Friday, July 20, 2018

Can you believe it has been over 7 years since I read my last Sharpe novel? 7 years! I’ve published 4 more books since then!! During that time, I’ve read several of Cornwell’s Last Kingdom series (excellent) and the first three of his Grail Quest (very good) but some time spent with everyone’s favourite lovable rogue was long overdue.


The blurb:

The year is 1805, and the Calliope, with Richard Sharpe aboard, is captured by a formidable French warship, the Revenant, which has been terrorizing British nautical traffic in the Indian Ocean. The French warship races toward the safety of its own fleet, carrying a stolen treaty that could provoke India into a new war against the British -- and render for naught all that Sharpe has bravely fought for till now. But help comes from an unexpected quarter. An old friend, a captain in the Royal Navy, is on the trail of the Revenant, and Sharpe comes aboard a 74-gun man-of-war called Pucelle in hot pursuit. What results is a breathtaking retelling of one of the most ferocious and one-sided sea battles in European history, in which Nelson -- and Sharpe -- vanquish the combined naval might of France and Spain at Trafalgar.

Opening Sentence: “A hundred and fifteen rupees,” Ensign Richard Sharpe said, counting the money onto the table.

Days to read: 23

If there was one criticism I could level at the Sharpe novels it would be that the books are a little similar regarding the plot and the villains. The plot usually involves Sharpe performing some extraordinary exploits whilst the villains are cartoonish in their petty and malicious behaviour. Neither of these points bother me too much though as you go into the novel knowing exactly what you are getting and sometimes you just want your bad guys to be bad. Not every character has to have “grey areas” or be identifiable on some level. Life is not like that and I like my novels to not be like that as well.

Sharpe’s Trafalgar as the title suggests, places Sharpe in a completely new environment, onboard a ship in the middle of the ocean. Sharpe is firmly a soldier and so it is nice to see him out of his comfort zone. It adds a new dimension to his character and limits his skills drastically.

I mentioned the above formula being prevalent in the preceding novels, but in Sharpe’s Trafalgar the formula is well and truly ripped up. Sharpe is more of a bystander in this novel and his actions are defined only by the superior officers and captains around him. He does influence events but not to a significant degree.

Instead, Sharpe’s Trafalgar is more of a love story as Sharpe becomes fixated on lady Grace Hale. Grace is of course out of Sharpe’s class and therefore out of his league.  Sharpe is content to admire her from afar for this very reason but inevitably, we soon learn that his lust is not as unrequited as she thinks.

At first Grace seems a one-dimensional character. She is trapped by her marriage and longing to be rescued by an exciting, scoundrel. There was a danger that she would not develop beyond this and just become another damsel, fawning over the irresistible Sharpe. Cornwall avoids this trap by slowly unveiling a tragic backstory. It is not the most in depth past you will ever read, but at least it gives Grace a little more substance.

As for the villains, they are much more of a variety. Yes, there is the snide, jealous Braithwaite but the main villains are a trickster we have met in previous novels and Grace’s husband who is far savvier then we are led to believe.

As I mentioned above, Sharpe does not have much influence over the events that unfold. Instead, this novel is more of an account of what it was like to be onboard a ship at sea. Details of the tedious lifestyle are superbly told as is the very real dangers of lack of supplies. Sharpe does demonstrate his dark side in this novel which proves he is less than perfect and is an interesting development in his character. 

The real crux of the story is the battle of Trafalgar itself. Cornwall has always been accurate and has always had a knack of recounting battles. I got the impression the whole reason for this novel was for Cornwall to have the opportunity to retell this historic battle with Nelson’s novel strategy. That is fine by me as Cornwall once again does a superb job. I confess I only vaguely knew the detail of the battle prior to reading this novel, but reading about the atrocities first hand and then sacrifices made by the British to implement their plan are both mind blowing and fascinating. 

