Archive for the ‘Book Reviews’ Category


You Review: The Undead Pool – Kim Harrison

Thursday, April 24th, 2014

Reviewed by Oona Juutinen

The Undead Pool is urban fantasy, peppered with some alternative history, and set in the USA where supernatural beings such as witches, vampires, and elves now live openly (if somewhat uneasily) amongst regular folks. And connected to each of these groups, having her nose in everybody’s business all over supernatural Cincinnati, is Rachel Morgan – witch and day-walking demon, who also happens to be the alpha female of a werewolf pack, and who seems to have a habit of attracting trouble where ever she goes.

This time trouble begins when mysterious bubbles of magic appear over Cincinnati, causing the most ordinary spells to misfire disastrously and the local vampire masters to fall into a potentially deadly slumber. Other vampires then get rowdy, chaos ensues, and even the Goddess of the elves (who might not even be real but, if she is, she is probably insane) seems to be involved… And Rachel, of course, is somehow connected to it all.

As the penultimate book of a series planned to consist of 13 parts, The Undead Pool by Kim Harrison feels like an epic beginning of the end: there are car chases and explosions aplenty, as well as quite an impressive amount of twists and turns. And of course loads of sexual tension between Rachel and an elf called Trent, who apparently have had a will-they-or-won’t-they relationship going on for several books already.

Had I read the previous books and thus been able to appreciate the build-up and the conclusions the series is coming to more, I might have viewed The Undead Pool differently. Now, however, the book felt quite superficial, its plot flimsy under the accelerated action. For fans of the series, though, this book will probably be exactly what the doctor ordered. As for me, I will treat it as a lesson learned: reading the 12th installment of a series, with no prior knowledge of what has gone down in the previous books, simply does not lead to a very fulfilling reading experience.

You Review: The latest releases, reviewed by ABC customers.

Paperback edition expected in July 2014.  Ebook available for The Undead Pool, as well as nr. 11, A Perfect Blood.  Oddly enough, there are ebooks available of most of the anthologies containing short stories set in The Hollows universe:  Dates from Hell, Hotter than Hell, Holidays are Hell, Unbound and Into the Woods.

You Review: How to Make a Human Being – Christopher Potter

Wednesday, April 23rd, 2014

Reviewed by David Young

How to Make a Human Being has to be the most interesting and challenging book I’ve ever reviewed. No information about the author (I discover he is a publisher with a well-received “pop science” book to his name) or an introduction explaining the purpose of the book – no, the reader is plunged straight into the famous 18th century “Materialism” versus “Idealism” controversy stimulated by Bishop Berkeley. And it doesn’t get less challenging….

The book is divided into 3 sections: the first covers our physical environment (cosmology, physics, mathematics, philosophy), the second where we come from (genetics, psychology, more philosophy) and the third how we relate to the world around us (psychology, neurology, sociology). The author is an amazingly well-read polymath, but he wears his learning very lightly and is capable of explaining highly complex topics in a very comprehensible fashion – this is the nearest I’ve ever come to understanding Quantum Mechanics, for instance.

I recommend reading this book in small chunks, as every chapter is really full of meaty stuff which needs some absorbing. On the plus side the author occasionally drops in a delightful insight of his own which will certainly make you think, and there are some nuggets with which you can impress your dinner party guests (did you know that humans share 50% of their genes with bananas?).

Overall Christopher Potter has succeeded in presenting a remarkably comprehensive summary of the Human Condition, one from which I learnt a great deal and will return to in the future with enormous pleasure.

You Review: The latest releases, reviewed by ABC customers.

You Review: Signed, Sealed, Delivered – Nina Sankovitch

Tuesday, April 22nd, 2014

Review by Anouschka van Leeuwen

In her previous book, Tolstoy and the Purple Chair, Nina Sankovitch took the reader along on her year-long project of reading one book a day, explaining what emotions the books triggered and how they related to her own life. Signed, Sealed, Delivered has the same spirit: this book is again a personal tale. After the discovery of an old box of letters, Sankovitch is inspired to look for the significance of written correspondence. Her findings result in a book, that like its predecessor, mixes the genres of non-fiction and memoir. Unfortunately, I found both of these aspects a bit disappointing.

Concerning the author’s personal reflections, I found that the initial story of the discovery of the old letters was a nice introduction to the book’s subject. However, after a while the author’s sentiments became a bit irksome to me. For example, Sankovitch often expresses how she wishes that her children will write to her once they leave for college so that she will have a memento of their love for her. Although touching, after a few times these motherly sentiments started to become repetitive and did not have any added value to the main subject of the book.

At times, I found that this melodramatic tone made me wish that Sankovitch had tried to approach the subject from a more theoretical perspective, which brings me to my second concern. When I started the book, I had expected something along the lines of an essay explaining the appeal of letter writing. Instead, the majority of the book consists of examples of both famous and non-famous letter writers and receivers.

This is not to say that the book was not entertaining. On the contrary: the example stories are often compelling and sometimes even taught me a thing or two (like the history of Heloise and Abelard and how letter writing played a role in their lives). Still, I felt like the author missed out on the opportunity to delve deeper into the psychological aspects of written correspondence, especially in this digital age. Each chapter centers around a particular function that letters may fulfill, and in between the stories, Sankovitch sometimes drops a line that summarizes the effects that reading or writing a letter can have. I think I would have liked it better if these reflective parts had taken up more space in the book.

To summarize, I have mixed feelings about this book. Being an avid letter writer myself, I have enjoyed the numerous tales that illustrate the appeal of letters. On the other hand, readers who are expecting a philosophical or psychological account of letter writing should realize that Signed, Sealed, Delivered is not intended as such. Instead, it should be seen as a compilation of the most romantic or otherwise touching stories in the history of the handwritten letter.

