Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harness

Review by Jacqui Slaney

Have you ever seen a title of a film or TV series and think, ‘I know that story’.
I was like that when I saw ‘Discovery of witches’ advertised, I saw a few trailers and kept saying to myself I must have read the book, this story seems so familiar.

It turned out in the end, that I hadn’t read it at all, it was just one of those books that I had looked into, meant to get it, but never got round to actually buying the thing. After watching the first episode though it gave me the push to buy the book, and then I stopped watching the TV show as I wanted to read the book first before seeing the changes the TV had made.

The Blurb:
A world of witches, daemons and vampires.
A manuscript which holds the secrets of their past and the key to their future.
Diana and Matthew - the forbidden love at the heart of it.
When historian Diana Bishop opens an alchemical manuscript in the Bodleian Library, it's an unwelcome intrusion of magic into her carefully ordered life. Though Diana is a witch of impeccable lineage, the violent death of her parents while she was still a child convinced her that human fear is more potent than any witchcraft. Now Diana has unwittingly exposed herself to a world she's kept at bay for years; one of powerful witches, creative, destructive daemons and long-lived vampires.
Sensing the significance of Diana's discovery, the creatures gather in Oxford, among them the enigmatic Matthew Clairmont, a vampire geneticist.
Diana is inexplicably drawn to Matthew and, in a shadowy world of half-truths and old enmities, ties herself to him without fully understanding the ancient line they are crossing. As they begin to unlock the secrets of the manuscript and their feelings for each other deepen, so the fragile balance of peace unravels...
The story starts with a witch called Diana researching history in the Oxford university library, and who meets a vampire called Matthew who is interested in a book she has called up to read. Interesting you might say, but hardly riveting stuff.

Just to give you a little more detail then, just to see if I can catch your interest- Diana is trying not to use her magic due to things that happened in her family. The vampire is a highly respected doctor, and the Oxford Library is suddenly full of daemons and not so friendly witches and vampires all of whom are interested in the book that Diana had.

As the story rolls on, the relationship between Diana and Matthew grows and develops, don’t worry, this isn’t a grown up version of twilight, there are no sparkly vampires here, far from it.

This relationship is forbidden and breaks all the laws of their world, they are warned and so it ultimately leads to conflict, violence and danger for not only them but their families as well, they realise though that the conflict has been coming and it’s not just about them.

All through the story though, the book that Diana called up for her research is the keystone, the mystery that has to be broken to help save them all.

The writing is good and it is easy to get caught up with the characters, all of them are well described, even the supporting cast.

Reading other reviews, people complain about Diana swooning and fainting all over the place- to be honest- I must have missed that, as it didn’t register as a complaint with me.

If I was going to pick holes I could say that the regular references to cold skin against warm and the continued mention of how things smell- as all vampires have an incredible sense of smell can be a little trying, but when I got caught up in the story even they stopped annoying me. Diana started off annoying me, but as her character develops you understand what drives her.

I liked the book a lot, it was easy to get lost in, certain scenes are well handled- Matthew hunting, the description of Diana’s house in Salem with all her family ghosts,- the scene with the Norwegian witch ( I will not go into detail about this bit, but when you get there, you will understand) Diana’s memories of her mother that helped her fly.

I could go on, even writing about those few scenes I want to mention the yoga class and more but I must leave other readers to make their own mind.

I should warn perhaps there is some violence in places, after all this is a story about witches and vampires and they don’t get on!

I hope I have tweaked your interest, I liked this book so much I went and bought the next two, and in my opinion it’s definitely worth a read.

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

C J Sansom – Revelation

Over the last decade Historical Fiction has rivalled Fantasy and Crime for my favourite genre. Bernard Cornwell has been the primary source of this love but Robert McCammon’s Matthew Corbett series has been the standout. C J Samson is fast joining those ranks however. This is the 4th book in his Matthew Shardlark series set in Tudor times, which has been excellent to date.

The Blurb:

It is spring, 1543 and King Henry VIII is wooing Lady Catherine Parr, whom he wants for his sixth wife — but this time the object of his affections is resisting. Archbishop Cranmer and the embattled Protestant faction at court are watching keenly, for Lady Catherine is known to have reformist sympathies.