Overall if you are expecting a traditional Sharpe novel you may be a little disappointed. After 7 years, I went in expecting one thing but was pleasantly surprised with what I got. Sharpe is still Sharpe, a character you just can’t help but love. Put him in space and I would still read the story.

My rating: 8.6

Friday, July 13, 2018

Stephen King - The Outsider

Stephen King – The Outsider

I couldn’t have revisited my favourite authors without taking in a Stephen King novel. Over the last couple of years, King has moved away from the supernatural horror mould and gone for more crime related books with science fiction based elements. This has led to the excellent Jonas Hodges trilogy and the good but somewhat sluggish in parts, Sleeping Beauties. His latest novel sounded it like it would be pure crime and I for one couldn’t wait for its release. 

The blurb:

When an eleven-year-old boy is found murdered in a town park, reliable eyewitnesses undeniably point to the town's popular Little League coach, Terry Maitland, as the culprit. DNA evidence and fingerprints confirm the crime was committed by this well-loved family man.

Horrified by the brutal killing, Detective Ralph Anderson, whose own son was once coached by Maitland, orders the suspect to be arrested in a public spectacle. But Maitland has an alibi. And further research confirms he was indeed out of town that day.

As Anderson and the District Attorney trace the clues, the investigation expands from Ohio to Texas. And as horrifying answers begin to emerge, so King's propulsive story of almost unbearable suspense kicks into high gear.

Terry Maitland seems like a nice guy but there is one rock-hard fact, as unassailable as gravity: a man cannot be in two places at the same time. Can he?

Opening Sentence: It was an unmarked car, just some nondescript American sedan a few years old, but the blackwall tires and the three men inside gave it away for what it was.

Days to read: 28 (audible)

The premise in the blurb supplies the mystery for the first third of the novel. King does a great job of investigating the gruesome death of a local boy through supplying manuscripts of witness interviews and good old fashion police detective work. One second you are convinced Terry Maitland is guilty and then next you can’t see how he possibly could have done the crime. I loved this element of the story, as a reader you obviously want to root for Terry and hope there has been a terrible mistake, but this being a King novel, you get the sense of dread that maybe, Terry really is the vile man everyone thinks he is.

As usual King’s characterization is superb. You side with the protagonists and loathe the despicable characters. King does a great job of making you feel empathy towards Terry and his family, whilst also sowing enough seeds of doubt to make you question the character.

With Ralph Anderson we have a protagonist who has strong morals but is not above admitting when he makes mistakes. His conviction in his actions is admirable, but I loved how he was humble enough to question his methods.

One of my favourite films growing up was From Dusk Til Dawn. The twist in it blew my mind and although I loved it, I couldn’t help mourning the first half of the film and wished it had continued in the same direction prior to the twist. Whilst the Outsider doesn’t possess a twist quite so extreme, as soon as the supernatural element is introduced, I found myself experiencing the same feeling as when I was young. 

The direction the novel heads in is not bad by any stretch of the imagination. It is very good in fact, but the first half was so finely poised and set up I couldn’t help but wish the supernatural element had not occurred. Any long-term readers of my reviews will know how hypocritical that sounds as I normally love a supernatural element.  

Incidentally, the supernatural element in this novel is fantastic. It draws upon a myth I knew nothing about and have looked into a lot since. I won’t say anymore as I don’t want to spoil anything.

The second half of the novel also sees the return of one of my favourite characters in a King novel. Again, I won’t say who they are, but they take a prominent role and it is nice to see them interact with a different set of characters this time around. I listened to the audio narration of the book by Will Patton (who as usual does a fantastic job). I will confess that initially I hated his interpretation of the returning character but by the end came to love it.

I’ve seen reviews where people have called the ending anti-climatic. I can see what they are saying but for me it was one of the more satisfying endings and liked that King did not drag the conclusion out unnecessarily. I thought it was also consistent with the villain’s character.

