The Hunt for Red October by Tom Clancy [Book Review]

Hunt for Red October by Tom Clancy

The Hunt for Red October was Tom Clancy’s debut novel, which spawned the 1990 movie version.  It’s another book in the Jack Ryan series.  The Russian characters are unique and dashing; the plot is full of suspense and the action scenes are gripping.  

The Good

The Characters:  What I liked about the novel compared to the movie was the greater character development behind submarine captain Marko Aleksandrovich Ramius and the other Russian cast.  You learn why Ramius is defecting and how famous he was as a submarine instructor.  He’s humorous, bold and dashing.  

There’s a uniqueness to each of the Russians that comes through in the description, making them memorable.  

The Plot:  Ramius is defecting from the Russians with a new submarine using a prototype stealth drive.  Jack Ryan, the main character thinks he’s trying to defect while the rest of the Americans aren’t completely convinced.  So it falls to Jack to make contact and find out if this is for real.  

That’s the plot in a nutshell and I think the way Clancy wrote it worked quite well.  There’s a lot of deception, wheeling and dealing and misdirection between the Americans and the Soviets.  You get a sense of the politics involved.  

The Action:  This is the biggest point of this book (and the movie).  There’s a lot of submarine sonar tag and an actual underwater torpedo fight as a climax (with a twist).  If you’re a big military buff you won’t be disappointed at all.  

When combined with the plot, the action dovetailed things perfectly.  

The Bad

There aren’t really too many serious issues with the novel.  Let me explain.

The Characters:  It feels ironic but the Russians like Ramius, his second in command and a few others were more interesting than Jack Ryan and the minor American characters.  It’s weird that Jack doesn’t figure more prominently though the rest of the novel does such a great job that I don’t really mind.  

The Verdict

After reading the novelized Hunt for Red October I understood why the 1984 film was so popular.  The Russian Ramian is interesting, the plot is well done and the action fits right in without a hitch.  If you want to know the characters in The Hunt for Red October movie better and like submarine knife fights you’ll want to pick this book up for a read.  

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Vikings Season One [TV Show Review]

Ragnar Lothbrok Vikings History Channel

Vikings Season One is available on the History channel.  It follows one of the best-known Norse heroes Ragnar Lothbrok, who spearheaded the first daring raids into England with the help of his fellow warriors, brother and shieldmaiden maiden wife.  It’s an entertaining if short series that is action packed, has some mythical or magical hints to it and is historically accurate when it comes to the technology of the times.  

The Good

The Action:  If you’re watching the Vikings, you’re watching it for the bloody action.  Yes, I do enjoy fight scenes.  For the most part I think they’re well done and well choreographed.  

It’s bloody without getting into excessively graphic violence like the movie Braveheart.  You aren’t likely to see heads or arms being chopped off.  You might see that as good or bad depending on what’s your cup of tea. 

There are plenty of slit throats, however.

The World:  The writers and producers do a good job portraying how people lived during the Saxon times.  I do enjoy hearing the myths of the Viking people being retold on the small screen.  They speak of Odin, the Valkyries, Valhalla, how the world is created and Ragnarok.  

I also like how they use Athelstan (the captured English monk) as the excuse to tell those myths.  It’s a common device in fiction.  You get the outsider who knows nothing to ask questions and it gives your characters the chance to talk about the back story, culture, etc.  

In one of the later episodes there’s a giant ash tree that boggles the mind because it’s so huge.  At that point you realize that the show isn’t completely grounded in history but is more historical fiction.

Historical Accuracy:  I’d say the producers of Vikings did a good job sticking to historically accurate facts.  In the pre-Saxon times the best armour the Vikings had would be leather and hide.  The English would only have access to maybe studded leather.  

The English did have better iron forged weapons, which was noted in one of the episodes.  They also used short bows and not long bows.  Longbows didn’t exist at the time.  

The Bad

The Action:  Though the combat scenes are generally well done it felt a bit strained in terms of believability.  You would have the Vikings with their small force and shields facing three times their number and emerging victorious.  

