Review – Conspiracy

Conspiracy

by S. J. Parris

Synopsis

The city of Paris appears degraded by political bloodshed, under threat of royalty and religion and harboring a ruthless Catholic League to be feared. It is tearing itself apart. Caught by this perilous web, spy Bruno is thrust involuntarily into the depths of religious politics in Paris, confronted by his past haunts as well as the darkening present.

Overview

Fabulous, as anticipated. (Dear lord, I need that next installment already). Also, check out that cover. I love it. I’m not much for historical thrillers, or even a major lover of crime fiction, but Conspiracy handles these genres extraordinarily well and orchestrates something gripping and intriguing that will leave you unable to put this book down. 4.9/5 stars, if I had to rate it.

I felt more indulged than with Treachery, the book before this one (also something I urge you to read), since the crime thriller vibe came in far sooner with the death of Father Paul Lefvre early on which immediately sparked subsequent mystery. Who and what is ‘Circe’? That question stayed with me the whole time.

Adored the whole exploration of Italian theatrics as well, with returning characters and mentions drawing acknowledgement to Bruno’s previous ventures. The locations in Conspiracy add to the thrill too – the heart of the Palace was by far home to the best chapters of this book, and costumes (Doctor Bruno in the doctor outfit though). King Henri III was especially brilliant, a perfect comedic touch on what were dark and edgy themes of murder and peril. This is not to mention the persona of the queen mother Catherine de Medici, which was really quite scary (think old stern woman whose house you never wandered past at the end of the street) in conjunction with the mysterious Paiget, who I found a unique antagonistic figure. His snips of humour and choice of words are so sixteenth century cheeky aristocrat. Not your usual villainous character, by any means.

As expected there were subtle twists and turns. The book is littered with characters steeped in French history, and Parris as usual does her research, being careful not to overload the reader while also flourishing her knowledge of the 1500s. I like a well-informed piece of writing, and Parris always gives a snip of grit and reality amidst her descriptive prose and imagery.

(Also – Parris writing a book on Paris. There is potential for a pun there somewhere. Just. C’mon.)

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Review – Shiver

Shiver

by Maggie Stiefvater

Synopsis

For years, Grace watches the wolves in the woods behind her house. One wolf in particular, a yellow eyed one, is a presence she feels drawn to. This teenage girl falls in love with the supernatural creature, and risks life and limb to be with him.

 

Overview

Not for me, I’ve decided. Enjoyable for some, yes, but there’s something about the story. It screams Twilight. Actually, it takes me back to a book called Fallen – something I’ll never read again and with good reason. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good werewolf story, and love reading an ol’ supernatural tale especially, but no, not with this book. I feel like Maggie tried to be a Stephenie Meyer. On Goodreads you’ll notice I gave it a two star. This is for several reasons.

1.

Characters are paramount in any book. I don’t care what else you throw in there, it’s the characters that hook me first. It’s the protagonist and antagonist that first reels me in. But these characters… I feel like I’ve read them all before.

Let’s take a look at our broody protagonist, Sam. Werewolf Sam. Sam, who wants to eat his true love at first sight, and Sam who is rude and impolite to everyone despite being apparently a cashier (how he has that job is beyond me), ignoring everyone, including Grace may I add, and who I can only compare to an ’emo’ through and through (forgive my stereotypical branding of the character, but it really is what comes into my head). He writes bad songs and broods so constantly its like he invented the term. Okay, so maybe he improves a little, but it’s like someone took Edward Cullen and recreated him as a werewolf. Perhaps Maggie was a ‘Team Jacob’ supporter, who decided to write out a Bella and Jacob version in the form of Sam and Grace.

She draws patterns on my face / These lines make shapes that can’t replace / the version of me that I hold inside/ when lying with you, lying with you, lying with you.

Just look at that masterpiece of a lyrical work. Good job, Sam. Really. Totally feeling it.

Parts of Sam also remain unexplained to me, such as how he remembers Grace although werewolves do not remember being the wolf, though in the book’s defense I suppose this is all because of ‘true love’ and the romantic impact Grace apparently has on him.

