Review: Blood Rites (The Dresden Files #6) by Jim Butcher

Blood Rites
Blood Rites by Jim Butcher

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A Missed Opportunity.

This book had a lot of potential to be amazing given the darkness of the plot and the revelations about Dresden’s past, not to mention the ongoing war and an adorable-sounding puppy.

However, it missed the mark and just wasn’t given the attention it needed to be brilliant.

This was for a few reasons:

1) The plot was a distraction from the main story and was not only boring but pretty annoying. It tried too hard to fit in with the overarching plot and this came off as clumsy rather than clever. It had potential, sure, but too much time was spent on describing how women’s bodies looked rather than any sort of mystery which brings me nicely to my next point…

2) The setting of this book is eye-rollingly cringe-worthy, even by Harry Dresden standards. The only thing it adds to the book is the opportunity for Butcher to experiment with several different ways to describe women’s physical attributes and how difficult it is for the poor men not to lose self-control around the women they work with. It doesn’t add anything else at all to the story and its such a disappointment as it could’ve been made quite funny with Dresden’s corny humour but instead we’re just treated to over the top descriptions about characters that don’t really matter all that much. Pointless, irritating and character-damaging.

3) Murphy – what have they done to you?! In attempt to soften her character, Butcher has obliterated some of her most interesting traits and it just grates against everything we know about her. Why not just leave her as she was? I’ve got a feeling I can see where this is heading since flashing neon warning signs are popping up everywhere with hints but the groundwork was laid much better in the first few novels. It’s pretty annoying to have a character you respected to be made into this simpering doll-like image though, c’mon, as the only likeable female character, we need Murphy to pack more than a punch than that.

4) The big revelation about Dresden’s past was far too predictable and it wasn’t written in particularly well. It was straight away given too much weight in the story and it just couldn’t carry it. It would’ve been a much bigger deal if more of a foundation had been made beforehand between the two characters involved so the revelation mattered more. I think Butcher missed a trick here with not doing this.

5) The plot wasn’t all that believable. Okay, so none of these plots are all too believable – magic right? But this one just took it a little too far and the whole book just felt disconnected and wobbly. The main villain could’ve been something very special but like most highlights in this book, it just fell too short to really work to its full potential.

6) The ridiculous opening scenes are so brilliant because of their ridiculousness but this one was plain nonsense. There was no wit to it, only toilet humour and more slapstick ‘it could only happen to me’ type humour. It’s like Butcher just has a set of dice with childish prompts on them, throws several up in the air at once and then makes an intro scene out of whatever pops up.

Now, even with all the above points included, this was still an action-packed page-turning read that I’ve came to expect from these books. We’re gradually learning more about the world of magic and its secrets are getting darker with every revelation. If anything, this book was a lazy way to get some of the grittier details of the world over and done with so we can shelve it and move on to something (hopefully) more interesting.
And for goodness sake Butcher, stop making all the female characters pornstars/naked.
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Review: Death Masks (Dresden Files #5) by Jim Butcher

Death Masks
Death Masks by Jim Butcher

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Satisfyingly Different.

Although this book loosely follows the formula of the preceding Dresden Files stories, this instalment packs a political punch and is a worthy follow-up to the drama of Summer Knight. This time, we’re introduced to a darker side of magic that makes the sidhe we encountered previously look like childsplay.

Fortunately, we’re also introduced to a host of new characters and its the relationship Dresden builds with these (and the old favourites, naturally!) that really makes this book work. This gives Dresden’s personality the time to shine and really brings more to his character other than the self-pitying, misogynistic smart-ass side we’ve seen too many times at this point. Though a lot of that still exists, the well-needed added depth to Dresden is enough to keep the reader hooked as we follow him through his barmy world of wizarding adventures.

Death Masks takes quite a while to really get going thanks to a lengthy intro about the White Council which initially put me off the book despite Dresden’s cringey comic relief comments. Still, the book more than makes up for this with its crazy action scenes that build a prepackaged action movie into your imagination. Although by this point these are cliché to the point of cringeworthy, they’re still a worthwhile guilty pleasure that seamlessly works with the plot.