It was written off that the Vikings were so savage, fearsome and fearless that the English were too scared to fight effectively.  Considering the fact the English had better weapons and numbers I found it hard to believe the Vikings didn’t suffer more casualties.  Again it didn’t detract from my enjoyment too much.

Anyway, I’m sure they had to stick within budget limits.

Length of Series:  Season one is only nine episodes long.  It doesn’t feel like it’s long enough to develop the characters and their relationships in full.  Still they deliver the most important parts of the story so it’s not that bad.  

The Language:  The viewer is left to assume when the Vikings are speaking their Nordic language.  You really can’t tell.  In one scene, the main character Ragnar Lothbrok asks Athelstan the English monk how he knows the Nordic language.  

Yet both characters only speak in English so it doesn’t sound like anyone actually spoke a Nordic tongue at all.  

It’s not a major issue for me though it does affect immersion.  It would have been better if the actors spoke Swedish with translations (because no one speaks the ancient Viking dialects today).  Then again viewers typically dislike subtitles in most cases.  

 

The Verdict

Vikings Season One is a fairly unique blend of history, fiction and myth.  The action scenes, worldly descriptions and historical accuracy are good.  Sometimes the battle scenes and language strain credibility or immersion though overall it’s an entertaining, if short series.  

Note that Vikings Season Two has started and I look forward to reviewing it later on.  

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Kushiel’s Chosen by Jacqueline Carey [Book Review]

Kushiel's Chosen by Jacqueline Carey

Kushiel’s Chosen by Jacqueline Carey (Book Two in the Kushiel’s Legacy series) continues the historical fantasy story of spymaster, seductress and heroine Phedre no Delauney.  The characters are as fun as ever plus the plot’s betrayals and intrigue keep you reading.  You’ll want to know what happens next and you won’t be disappointed.  

The Good

The Characters:  The characters from Kushiel’s Dart including the spymaster heroine Phedre no Delauney continue to grow as people.  Phedre’s part of the nobility.  Joscelin enjoys his time at their estate in Montreve.  

Of course politics throws a wrench in their quiet little life.  Melisande challenges Phedre by sending her sangoire cloak back to her and it serves as the gauntlet being thrown down.  Phedre knows that Melisande has another plot in the works and goes about trying to hunt her down.  

You’d think Joscelin and Phedre’s relationship was all perfect except Joscelin still wrestles with the demons of breaking all but one of his vows.  He also dislikes the fact that Phedre is going back to Naamah’s calling and sleeping with other men (as well as being a whipping toy).  

The friction between Joscelin and Phedre keeps their romance storyline fresh.  It also plays a hand in the plot because they lose some dear friends because of it.  I won’t say who.  

Melisande continues to be a compelling villain in Kushiel’s Chosen.  She’s not one dimensional in that she desires domination — she does what she does because she loves the game.  She remains the perfect foil to Phedre though Phedre eventually turns the tables on her.  

The Plot:  This time the intrigue takes Phedre and her allies to Caerdicca Unitas and La Serenissima (Italy and Venice I think).  It’s as gripping as the plot in the first book.  Here Phedre is far from home and allies she can trust are hard to find.  

It doesn’t involve just intrigue.  Phedre meets some interesting pirates who help her beat Melisande at her own game.  The story does a good job keeping you reading and there’s a touch of myth and magic that adds charm to the story including the cleansing of the blood-curse of Kazan Atribades.  

There are moments you really feel for Phedre’s situation.  It’s when she’s so beaten and defeated you ask yourself how she’s going to get out of it.  The results prove to be a jolly read.  

The World:  Phedre’s travels take her not only to Caerdicca Unitas but also Kriti (Crete) and Illyria.  Jacqueline does a great job describing the culture, people and customs of these other locations.  It really feels like you’re there, traveling along with Phedre.  

The Bad

The Plot:  You have so much fun reading about how Phedre gets out of the last bad situation that you’re usually not too concerned about the times you predict the end game.  So it’s hard to say that there was anything I disliked about this book to be honest.  

