Friday, June 28, 2013

Review of HELL IS EMPTY by Craig Johnson

cover of hell is empty

"Hell is empty, and the devils are here." -William Shakespeare, The Tempest

Wyoming sheriff Walt Longmire is on a routine prisoner exchange with the FBI when things go from boring to FUBAR: all the prisoners escape, taking one FBI agent as a hostage and shooting everyone else. To make matters worse, the escape occurs just as the worst blizzard in decades hits the Bighorn Mountains. For some reason the convicts, led by schizophrenic sociopath Raynaud Shade, head higher into the mountains, and Walt is the only person who can go after them, accompanied by a copy of Dante's Inferno and an Indian named Virgil White Buffalo.

Hell is Empty is crazy, you guys. CRAZY. It's so mind-bendy that there were times when I put the book down and I found myself wanting to ask someone, "Is this Real Life?" And I sure as heck didn't know what was "real" or not in the book.

I began Hell is Empty with the expectation that it would be a police procedural--a type of book I don't find terribly interesting, but my mom loaned it to me and I was in one of those moods where I was like, "WHAT THE HELL, I'll just DNF it and move on with my life." (Don't you just love going into a book with high expectations?) After about fifty pages, it quickly became apparent that 1. this book was way more literary than I ever expected, and 2. weird things were in store for Walt Longmire.

Hell is Empty is based on Dante's Inferno. This is not immediately apparent. Saizarbitoria, one of Walt's deputies, is trying to round-out his spotty education by reading books recommended to him by people in the sheriff's department (list at the back of the book). The most well-read of the bunch, dispatcher Ruby, recommends Inferno, and Saizarbitoria brings it along with him to kill hours during the prisoner transport. Somehow, the copy gets transferred to Walt on his journey into the Underworld Bighorn Mountains and Inferno is increasingly quoted as the book goes on.

Yet the journey Walt goes on feels completely organic to the plot, even though the challenges he faces become increasingly incredible. Walt's path on the trail of Shade takes him across examples of greed, lust, fraud, anger, and the other deadly sins. But that's all in a day's work for a sheriff, so I didn't notice or even start thinking about parallels to the Inferno until Virgil showed up. And that's when Craig Johnson really starts messing with your head.

I don't want to make it sound like you have to be familiar with the Inferno to enjoy Hell is Empty--you definitely don't. The story is great all on its own, with incredible, memorable scenes balanced out by Walt's wry sense humor. I'm a total sucker for journey stories as long as they don't go back to the island (like in Pirates of the Caribbean), and I'm happy to report Walt does not do that. Instead, from the moment Walt realizes something's gone wrong with the prisoner exchange, the book is a mano-y-mano match against Raynaud Shade, a more-than-worthy foe.

I also really enjoyed Johnson's writing style. He's not one to spell things out for the reader; you have to exercise a little bit of patience to figure out what's going on sometimes, and that works VERY effectively with the story.

I'd recommend Hell is Empty to just about anyone, from people who enjoy genre fiction like westerns and mysteries to literary fiction fans. I even cried at the end, you guys. This is good stuff.

Discus this post with me on Twitter, FaceBook, Google+ or in the comments below.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Review of INK by Amanda Sun

cover of ink by amanda sun

I received this book for review consideration from the publisher via Netgalley. For more about my review policies, please see my full disclosure page.

After Katie's mom dies, she has to move to Japan to live with her aunt. In the midst of dealing with a new culture, new school, finding new friends and learning a new language, Katie meets the mysterious Tomohiro, a guy with awesome hair and a serious personality disorder. One second he's super-nice, then the next he's a broody jerk. Rumors swirl through the school that Tomohiro got a girl pregnant while dating someone else, almost killed his best friend, and is involved in the Yakuza. BECAUSE EVERY JAPANESE PERSON IS INVOLVED IN THE YAKUZA, apparently. Katie's friend, Yuki, warns her that Tomohiro is dangerous and she should stay away from him, not realizing that's American for, "Totally hit that, girlfriend!" But Tanaka, who's known Tomohiro since childhood, thinks he's just a misunderstood painter. A DANGEROUS ARTIST, YOU GUUUUUUUYS. Will these two crazy kids get together?

Something you should know about me is that I am a total sucker for stories set in Japan. That's why Tokyo Drift is my favorite F&F movie, and Ice Blue is my favorite Anne Stuart novel. And that's why I requested Ink even though I've been feeling burned out on YA for a while (the whining, the love triangles... sigh). I have to say, as far as the setting goes, Ink definitely delivers. You can tell Amanda Sun has lived in Japan and knows her stuff. Katie's assimilation into the culture was a little too smooth and precipitous, but I liked how Sun showed it was happening through Katie's increased use of Japanese words (there's a dictionary of Japanese phrases in the back in case you can't figure it out through context) and how she adopted different mannerisms and hobbies to fit in. That was definitely the strongest part of the novel.