Overall, the Outsider is a terrific book. I think it is a testament to King’s writing that I wanted the novel to be something a little different due to how well it began but have no complaints as to how it turned out. Gruesome with great characters and a cool villain, what more could you ask for?

My rating: 9.0

Friday, July 6, 2018

The Executioner – Chris Carter

Chris Carter is an author I discovered by chance. I saw the name and thought it was the guy that created the X-Files TV series so I brought the short story called “the Hunter”. I loved that story and then discovered the two Carters were not the same men. Since then I have read the first book in Carter’s Robert Hunter series and loved it. As part of my favourite author’s campaign, I squeezed this second book in, confident I would enjoy it.

The Blurb:

Inside a Los Angeles church, on the altar steps, lies the blood-soaked, decapitated body of a priest. Carefully positioned, legs stretched out, arms crossed over the chest, the most horrifying thing of all is that the priest's head has been replaced by that of a dog. Later, the forensic team discover that, on the victim's chest, the figure 3 has been scrawled in blood. At first, Detective Robert Hunter believes that this is a ritualistic killing. But as more bodies surface, he is forced to reassess. All the victims died in the way they feared the most. Their worst nightmares have literally come true. But how could the killer have known? And what links these apparently random victims? Hunter finds himself on the trail of an elusive and sadistic killer, someone who apparently has the power to read his victims' minds. Someone who can sense what scares his victims the most. Someone who will stop at nothing to achieve his twisted aim.

Opening Sentence: “Ironic how the certainty in life is death, don’t you think?” The man’s voice was calm.

Days to read: 12 (fast for me these days)

As far as blurbs go, that one is pretty awesome right? Gruesome, intriguing and just so damn readable. If I had read this blurb a year ago I would have read this book sooner.

Carter has such an easy writing style. He writes in a clear, simple way that automatically engages the reader. He almost has the conversational tone which Stephen King and Robert Crais has, but without having it – if that makes sense?

I love his main character Robert Hunter. These days it is the fashion to deplore perfect characters with superior intellect and who are better than anyone else. Robert Hunter certainly falls into that category, but whilst Chris Carter has built his protagonist up and placed him onto a pedestal, he is now in a position to tear him down and examine his flaws. In two and a half books, I became so accustomed to Hunter being right that when he does make a wrong move it is a shock.

His partner Carlos Garcia is also well drawn. Loyal but with his own story arc he acts as a nice foil to Hunter’s incessant devotion to solving the crimes. Hunter is fully aware of the impact of his actions has on others, and his consideration to Garcia’s wellbeing is a nice obstacle to his cavalier attitude.
This novel also introduces Captain Barbara Blake, a hard-nosed, no nonsense voice of authority. Barbara is another nice foil to Hunter. Impressed with Hunter’s and Garcia’s results but far from enamoured with their methods, Barbara is the type of character that crops up in countless novels. However, Carter makes her believable rather than a stereotype.

As the blurb itself suggests, the plot centres around a series of despicable murders which focus on the victim’s worst nightmares. Carter does not shy away from the brutality of the murders and spares little in the way of detail. The deaths are vile, the imagination of the author disturbing and I for one loved it!

Finding the link between the murders is cleverly unveiled. Carter deftly peels away layer upon layer of the mystery introducing enough twists and turns to throw you off the scent.

The ending and resolution of the mystery is extremely satisfying. The reveal didn’t blow me away, but I can’t say for certainty that I expected it. 2.5 books in and the Hunter series is one I will be reading with far more frequency.

My rating: 9.2

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Sharon Bolton - The Craftsman

Sharon Bolton – The Craftsman
There are favourite authors, there are authors I enjoy and there are authors who I always buy their books as soon as they are released. Sharon Bolton is not an author who I’d list if I was asked to name my top 5 authors and yet she is one of the few authors I buy as soon as she releases a new book.

The blurb:

Devoted father or merciless killer?

His secrets are buried with him.