I will say that I had a pretty good idea where Melisande was about halfway through the novel.  Maybe I was used to how Jacqueline thought through the plot.  So I wasn’t entirely surprised by the ending or the big betrayal nearly halfway through.  

The Verdict

Kushiel’s Chosen is a wonderful continuation of Phedre’s story from Kushiel’s Dart.  The characters and romance remain a high point of the story though the plot outshines even that.  If you read Kushiel’s Dart and liked it, you won’t be disappointed with Kushiel’s Chosen either.  

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Red Rabbit by Tom Clancy [Book Review]

Red Rabbit by Tom Clancy

Red Rabbit by Tom Clancy is a political, spy craft thriller that involves a Russian defector trying to get information about the Pope’s assassination to the CIA.  The espionage description is good.  The plot, the action and the characters could have used more work.  

The Good

The Espionage:  Red Rabbit did a good job of describing a realistic CIA operation.  You learn a lot about how the CIA is structured and operates.  Its global operations aren’t heavily staffed affairs — usually it’s just a small number of people working angles.  Secrecy is the best policy and if covers get blown, a career in spy craft can be ruined.  

Tom did a great job describing the interaction between the Russian defector and the CIA station head in Moscow.  There was a lot of talk of brush passes and the usual cloak and dagger thing.  

The Bad

The Plot:  The plot was surprisingly believable and likely in a real world context.  The only issue was that it wasn’t all that thrilling.  In fact there was very, very little action or suspense (as other past critics might have said).  

It didn’t feel like Tom really moved his story world forward much with this book.  It was tough to read through the whole thing.  

The Characters:  None of the characters felt memorable.  The only one who might have been was the Russian defector and even then his name eludes me.  Hero Jack Ryan plays little if any kind of serious role in this story until the very end when he ends up chaperoning the defector across a national border so they can get him on a plane to the United States.  

Yeah, I wasn’t impressed at all.  

The Verdict

Red Rabbit was not one of Tom’s better works.  Compared to “Without Remorse” or “The Hunt for Red October” — the plot was plodding and the characters weren’t all that interesting.  It’s likely one book in the Jack Ryan series I recommend you skip.  

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Killing Floor by Lee Child [Book Review]


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Killing Floor Jack Reacher

Killing Floor by Lee Child is a violent, action packed Jack Reacher thriller that was quite enjoyable.  It’s a story set in a small town yet involves an international counterfeiting ring.  The plot twists, betrayals and shootouts will keep you on the edge of your seat as you read.  

The Good

The Plot Twists:  The best thing about Killing Floor were the twists and turns.  You never knew who was on the bad guy’s side until it caught you by surprise (except for the obvious ones).  There were traitors who revealed themselves at the worst possible times, putting Reacher and his friends in serious danger.  

Hidden Text

The story kept me on my toes more than any of the other Reacher stories I’ve read to date.  

The Scope:  What I liked about Lee’s debut novel was that it was a small town story with an international scope involving counterfeiting.  It starts with Jack Reacher being blamed for murder, his brother Joe ending up dead and then getting himself roped into the investigation in order to avenge Joe.

All the while Reacher is trying to figure out how the bad guys are pulling off their scheme.  It’s one of the central mysteries within the story.  It kept me guessing for a good long while until they finally revealed everything in the latter half of the story.

The Bad

The Villains:  To be honest there wasn’t anything I greatly disliked about this book.  If there was one thing that could be changed it might be giving the villains a bit more depth.  Just a tad…

They’re fairly one dimensional but there’s no mistaking them for very, very bad people.  Seeing them get their just rewards is quite gratifying in the climatic finale.  You can be sure there’ll be a hellish good time when it happens.

The Verdict

Killing Floor is likely the best Jack Reacher novel I’ve read to date except for Tripwire.  Even then, Tripwire still isn’t as good as Lee’s first debut novel.  If there’s one Jack Reacher novel you ever read, Killing Floor should be the one.  

