Sunday, August 20, 2017

Review: Sword Song (The Last Kingdom #4) by Bernard Cornwell

5 stars for Sword Song (The Last Kingdom book 4) by Bernard Cornwell.

... and so I set out to unravel the unknowns that await me in this book 4 Sword Song. Truth be told, before I start out on this perilous journey I have no inkling of what this book encompasses except that it continues to be one of Uhtred's adventures.

The previous Book 3 Lords of the North draws to a close in the Year 880 with a twenty-three-year-old warrior setting off from Dunholm in the North to Wessex in the South. Fast forward five years and this warrior, Uhtred, is now twenty-eight years old. Older and wiser, Uhtred, Lord of Bebbanburg, has become a builder, a trader, and a father. He still serves Alfred, King of Wessex, because he has given Alfred his oath, and not because he wishes to.

Much of Sword Song is set in Lundene (presently known as London) which stands where Mercia, East Anglia and Wessex meet. Lured by the promise of bright gold and shining silver, the Danes, the Norsemen, the Scots and the Britons, have all flocked to this city of merchants, tradesmen, and seafarers. And there, the new Viking leaders plot to hire these men, buy weapons, raise warriors, assemble armies, all with the ultimate goal to invade and conquer Wessex.

A title beautifully chosen, Sword Song is the song of the blade wanting blood. It is a story of bloodshed, of battle, of war cry, of Uhtred, a lord of war, fighting for his land, his family, his home and his country.

Once again, the battle scenes are magnificent with axe hacks, spear throws, swords thrust, shield walls, battle songs, male bonding, breaths of ale for courage (this one is contributed by buddy Sean), brute strength, sheer numbers, and a much needed dash of luck for survival. In addition to the power struggles, the author introduces something new: a disturbing yet powerful sad love story. Author Cornwell knows exactly how to tug at readers' heartstrings for I am overcome by emotions - anger, sadness, pity - so strong that I feel as if my heart is torn asunder in this new heart melting romance.

Fate is inexorable. Wyrd bið ful āræd.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Review: Lords of the North (The Last Kingdom #3) by Bernard Cornwell

5 stars for Lords of the North (The Last Kingdom book 3) by Bernard Cornwell.

Perhaps I am ambitious or maybe just overly enthusiastic, the truth is, I have been looking forward to reading this book way before I am even done with book 2 The Pale Horseman. The reason is simple; this is obviously a tale about the lords of the North. And Uhtred, who sways between his love of the Danes and his loyalty to the Saxons, is from the North, which means that he will very likely be returning from Wessex to Northumbria in this book for that is where Bebbanburg lies. And I am so looking forward to his return.

This third instalment of The Last Kingdom series packs a hefty punch. At twenty-one years of age (Year 878), with the belief that his swords can win him the whole world, Uhtred continues his adventure. There is certainly no lack of excitement in Uhtred's sword-path for there are ups, and there are downs, and they never fail to invoke a maelstrom of feelings that swirled within me as I read along. Courage, fear, anxiety, dread, anger, despair, relief, love, compassion, need, pride and hope all come into play, all in the name of upholding majesty and honorability in the story.

On top of the above, I have come to love the Historical Note that the author provides at the end of each book. And once again, author Cornwell promises that Uhtred's wars are far from over and that he will have need of Serpent-Breath again. So, right now, I am tingling with excitement. I am going to slowly uncover what lies in store for Uhtred in the next book, Sword Song.

Before I end off my review, I will like to give a shout-out to book buddy Sean who recommends this series to me. Speaking of which, have you started on the latest book 10 The Flame Bearer? Enjoy the read. Wyrd bið ful āræd

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Review: The Pale Horseman (The Last Kingdom #2) by Bernard Cornwell

5 stars for The Pale Horseman (The Last Kingdom book 2) by Bernard Cornwell.

Fate is inexorable. Wyrd bið ful āræd.

The Pale Horseman calls out to me even as I am writing and wrapping up my review of The Last Kingdom. That is when I know I am destined to read this book.