All in all, the Dresden Files has came along way by this point from the cheesy first three instalments and is now turning out to be a pretty exciting, light-hearted series with enough dollops of suspense and darkness to hold interest.

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Review: Summer Knight (Dresden Files #4) by Jim Butcher

Summer Knight
Summer Knight by Jim Butcher

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Finally an instalment in the Dresden Files series that I can confidently give a 5 star rating to!

Throughout my progress on the series so far I’ve met many reviewers saying ‘it gets good around book 3/4/5/6’ (the number varies massively depending on who you ask), and at long last I’ve found where in the series that moment happens for me and it’s here, right with this book which fortunately for me, is almost unrecognisable from the confusion and incoherence that was Grave Peril.

So why such a big turnaround?

First of all, Harry Dresden gets some long-awaited character development beyond the overly done funny-underdog-saves-the-day-by-a-hair’s-breadth-and-is-at-the-brink-of-death-two-dozen-times (phew!) formula that Jim Butcher keeps on winging out for him. Now we’re treated to only a little of self-pitying instead of being swamped by it and this alone does great things for Dresden’s likeability. We’re also introduced to much stronger and more interesting characters than Butcher has ever given us in the past and seeing Harry’s reactions to these gives a solid plus in his direction. It’s nice as well to see some old faces in the book – their personalities really took on a realistic shape thanks to the intricacy of the plot (more on that later).

Secondly, the humour in the books is either improving greatly or I’ve finally became used to it! It took some time to see it as anything other than cliché and cheesy action-hero lines but in Summer Knight Butcher finally takes the humour a little further and pulls it off to great effect.

Thirdly, the plot! Wow did this book get intricate! A far-cry away from the previously simplistic plots of figuring out the bad guy and taking said bad-guy down via several drawn out action scenes (view spoiler), Summer Knight’s plot takes on a much more ambitious storyline and manages to make it work throughout the entire book. I must admit, I was a little lost-off around 200 pages towards the end but I soon managed to pick up on what was going on thanks to brilliant pacing and plot development.

Last but not least…

How much more incredible does the magical world get in this book? You need to read it to believe it. I didn’t think the series would ever go beyond anything more than ‘whodunit’ with a pinch of magic thrown in for variety but instead, it becomes much much more.

Finally this series is starting to live up to the hype that surrounds it by giving us a glimpse of where Jim Butcher’s world-building talent lies. I can’t wait to move onto to Death Masks and see what more adventures Harry Dresden has in store for us!

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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: The Illustrated History Of The Nazis: The Nightmare Rise And Fall Of Adolf Hitler by Paul Roland

The Illustrated History Of The Nazis   The Nightmare Rise And Fall Of Adolf Hitler
The Illustrated History Of The Nazis The Nightmare Rise And Fall Of Adolf Hitler by Paul Roland

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

It’s difficult to know quite where to start with reviewing this book. It’s like going up to a someone who has lived their life swamped with WWII propaganda and asking them to tell you everything they’ve seen graffittied on the back of a toilet door about why Hitler was bad. I’ll give you an example here, at one point early on in the book the author delves into his own theory that Hitler was evil because he was emasculated by having one testicle. Given that a great amount of debate has been had over the controversy of Hitler’s genitalia, it seems far-fetched for the author to state this as fact and, even more ridiculous, to say that the Holocaust was solely caused by Hitler’s psychological reaction to his rumoured missing testicle. This was one of many problems I found with the author’s rants but it was one of the most notable due to the lengths the author went to try and back-up his theory.

Overall, this book is a pretty useless buy unless you want to look at the photographs (which, I’ll grudgingly admit, it does carry a half decent collection but there’s little there that you won’t be able to find on the internet). It’s the mental equivalent of asking a pub full of drunks at closing time that you’ll buy them a round if they tell you everything they know about Hitler and the Nazis. The whole thing is dramatized and fraught with inaccuracies (for instance, the author has also apparently figured out the mystery of who started the Reichstag fire, something again, that is often debated on by historians).
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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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