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“Divergent” Series by Veronica Roth [Book Review]


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Divergent series by Veronica Roth

The Divergent series by Veronica Roth (i.e. Divergent, Insurgent and Allegiant) is set in a dystopian version of Chicago.  It is similar to The Hunger Games with less emphasis on the gladiator-like survival combat and more on political unrest, revolt and conspiracy.  You’ll like the fact that it’s action packed and centres around a society that’s divided by personality types.

The Good

The Concept/World:  Veronica does a good job of building an alternate version of Chicago.  The idea of Factions is kind of unique.  It’s rare to read about a society where people are split up based on their personality type instead of how they look.  

It’s been done but not in the last three to five decades.  

As you read through the novels, you come to understand more about the truth of the world the Factions live in.  

The full history or background isn’t available until the third book Allegiant.  In some ways, however it felt like it was coming a bit late in the game.  After Tris learns the truth, you wonder what’s supposed to happen next.  

The Divergent series reminds me of the movie The Truman Show with Jim Carrey.  You have all these Factions in the city but no one really knows how it all started.  

Action Pacing:  There’s always something going on — everything ranging from fist fights, stabbings, shooting, bombings or attacks by mind controlling serums.  There’s conflict throughout the series.  You won’t be bored at all.  

It’s no surprise since the heroine of the story joined a somewhat violent Faction (the Dauntless).  Roth doesn’t pull any punches getting most familiar minor characters around Tris killed (whether by Tris herself or someone else).  

The Themes:  The novels touch on various themes including discrimination (for being “Divergent” or genetically different), stereotyping, fear of change, fear of the truth, fear of the unknown.  Since this is a teen novel, the fear of not “fitting in” is appealing.  

What does Tris do?  She joins the Dauntless though she has qualities of other Factions and hence is Divergent.  She worries that she doesn’t belong with any Faction.  

SPOILER:

Hidden Text

Science and Language:  Divergent touches on some science concepts like “genes” and includes mind control through hallucinations.  Is it complicated to your average teen?  I didn’t think so.   

Veronica does a good job of keeping things simple for the reader.  Even though I have a background in science I can say from a fairly well-read reader’s perspective that the language is easy to understand on the whole.  It’s definitely not Harry Potter simple though it works fine for teens.  

The Bad

The Romance:  The romance scenes with Tris and Four are hit and miss.  They tend to slow the pacing to a halt and I wasn’t dazzled by the chemistry.  I found myself more interested in the relationships and conflicts between Tris and the other characters.  

When the plot gets twisted near the end of the final book Allegiant, Tris and Four’s relationship is strained.  Let’s just say it touches on the theme of discrimination and not fitting in (again).  

Compared to the way the romance was done in the Mortal Instruments series for example, Tris and Four’s story was less memorable to me.  The plot twists had less dramatic impact on the romance than it did in Clare’s series.  That is my opinion.  

The Plot Twists:  Some reviewers elsewhere felt that Roth re-wrote or re-imagined what happened in previous scenes to fit the story later down the road.  Do I agree with them?

Partly.  

Describing them would spoil some of the surprises in the book so I won’t.  

One of the things that was kind of irksome was that no one learned the whole truth until the series was nearly over.  

The Ending:  Oh the ending…  I personally found it kind of disappointing.  I can understand that Roth might have wanted an atypical ending simply to go against the grain.  It seemed unsatisfying is all. 

Let’s just say that not everybody gets to live happily ever after in a really big way.  

 

The Verdict

The Divergent series by Veronica Roth (i.e. Divergent, Insurgent and Allegiant) is an interesting and action-packed take on themes of stereotypes and discrimination.  If you’re into dystopic young adult fiction you’ll be fairly entertained by the plot twists in the series.  As a teen romance it was only somewhat satisfying especially with the way the ending was written.  

