Review: Grave Peril (Dresden Files #3) by Jim Butcher

Grave Peril
Grave Peril by Jim Butcher

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Finally we’re starting to see some plot appearing in the Dresden Files series!

Though I preferred the previous book as the story was more interesting and coherent (more on that later!), the characters in Grave Peril help keep the plot interesting and build it up nicely to make the foundations of a more intriguing series.

For me, the best bit of the entire book was the first encounter we have with a ghost in the beginning chapters. After that (which is to say most of the book), the story is really let down because it just doesn’t make an awful lot of sense. It feels like the series has skipped a few books and has just landed us with this to compensate, so much so that I checked several times to make sure I hadn’t picked up the 4th/5th instalment of the series instead. I’m assuming this is done to make the plot a little meatier and add more weight to the characters we encounter but it just doesn’t work well. It feels far too ambitious and it casts a shadow on the best bits of this book: the characters and the development of a much larger, more interesting plot.

A definite boost for the outlook of the series is that Dresden is almost a likeable character now! Yes, he still spends too much page-time brooding in self-pity and moral dilemmas, but now he has back-up from the comedy relief that is Bob and the loyalty of our newly-introduced character Michael, we can see him in a much more forgiving light.
Unfortunately, this is still let down somewhat by the female characters – why do they all suck so much? It’s like the author has decided he doesn’t understand women therefore he’ll write them as one dimensional as possible and hope that everyone nods along in agreement. The only female characters that are vaguely interesting barely get any attention in this book and it’s a noticeable gap that frankly, tired me out. It’s a letdown, especially after the male characters were such a huge positive in this book and female characters were finally starting to gain some substance in Fool Moon.

Give this a read if you plan on continuing with the Dresden Files – I get the impression that it’d be hard to make sense of the series if you didn’t have this book as a stepping stone but that’s all it is, a stepping stone and an intriguing, albeit slow and irritating, one at that.

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Review: Angels & Demons by Dan Brown

Angels & Demons
Angels & Demons by Dan Brown

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Meh.

I picked up this book after being semi-intrigued by the Da Vinci Code hype a few years ago (another meh) and then deciding to tackle Dan Brown again after I read Inferno and absolutely loved the book. So you could say I knew what I was letting myself in for – similar plot, exactly the same structure, cheesy lines, awkward academic in tweed, Langdon wears tweed, there’s Harris Tweed in this book, did you know the art history guy wears tweed? Thank goodness, I would never have finished this book if I wasn’t reminded that he was wearing tweed every ten pages. Tweed, Tweed, Tweed.

You get my point? The repetition in this book is mind-numbing to the point where its almost insulting. It’s as though Dan Brown thinks his readers need to be guided very delicately along the mystery otherwise it’ll confuse their tiny brains. This repetition is the case with almost everything in the book, you have the premise nailed into you from the get-go and the great bulk of the 600 or so pages is just made up from repetition.

So now that’s out of the way, we have to talk about the entire point of the book. Religion vs Science – or is it? Yes, that’s basically what’s going on here and while it is an interesting concept, it’s not executed very well and it pretty much eats its own tail in that respect. It could have been so much better.

The characters do very little to help the book – we have the know-it-all Robert Langdon who stars as the supposed expert who figures most of the good stuff out after it’s already happened and is just painfully awkward.
There is the cliché hot smart girl, did you know she’s Italian? You will do, we hear about it at least 200 times whether it’s her ‘exotic accent’, ‘olive skin’ or her ‘Mediterranean body’. It’s just plain cheesy and at times borderline uncomfortable.
These two are the strongest characters, seriously. Don’t get too excited about the rest.

A positive in the book’s favour is that it’s fast-paced but that is helped a lot by the whole thing taking place over one day so how much of that we can really credit to Dan Brown’s writing is hard to judge. It’s exciting, it’s trashy and it’s entirely brainless but it gets the job done and if that’s what you want from a lazy summer read then this will be a good match.

Of course, you could do yourself a huge favour by leaving this book dusty on the charity shop shelf and pick up the far better option that is Inferno.