Ink is basically like Twilight (in case you were thinking, "Hey, this sounds kind of like Twilight!"). Dangerous guy who's not quite human and has to keep the girl he loves at a distance, etc. etc. But it's a very inventive twist on the Twilight plot. The "living ink" element went in a direction I totally wasn't expecting. Even the Yakuza part of the story wasn't too bad, although, really. Allllllways with the Yakuza.

And I have to admit that Tomohiro was a major hottie, what with his mad kendo skillz and painting and kick-ass hair, even if he was super-confusing and high maintenance. He laughed when any normal person would be pissed off and got angry when it seemed like there was nothing setting him off. I found myself thinking being around him had to be EXHAUSTING. But that kind of dual personality characteristic seems typical for animé and manga characters, so I just went with it.

Basically, if you love Japan or manga you probably-definitely want to read Ink. Parts of the story go on for way too long, and I am kind of annoyed it's the first of a series because the story does NOT support that; but judging the book as a standalone it's enjoyable and a bit like an animé in novel form. I actually found it pretty compelling. And hooray for books set in Japan!

Discus this post with me on Twitter, FaceBook, Google+ or in the comments below.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Dan Brown's INFERNO Drinking Game


You know how sometimes you don't realize you really wanted or needed something until someone gives it to you? Well, today I'm here to give you what you never realized you always wanted: the Inferno drinking game! So cuddle up with a bottle or three, a copy of Dan Brown's latest, and settle in for a drunk-ass weekend.

For this drinking game, I recommend Frangelico, a bottle of Scotch, and Doluca wine.


  • Every time the provost drinks (obvs).
  • Every time Robert Langdon wants to do something frivolous like eat lunch, but realizes he doesn't have time because he's being chased (one of the more accurate depictions of a professor's life I've seen in these books to date, by the way).
  • For every plane, train, or boat. I'm on a boat!
  • Every time Langdon observes Sienna is a good actress.
  • When someone is drugged.
  • Whenever you wonder what art has to do with any of this.
  • For every tortured explanation of why Langdon can't recall something even though he has an eidetic memory.
  • Whenever you feel like you're in Assassin's Creed 2.

Start chugging:

  • During every scene on the Mendacium. Because holy crap, those were some boring, repetitive scenes.
  • When Langdon's inner monologue turns all tour-guide-y ("Above, you'll see the clock of St. Mark's Tower, which was featured in the James Bond film, Moonraker!").
  • During every lecture and/or flashback.

Take a shot for every...

  • Time information is repeated. Double shot if it's on the same page.
  • Secret passage.
  • Wanton destruction of artwork.
  • Chase scene.
  • Museum employee Langdon knows or who knows of Langdon.
  • Mention of eBooks.
  • Obvious anagrams.
  • Time Langdon mentions he was on some sort of VIP tour.
  • Non-sensical metaphor ("Langdon felt like he had awoken inside a Max Ernst painting." What? What does that even mean?).
  • Unnecessary adverb ("Thank you," he said politely).
  • Whenever someone searches the internet on their phone.

Discus this post with me on Twitter, FaceBook, Google+ or in the comments below.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

INFERNO by Dan Brown — Discussion

inferno cover

It's the middle of the night in Florence, Italy. Robert Langdon, Symbologist!, awakes in a hospital room with no idea of where he is or how he got there. The doctors fill him in: he stumbled into the hospital with a gunshot wound to the head and passed out, muttering incoherently. Robert's suffering from amnesia and the last thing he remembers is sitting at home in Cambridge, Mass., chilling with a bottle of Tanqueray and a novel by Nikolai Gogol. Or was it Bombay Sapphire and something by Dostoyevsky? Either way, the only thing any of us know is that Robert Langdon really needs to work on improving his social life, and possibly cutting back on the gin. Then someone walks into the hospital and starts shooting at him! What-the-what? Fortunately, Robert escapes with the help of an attractive female doctor. Now all he has to do is figure out how he got to Florence, why he's even there, and why someone is trying to kill him. Mysterious!

When I started Inferno, Anachronist from Portable Pieces of Thought asked me if I wanted to discuss it with her. Something you should know about Anachronist is that she hates Dan Brown novels (you can read her review of Inferno on her blog today, incidentally), whereas I tend to enjoy them even though I think they're ridiculous. So what did each of us think of Inferno? Read on to find out!

So, what did you think?

Heidenkind: Uhg. Well, I will say this: it was better than The Lost Symbol (my review), and the beginning was pretty strong. But by the end I was just SMH.

