Category Archives: Book Reviews

Book Review: La Biblioteca Perduta dell’Alchimista

La biblioteca perduta dell'alchimista (Trilogia del mercante di Reliquie, #2)La biblioteca perduta dell’alchimista by Marcello Simoni
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is the second in the trilogy featuring Ignazio di Toledo, a merchant whose only religion is the acquisition of knowledge. Ignazio lives in the beginning of the 13th century when knowledge is considered not only often dangerous but often heretical. Nevertheless, he has a reputation for finding, collecting and selling rare books, often written by the Arabs, and often dealing with alchemy. His vast travels through the Occident and the Orient have won him a reputation for being able to solve arcane mysteries.

The story begins as Ferdinand III of Spain charges Ignazio to find and liberate his cousin, Blanche de Castille, regent of France and mother Louis IX, who was kidnapped and is supposedly kept in a mysterious castle called Airagne. Along the way he is charged with finding an important philosophy text that may be the key to solving the mystery of the Count of Nigredo, involved in Blanche’s kidnapping.

Simoni is a great storyteller, more akin to Agatha Christie than Umberto Eco, although there are similarities to Name of the Rose, specifically its Medieval setting, and the erudite main character. The story is steeped in the history of the time, the protagonists are fallible heroes, the villains appropriately traitorous and villainous, and the surprising twist at the end makes this book a particularly satisfying read.

Note: Although I started with the second book in the trilogy, the books can be read out of sequence.

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Book Review: One’s Aspect to the Sun

One's Aspect to the SunOne’s Aspect to the Sun by Sherry D. Ramsey

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

From time immemorial, humanity has sought the secret to longevity and, ultimately, immortality. But what happens if you find that secret? Who does it belong to?

Sherry D. Ramsay’s novel explores that very subject with a compelling story that blends drama with ethics.

Luta Paixon, Captain of the starship Tane Ikai,is over ninety years old, but doesn’t look a day over thirty. Even with existing rejuvenation technology, this is extraordinary. Luta thinks she’s had a little genetic help along the way and that’s why she’s been looking for her biogeneticist mother, who disappeared when Luta was a teenager, as a source of explanation. Even if she’s been searching for fifty years without success, Luta is convinced her mother is still alive and could provide those answers.

When she hears a rumour that her mother was sighted on a distant planet, it leads Luta across the galaxy in yet another attempt to find her. This time, though, she’s accompanied by her dying husband and her resentful daughter and plagued by PrimeCorp who wants to study her. Her trek through the galaxy leads her to love, family, discovery and the big question: what would be the consequences if everyone lived forever?

Even though the subtext of the novel is weighty, Ramsay succeeds in leading us to the end seemingly without effort, thanks in part to her well-rounded characters. Luta, despite being a tough, no-nonsense ship captain, has the qualities and flaws that make her struggle with being a daughter, a wife, a mother, and a leader. The rest of the cast is interesting and real, each with a distinct personality and his or her own secrets.

The narrative flows smoothly, allowing the reader to focus on the people in the story, even though the technology sometimes seems a bit arcane for someone who knows little about space. The ethical questions she poses makes the reader think and takes this novel beyond space opera: this is speculative fiction at its best.

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Book Review: The Dirty Streets of Heaven

The Dirty Streets of Heaven (Bobby Dollar, #1)The Dirty Streets of Heaven by Tad Williams

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is the first in a trilogy about a “working” angel named Bobby Dollar (angelic name Doloriel) who is an advocate for departing souls against hellish representatives. But things go quickly askew: he’s stuck with an advocate-in-training he doesn’t trust, he lusts after a beautiful demon, the Countess of Cold Hands, souls are disappearing before they get judged, and a monster older than death is chasing after him.

Dirty Streets is a gritty, sardonic novel as entertaining as reflexive. It’s not an in-your-face contemplation of good and bad, or whether God, Heaven and Earth exist, but Williams has created a three-level world so bureaucratized you start to question the definitions of what is Heaven, and what is Hell, and, by the way, does God really care?

This is the first Williams book I’ve read so I can’t compare with others, but this one was great fun to read and compelled me to seek his other novels. Oh, and warning: there is explicit sex in it. After all, minions of hell are involved.

A highly recommended read.

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Book Review — The Lost Hero

The Lost Hero (The Heroes of Olympus, #1)The Lost Hero by Rick Riordan

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The Antiquity background on which the story sits is interesting and, dare I say, educational. Although the story is not a Harry Potter look-alike, the main characters are: Jason, the bewildered and reluctant leader, Leo, the comic relief and goofy genius, and Piper, the girl in the trio who seemingly has no useful powers but is the “heart” of the trio.

The writing is good and reads well, but this is a big book with nearly 600 pages. Since it is the first book in a series, this means a serious investment in reading time. Nevertheless, if only because of all the Gods (Greek and Roman) and all the associated monsters and fabulous creatures, The Lost Hero is a fun read.

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Book Review: Room

RoomRoom by Emma Donoghue

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In learning that Emma Donoghue had be shortlisted for the 2010 Man Booker Prize, I had a feeling her book might be a difficult one to read, one that you have to work at in order to get through it. I was completely wrong.

The story is grim, desperate, yet it is a testament to the love that exists between a mother and child and how freedom as a concept and freedom as a reality are two very different things. The story is told entirely from the point of view of Jack, a five-year-old, who was born in “Room,” the space where his mother has been held captive for the past seven years. What he knows as real is what is in Room. Everything else is in Outer Space or in TV. When Jack’s safety is threatened by his mother’s captor, “Ma” conceives a plan for them to escape that hinges on the courage of her young son.

It is a testament to Donoghue’s deft and clever writing that she is able to address complex concept in Jack’s entirely believable voice. She does that by using a child’s ability to ape without understanding, but also by using a child’s often much clearer understanding of the world, because it is so much simpler for them.

Once started, it is impossible to put down Room. Jack’s escape scene is particularly harrowing and emotionally difficult to read, but the “side effects” of freedom are equally fascinating and startling.

Here is the blurb from Goodreads:

To five-year-old Jack, Room is the entire world. It is where he was born and grew up; it’s where he lives with his Ma as they learn and read and eat and sleep and play. At night, his Ma shuts him safely in the wardrobe, where he is meant to be asleep when Old Nick visits.

Room is home to Jack, but to Ma, it is the prison where Old Nick has held her captive for seven years. Through determination, ingenuity, and fierce motherly love, Ma has created a life for Jack. But she knows it’s not enough…not for her or for him. She devises a bold escape plan, one that relies on her young son’s bravery and a lot of luck. What she does not realize is just how unprepared she is for the plan to actually work.

Told entirely in the language of the energetic, pragmatic five-year-old Jack, ROOM is a celebration of resilience and the limitless bond between parent and child, a brilliantly executed novel about what it means to journey from one world to another.

All in all, Room deserved to be nominated. Highly recommended.

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