Book 2 The Pale Horseman pretty much picks up from where book 1 The Last Kingdom leaves off, with Uhtred - at the age of twenty - recounting the mistakes he makes as an arrogant, foolish and headstrong young warrior following his battle with the great Danish leader, Ubba Lothbrokson. From then on, it tells of Uhtred's flight and fight where an adversary of today may turn into an ally on the morrow and vice versa. And finally, central to the story, events that lead to the King of Wessex being reduced to the King of a few square miles of swamp and how that is expanded on subsequently.

Taken verbatim from the book "The kingdom of Wessex was now a swamp and, for a few days, it possessed a king, a bishop, four priests, two soldiers, the king’s pregnant wife, two nurses, a whore, two children, one of whom was sick, and Iseult."

The story is phenomenally well written. There are twists and there are turns, and they catch me unaware. The author does a remarkable job in developing Uhtred's character here for there is no lack of action on his part that leads to heart-stopping moments. Yes, I cannot help but worry for Uhtred. Then, there is the ever-present humour, as sharp as ever, perhaps even more so than that of Uhtred's sword, Serpent-Breath, for words have power.

Once again, I have a great time immersing myself in The Saxon Tales, so much so that I stay up the night to finish up the last chapter culminating in the great shield wall battle yet again. As I read, I am ever thankful to buddy Sean who suffers through not one but two seasons of The Last Kingdom - crappy - TV series because he feels the need to refresh his memories and not be a book spoiler for my sake. Buddy, your binge-watch is duly noted and greatly appreciated!

Destiny is everything. I believe at the roots of Yggdrasil, the tree of life, the three women spinners are at work again, and now, they are spinning me towards The Lords of the North. I know it because..

Wyrd bið ful āræd. Fate is inexorable.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Review: The Last Kingdom (The Last Kingdom #1) by Bernard Cornwell

5 stars for The Last Kingdom (The Last Kingdom book 1) by Bernard Cornwell.

This series come highly recommended by a colleague without whom I doubt I will ever come across this novel, and needless to say, read it.

At the time of recommendation, I have yet to meet this newfound colleague, but our love to read and appreciation of good writing make me feel as if I have known him for years, not days. Best of all, he understands my unusual quirks on books and reading. Like it or not, everyone has their own reading quirks. They may be cultivated over time or happened overnight, but they will not go away and they are ours to keep. I am very happy indeed to have found another booklover, especially one who shares the same quirky habits as me.

I am not familiar with and have never before read stories related to the Anglo-Saxon period which lasted from 410 to 1066. I am equally clueless that by the ninth century, Anglo-Saxon England was divided into four main kingdoms - Northumbria, Mercia, East Anglia and Wessex. Because of my ignorance, I am not aware that the story in The Last Kingdom is in fact very much based on real events until I read the Historical note at the end of the book. Only then do I realise that the ealdormen in this historical novel whose names begin with Æ (a vanished letter, called the ash) and many of the Danes and their kings all existed at one time.

Two sentences into the prologue and I have a good feeling that I will like this story; Uhtred's story. Born an Englishman of England but brought up a Danish of the Viking way, this is his story where destiny is everything, where men are bound by duty, loyalty, pride, passion, love and land.

"My name is Uhtred. I am the son of Uhtred, who was the son of Uhtred and his father was also called Uhtred."

True to my intuition, I have a whale of a time seeing the world through the eyes of Uhtred, from a pagan childhood right up to the fight in his first great shield wall. The author has certainly done his research well and consequently, a fantastic job feathering English history with fiction and topping it off with small doses of humour every now and then.

Thank you for the recommendation. If you are reading this, you know who you are. No? Don't make me spell it out.. Okay. Yes buddy. Sean, thank you! ..And I agree. Destiny is everything. It brings you to this series and now, it is my turn.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Review: Sleeping Giants (Themis Files #1) by Sylvain Neuvel

3 stars for Sleeping Giants (Themis Files book 1) by Sylvain Neuvel.

This is a story about artifacts left on Earth by an ancient alien civilization.

What fascinates me the most in this book is not the discovery, the search nor the deciphering of the relics, but rather, the development and revelation of the characters through understanding of their interview sessions, personal journal entries, experiment logs and mission reports.