Anachronist: In my opinion it was the worst Dan Brown I’ve ever read. Either the editor was completely drunk/high while doing their job or...I dunno. It is almost fascinating to observe Mr. Brown going from bad to worse - like watching an accident and not being able to turn your head and walk on. I hated The Lost Symbol but this one I simply loathed.

Heidenkind: I had the same thought. Where WAS the editor? I have to say I was in a pretty foul mood by the time I finished this.

Anachronist: Small wonder.

What was your favorite part?

Heidenkind: The scenes where Langdon and Sienna (nice shout-out to Florence’s rival city there) were in the Palazzo Vecchio were really fun. I’m a total sucker for secret passages. I need to get on some of these VIP tours Langdon’s got going.

I also thought Florence was very well-utilized as a setting. The other two locales, not so much.

Anachronist: Florence scenes were nice, plus every mention of Vayentha, one of the secondary characters I felt in love with made me grin. She was of course killed. Murdered in fact. And she was INNOCENT, got it people? Completely innocent! Be warned: Brown murders innocent women in his books!

Heidenkind: At least she wasn’t bald. ;)

Anachronist: no, she was blond with short, spiky hair. I loved her motorcycle! I loved her! And then my least fav author simply finished her off. How not to hate him?


Heidenkind: Well quite frankly, there were a lot. There were metaphors that simply made no sense, and the book needed to be edited down a lot. I don’t need to be told the same thing three or four times before I get it, you feel me? At some point I started wondering if Brown thinks his readers are idiots.

Also, the art history tie-in didn’t fit very well with the rest of the plot this time around. The Dante mask, which isn’t really a work of art, was fine, but I’m still confused as to why Zobrist would use a painting by Botticelli to send a coded message. Why not just send a code in a gene sequence or something? Also, that code was pretty lame.

And the descriptions. Holy Mother of God. It sounded like Langdon was leading a tour group. “Welcome to Istanbul. Today we’ll be following Kennedy Avenue, said to be one of the prettiest drives in the city. On the right, you’ll see the Blue Mosque, said to be the inspiration for Disney’s Cinderella castle!”

I’m sure I’ll come up with more as I think about it.

Anachronist: Problems? *Snort* There was one major problem: this book shouldn’t have happened. It should have been written with a better plot and the narration which actually made sense. I didn’t even feel like looking for blunders anymore - it would be like kicking a defeated opponent. Honestly, Mr. Brown, your style doesn’t even deserve that name. I’ve read many fanfics which were 200% better - like 99% of them. I might start to think English is actually your second, nay, third language. In fact some parts of your book read as if they were copied and pasted straight from the more horrible Wikipedia entries. I can’t believe it was edited at any point.

Heidenkind: It wasn’t THAT bad. lol Maybe Brown’s contract states that his manuscripts don’t need to be edited, because he’s a literary genius. ;)

Anachronist: oh it was that bad. Honestly, I rarely read such pathetic books and if I do it’s only because from time to time my inner masochist rears its ugly head and roar for food, hungry little monster.

Okay, let’s break down the problems into things that are more specific. What did you think of the twist?


Heidenkind: I’m still trying to process it. Because on one level, I was like, “Okay...?” But when I really think about it I’m just like, “Wait... what?” It’s not that the twist didn’t make sense in the context of the book, because I can see that Brown set us up for it; it’s more that it was too incredible and complex to be believed. Also, even though I didn’t see it coming, I still wasn’t surprised by it, I think because Sienna is a sketchy character from the word go so I never trusted her like I did the yummy Camerlengo in Angels & Demons.

Anachronist: Sienna was bald. It was emphasized from the very beginning how bald she was - like completely bald and then some. It was done for a reason, folks. As far as I remember no bald Brown character has ever been up to any good so there was no twist in my opinion, not really. Think about the whole symbolism. A bald woman. Unnatural. A Freak. A Shocking beast. *nodding vigorously*

What about the conclusion with Zobrist’s “final solution?”

Heidenkind: Okay, I’m not a geneticist or virologist or anything, but this part really MAKES NO SENSE WHATSOEVER. Because people have more than one or two kids; that’s where overpopulation comes from! And infertile people still have surrogates carry their kids, or in vitro fertilization, et cetera. It’s not as if having a kid is like having a penis and you either get one or don’t depending on which chromosomes you inherit, so this plan to reduce the earth’s population has no chance of working. Unless Zobrist’s virus removed the biological imperative to procreate, in which case that would be cray.

I also liked how the director of the WHO was all, “Hey, that was actually a good idea! Why didn’t I listen to this mad scientist when I had the chance?” FAIL

Anachronist: FAIL, complete and total fail. You get it even if you know nothing about genetics and viruses. It was like Inferno which never managed to happen because wait, there is a sequel coming and our virile main lead, Saint Langdon the Sweetest, CANNOT BE sterile. Not before he gets a wife and a dozen kids. And he hasn’t married or engaged yet. And Sienna has to save the world somehow or die trying.



