Featured reader reviews: Page 1

Listed below are the latest featured reader reviews on the site. Some are positive in praise, some are negative in criticism, but the one thing they all have in common is that they are well written and explain their reasoning. We can never have enough reader reviews as they add to the quality of the site, making it ever more useful for visitors.

Mythago Wood by Robert Holdstock

10 stars

This story has always been my favorite of all the eventual Ryhope books, and one of my favorite books of all time. I find myself referring people to it even more these days if they want to understand real-world anomalies like "Skinwalker Ranch". We often tell ourselves crucial information about the world in the form of fiction stories. Not only was this a mind expanding book to read when I was younger, but it's become an invaluable tool for navigating this changing world.

Mychael Lee
USA

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke

8 stars

It's a beautiful book, yet disappointing because it wasn't what I wanted to read. It's over 800 pages and I didn't feel them at all. Jonathan Stange and Mr. Norrell, talks about magic, it doesn't exist anymore, until the nobleman "Norrell" from the Northern England begin to study real magicians old books. He has a huge library with unvaluable rarities. And this is the good part because the story is about how hard it means to learn magic, it's how it should be, Norrell takes all his life studying and finally can show to the world that magic exists. He's the only true magician, he's careful, introverse, but confident. He is special, he deserved to be special. Since then the events get an other road. Jonathan Strange is the second magician which emerges casually for no reason at all, he hasn't books, he didn't learn, he cannot learn, he just copies spells and experiment on field, eventually he got "natural talents" which makes him like: "hello there, I'm a mage, I can move the world, a country, the moon, with almost no efforts, with no clue at all of how I succeeded", or something close. It ruined my expectations, magic must be hard, magic needs efforts and long studies, a lot of practice, failures, and strict rules. This is suddenly lost. Now I'm not saying it's a bad book, because Susanna Clarke knows how to tell stories, but somehow she missed a great opportunity to write something epic. This genial thing of this book is that is based on a dualism: Team Norrell vs. Team Strange, at the begin there is peace between them, but they don't share the same point of view of magic and eventually divide their partnership. Both of them have good and controversial bad aspects: Strange wants teach magic to everyone with no care of criminals who may use magic for their crimes, and may begins a world disaster. Norrell instead tries to keep magic for himself, because he wants be "the greater wizard of all times", he also care for his Country, he says black magic is despicable and tries to protect the world, attempting to stop Strange who wants spread magic knowledge publishing it in a journal or books. Norrell however isn't gentle at all with people, he's selfish and doesn't care of anyone, neither of his best friend/servant Childermass. The author of this book gives all her best to depict Norrell as hateful as she can, to counterbalance things. Strange care for people, but he's reckless, he protect his country in a different way than Norrell. He goes directly with the army to give assistance (still without killing anyone, but stressing the enemy), risking to die. And this is it. Choose your side when you talk with a friend about this book, argue with him. Why did you choose Norrell or Strange?

Piero
Italy

The Death House by Sarah Pinborough

10 stars

This was such a beautiful book, I was as soon as I started reading it and its just got this beautiful moral to the story and the overall such a bitter sweet heartbreaking book, I actually miss the characters, Toby was the shit!

Elle
Australia

The Moon of Gomrath by Alan Garner

9 stars

I adored this book when I was a child. I still adore it. However I respect the criticisms of there being simply too much going on too quickly and too many players from Gaelic, Nordic and Anglo-Saxon myth jangling and clamoring for attention without adequate resolution or consistency. Who are the dwarves for instance and do they have a homeland and live invisibly like the Elves of Sinadon seem to? Or do they just eke a living out like gypsies? And who is mortal and who is immortal? And who the heck are the Children of Danu anyway, and how come Albanac seems to be the last one? And is Colin's bit of faith healing with the Mothan, connection with the Hunter and his adoption by Albanac's horse going to set him on some incredible future path? And is Susan really destined to become a powerful white witch with connection to the Moon and to the Pleiades! For me, the power of Moon of Gomrath was actually the LACK of answers to these questions. Because, there was so much that remained unanswered, this book has stayed with me all my life and I have craved to have a final instalent in the trilogy in order to tie things off. But as it never came... at least in the form I imagined, the Moon of Gomrath remains a deeply melancholic and powerful story. Boneland is a different matter and whilst I am glad Garner wrote it, I still have a completely different sequel in my head with roaring pines and glinting gold buckles and flickering blue lights and white eaglefeather cloaks and wrist bracelets which provide words of power to their wearer in their moments of need.