Florence Lovelady's career was made when she convicted coffin-maker Larry Glassbrook of a series of child murders 30 years ago. Like something from our worst nightmares the victims were buried...ALIVE.
Larry confessed to the crimes; it was an open and shut case. But now he's dead, and events from the past start to repeat themselves.

Did she get it wrong all those years ago?
Or is there something much darker at play?

Opening Sentence: On the hottest day of the year, Larry Glassbrook has come home to his native Lancashire for the last time, and the townsfolk have turned out to say goodbye.  

Days to read: 27 (audible)

There are not many people who’d disagree that being buried alive is one of the worst things you could imagine. A killer who gets his kicks out of knowing their victims are struggling for their lives and know they can’t do anything about it, is just about as heinous as they come.

The Craftsman focuses on the character of Florence Lovelady and switches between her present and her past. In the past, she is a new detective and being a woman is in the minority in a chauvinistic world where her fellow officers view her as a “glorified tea lady.” This is hardly a new concept and Bolton adds nothing new in describing the pathetic behaviour of Florence’s male colleagues and their treatment of her. What I did like though was that this was not the primary focus of the novel.

Florence is a strong, educated woman, who accepts the way of the world and doesn’t complain about it. She pushes back against the archaic ideals of her male colleagues but she doesn’t make it her mission. She is fully aware of the way of the world and despite running rings around the men in her department, tries not to make a big thing about it. Instead, she focuses on the case and nothing more.
I found this particularly refreshing and it made Florence eminently more likeable. Especially as she makes mistakes in her overzealous nature and naivety. A flawed character is always more interesting than a perfect one and Florence is certainly that.

The secondary characters are well drawn and Bolton does a good job or maintaining the tension and providing a good cast of suspects whilst not providing obvious motivations for the crimes.

Her investigations lead her to uncover a coven of witches. This is Sharon Bolton’s 10th novel. Her Flea Marley series is gripping but I also love her early work which had a hint of the supernatural or at least raised questions of supernatural elements. A story that includes witches then is right up my street. In Bolton’s hands, you knew it would be a realistic portrayal with an outlandish element.
As with the aforementioned sexism, the introduction of the witches is down played and unfolds organically. They influence the story and maintain an element of mysticism but it is not rammed in your face.

The present day setting provides a nice contrast to the characters we have come to know and love. In the thirty years which have transpired some of the characters have changed whilst others have inevitably matured. Florence, for example, is no longer a confident, eager woman and now has a son to look out and care for.

Her doubts over the case and her incessant need to discover the truth, cause her to expose old wounds which were painful for many. All this leads to a conclusion which is gripping, if a little unsatisfying. In regards to the plot, the story is wrapped up nicely and I can honestly say I enjoyed it, however, there were several outstanding questions which I will not put in the review for risk of spoilers.
All in all, the Craftsman is another fantastic novel from Sharon Bolton. I love my novels dark, gothic and suspenseful and this one ticks all of those boxes.

My rating: 9.0

Friday, June 29, 2018

My writing - I'm back

My Writing – Final draft done

Image result for i'm back

It has been a long time since I have written a blog post on my writing. Why have I decided to start blogging again now I hear you ask? Well I will tell you if you give me a chance!

I initially stopped blogging to focus on my writing. I had written four books and really wanted to write the final two books which would finish off the series.

It has often been said that the middle of the story is the hardest to write. I can’t say I found that to be the case. It is easy to carry on writing about the adventures of your characters and throwing more and more obstacles in their way. The more you explore them the more they surprise and delight you in how they react to certain circumstances. Characters you thought were going to be heroes turn out to be cowards, whilst others who were minor suddenly become major players. 

It was concluding the series I found difficult. I have always struggled with the end of my books. Not in regards to the content but more because at a certain point you have to start plotting how the novel will end. Once I do that and know exactly what is going to happen the writing becomes somewhat of a chore to me. It feels like writing an essay at school – you do the research, you know what you want to say but then actually writing said content becomes almost mechanical.