Heidenkind: I honestly wanted to like this book, but I just can’t. Like I said, it’s better than The Lost Symbol, but Brown was still really pulling his punches on this one, and that’s not going to work.

I think Dan Brown is a nice guy, and I think the controversy stirred up over The Da Vinci Code kind of traumatized him. And I don’t blame him for that. But that doesn’t mean one should write inoffensive literary pablum in response to it.

I just really wish he’d get pissed off about something and write about that so we’d have a book with some ideas and conviction.

Anachronist: I honestly wanted to hate this book and I wasn’t disappointed. My inner glee carried me through even the worst paragraphs and made me practically whistling with joy. Yes I enjoyed myself immensely thinking: “That’s it. Perhaps Dan Brown will get the message this time and leave the poor, tormented suspense and action literature be. It deserves better than that. It deserves a new Indiana Jones not Robert Langdon and his old tricks.”

I am not a delusional hater. I would shake hands with Dan Brown on the street. Maybe he is a good guy. Maybe he, like his favourite protagonist, professor Langdon, has a good heart (very deep down of course - look what he’s done to Vayentha!). He’s earned more than enough; I am sure any writer would be satisfied having such a bank account. Let him play golf and fly fish now. Let him crochet. His novels will be remembered - and loathed - forever. Imagine how many trees you can save by not publishing his next book.

Have any of you read Inferno? What did you think?

Discus this post with me on Twitter, FaceBook, Google+ or in the comments below.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Review: WICKED AT HEART by Danelle Harmon

wicked at heart cover

Lady Gwyneth is a do-gooder widow who has decided she will reform Britain's prison ships and set the Americans impressed by the British Navy free! Ammurika thanks you, Lady Gwyn. But the ship she wants to reform is run by the wicked Marquis of Morninghall, an evil bastard who isn't about to be intimidated by her. Naturally, Lady Gwyn finds him infuriating in a v e r y intriguing way. Will these two crazy kids get together?

So. This book had a lot problems, I'm not going to lie. But for some reason I got a freaking kick out of it.

First of all, the problems. The dialog is super-anachronistic. I had to laugh when Morninghall said, "What is this, question and answer time?" And the characters say things like, "Jeez, Toby!" Gosh golly gee willikers! This is the 1810s, not the 1920s. There are other things that don't make historical sense, too, like the fact that Gwyn--the widow of an earl--and her sister don't seem to have any servants and do everything themselves, including making tea. If Gwyn has a moral imperative against employing servants, fine, but that needs to be mentioned. Also, the way she boarded the ship wasn't accurate: she climbed the ladder up the side of the ship! No lady would do that; they'd sit in a sling and the sailors would haul them up. Women's fashions weren't especially friendly to climbing ladders back then.

Also, the book goes on for way too long. There's a subplot involving a Robin Hood-type character called the Black Wolf who rescues people from the prison ship, and Danelle Harmon spends unnecessary time filling us in on the tangential characters connected to that, including 1. the escapees, 2. the accomplices, and 3. the prison guards who are arseholes. Just skim over those bits. I give you permission.

Of course, as I've said before, historical inaccuracies in novels usually don't bother me unless they're so egregious they throw me completely out of the story. So, despite allllll those problems, I kind of loved this book. Like this is the most enjoyable historical romance I've read in a long while. Morninghall (whose first name, naturally, is Damon) is sort of a cliche, but I found myself fascinated by him. When Wicked at Heart first starts, it appears that he's having a heart attack, but his friend doesn't seem terribly concerned. What is wrong with this guy? Is he high-strung? A hypochondriac? Epileptic? I had no idea, but I was concerned.

Gwyn is very likable, too. She's pushy and unreasonable, but not annoying, and her and Morninghall's relationship developed in an unusual way. So even if the characters were a bit cliche, the romance wasn't. At first they fight all the time (I'm a total sucker for novels where the hero and heroine fight), but they definitely have chemistry. The turnover from loathing to love was a little abrupt, but whatever, I'm willing to go along with it.

Furthermore, it's pretty obvious from the start of the novel who the Black Wolf is, but Harmon does a great job of double-blinding the reader as to how or why. And how many books do you read that are set on board a prison ship? It's not the romantic setting, but I thought it gave the book a lot of atmosphere, not to mention it was a great backdrop for the characters. There's Morninghall, ruling over a prison ship like Hades in the Underworld; and then there's Gwyn, with a bright cottage and garden on shore. Heavy on the symbolism, yes, but it worked for me.

Wicked at Heart may not be a perfect novel, but you know what? It was a fun read and quite frankly that's saying a lot from me in regard to romances these days.

Discus this post with me on Twitter, FaceBook, Google+ or in the comments below.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...