2.

This is something I also find hard to digest – the romance. What is the romance? I feel like there is little chemistry bubbling there for Sam and Grace. I realise they share no hobbies, no common interest, no twin desires to search for something or protect something.

If Sam had saved Grace from being eaten by the wolves, maybe then I would understand. Maybe then I could see the beginnings of why this romance takes place. But he doesn’t. He wants to eat her. (Remind you of anything? Twilight maybe? Ed lusting for Bell’s blood? No? Alrighty.)

Contrariwise, you could argue Grace’s adoration of her wolf is what links them together. But why? And what exactly does Sam see in Grace? This never becomes completely apparent for me. I struggled with shipping this ship. I think the relationship certainly has its good points – Grace accepts Sam for who he is right at the beginning, and they do show care for each other the further you read into the book, but it’s like something is missing. There is no solid connection. Just Grace’s attraction to ‘her wolf’. Doesn’t quite cut it for me. I’m sorry. I tried to like this ship.

3.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not some hater. I try to justify my disliking of a book with reasons. As I said, characters are everything in a book and they are what draws me in primarily.

But there’s a far bigger problem. Characterization. I don’t really think there is much, if any, in this book. Sam is fleshed out a tad – he lost his father figure in the pack, he has the inner holding-on-to-humanity battle inside, he has the double lives, so on – but still I feel it is not enough. There could be so much more depth. There was potential for Sam.

Isabelle, I didn’t mind. I liked Isabelle. She was a decent side character, had good dialogue, she loved her brother, she refuses to believe he is dead and so has a right to embark on the whole ‘Grace knows something’ train. Naturally. After all, Grace has a special connection with the wolves. But doesn’t this say something, actually finding a minor character more interesting than our main characters?

Additionally, I cannot find any quotes to support the idea of character development. I see none. In fact, I’m not even quite sure what the plot of this book was. There was no conflict, no sort of quest, no real sense of story here. Not for me, anyway. It is entirely character-driven and no solid plot exists for it to be plot-driven in any way. The good outweighs the bad, and while this isn’t for me, it might be for some readers out there. Who knows.

Review – Clockwork Angel

 

Clockwork Angel

by Cassandra Clare

Synopsis

1878. Tessa Gray descends into London’s dark supernatural underworld in search of her missing brother. Her only allies are the demon-slaying Shadowhunters, Will and Jem. They find themselves up against the Pandemonium Club: secret organization of vampires, demons, warlocks, and humans with an unstoppable army of clockwork creatures who look to control the British Empire.

Overview

So, Clockwork Angel. I must say, Cassandra has outdone herself here. Though I started out with modest expectations, I love everything about it. The writing so perfectly reflects nineteenth century London, everything about the dialogue is so quirky and real of that time. While I didn’t finish City of Bones to the end, you could say I’m somewhat informed on the world of Mortal Instruments. Therefore I had familiarization with the world of the Shadowhunters. But even without that prior knowledge, I think it’s still possible to breeze through the book. Cassandra writes clearly and her prose is alluring. Whereas with some writers it is easy to lose the flow along the lines and you find yourself having to reread a sentence, I did not encounter this problem with Clare’s writing.

Victorian London is delivered well. Cassandra materializes for us a dark city with cobblestone streets home to the clap of hooves and carriages in crawling fog overseen by the heaving Thames. Shades of romance and hints of humour are dotted throughout the story. I also like that the book does not solely focus on the romance of the lead male and lead female which dominates everything, but that characters supplement each other and highlight aspects of one another’s personalities, and the differing romantic possibilities are always there. Never does the universe center on the lead roles. It feels character-driven as well as plot-led. Bonds and interactions became exciting for me, and I really grew to care for the characters which felt authentic. Themes of companionship and rivalry have become common in Clare’s world, but City of Bones is not repeated, and this is a new take on these themes, no regurgitated characters or plot, just a cleverly interlaced series of twists, turns and emotion.