Matthew Shardlake, meanwhile, is working on the case of a teenage boy, a religious maniac who has been placed by the King's council in the Bedlam hospital for the insane. Should he be released as his parents want, when his terrifying actions could lead to him being burned as a heretic?

Then, when an old friend is horrifically murdered, Shardlake promises his widow — for whom he has long had complicated feelings — to bring the killer to justice. His search leads him to connections not only with the boy in Bedlam, but with Archbishop Cranmer and Catherine Parr, and with the dark prophecies of the Book of Revelation.

As London's Bishop Bonner prepares a purge of Protestants, Shardlake, together with his assistant Jack Barak and his friend Guy Malton, follow the trail of a series of horrific murders that shake them to the core. Murders which are already bringing about frenzied talk of witchcraft and a demonic possession, for what else would the Tudor mind make of a serial killer?

Days to read: 58

Opening line: The high chandeliers in the Great Hall of Lincoln’s Inn were ablaze with candles, for it was late afternoon when the play began.

I’ve said it many times before and I never grow tired of saying it. No matter how exciting a book is, no matter how many twists and turns the plot takes, it is always the characters which elevate a novel to greatness. In Matthew Shardlake and his supporting cast, Sansom has created a set of characters which engage the reader and makes you care for them.
Revelation starts a little slowly if I am honest. That is not to say it is not enjoyable, it just takes a little while for the plot to establish itself and its direction. Matthew dallies a little with the Adam, a teenage boy placed in Bedlam for his obsession over praying but at the same time one of his good friends is murder. Neither plot seems to go anyway for a little while before all of a sudden another murder occurs and a connection is made hinting at serial killer.

From this moment the story never looks back and whisks you along in a battle of minds between Matthew and the mysterious killer. I say “whisks” at 623 pages this is a hefty novel but the pace and the enjoyment level of the story means it flies by (yes, I know it took me a long time to read but that is because I now have three kids, a dog and no commute to read on).

Matthew is as righteous as ever, but there is also a steel to him where he is not afraid to speak out against injustice. His authoritative voice when dealing with the guards at Bedlam make it clear he is a respected lawyer that carries some weight to his actions.  The best thing about Matthew is that his main weapon is his brain. Afflicted with a crookback he is severely limited to the more physical exertions of the job. Samson handles this disability expertly, he demonstrates the limitations Matthew has but never describes it as a hindrance.   

Aside from Matthew, the secondary characters all have interesting plots which are intriguing. Jack Barak struggles with his marriage to Tamasin as the pair attempt to overcome the loss of their baby, Barak also struggles with the nature of the killings which is refreshing as normally Matthew’s assistant is unflappable. 

Guy also has a new assistant who Matthew immediately does not trust. This adds a sense of conflict between Matthew and Guy which we haven’t seen before.  Both plots are great and serve to add pressure on Matthew as he is clearly affected by what is going on with both friendships.

It would be remiss not to mention the setting. Tudor London is brought to life complete with all it’s grime, disease and begging. The backdrop of King Henry’s proposal to Catherine Parr along with the conflict with the radicals serve as a fantastic backdrop whilst Bedlam is described as suitably horrific whilst at the same time possessing an element of light and goodness.

The killings are inventive and horrific and although I can’t say I was massively surprised by the reveal of the killer, I can’t say I was 100% confident in my suspicions. Add to that the comic element of Bealknap and the gravitas of Lord Hertford, this is one of the best entries into the series.

My rating: 9.2

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

I’ve read most of Joe Hill’s novels. Like the majority of people, I was intrigued by his full debut novel, Heart Shaped Box and liked it a lot. His follow-up novel Horns had a premise which sounded terrible but was actually really enjoyable. It was NOS4R2 which really made me sit up and take notice though. I thought that was an excellent book. The Fireman promised to be his magnus opus and whilst I enjoyed it, I was a little disappointed if truth be told. 

I have never read his short story collection 20th Century Ghosts but have heard a lot of good things about it. I have however read his collaboration with his father In the tall grass which I loved and I also really enjoyed his comic Locke and Key.