Image result for writing retreats

There was also the point where the sprawling mass of characters spread over Frindoth had to start converging. Point of view characters who I had become so attached to, had to take a back seat and be seen through the eyes of others to avoid a monster of a novel. Initially I found letting go hard, but I soon realised it was quite fun seeing the characters I loved through the eyes of others.

2017 marked the first year in many where I didn’t release a novel. There were several reasons for this such as the aforementioned struggles, a new job, a new baby, deciding to manage my eldest son’s football team but the worst was the tragedy of losing our family dog. Some people are pet people others aren’t. I am definitely a dog person.

Losing our dog left a huge hole in the family but also stemmed my creativity somewhat. My early morning walks with the dog were often where I would contemplate my novel and come up with new ideas. It took a long time to get over that loss but I was determined to finish the final book in the series in early 2018.
Unfortunately, another enormous personal tragedy struck. My brother in law and best friend unexpectantly passed away in January.  Dealing with that loss has been the hardest thing I have ever had to do and the hardest thing my family has ever been through. We are still struggling every day and finishing this novel is a bittersweet moment. Simon read Ritual of the Stones and Pewtory the Lesser Bard and loved them. He then maintained he didn’t want to read the other novels until the series was completed. Last Christmas he told me how excited he was that this year was going to be the year.

As Only Stones Remain is devoured by my beta readers, I sit here and feel immensely proud of what I have achieved in completing the series. When I began writing 9 years ago, I had no idea I would ever reach this moment. It is however tinged with sadness.

I don’t want to leave this blog post on a sombre note. So, I will inform you I am excited on what the future holds as I decide what to write next and looking forward to reviewing books once again. I hope you’ve missed me as much as I’ve missed you. Look out for more news for the release date on the final book in the Ballad of Frindoth series Only Stones Remain soon. But in the meantime, I will tease you by telling you the cover reveal will be happening very soon.

Image result for cover reveal


Rob D

Monday, June 25, 2018

Robert McCammon - The Listener

The Listener – Robert McCammon

If you are going to do your first review in a couple of years, you might as well start with your favourite author. It doesn’t seem to matter what genre McCammon writes in, each of his novels are always high quality, enjoyable reads.

The Blurb:

1934. Businesses went under by the hundreds, debt and foreclosures boomed, and breadlines grew in many American cities.

In the midst of this misery, some folks explored unscrupulous ways to make money. Angel-faced John Partlow and carnival huckster Ginger LaFrance are among the worst of this lot. Joining together they leave their small time confidence scams behind to attempt an elaborate kidnapping-for-ransom scheme in New Orleans.

In a different part of town, Curtis Mayhew, a young black man who works as a redcap for the Union Railroad Station, has a reputation for mending quarrels and misunderstandings among his friends. What those friends don't know is that Curtis has a special talent for listening... and he can sometimes hear things that aren't spoken aloud.

One day, Curtis Mayhew's special talent allows him to overhear a child's cry for help (THIS MAN IN THE CAR HE'S GOT A GUN), which draws him into the dangerous world of Partlow and LaFrance.

This gritty depression-era crime thriller is a complex tale enriched by powerfully observed social commentary and hints of the supernatural, and it represents Robert McCammon writing at the very top of his game.

Opening sentence: The Devil can be a man or a woman

The Listener has been a book I have been looking forward to for a while. I seem to love stories set in the “gritty depression” era and within the opening few chapters I knew this one would be no exception.
The story focuses on three main characters, two of them eminently likeable and one who you despise initially and only start to half tolerate by the end of the novel.