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“Mortal Instruments” Series by Cassandra Clare [Book Review]

The Mortal Instruments series by Cassandra Clare

The Mortal Instruments series by Cassandra Clare (City of BonesCity of AshesCity of GlassCity of Fallen Angels and City of Lost Souls) is a fairly entertaining, easy-to-read young adult fantasy series.  You’ll find interesting characters, humour, surprising plot twists and a decent amount of action.  You can be sure, however that your heroine is the reckless type that you often see in some other series (except The Hunger Games — Katniss is way smarter usually).  

The Good

The Characters:  The characters are well developed in terms of personality and histories.  The Lightwood and Wayland families all have a history that tie the characters together.  The history of the Shadowhunters is very deep and is integral to the plot (and its twists).  

Jace Wayland, the heroine’s lover is the cool, handsome yet often arrogant Shadowhunter.  Isabelle Lightwood is fierce, flirty and non-committed.  Isabelle’s brother Alexander Lightwood is protective and homosexual.  

Some of the minor characters die for dramatic effect.  

The Plot Twists:  This is the biggest plus point for the entire series.  The twists were so surprising and possibly believable that it threw even me.  What is Jace’s actual family relationship with Clare?  

Is villain Valentine Morgenstern really Jace’s father?  That scene was similar to Darth Vader saying, “Luke, I am your father!”  The fallout from that twist was insane… and believable.  

Anyway I don’t want to spoil it for you so you should read it yourself.  

Clary also shows herself to be quite clever when she takes on her evil father at the lake with the “mirror”.  

The Pacing:  In terms of the action pacing, there’s a lot going on but nothing like what happens in Veronica Roth’s Divergent Series (not yet reviewed by me).  There’s always a conflict lurking just around the corner and there is certainly violence — usually against demons.  By the end of the series (around City of Lost Souls), you can add the Dark Shadowhunters to that.  

The intensity varies nicely so that you don’t feel like it’s an endless adrenaline rush with no rest.  

The World:  It’s rare to find a young adult novel that uses rune magic compared to your usual witches and warlocks of sorts.  There are those too (rarely seen) but the Shadowhunters use rune magic instead.  They scribe these runes on them beforehand and release the energy when they need it.  

I thought that was a nice touch on making the world unique from most recent series (in my memory).  It’s not like it’s never been done before.  It’s just nice to see it isn’t the usual.  

Cassandra also mixes a lot of snappy humour with the fantasy background.  You often find Simon and Clary making lots of cultural references with laughs thrown in.  It’s well done and helps to lighten the mood between the darker moments in the series.  

I liked the references to Dungeon and Dragons and Japanese anime (like Naruto). 

Ease of Reading:  The language is down to earth though nothing like Harry Potter level.  It’s perfect for the teen reader.  Since the Shadowhunter world is set in modern Earth, readers will be completely familiar with most terms (including the magical stuff).  

The Bad

The Reckless Heroine:  The main character Clarissa Fray is less interesting to me than the supporting cast.  The reason is that she’s the typical, stubborn, reckless heroine that dominates young adult (and some adult fiction).  She is memorable however because she is the heroine of the story and is integral to the plot.

Maybe that’s what young adult fiction always requires.  Maybe not…  It certainly brings to mind other heroines like Susan Ee’s Penryn Young in Angelfall and World After.  

I’m not a huge fan of the reckless heroine stereotype.  I prefer the brave, risk-taking yet thoughtful hero.  I can’t argue however that the reckless hero works:  it does make you want to keep reading because you want to find out if the hero gets out of the hole they just dug.  

Though you wonder why they didn’t take a few minutes to think of a better way.

Too Contrived:  This relates back to the reckless heroine point simply because the reckless heroine gets into trouble that no sane person would rush into.  There are times Clary just dives right in even though it made sense to bring along allies or tell someone what she was up to.  I usually find the reckless heroine type is used to justify some less than believable plot ideas that shouldn’t fly.  

You may often find yourself asking:  “Is that really the only choice she has?”