So it was with an open mind that I approached his new collection of novellas:

The Blurb:
One autumnal day in Boulder, Colorado, the clouds open up in a downpour of nails, splinters of bright crystal that tear apart anyone who isn't safely under cover. 'Rain' explores this escalating apocalyptic event, as clouds of nails spread out across the country and the world. Amidst the chaos, a girl studying law enforcement takes it upon herself to resolve a series of almost trivial mysteries . . . apparently harmless puzzles that turn out to have lethal answers.

In 'Loaded' a mall security guard heroically stops a mass shooting and becomes a hero to the modern gun movement. Under the hot glare of the spotlights, though, his story begins to unravel, taking his sanity with it...

'Snapshot, 1988' tells the story of an kid in Silicon Valley who finds himself threatened by The Phoenician, a tattooed thug who possesses a Polaroid that can steal memories...

And in 'Aloft' a young man takes to the skies to experience parachuting for the first time . . . and winds up a castaway on an impossibly solid cloud, a Prospero's island of roiling vapour that seems animated by a mind of its own.
Opening Sentence: N/A

Days to read: 8

The collection opens with Snapshot which is a terrific example of exploring the classic writing trope of “what if there was…” in this case it is a camera which steals people’s memories. I liked this story a lot. The Phoenician is a sinister antagonist who Hill quickly makes the reader hate, but at the same time demonstrates how dangerous he is. It takes place over the course of a single day and has an protagonist to root for in Michael. 8

Loaded is the longest novel and in my opinion by far the best. Hill does a fantastic job of exploring a man under pressure and the lengths he would go to protect his status and secret. It is the least fantastical of the four novels but the characters more than make up for it. 9

Aloft is my least favourite although I can appreciate the idea. It tells the story of a man who parachutes out of a plane and lands on a solid cloud, which appears to manifest objects as he thinks of them. This is not a bad story, but I found it a little boring, despite having a good ending. 6

Rain is a post-apocalyptic novel based on the premise of lethal rain suddenly falling from the sky. It is the most horrific of all the four novels, with gruesome scenes. It loses something in the middle as the protagonist travels about, but the beginning and ending is very strong. 8

Overall, the novels work well as a collection, offering a nice variety both from each other and from what you’d expect to see in a traditional novel. Only Aloft  is a novel I wouldn’t recommend to others.

My rating: 8.4

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

So the wait is finally over.

Only Stones Remain has been released!

Buy, buy, buy and enjoy the explosive conclusion to the Ballard of Frindoth!

Purchase by clicking the link below

Only Stones Remain - UK

Only Stones Remain - US

Monday, September 24, 2018

Around 75% of the books I read are down to reviews or recommendations, 20% are because of exciting covers enticing me and the remaining 5% is down to the title and blurb. The last thing she told me is an example of the latter. The title is intriguing enough for me to check out the blurb, it was that line in the blurb though that blew me away and made me download the book.
Moments before she dies, Nicola's grandmother Betty whispers to her that there are babies at the bottom of the garden.
I mean, come on! Who doesn't want to read the book after reading that?
The Blurb:
Even the deepest buried secrets can find their way to the surface....

Moments before she dies, Nicola's grandmother Betty whispers to her that there are babies at the bottom of the garden.

Nicola's mother claims she was talking nonsense. However, when Nicola's daughter finds a bone while playing in Betty's garden, it's clear that something sinister has taken place.

But will unearthing painful family secrets end up tearing Nicola's family apart?
Opening Sentence: The house appeared to know that its owner was about to die, shrouded, as it was, in early-morning mist, the downstairs curtains closed in respect, the gate squeaking mournfully as I opened it.
Days to read: 25