Ralph
Australia

The Broken Sword by Poul Anderson

10 stars

Before I read this slim novel I was sure LOTR would remain my favorite fantasy work of all time. Now The Broken Sword takes its place as my favorite. It is a brilliant work and all the more extraordinary that he managed to create such a rich fantastic tale in just over 200 pages. Truly astonishing.

Terrence
USA

The Awakening by LJ Smith

10 stars

I enjoyed the book very much I have about 2 copies of it, I would recommend this book to a friend without a doubt, it is a lovely book to read, and a book I found I couldn't put down, I had to keep reading until the end three chapters at a time. I read it every spare moment I had, I really really enjoyed it, I even plan to do a video review of it on my youtube channel soon. I have just started reading the next book 'The Fury and The Reunion' 2-in-1 book, I will be doing another review on that once I have finished it. I also think it was better than the TV show and really worth reading.

Anna
United Kingdom

Prince of Thorns by Mark Lawrence

10 stars

Many things for an adventerous reader to adore about this series, and it's sister series "Red Queen's War": * The setting. The post apocalyptic world in which it takes place is its own character - subtly revealed, but integral, and interesting as hell. * The grit. This is not a series for vapid people. It's challenging, visceral. If you don't find value in exploring evil and its accompanying accoutraments, don't read it. * The moral dilemma. I felt guilty as my horrified disdain of Jorgen morphed into fandom. And Jalan, well, I admit I rooted for that weezle from the beginning. * The balance. I needed Red Queens War after Broken Empire. I didn't want to give the world up. But Broken Empire was exhausting. RQW was delightful. * The story. It's a page-turner - unique, and still a-tale-as-old-as-time. It unfolds in different domains - The physical, psychological, spiritual.

