choose to reside in Valhalla (within Asgard) and party and celebrate for eternity or to go through the Gates of Ascension, which is like heaven I guess. But Tyrone has no desire to celebrate in Valhalla because he is so concerned for his family that are still back on Earth, and instead decides to go through the Gates of Ascension. He only does this after Freya agrees to look in on his family, which she agrees to do, despite the many protests of Orus, the black raven who is Freya’s constant companion and ultimately, her adviser. And leaving Asgard without permission from Odin (who sort of serves as the god of Asgard) is strictly forbidden, which leaves Freya in quite a conundrum in fulfilling her promise to Tyrone. She enlists the help of Loki, brother of Thor, who which both are sons of Odin, that helps her and Orus get past Heimdall, the watchman of Bifrost, a living bridge that leads down to Earth.

    It is at this point where Freya’s attitude toward humans truly begins to change, as she meets various people who are kindhearted in nature, very much like Tyrone was. The person that she becomes closest with is Archie, a teenage boy with whom is a victim of a gang of neighborhood bullies, led by the cruelest one called JP. Freya ends up saving Archie and a group of kids, known as the “geek squad” from JP and his bully buddies, which makes both Freya and Archie, JP’s new main targets, as they will encounter him several times throughout the story, one in which nearly kills Archie and Freya pleads with one of the Angels of Death (who take the souls of people who die but are not soldiers that have fought valiantly) to spare him long enough so that he and the other members of the “geek squad” can attend the school dance in order to celebrate their becoming more brave and learning to stand up for themselves (thanks to Freya’s training) against JP and his gang.

    But even while that little victory is temporarily being savored, things are not well back in Asgard as Loki (known for his trickster-like ways) tries several times to have Odin learn of Freya’s absence. Maya, Freya’s older sister learns of this conspiring and convinces Heimdall to let her pass so that she may find Freya and bring her back to Asgard before Odin finds out that she’s missing. However, Odin does find out before Maya can bring Freya back and sends two dark searchers after both of them (demon-like creatures that are invincible and cannot be stopped by anyone, except by Odin himself, until they either find and kill their quarry, or bring them back to face Odin’s punishment.
    And while I’m trying not to give too much of the story away (it’s really good!), basically, the climax of it comes about when the dark searchers reach Earth and rage an all-out battle chase, of sorts, on Freya and Maya and a bitter sweet ending is inevitable when the death of someone special occurs.

    The ending will indeed surprise you, nothing like I would have expected but much better than I could have imagined! And if you’re anything like me, you will probably cry a little at the end when you discover how the main characters (Freya and Archie) make it out of this conniving conundrum alive (or not).

    To go a little more in depth, without giving away too much of the story, as you should go read it for yourself, I want to talk a little about the two main characters, Freya and Archie. While many might look at a story like this and say that it’s the typical “boy falls in love with girl, despite their vast differences” kind of story, that is certainly not the case here. What I really like about this story more than anything else is the relationship that Freya and Archie share and that it’s a NON-ROMANTIC one, thank goodness, as I honestly get so tired of that kind of banality that I see in a lot of these kinds of stories. Though it is quite evident that Freya and Archie love each other as the story progresses, with Freya and Archie, it’s more like a brother and sister kind of love, not a romantic love. The author consistently makes it clear that Freya and Archie are best friends, especially towards the end as she states this directly to be the case, several times. But even without said statements, as you read the book, you can clearly see how much Freya and Archie love each other as best friends and look out for one another. The best example of this is the scenario where Archie is nearly killed by JP and is near death in the hospital. Freya refuses to leave his side for even a minute for if she does, the Angel of Death that’s waiting there with her would take his soul away to the Gates of Ascension (heaven). As long as she, a Valkyrie, is present, the Angels of Death can’t take the souls of the dead as a general rule. And despite the pleading of Freya’s sister, trying to convince her to let Archie go and the Angel’s chiding to her that it was Archie’s time to go, Freya would not budge an inch. To me, that is one of the most touching moments in the story. And from Archie’s point of view, he was willing to put himself in harm’s way to protect Freya from the Dark Searcher sent by Odin, even though he was clearly outmatched. It is that dedication that ultimately saves him in the end, which you’ll see if you read the book.
    And there are a lot of other little encounters that both characters face that again show their care for each other, which I think works so well in this story.

    One thing I found particularly interesting about this kind of story is that despite all the references to people being carried to other worlds to live forever after they die, there was no reference to places where people are sent to that live immorally, such as hades, hell or any other type of “shadow realm” that administers damnation. Not to go the religious route here, but I found that to be quite interesting. I guess the author just decided that this particular reference was not needed so it wasn’t worth mentioning.

    Overall, I thought this book was an excellent read. It was witty, suspenseful, compelling and even a bit creepy (I have to admit, I was a bit creeped out by those Angels of Death), but nonetheless, a real page turner. And while it usually takes me a while to read such a length of a book (344 pages), I read this one in just a little over a week, which is fast for me; it was that good. I simply couldn’t put it down. I even ended up staying up past midnight some nights just because it gripped me that well. I kept saying to myself, “just one more page, just one more page!”. Well, that one page became two, then three, then four, and before I knew it, I knocked out another chapter!

    I hated to come to the end of the book, but the good news is that this is not the end. This looks to be a series and the second book, “Valkyrie: The Runaway” is already out. I plan to get it as soon as possible as I can’t wait to see what awaits Freya and Archie in this new adventurous story. And you can bet on the fact that I’ll be reviewing that one as soon as I finish it!
    So all in all, I give “Valkyrie” a 5 out of 5. Great story! Go read the book, now!

    Hope to be reviewing “Shadow Princess” next month! Look for it!

  2. Kezzie says:

    Oh, that’s interesting you felt like that about the Cogman. I read it just after it was published and I felt similarly. It was just a bit, “So what”ish! I’ve not read Interesting times although I’ve read a few other Rincewind ones (I’m a bit meh about them. Don’t hate but didnt love like the Witch ones or Tiffany Aching)

    • Salazar says:

      I know, right? It could’ve been good, like the Thursday Next series, but here it’s just… meh.

      Yeah, Rincewind isn’t my most favorite Discworld character either (Death is), but I think the Rincewind novels are hilarious. Not as deep as the Death ones or even the Tiffany Aching ones, definitely, but they make me laugh.

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