The question you're all wondering now is: Did the book live up to the blurb? The answer is: yes, no, maybe so, but on the whole yes.
Why the confusing answer I hear you ask? Well it's a mixture of a very good story, good characters, a lot of implausibility and some slow places within the novel. For example, given the blurb we know full well there are going to be babies at the bottom of the garden otherwise what would be the point of the novel? However, it takes a little while for this point to be reached. The protagonist is told almost immediately the disturbing confession of her dying Grandmother but it takes quite a long time before she begins to believe her. This is a little frustrating although I can see why the authors done it.
The book focuses on the main protagonist Nicola, who is a reasonable enough character. She's realistic in her actions and behaviour but there is nothing that really makes her stand out. Her husband James is a bit of a non-entity to be honest. He is incredibly supportive and goes along with anything Nicola says and doesn't add any real conflict to the plot.
The best characters are supporting cast. Nicola's eldest daughter Ruby, definitely steals the scenes she is part of. She has had enough angst over her past and wondering who her real father to make her interesting. This conflict carries the novel and propels it into a much more dramatic story, elevating it above your normal mystery. The struggle between mother and daughter and daughter and step-dad is well handled and quite moving in at times.
Linda Green keeps the tension high as she expertly reveals piece by agonizing piece of the puzzle. This is done through clever devices such as a great aunt with amnesia in a mental home and then a mysterious relative who comes in but seems reluctant to reveal the truth of the past. Couple this with a mother who also clams up tighter than a safe when the past is mentioned means the reader is only treated the odd snippet of information every now and then. Whilst a little frustrating, it never gets transforms in to annoyance.
The news of the babies soon becomes widespread, and this adds another dimension in how the community reacts to the shocking news. This results in various unpleasant actions against Nicola and her family, which whilst gruesome never ringed true to me – mainly because there was no reason for the community to behave that way to Nicola who was completely innocent of the events in the past. Her only fault was pursing the truth which suggests she was being warned away from enquiring any further. Nicola however, never makes a big song and dance about her investigation to ruffle any feathers and so this part of the novel didn’t work.
What did and didn't work for me was inclusion to the mystery as a novel unfolds. There are actually three mysteries that run throughout the book: the main one is fantastic and really get me thinking about the past and the way people behaved. It is a satisfying conclusion to a great premise. The other two mysteries, whilst also good is where the aforementioned implausibility comes in to effect. The fact that the three incidents/mysteries happen to the same family I found a little bit hard to believe - and I'm a man that writes fantasy novels!
Having said all that, I thoroughly enjoyed this novel. Linda Green is an author that is very accomplished and I will definitely look out for more of her work in the future.

My rating: 8.8

Monday, September 17, 2018

I have to admit comedy books don’t overly do it for me. I’ve read Pratchett and enjoyed some of them, but I find I have to be in the mood. Other books where reviews have stated that the book is “hilarious” and “laugh out loud” funny, I have found mildly amusing. It is weird as I am a huge fan of comedy as a genre. When my brother-in-law pointed out that he reads all the books he recommends and I don’t reciprocate, I welcomed his endorsements and then groaned when he suggested a couple of Tom Sharpe books. As a man of my word though, I promised to give them ago.  

The Blurb:

With his only friend a computer, Walden Yapp has lived a singular life. Professor of Demotic History at the University of Kloone, Yapp spends his days highlighting the corrupt capitalistic nature of the upper-classes, and his nights feeding Doris his computer the information he has gathered
So when capitalist Lord Petrefact hires him to write a damaging family history, Yapp seizes the chance to chronicle the corrupt life of the Petrefact family. Spurred on by his expectations of dishonesty and depravity Yapp heads of the town of Buscott, where nobody is what they at first appear to be.
Now a pawn in Lord Petrefact’s vindictive family game, Yapp’s presence is as welcome as the plague. From provoking dwarfish marital problems to uncovering an erotic toy factory Yapp’s presence sparks a chain of events that ends in death, destruction and a murder trial.
Going through a car wash will never feel the same again

Opening Sentence: Lord Petrefact pressed the bell on the arm of his wheelchair and smiled

Days to read: 12

I’m just going to come out and say it, I have to put my words on a plate, smother them with humble sauce and devour them because I loved this book. Not only that, there were occasions when I was genuinely laughing out loud.

Don’t get me wrong, I struggled with it at first. The language seemed a little too flowery and pompous for me without seemingly adding anything to the story. However, once the story gets going it, the laughs come thick and fast as the characters meander from one set piece to another. Some of these are brilliant conceived and the best thing about them is they are all weaved together expertly and never feel contrived.