I will say this is one brave author, an author who dares to be different by choosing to execute his debut novel in an almost all dialogue style. A style which readers will either love or hate. Me? I enjoy reading the better part (75%) of the book until the dialogues with a nameless interrogator finally start to grate on my nerves. I am not sure if I will want to subject myself to another book of this writing style again.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Review: Th1rteen R3asons Why by Jay Asher

5 stars for Th1rteen R3asons Why by Jay Asher.

There is always a first time, for everything. In this case, a story that is not meant to be read but listened to. Right.. it does not feel as if I have finished reading this book, rather, it feels more like I have finished listening to a bunch of audiotapes the moment the last tape reaches the end of its spool.

Seven cassette tapes. Six double sided, one single. Thirteen sides in all. Thirteen sides to every story. Thirteen reasons why.

If I didn't know any better, I will say this book is based on a true story. One that has been converted from voice recordings of a girl to merely words printed on pages, leaving life-changing moments in its wake for whoever the reader.

How many secrets can there be in one school? How is everything related? Do we see people around us as who they truly are? How much of our friends do we really know? This is emotionally exhausting.⏸

I have no answers to the above questions. But one thing for sure, I know why this book has its appeal. Guys will like it. Girls will love it. It certainly resonates with me.

Listen to the cassette tapes and you will understand why.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Review: The Last One by Alexandra Oliva

4 stars for The Last One by Alexandra Oliva.

This novel reads like a wilderness survival reality show. Titled In the Dark, it has all the trappings of a reality TV series. All except one. One that has somehow gone wrong. Very wrong.

In the Dark is a race, or rather, a series of small races where the contestants accumulate advantages and disadvantages. No one gets voted off and the game will continue until only one person remains, hence the title The Last One. But, no one - not the creators, not the contestants, not the audience - knows how long the show will last. In short, this race does not have a finish line; the only way to get out of the race is to quit.

The series of races or challenges, be it team or solo, are well-thought-out and skilfully relayed to readers and audience alike by both first and third person narratives. In fact, the game is so well played that I look forward to each and every challenge and tackle them alongside the contestants with relish.

Though this is no horror story, there are much mysterious forces at work that give me the creeps - unique personalities, survival priorities and of course, the Woods itself. I would say that all goes well until the part where the self-denial kicks in and blurs the line between reality TV and reality itself. The story becomes too far-fetched from then on.

One show. Twelve contestants. It is by no means an easy feat to remember all twelve characters, their ensuing dispositions and enjoy the story at the same time. So, I will suggest to jot down notes on a piece of paper the moment you get started on the book. This is exactly what I have done and I find myself turning to my notes ever so often as I read along.


Tracker aka Cooper (red)
Zoo aka Mae Woods aka Sam (sky blue)
Air Force aka Ethan (navy blue)
Rancher aka Julio (black & yellow)
Biology aka Sofia (orange)
Engineer aka Albert (maroon & brown)
Black Doctor aka Tyler (mustard yellow)
Exorcist aka Randy (lime green)
Carpenter Chick aka Amy (neon yellow)
Banker aka Elliot (black & white)
Waitress aka Heather (violet)
Cheerleader Boy aka Josh (pink)

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Review: Morning Star (Red Rising #3) by Pierce Brown

2.5 stars for Morning Star (Red Rising book 3) by Pierce Brown.

Morning Star is a fair wrap-up of the Red Rising series. It tells of the rage of the Sons of Ares, the strength of Ragnar (Obsidian), the honor of Cassius (Morning Knight), the love of Sevro (Gold), the loyalty of Victra (Gold), and the dream of Eo (Red), and more.

Of all three books, I find book 1 Red Rising to be the most exciting and interesting with its many unexpected twists and turns. Book 2 Golden Son less so but still enjoyable. Book 3 Morning Star.. well, I am somewhat disappointed that the story does not shine as brightly as I have expected it to. I think it is because by this time, the political manoeuvring and cut-throat whatnots kind of go stale and the characters just seems to go on a wild goose chase with no end in sight. At times, it is so tempting to skip large chunks of text or jump right to the last chapter.

Exhilarating conclusion to the Red Rising Trilogy? Sorry to say... definitely not so for me.