Scarlet (The Lunar Chronicles #2) by Marissa Meyer

Scarlet Benoit’s grandmother is missing and Scarlet doesn’t believe it to be a simple case of the older woman running away. The young woman believes her grandmother was taken and is determined to find out who and why. When she first meets Wolf, a street fighter who claims to have knowledge of where Scarlet’s grandmother is; she is hesitant to trust him. And with good reason for Scarlet’s father claims to have been kidnapped and tortured by individuals bearing tattoos that Wolf also bears.

With little choice in the matter, Scarlet hesitantly teams up with Wolf. As they work to unravel the mystery of where Scarlet’s grandmother has gone they find another when they meet Cinder. The Commonwealth’s Most Wanted Criminal, Cinder has escaped from prison and is on the run. She too is trying to find Scarlet’s grandmother, hoping the older woman has information on the young cyborg’s past.

Together they must stay one step ahead of Lunar Queen Levana; a vicious ruler who will do anything to capture young Cinder and keep the information she is trying to find secret.

Scarlet picks up almost immediately where Cinder left off. It continues the story of young Cinder and her search for the truth about herself but also adds in the story of young Scarlet and her search for truth. For the majority of the book the two stories parallel one another; moving from Scarlet and Wolf over to Cinder and back again. The main characters then meet up towards the climax and finale of this second book.

If I were to have any complaints about the book Scarlet, it would be about the lack of characterization in regards to the main character. In Cinder we are given a good deal of information about Cinder, about her family and the life she leads. We see her hopes and dreams. Unfortunately, we aren’t given that kind of information about Scarlet. What little we are told about her is very basic – what she looks like; where she lives; etc. Aside from the fact that she cares for her grandmother very much and wants to find her desperately, we know little else about Scarlet. Her world revolves around finding her grandmother and unfortunately this makes her a bit one dimensional; at least in my opinion.

Other aspects of the book however were quite well done. The action sequences were nicely written out and really pulled the reader along. Also, how the two plot lines ran in parallel to each other only to blend fairly seamlessly towards the end.

Aside from a few issues with characterization, Scarlet is a decent addition to the Lunar Chronicles series. Not as good as Cinder in my opinion but I seem to be in the minority with that. Readers looking for a good read that combines familiar fairy tales with science fiction and fantasy should give this series a try.

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Mycroft Holmes by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Anna Waterhouse

Being a fan of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and his Sherlock Holmes mysteries, I am always curious as to who else enjoys the stories as I do. I know literary lovers run the gambit and come from every walk of life but sometime I come across one that surprises me. Imagine my surprise when I learned that famed NBA basketball player Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was penning his own Holmesian mystery! We often forget that he is a UCLA graduate as an English/History major. With this book however, he proves aptly to never judge a book by its cover.

Mycroft Holmes is fresh out of Cambridge University. At the young age of twenty-three the elder Holmes brother is quickly making a name for himself in the British government. However as much as he loved Queen and country; a part of him is tied to Trinidad. It is the birthplace of Cyrus Douglas, Mycroft’s good friend and confidant, as well as the place where Georgiana Sutton, Mycroft’s fiance, was born and raised.

When troubling news of strange disappearances and mysterious footprints in the sand reach their ears, Georgiana abruptly leaves for Trinidad. Fearing for her safety, Mycroft convinces Douglas to follow her and the two men quickly set off in pursuit. Yet when they reach Trinidad and begin looking for Georgiana, they soon learn that not everything is as it seems. A dark web of secrets ensnares them and becomes more deadly the closer they get to the truth.

Mycroft Holmes is a fresh take on the Sherlock Holmes canon. The character himself appeared in only four of the original Sherlock Holmes stories, leaving readers and fans a great deal of leeway in regards to Sherlock Holmes elder brother. Abdul-Jabbar seizes the opportunity to flesh out this intriguing character and he does it incredibly well.

It is quite clear that Abdul-Jabbar is not only a fan of the original Conan Doyle mysteries but that he did his research as well. Mycroft says how he spent a few summers studying with a Dr. Joseph Bell as a young man; knowledgeable readers will know that Conan Doyle studies with Dr. Bell and it was he who was the original inspiration for the character of Sherlock Holmes. Great research was also done for the different locations, from Victorian London to Trinidad of that same time. Great care is given in describing the locales and makes it easy to imagine being there.