One thing I loved about the book was the heroine, Tessa. She is not immediately a badass or professional. She starts out courteous, polite, as women of Victorian London were expected to be, but she transforms and is enveloped by character development, something I love to see in action. By the end of the book she is strong and courageous and I look forward to seeing her develop further in the Infernal Devices series. It’s good to see a refreshing female character playing her role well, fleshed out with a distinct personality, having potential for growth.

Will and Jem make for comedic gold at times. Their dialogue makes the book a laughing pleasure to read. While Will is great and all, tormented handsome fellow that he is, it is Jem’s wit that keeps the humour on point. I loved the interaction between the two and Tessa. Each character has their intricacies and backstories, but the supporting cast of characters are equally as rich and developed as our main trio, which really gives substance to the content.

I’m open to both third and first person, but I always favour the third if pulled off well. Cassandra does not disappoint. Her take on third is great and her handling of three main characters is also executed brilliantly. Sometimes it is easy to get lost with a cast of three main characters, however this did not happen in Clockwork Angel. I followed each of their stories enthusiastically and was attached to all three by the end, feeling that everything about their interactions and portrayal was natural and real.

 

“Remember when you tried to convince me to feed a poultry pie to the mallards in the park to see if you could breed a race of cannibal ducks?”

“They ate it too,” Will reminisced. “Bloodthirsty little beasts. Never trust a duck.”

page 199

 

Naturally, with the book ending on a colossal cliffhanger, I am eager to read the next installment. I never thought I’d be a fan of Clare’s, never much taking to her earlier books nor finishing any of them, but perhaps her writing style has developed or she has taken on another approach, I’m not sure. Either way, Clockwork Angel is certainly working for me. Cassandra Clare has successfully gained a new fan!

 

 

 

 

August Books

I’ll be reviewing these books at the end of the month.

I regret to admit I’m not actually an immense Cassandra Clare fan, nor have I read all of the Mortal Instruments books of hers either, but I’m told Clockwork Angel is still readable without having dived into all of that series. (I’m a fan of Netflix’s Shadowhunters, does that count? No? Okay.)

It was Goodreads who recommended, I can only assume based on my usual choice of books and ratings, the book that is Shiver. I’m walking blindly into this one. Should be interesting.

As for Conspiracy, I can only say I have waited for this book for a very long time indeed. In fact, I can’t wait to rip into it. I pre-ordered this one the day it was doable. Did I mention Parris is one of my favourite authors? And her Giodorno Bruno one of my favourite characters? Give me that book back already.

tbd2

 

Clockwork Angel
Cassandra Clare

 

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Conspiracy
S. J. Parris

 

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Shiver
Maggie Stiefvater

August Photography

August try-outs with my Canon EOS 1200D

 

 

Focus 

The Canon 1200 has a decent focus. While it takes some real getting used to due to the camera’s tricky swapping of implements on the dial, once you get to grips with the handling of the lens and get into the swing of it, you can net some real treasures. Examples of well executed focus would be the elephant ornament and the Xbox 360 controller above, if I do say so myself.

Crystalline quality and good handling 

This camera has a sharp, crisp quality to it that is very much expected of a Canon DSLR. There’s good reason why Canon has an enviable reputation after all. I was concerned by how strikingly similar the 1200D’s appearance was to its predecessor the 1100D and the resemblance to the 700D,  but thankfully the 1200D seems to outdo both (least in my opinion), and I find the 720p more than adequate for my shots. For an amateur like myself I find this camera great for beginners – a companion app comes in handy, and the dial once learned is actually rather simple, while the viewfinder is more responsive than previous models which is a great touch.

Messing around with the 1200D, I found there’s some neat features to play with that get pretty addictive. Things like soft focus and toy camera are especially fun. The textured grip is a nice added feature too – beats the smooth grip on older models. Aspects like these will come in handy for days out where there is constant handling and try outs of different formats and angles. Portrait shots like the ones above are easier to take with the textured grip.

Anyway, I look forward to some more serious try outs where I can talk more in depth about the Canon 1200D in future!