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Review: Up West: Voices from the Streets of Post-War London

Up West: Voices from the Streets of Post-War London
Up West: Voices from the Streets of Post-War London by Pip Granger

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I picked up this book merely out of curiosity after the words ‘war’ and ‘London’ in the title awakened my sleepy history nerd self. This is an easygoing read that’s ideal to keep on your coffee table and skim over a anecdote or two every now and then but can’t be taken seriously in large doses. While it’s cheery enough, the book relies solely on anecdotes from a range of people we never hear anything else about and they’re largely remembering their childhoods which makes for quite patchy stories.

I imagine this would make a decent little book if you have a particular fondness for Soho and Convent Garden but it still wouldn’t be a great book due to how repetitive it is and how its coverage is all over the place. It would’ve been better if it had an interview-style write up from the contributors along with mini-profiles because the attempt to group the book into themes meant stretching the anecdotes into themes they didn’t quite fit naturally in. It also meant that it became hard to match the anecdotes up to any particular person and mixing them up all the time meant I had to backtrack a few times to figure out if their stories had contradicted or who they vaguely were from previous anecdotes.

It’s a shame this book wasn’t a touch shorter so it could focus on the interesting anecdotes and leave some of the more uneventful ones aside. That, and a change in its format, would make it so much more of a fun read which I think would be more of a credit to the amount of effort this author has clearly put into trying to keep it as upbeat and enjoyable as possible.

The best thing about this book is what kept me stuck to it as I read more about what people’s lives where like during that time – it is charmingly honest. The love spoken from these pages comes across in waves and makes you really admire how much love these people have for their home. This book is advertised as being for people who want to reminisce about post-war London but I’d recommend it as chicken soup for homesickness and as a side to childhood memories.
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Review: Storm Front (Dresden Files #1) by Jim Butcher

Storm Front
Storm Front by Jim Butcher

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I was told the Dresden Files series was brilliant and many readers (and writers!) I admire have listed the series as a firm favourite. It was only when a lecturer of mine insisted I read it that I finally picked up the first book and gave it a go.

Now, it would probably be useful to explain away some of my initial hesitation here. For one thing, I usually get irritated by detective novels, especially with an arrogant protagonist (and boy, it takes some arrogance to beat Harry Dresden the wizard detective!). They simply grate on me. Another irk of mine is when a mystery story can only be resolved when the writer unveils some wild card the character has had/known about all along that the reader has been unaware of.
Unfortunately, both of these things feature very prominently in Storm Front, particularly in the first half. I understand that world-building requires the writer to reveal little bits at a time lest they overwhelm their readers with information but in this case this method was used to hide away the clues that mystery which is plain irritating and in my opinion, a lazy way of writing. It also made Harry Dresden’s pondering over the clues quite painful in retrospect because we’re made to believe he is smart yet him being unable to connect the information together earlier given his knowledge just completely shatters that character trait.
Don’t get me wrong, you can figure out a lot of the plot by yourself. In fact, the clues are all too easy to put together which makes Storm Front more of an action/adventure book than a detective book.

Of course, this wouldn’t be much of a problem if the characters were interesting enough but here lies my biggest problem in the book.
Harry Dresden tries far too hard to be funny and instead, it comes across as cringe-worthy. When you add to this some of his other strong personality traits – he’s misogynistic, he’s rude, he’s undecisive (not a bad trait in itself but in a fictional detective it’s an issue), Dresden is pretty hard to tolerate, let alone like.
You would think there would be more interesting characters to compensate for Dresden’s unlikeable personality but I was left disappointed here too. Many of the characters are quite flat and peppered with sweeping stereotypes.

Fortunately, a lot of these problems are made up for by the action scenes. These are usually full of suspense and accompanied by electrifying imagery that really save the entire book. This piqued my curiousity and ultimately spurred me on to continue with the series. After such a shaky start to the series, I don’t have high hopes for Fool Moon but with this series being the favourite of so many, I plan on reading until I figure out why!

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