I did find the book a tad slow in the beginning and as such had to almost force myself to continue reading. The action did however begin to pick up and once it did I found the book difficult to put down. Once it hit its stride, the story made great leaps and bounds before coming to a satisfying conclusion. There were a few moments where the reader might have to suspend belief as little more than usual, but I found that rare.

The stories of Sherlock Holmes have thrilled readers for over a century now and during all that time his elder brother Mycroft was often left in the shadows. In Mycroft Holmes, he is given a chance to shine and he does with aplomb. Fans of Conan Doyle should definitely give this one a read because it gives a very plausible backstory to a most fascinating and overlooked character.

The Shepherd’s Crown by Terry Pratchett

This week’s review is a sort of sad one for me, dear readers. For it is the final book by Sir Terry Pratchett and the final book in the much beloved Discworld series. Having been a Pratchett fan for so many years, it breaks my heart to know this is the final book.

It is a shivering between world. Deep in the Chalk, something is stirring…something is gathering strength. The animals of the Chalk can sense it and Tiffany Aching can feel it deep in her boots.

The Disc turns and with it comes a time of endings and of beginnings, of old friends and of new, of light and dark, of good and bad; and Tiffany standing firmly in the middle.

With the fairy horde preparing for invasion, Tiffany must call upon not just the Nac Mac Feegle, but her fellow witches as well. She must ask them to stand with her and protect the land…her land.

Like most of the reviewers on Amazon and Good Reads, I came to this book with a feeling of great joy and great sadness. I was thrilled over having a new Discworld to read and enjoy and saddened because I knew it would be the last. I freely admit to tearing up some upon just opening the cover and before I had read a single word.

The first few chapters are a tad slow but I felt it was a proper build up for the action that comes later. We are given a feel of what has transpired since the previous Tiffany Aching novel, I Shall Wear Midnight, how the characters have changed as time continues to march on. When the story starts to pick up later on, it does so at lightening speed.

To those not familiar with Discworld and its myriad of characters, this book is not the one to start with. This book is not a beginning, but an ending; and a bittersweet one at that. Readers, like myself, who have been following the tales of the Disc for some time owe it to themselves to visit this one last time.

Those familiar with Terry Pratchett and his writings, give this one a read – and don’t forget the tissues.

Sherlock Holmes: The Thinking Engine by James Lovegrove

‘Not another Sherlock Homes novel!’ I am sure I hear some of you dear readers cry. Yes, another Sherlock Holmes novel. Why? Why not?

It is spring in 1895 and Sherlock Holmes is adjusting to life once more at 221B Baker Street. When news from the towering spires of Oxford University reach his ears however, the game once more is afoot.

Professor Quantock has created an incredible machine that he claims can rival the most astute minds – including Sherlock Holmes. When the newspapers place a wager between man and machine, Holmes cannot resist a challenge. He and Watson travel to Oxford’s hallowed halls to take on the clever thinking engine where the two compete to be the first to solve a series of crimes. At first the crimes seem unconnected but as Holmes and Watson dig deeper they begin to uncover more clues that point to the Thinking Machine perhaps having its own agenda.

As much as I love the influx of new Sherlock Holmes stories, unfortunately The Thinking Engine is not one of the best. Lovegrove’s previous Holmes novel The Gods of War was excellent and I was hoping this second book would be as good as the previous, but alas it is not.

That is not to say this wasn’t a good book; far from it in fact. While the mysteries were well thought out and executed and the story itself was overall quite good, it just did not feel like a Sherlock Holmes novel. At some points the characterizations were so off; especially that of Holmes. At times it felt like Holmes was almost a caricature of himself.

As for the thrilling climax, I found it almost laughable. It was not the kind of ending I was looking for and it felt quite trite. The ending felt rushed and wasn’t very satisfying. Yes, the good guys won and the bad guys got their comeuppance; it just didn’t feel right though. It could have been handled so much better.

As much as I enjoy reading and rereading Sherlock Holmes short stories and novels, The Thinking Engine is one I will likely not read again. The characters whom I normally find so fascinating were not at all engaging and the end left me feeling let down.

Only the most die-hard Holmes fans should consider this one even if it’s to complete their collection. Casual Holmes fans can give this one a pass.