The Verdict

The Mortal Instruments series to date (City of Bones, City of Ashes, City of Glass, City of Fallen Angels and City of Lost Souls) proves itself to be an entertaining read with enough plot twists to keep you wondering what’s what.  The action pacing is good, the characters are respectable and it’s easy to read.  If you’re the sort who doesn’t like reckless heroines and overblown plot points then you might have some of the same issues I did, however.

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“Kushiel’s Dart” by Jacqueline Carey [Book Review]

Kushiel's Dart by Jacqueline Carey

Kushiel’s Dart by Jacqueline Carey is a fantasy intrigue romance novel that strongly reminds you of George RR Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire series (or vice versa).  Though it is set in a world where the gods and magic are in the background, its deep characters, rich mythical back story and political plots will keep you pleasantly entertained without a doubt.  Trust me — if you’ve read Game of Thrones you’ll still appreciate the less bloody intrigues of Kushiel’s Dart.

The Good

The Characters:  All of the characters introduced in Kushiel’s Dart were well thought out and deep.  Many were interesting.  Lets start with the main characters.  

You’ve got Phedre no Delauney, the main character and heroine who was born with the crimson mark of Kushiel’s Dart.  This marked her as an outcast at first and her own mother sold her to one of The Night Court Houses (they’re a guild of legalized pleasure priests).  At the beginning of the story she is trained by Anafiel Delauney in the ways of intrigue and spying along with her fellow student, Alcuin.  

By the end of the story, Phedre is a hero who has undergone incredible trials to prevent the destruction of her homeland Terre D’Ange.  She becomes the master (of espionage) where once she was a pupil.  Seeing her reach that point is an amazing feeling because she’s tougher than she looks, while still coming off as very human, vulnerable and yielding.  

Phedre is also accompanied by her Companion, Joscelin Verreuil, one of the Cassiline Brotherhood, sworn to protect their charges to the death.  At first he seems like he’s a stuffy, vow-driven, one track-mind kind of character but he slowly evolves through the story’s trials into Phedre’s lover, guardian and … storyteller (if you read the novel you’ll understand).  His growth is both natural and elegant, the way Jacqueline has written it and I was likewise impressed with him and Phedre for similar reasons.  

Even the minor characters were well-fleshed out and amusing in their own way.  From Anafiel, Alcuin, the people of Cereus House, Hyacinthe (the Prince of Travellers), the nobles like Gaspar and Duc L’Envers, Drustan mab Necthana, Grainne and Eaamon of the Dalriada, everyone’s personality and history was unique and memorable.  There were few if any characters minor or major who were not memorable.  

Even the villains like Skaldi warlord Waldemar Selig and genius mastermind Melisande Shahrizai were unforgettable.  You respected them even if you didn’t out and out root for them.  

The Plot:  This was another impressive gem of Kushiel’s Dart.  The intrigue of the Court of Terre D’Ange was laid out in full, in a way that was easy to understand and appreciate.  There were the assassination plots and political intrigues of the Stregazza family that lead to the death of Phedre’s first protector Guy and the near-death of Alcuin. 

There are the plots by Melisande Shahrizai that brought down certain nobles and rivals of the realm but serve only as the ground work of a much deeper plot to seize power over not just Terre D’Ange but all the countries around it.  It feels sweeping and epic.  I can see why some recommend Jacqueline’s Kushiel Legacy series as a good read after going through George RR Martin’s Game of Thrones series.  

It has a similar feel without the extreme grittiness, death and betrayal.  When, someone gets betrayed in the Game of Thrones it’s usually fatal in a very bloody fashion.  Think of Robb Stark’s “Red Wedding” — you won’t find anything quite that severe in this book though you’ll be happy nonetheless.  

The story concludes with hooks leading Phedre into the next book because politics is never over even when a war ends.  

The World:  Terre D’Ange is supposedly set in an alternative universe version of France.  Elua and his angelic Companions who left God, traveled the world and eventually settled in the area that would be named Terre D’Ange.  There they founded the various provinces, one for each of the Companions.  

Jacqueline does a good job of describing the cultures of the different provinces and peoples.  You’ve got the Yeshuites who are like the people Jesus was descended from in our world’s Christian religion.  There are the Cruithne who remind me of the Celts or Gauls.  You have the Akkadians who are like the Middle Eastern Arabs.  