Kiana
United States

Old Man's War by John Scalzi

1 stars

I was recommended this book by the owner of my favorite book store. He was so confident I would like it that he told me I would get a full refund should I return it. I really enjoy sci-fi, especially when the world building and the concepts are original and intriguing. Needless to say, I opened the first page with big expectations… I hated the book. I really did. I got a headache from rolling my eyeballs so much throughout the ordeal. When I read the positive reviews this book has received, and the fact that the series are a huge success, I was even more frustrated. It also left me perplexed. Am I missing something? Was I too harsh? But, alas, I stand my ground. Here’s what I think about Old Man’s War: I’ll start with the characters: They are one dimensional. They are generic copies of each other. Every single character - old woman, military officer, or elite soldier - is extremely nice, harmless, and constantly grinning, smiling or making bad jokes in hope that their audience might like them. The old people don't talk like old people. The military people don't talk like military people. What’s most annoying is that they criticize themselves right before we manage to do so, like a sort of vaccine against reader’s derision – calling themselves for example “Old Farts” and “inhumane monsters”. I agree. Our heroes in this novel are boring old farts and senseless inhumane monsters, and they don’t do much to change that. The heroes have neither inner conflicts no moral dissonance that can tell us something about their motives, that can impact the plot or at least give us some depth so that we don’t bang our faces against the pool bottom every time we are deceived into believing we have encountered some form of depth. The antagonists are even worse, starting with the fact that there is no actual enemy, only rivals. Our human heroes, who are colonizers, are fighting various alien species, who are also colonizers, none of which impose a threat on humanity or even on our colonizers’ endeavors. The “enemies” in this story have no names, no motives, and are deprived of shape since the writer hardly makes any effort in describing their physical appearance. If they are the antagonists in this story, so is the iceberg in Titanic. And I daresay the iceberg has more character, and certainly more depth. Now, speaking of character, this brings me to the novel’s biggest disappointment when it comes to character building – our spectacularly generic protagonist. John Perry is best described as mediocre. He is the very definition of mediocre, and could also serve as a synonym for generic, blank, and one dimensional. I don’t mean to say he is mediocre in the good sense – human, with flaws and fears and weaknesses. He hardly has any of these, and yet he is so relatable and moldable that you're never once surprised by his decisions, inspired by his actions or sorry for his misfortunes. Even his profession is so amorphic it tells us nothing about him - a marketing writer... so relatable. So boring. I dare anyone who has read the book to describe John Perry to a satisfactory level. When it comes to appearance, we only know he is not the prettiest compared to his very handsome friends, which, come to think of it, really doesn’t tell us anything about his appearance. We have no idea what he believes in, what he is afraid of, what drives him. There's nothing wrong with him, but there's nothing quite right about him, and you get that impression from the very start… The book begins with him applying for the Colonial Defense Forces. Why? Is he running away from his past? Is he dying? Does he have a mysterious scheme that we will later on find out about? Is humanity in danger? No. He is just an old fart who is bored and wants a bit of excitement. Later on, as I look for the faintest sign of depth in this character, he suddenly starts quoting the bible to another generic old fart. Now you think you’ve finally discovered something about the character. “He's religious! How cute! Maybe that will influence his personality. Maybe that will impact his decision-making throughout the book.” But no. He is not religious. He simply grew up in a Christian town. His relationship with his son (whom he never mentions again once having left Earth) “had its ups and downs”. Wow. He loved his wife despite the fact that they both cheated on each other and lied to each other about their affairs... WOW. So, are you a man of honor? No. Are you an asshole? No. Just be anything. I'm ok with you being the biggest asshole on earth. Just give me something. Infact, the only asshole in the story is John's computer partner whom he names Asshole (which really tells you a lot about the writer’s sophisticated humor). Out of the two potential non-robo assholes who could have spiced things up for us (the way Boromir does in Fellowship of the Ring), one dies of a heart attack early on and the other proves to have a soft spot for our hero despite moments ago making a clear declaration that would annul any “badass-turning-soft” twist. He literally said, “I am a badass and will not go soft.” Then he goes soft. Throughout the book our protagonist fights aliens and climbs up the ranks through heroic feats. Why is he fighting? For what? For whom? We don't know. Not even our dear John (by the way, is there a more generic name than John?) knows why. The heroic feats are so smoothly integrated in the action sequences that we are deprived of any decision-making, thought processes, or hesitation he might have. We don't know what makes him special. We don’t know what makes him capable. He makes no mistakes. He has no screw ups. And if you would like to argue that crashing down in a spaceship and losing a leg, a jaw, and three toes is a screw up, explain to me just how a few pages later he is fully recovered and promoted to a lieutenant. Talk about paying the price for your decisions… Sclazi tries to show us the antagonist is a hero who has saved his crew by being quick enough and bold enough to make an unauthorized decision. A page later his entire crew is dead except for him. Nevertheless, he gets to live on and gets promoted for the same act of boldness and quick thinking. At the very end our hero gets promoted yet again for generic things generic heroes do just as he realizes he might never see again the potential second love of his life, and he throws us this fart bomb - turns out the promotion was more dramatic to him than never seeing this woman again. Because, and I quote, “there’s not much to not seeing someone.” What in the world does that mean?? Oh my God... Our protagonist doesn't