You Review: The latest releases, reviewed by ABC customers.

No ebook available for Signed, Sealed, Delivered, but there is one of her earlier book: Tolstoy and the Purple Chair.

You Review: The Sun and Other Stars – Brigid Pasulka

Saturday, April 19th, 2014

Reviewed by Saartje Kuijs

As someone who has lived in Italy for a while, any book about the Italian culture immediately appeals to me. I love getting transported back to the heat of the Italian sun in summer, the quick temperament of its inhabitants and even the many bureaucratic problems the media love to talk about. So when I saw The Sun and Other Stars by Brigid Pasulka on the You Review list, I had to read it.

It did not disappoint. The Sun and Other Stars centres around a young man, Etto, who lives in the once famous jet set town of San Benedetto. San Benedetto is inhabited by many colourful, and very Italian, characters, from Etto’s womanizing friend Fede, to his demented grandmother whom he takes to church every Sunday. Life in the town gets shaken up with the arrival of famous football star Yuri Fil and his family. They will play a crucial role in helping Etto to come to terms with the deaths of his twin brother and mother.

The Sun and Other Stars is honest and life-like. It is not about big adventures but strikes much closer to home as it deals with grief, growing up and accepting life the way it is. The characters in the book paint an amazing picture of life in Italy and especially its enthusiastic football culture. It is funny, eccentric and above all, realistic. Sometimes the many Italian words and phrases in between the English ones slow down the flow of the book, but overall The Sun and Other Stars is an interesting read for anyone who is looking for a book that deals with big problems in a surprisingly light-hearted, but definitely genuine, way. If you happen to love Italy, and football as well, then this is a book you certainly shouldn’t miss.

You Review: The latest releases, reviewed by ABC customers.

There is no ebook available of The Sun and Other Stars at the moment, but there is one available of her previous novel: A Long Long Time Ago and Essentially True.

Book Review: Doctor Strange the Oath – Brian K. Vaughan and Marcos Martin

Friday, April 18th, 2014

Reviewed by Michael Minneboo

Once upon a time Doctor Stephen Strange was a brilliant surgeon and an arrogant man-of-the world seduced by material wealth. One fateful day, a tragic car accident deprived him of his surgical skills. After hearing rumours of the mystical Ancient One, Strange went to the East to ask this mystical master to cure his hands. The Ancient One refused and instead offered to teach Strange in mysticism. Stephen Strange became the Ancient One’s student and later the Sorcerer Supreme – earth’s first line of defence against magical menace.

I know, all of the above sounds a bit corny. Frankly, until recently I wouldn’t call myself a Doctor Strange-fan. Since Strange is one of the residents of the Marvel Universe, he frequently guess-starred in comics I read, be it Amazing Spider-Man, The Fantastic Four or Avengers. However, the fair Doctor did make an impression in those stories, and maybe that’s why I picked up a big pile of Doctor Strange-comics when I came across them in a sale at a local comic book store last year. After reading a couple of these comics from the late eighties, early nineties, written by Roy and Dann Thomas, I was hooked on the wonderful mystical world in which Strange operates. I also grew fond of his interesting and weird supporting cast: his apprentice is a green alien bull and his brother a vampire, to name just two oddities that stand out. Also it seems that the mage has become quite a nice guy and seems a total different person from the selfish surgeon he once was.

Currently the good doctor doesn’t have a series of his own, but every once in a while Marvel Comics publishes a limited series, like The Oath: a five-part story that got collected in one volume in 2013. The Oath is written by Brian K. Vaughan, best known for intelligent and entertaining series like Y: The Last Man, Ex Machina and Saga. The artwork is by Marcos Martín, who uses a wonderful personal style that looks a bit retro while still feeling contemporary.

In The Oath, Doctor Strange’s servant Wong is suffering from a brain tumor. Medical science may be unable to treat it, but the master of the mystique knows of an elixir, which is kept in a deadly dimension, that might cure his good friend. After fighting a monstrous entity that guards the elixir and returning home, they soon discover that there is more to this elixir than meets the eye. When a burglar is hired by a big pharmaceutical company to steal it from Strange’s house, the Sorcerer Supreme gets shot during the robbery.

Vaughan treats the reader to an interesting and fast-paced story that has a couple of unexpected twists and turns, and ties Doctor Strange’s past to current affairs. He also manages to put forward an ethical dilemma within the relatively limited confines of the superhero comic book, which makes it even more interesting.

Two things bothered me a little bit, though: knowing Strange from the stories by Roy Thomas, Vaughan’s characterisation of Strange seems a bit off when he lets the doctor curse and swear. I am not against swearing in general and in the past I have heard the mage exclaim stuff like: ‘By the hoary hosts of hoggoth!’. But hearing mundane curse words coming out of the mouth of Stephen Strange seems a bit out of character. Another thing that bothered me is this: in the past there were stories in which Strange’s hands were cured and he could operate again. In The Oath the fact that Stephen’s nerve endings aren’t fixed is an important part of the story. This could be an error in continuity, but since it is not clearly stated when The Oath takes place within Doctor Strange’s history and it therefore could be a tale from the early days before his hands got fixed, I am willing to turn a blind eye.

Since I probably sounded like a total continuity nerd just now, I will stop rambling, and leave you with the recommendation that The Oath is a pretty good start if you want to get to know the wonderfully groovy world of Doctor Strange.

Michael Minneboo is a journalist specialised in comic books and visual culture. Read more of his work on his website, www.michaelminneboo.nl.

Brian K. Vaughan and Marcos Martín also work together on digital comic The Private Eye.

Image credit:  panel taken from forum.marvelheroes.com.