I also like how Jacqueline explaining how Terre D’Ange was so prosperous that it elevated pleasure and beauty to a high art.  That’s why there’s the Night Court and their trained courtesans whose services are a prayer to the goddess Naamah.  If you read it you’ll understand that Carey has woven a rich mythology behind much of the society that seeps out of the woodworks into your imagination.  

The Bad

The World:  The fantasy aspect is muted and in the background.  Well, more like the magical aspects.  For example, Phedre’s mark means that she feels pain as pleasure, which gives her a way to spy on certain nobles and obtain information that few others can do.  

It appears magical and divine.  There isn’t a huge amount of explanation behind it.  There are hints that it is a mark of Kushiel’s chosen weapon.  

Since the people of Terre D’Ange are descended from Elua and his companions they have a trace of the divine and angels flowing in them.  They are more beautiful on average than other humans.  It kind of reminds me of fantasy elves in roleplaying games.

What you will not find is overt use of magic that marks high fantasy stories (the kind I grew up with).  There are no wizards hurling fireballs.  There are no evil sorcerers who raise the dead or strike down people with curses or use crystal balls.

Whatever magic is in this world is low-key and in the background.  Like Kushiel’s dart or the inherent beauty of the Terre D’Ange.  If there was high magic, it would make the intrigues in this story less attractive or less likely.

I think this is a good point for it, others might not find it their cup of tea.  

There are no magical creatures, beasts or undead either.  It’s straight up human versus human.  If you liked Game of Thrones, this should be fine for you.   

If you like fantasy that has ravening beasts and monsters like Wheel of Time, you won’t find anything like that here.

The Plot:  The plot as it stands was entertaining.  Certain twists were mysterious and unexpected.  Some were predictable (or made to be that way).  

On the whole, if you were expecting to be completely surprised at every turn you won’t be.  You will however be curious or surprised enough that things are never that dull.  The characters (and their actions) more than make up for any less-than-obvious plot surprises.

The Verdict

In all honesty I have little, if anything bad to say about Kushiel’s Dart on a serious level.  Even the aspect of low magic isn’t really that serious unless you dislike fantasy-romance-intrigue stories with no wizards hurling spells or doing evil.  The setting is rich with detail and myth, the characters are deep, human and evolving and the plot intrigue plus twists will keep you entertained.

If you’ve ever been a fan of The Game of Thrones and the Song of Ice and Fire series by George RR Martin then you should definitely read Kushiel’s Dart, the first book in the Kushiel’s Legacy series by Jacqueline Carey.  There are quite a few decent similarities between them.

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“Patriot Games” by Tom Clancy [Book Review]

Patriot Games by Tom Clancy

Patriot Games by Tom Clancy was a story about CIA analyst Jack Ryan who screws up an IRA assassination-kidnapping of the British Prince.  He and his family are targeted for revenge.  There were few good things I could tell you about this novel besides the characters.  

It wasn’t terrible though it wasn’t stellar either.  For that reason, this review was one of the easiest and fastest ones I’ve ever written.  

The Good

The Characters:  Patriot Games does a good job of showcasing the life of Jack and his wife Cathy, before the birth of Jack Ryan, Jr.  You learn of Cathy’s character, her expensive car, her morals and ethics.  With Jack, you see that he’s a man who cares deeply for his family and joins the CIA after the villains of the story come after him.  

He also can’t seem to quit smoking.

There’s a bit of a discussion about the danger of guns in the household and dealing with the trauma of nearly losing their daughter Sally.  This part of the story appeals to the macho aspect of being a father who must deal with threats to what is his.  I’m sure older male readers with families of their own can appreciate this viewpoint.  

That’s what drives Jack to join the CIA by the end of the novel.  

A Glimpse into the CIA:  I seriously think Tom Clancy spent more time explaining how the CIA worked than anything else.  This was good if you liked that sort of thing.  