evolve. He has no foundations to start with nor a solid plotline to help him grow. He is not even human. He is a genetically modified soldier that can regrow any organ or limb... Which brings us to the next point, let’s talk about the plotline. There is no plotline. To put it very simply, there is no imminent danger that requires our hero’s intervention, but rather our hero’s unjustified intervention that puts him in pointless danger. The only cool thing was the concept of old people joining an intergalactic human army and gaining cool abilities, but past page 70 the magic has happened and in the least clever way - old minds are placed in young bodies, so that the title becomes irrelevant very early on, luring us into another 250 pages of (young) "men" (superhumans with green skin with cat eyes) fighting aliens. To what purpose? None. What is John fighting for? Can’t say for sure. Where is the plotline leading us? TO a climax that involves another generic alien race (that was so poorly described to us we can solely rely on our Star Wars repertoire and our imagination), that was casually introduced halfway through the book as just another rival that is in fact clearly stated as weaker than the human galactic forces. TO a battle over a planet that is mentioned as a colonized planet with no actual significance to the human race, with a small population despite its promising conditions. So why is this the very climax of the book? Characters we barely know are fighting nobodies we can barely visualize over a planet we don't really care about. The funny thing is, this planet seems very important to our apparent archrivals, but not to our heroes, which really reflects on the whole book’s lack of depth - the CDF’s motive is to colonize and massacre the opposition. The main character's motive is... I'm not sure. That he's a soldier? That he... ugh I’ve no idea. At no point is humanity in danger. At no point are the hero's principles jeopardized or put to test. At no point is the enemy or the overall goal (or point of this book) made clear. We are just moving from planet to planet, killing pretty randomly aliens for pretty trivial reasons and climbing up the ranks. Even signs of moral equity hinted throughout the story which lead us to believe that there might be an inner conflict developing in our protagonist that would lead to a standoff between the character and the CDF leaves us disappointed as we realize these signs lead nowhere. Very early on I thought the morality issues brought up would somehow reflect contemporary imperialism controversies, mainly regarding the USA. But no. No political statement either. The controversies are mentioned as casually as they are forgotten to create a sense of depth. An illusion. Speaking of illusions. Tension is one of them in this novel. Every time signs of tension show up, they are resolved in the next chapter. Your wife might be alive? Well no need to wait, just read on and in two pages you'll have the answer. Is there a traitor? Hmmm, interesting... Two pages later - nop. Seriously, even when there's a hint to a potentially cool plot twist where we learn that the glorious CDF have a traitor in their ranks, the next page we are disappointed once again. There is no traitor. The enemy simply has better tech. How exciting. The only character that exercised certain judgement and hinted at a more complex moral storyline was a less generic old fart that appeared for a chapter, spoke against blindly killing aliens and promoted trying to negotiate and learn from them instead, was scolded by the characters we are urged to like and believe in with words like "what you know or what you think you know out here means shit to me and to everyone else,", "you don’t know anything", was then ruthlessly killed by the very aliens he was trying to peacefully communicate with (which earned him the insult "asshole" by one of our beloved characters) in an almost comical scene, and was completely forgotten as we moved on to more alien massacres. I would have even applauded at a definite conclusion that the aliens are so evil we can't negotiate with them, but even that option is denied when our writer so generously justifies the aliens' actions. So if the aliens have their own egoistic motives, and the CDF has its own egoistic motives, and our hero has no motives at all, than what are we doing here?? We have been invited to an original futuristic amusement park only to find ourselves in a house of wax. Low quality wax figures, because such is the quality of prose. The writing is simple, boring, mechanical, awkward, straightforward… as if words were expensive and the author was on a tight budget - the minimal, cheapest vocabulary is used to describe a situation. It is used as a tool rather than art. It is pretty safe to assume the author would have preferred to write a script for an overbudget Hollywood blockbuster than actually indulge in the art of writing. The way I see it, he read Robert A. Heinlein when he was a teenager. He got inspired. He wrote Old Man’s War. All during his teenage years. This book relies solely on its initial concept which is interesting though poorly developed and on the gimmicks of generic sci-fi. I can promise you I will not be reading the next two books in the trilogy.

Daniel
Israel

Duncton Wood by William Horwood

10 stars

Guys, this is honestly just one of the best, most underrated and under-read fantasy novels ever written. That’s partly due to Horwood withdrawing the book from publication in the 90s (the special edition, first time it’s been published since, is currently being crowdfunded on Unbound - https://unbound.com/books/duncton-wood - join me trying to get it published!). Think Lord of the Rings with moles. Watership Down with more plot, more emotional depth and a resonance that makes it hard to shake and keeps readers returning to the wood decades after they first discovered it. Just a beautiful book.

Tom
UK

The Road by Cormac McCarthy

10 stars

I like Cormac McCarthy's work, however it's oppressive as fuck. This is the second book of his I've read (The Blood Meridian was the first) and holy shit. I mean the man is a poet, no doubt about it, but where did I put the straight edge and is the bath water hot enough yet. He is what Stephen King is afraid of writing. Personally, I love both Cormac and Steve, for very different reasons, but the older I get I find my interests tend to move toward the lighter side. Cormac is definitely darker than a sucked out hole in a tar factory and I love him for it, but you really have to be in the mood for it.

Shawn
Bowmanville

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