The story is littered with excellent characters, all satirically observed and extreme in their views. Sharpe exploits these but at the same time manages to make them all endearing. My personal favourite was Emmelia who experiences a bit of a journey of self-discovery as she finally wakes up to her archaic and prejudiced ways.

It would be unfair to try and analyze the plot as there is only a very loose one. What I will say is that this is a story of characters finding themselves and loosing themselves in the most farcical way possible.

There are incidents that stand out above all others, the bathroom scene for instance or the visit to the Buscott factory, but I found every scene containing something that amused me.
This is my first Tom Sharpe novel and won’t be my last. It has changed my opinion on comedy books and for that I can’t recommend it enough.

My rating: 9.2

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

John Connolly - The Woman in the Woods

Well I could hardly do a review of all my favourite authors and not include John Connolly could I? John Connolly writes almost the perfect type of novel for me: a gruesome, thriller with an element of the supernatural. The Woman in the woods marks his 16th book in the Charlie Parker series; a series that has not seen a drop off in quality at any point. 

The Woman in the Woods: A Charlie Parker Thriller: 16.  From the No. 1 Bestselling Author of A Game of Ghosts

The Blurb:
It is spring, and the semi-preserved body of a young Jewish woman is discovered buried in the Maine woods. It is clear that she gave birth shortly before her death.

But there is no sign of a baby.

Private detective Charlie Parker is engaged by the lawyer Moxie Castin to shadow the police investigation and find the infant, but Parker is not the only searcher. Someone else is following the trail left by the woman, someone with an interest in more than a missing child, someone prepared to leave bodies in his wake.

And in a house by the woods, a toy telephone begins to ring.
For a young boy is about to receive a call from a dead woman…
Opening Sentence:  The bar was one of the more recent additions to Portland's waterfront, although the term 'recent' was relative given the rapid pace of development in the city.
Days to Read: 27 (😞)
What I like most about this series is Charlie Parker is a feared man but not because of how excellent he is as a detective or how strong, brave and impervious to pain he is (because he is certainly not all of those things). He gains that reputation purely for surviving numerous attempts on his life. It gives him a legendary respect from his enemies, one that he's not even aware of half the time.
In the Woman in the woods Parker is a damaged man he is recovering from his injuries and he is also trying to repair the relationship he has with the police force who no longer trust him and see him as a hindrance rather than a help.
The book introduces Quayle and his mysterious and quite frankly weird female sidekick. Both are in search of the dead woman and missing child as they believe before she died, she had I'm her possession a book of great importance. In terms of plot details it really is that simply, apart from when Louis picks a fight with a local racist Bobby Ocean. Of course with a Connolly novel there are several twists and turns along the way, one of which is Parker trying to tread carefully with the police and thus hindering his usual bullish approach to investigating.
Quayle and his female sidekick are terrific characters they are strange yet at the same time menacingly dangerous; both have the hint of the supernatural about them although it is never explicitly demonstrated. With Quayle you get the sense that he is not just another throw away villain and so it proves. It is inevitable that their paths will cross with Charlie Parker although this does not happen for a long time in the novel and so the tension towards them finally meeting is a terrific undertone running throughout. Quayle is also the only villain I can recall to actually step up and try and make Parker’s life hell. It makes for great reading I can tell you!
Of course it would not be a Charlie Parker novel without his two best friends Angel and Louis. Angel features only fleetingly in this story as he too is seriously ill in hospital. This leads a more fragile and quite frankly lost Louis. He is missed as are the Fulci’s but it does allow Louis to fill more of the stage. We’ve seen glimpses into Louis’ psyche before, but never has he been laid so bare and vulnerable before us. His scenes with Parker are touching and it is refreshing to see this side of the cold blooded killer.
With each novel in the series you get the sense that more and more of the supernatural mystery is being unveiled – most notably who and what is the damn Buried God.
Overall this is a fantastic addition to the series. The ending is a little abrupt and it is clear that this novel more than any other is part of a largely story arc, but don’t let that distract you from the fact that as a standalone this is up there with Connolly’s best.
My rating: 9.3