The Bad

The Action Pacing:  You have one bit of action at the start (Jack thwarting the assassination-kidnapping) and the final showdown at the very end.  There’s a few spurts of violence but it doesn’t involve Jack Ryan at all.  In fact, it felt like Jack was in the wings the whole time.  

It was him, sitting there, waiting as the bulls eye was painted on his chest.  

Frankly, Tom Clancy’s very first novel (Without Remorse) with John Kelly was better by far in this regard.  Kelly was the focal point in all the important scenes.  He was front and centre.  

A Glimpse into the CIA:  On the flip side it felt like all you were doing was reading about Jack researching the bad guys using CIA resources, planning their takedown and talking about Irish-British politics.  

Hell, he didn’t even come up with an “aha” moment.  He was clueless about what the IRA terrorists were up to until they showed up on his doorstep.  Even Jack Reacher is smarter than that.  

The Verdict

Even though they turned Patriot Games into a movie in 1992 (with Harrison Ford no less), I can see why the movie got an average rating of 3.5 out of 5 or 6.9 out of 10.  The action pacing was less than ideal and there were few good things to say about the story.  I hope that some of the much later books are more exciting than this one.  

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“The Visitor” by Lee Child [Book Review]

The Visitor by Lee Child

The Visitor (or Running Blind) by Lee Child is a thriller-mystery that does a great job keeping you guessing all the way to the very end.  The plot is quite twisting and you’ll be surprised how often your theory on how the murders take place turns out to be wrong.  If you’re looking for high octane action, however, you may not be as satisfied with this novel.  

The Good

Characters:  The Visitor continues Reacher’s story after what happened in Tripwire.  Reacher is struggling with his wanderlust and his love for current girlfriend Jodie Garber.  He’s finding it hard to have both and feels like he isn’t being true to himself.  

Child throws in FBI Agent Lisa Harper who seems to act like Reacher’s confessional priest.  Her woman’s intuition helps Reacher work out his current feelings regarding the above situation.  Other than that, Harper is all eye candy and show. 

She doesn’t feel all that significant to the story.  

In this novel, Reacher still appears fallible.  He’s not all knowing and he certainly hasn’t got it all figured out until the very end.  I liked that — it kept him real.  

The Plot:  I have to admit that the plot twists and the mystery behind the murders both confused and surprised, which is a good thing.  I thought the villain and their motives was one thing but it changed…  and changed… By the end it was totally unexpected (and perhaps unbelievable).  

Child presented you with a Russian doll and got Reacher to slowly peel away theories until you reached the truth.  It was excellent.  Child really has a way of making his Reacher novels thriller-mysteries, not just thrillers.  

The Bad

The Action:  The action level in Running Blind/The Visitor was kind of low compared to Killing Floor and Tripwire.  Reacher gets into some easy scraps at the start and it turns to solving the mysterious killings all the way until the end.  The climax itself was kind of bloodless (and wasn’t much of a threat to Reacher anyhow).  

Between the start and the end, Reacher deals with his thoughts about being free and being with Jodie.  Most of it is relationship conflict as opposed to kill-or-be-killed action.

The Villain:  I really don’t want to spoil things so I’m not going to tell you flat out what I mean.  You see the villain has a way of killing the victims that doesn’t require them to do much of anything… that can be traced.  It threw me off for quite awhile.  

The only issue was that the method used by the killer only works on a small percentage of the population in reality.  I seriously doubted all the victims could have been part of that number.  I found it a far stretch to suspend my disbelief, which meant the conclusion and climax felt somewhat contrived.

The Verdict

The Visitor (a.k.a. Running Blind) was an overall great thriller-mystery that kept me guessing almost all the way to the end.  Even I was totally at a loss to explain how the killer was murdering the victims short of using a fantasy explanation.  If you’re a bit of a scientist at heart you might find the final explanation less believable though it doesn’t detract that much from the overall story.  

The Visitor is definitely worth the read but Tripwire and Killing Floor I felt were better because of the action.  

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