Curtis Mayhew is a redcap for the Union Railroad station is level headed, a little naïve but an inherently good person. Others take advantage of him but his overall kindness means he is generally well regarded.
Nilla is bright and sensible, even in peril she looks out for her more reckless and outspoken younger brother. Yet she is not perfect and McCammon does a good job of exploring her vulnerability and limitations.
John Partlow is a con man with no moral compass. He will gladly swindle others out of their money and take advantage of their grief. McCammon does his utmost to ensure he is portrayed as a despicable man when he performs a heinous act early on in the novel.

Of the three characters, Curtis is perhaps the most rounded. He has not been dealt the best lot in life and suffers a great deal. Despite this however, we see him grow and his optimistic/realistic attitude makes it impossible not to route for him.

The premise of the story focuses on two main elements: a kidnapping and the supernatural. The kidnapping is as basic as they come but that it works as it does not need to be complicated. It also introduces two great secondary characters in the psychotic Ginger La France (she could have a novel all to herself) and the deranged and increasingly unhinged Donnie.

The supernatural element is well done. It focuses on some of the characters being able to communicate telepathically. None of them understand it and it also something they struggle to sustain. This is clever and adds for some great tension when things start going wrong. Sometimes in McCammon’s novels the supernatural plot is hinted at but not entirely explored, leaving you wanting to know more. With the Listener, McCammon does not shy away from the supernatural and makes it a firm fixture in the novel which I prefer.

I am no expert on the era, but McCammon paints an excellent picture of how grim the period was. Most of the characters struggle, the in your face racism in well- handled where the characters meet others through chance encounters and suffer as a result. The struggles to just exist are apparent from all the characters the exception being Nilla’s affluent father.

In a fairly short novel, every page drips with vivid description of heat, oppression and mugginess of the Louisiana swamps. It astounds me how McCammon can say so much with so few words.
I love Robert McCammon’s Matthew Corbett novels with a passion. I read somewhere that his publisher would only continue to publish them as long as he wrote other novels in between each one. When those “other” novels are as good as the Listener, it is hard to complain. This is a fast paced, dark but ultimately brilliant novel.

My rating: 9.2

Monday, December 28, 2015

New Fire – Philip Dickinson

New Fire – Philip Dickinson
A colleague mentioned this book to me when I happened to mention I was going to read a Bernard Cornwell novel next. I confess I had never heard of Philip Dickinson but the idea of a book set in the Aztec reader appealed to me, so I purchased it on a whim.
If I am honest, after a great opening scene which follows a gang of street urchins roaming the streets to steal food, I found the opening 80 pages or so of the story a little overwhelming. The sheer volume and variety of characters is a tad confusing, especially giving the unfamiliarity of their names (which verge from the unpronounceable – Huitzilopochtli, to the more identifiable such as "Feathered Darkness" or ""Crocodile"). In fact the only character I could emphasise with is the main character "Jaguar."
Having said that, I admired the author's refusal to dumb down the narrative for the reader, I am no expert on this time period, but the story felt authentic. The setting oozes life as each scene is vividly created.
All of a sudden, the book seems to click into place and what follows is an excellent, fast paced yarn, where I came to appreciate and enjoy all of the characters. As I mentioned Jaguar is the stand out protagonist as the young man struggling to find his way. He has potential in his agility on the sporting field but in regards to being a warrior very much lives in the shadow of his best friend Crocodile. It is refreshing that this is never a source of contention between the two friends and both are proud of each other.
Cloud Face is a little less developed but manages to avoid the cartoonish villain tag by having suitable motivation behind his action, whereas characters like Two Sign are terrific in the supporting role, offering laconic one liners and a nobility to the story.
The action scenes are very well handled and for a first novel, Dickinson's prose is extremely accomplished, pacing scenes perfectly and building tension and plot twists that are impactful. The novel was also fairly dark in places, which is something I always enjoy if it fits in with the story.
Whilst the ending is somewhat predictable in part of its outcome, with the writing o engrossing it really didn't matter. Overall, this debut novel surprised and impressed me and I have already purchased the sequel
My rating: 8 out of 10 

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