Thursday, June 30, 2011

June Reviews

So this is it - The final month before the biggest release of the year for me. At long last we will be getting A Dance with Dragons in July. Maybe it was because I was so excited about this that I went on a reading frenzy this month. A whopping seven books read and enjoyed:
1)    Hyperion – Dan Simmons
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I am not a science fiction fan. There I said it. For some reason, as much as I adore Star Wars as soon as space or any techno babble is mentioned, I switch off and my eyes glaze over. I have never understood it because I love the idea of stories set in space and uninhabited worlds.  I have found that whenever I have tried to embrace the genre, the book are needlessly littered with complicated instruments and equipment that makes you feel you are reading a textbook to a complicated computer rather than enjoying a novel.
Despite this irrational hatred towards science fiction, one book I always felt I should try is Hyperion. Having read and loved the Terror by Simmons, I knew that the man could write and write well. I had purchased the book ages ago and I was just waiting for the inspiration to strike me to start reading. This month said inspiration struck.
After the first couple of pages I thought I had made a mistake. There was techno babble in abundance and try as I might I struggled to engage with it. This all changed once the pilgrims began to tell their stories.
For any of you that don’t know, Hyperion follows a similar format to the Canterbury Tales. 6 strangers are thrown together and seem to have a common goal. They decide in order to achieve this goal they need to understand their pasts. What follows is essentially a collection of short stories tied together by the same goal.
Each of these stories vary in style and tone. Simmons expertly provides individual voices to each character and makes you care for them. Some of these stories are excellent. The standouts for me are the Priest’s tale and the Scholar’s tale. Not surprisingly these two are the least sci-fi esque of the 6 but the other four stories (Soldier’s tale, Poet’s tale, Detective’s tale and the Scholar’s tale) are all compelling, as is the Shrike, the mythical creature they all set out to meet or destroy.
Has Hyperion made me more inclined to read sci-fi? Yes and no. I really enjoyed this book but there were times when I felt my mind wandering during the mention of various ships and weapons. Having said that, I will definitely be reading the sequel – it is impossible not too after the cliff hanging ending.
My rating: 8.5

2)    The Unremarkable Heart – Karin Slaughter
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I was not aware of this short story until it was recommended on the Kindle. Of course it being on the Kindle it is difficult to know exactly how big it was, but I think it came in around the 72 page mark and therefore worth reviewing. I’ve only read one short story by Karin before and whist I thought it was good, unlike her full length novels it was instantly forgettable.

This story on the other hand stuck with me. The premise is rather grim, a woman is dying of cancer and the opening of the tale begins with her dealing with this. It is not until the relationship of her husband is truly explored that the plot begins to become intriguing.

What follows is a story that is slowly and cleverly revealed to the audience. I have to admit I read this in two sessions and simply had to know the truth behind the family. The conclusion does not disappoint and stays with you. It has made me realise that I must read Karin’s last book before her new one comes out.

My rating:  8.8
3) The Five – Robert McCammon
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Robert is easily one of my favourite authors, probably my favourite. His versatility and ability to produce great stories is unsurpassed. The Five came with strong praise especially from Stephen King – another favourite of mine. However, I have to admit the premise of the Five did not grab me at all. I mean a book about a band touring how interesting can that be? It turns out very.
I loved the book. It made me want to visit local pubs and soak in the vibe from small acts trying to break into the big time. The characters of the band members stayed with me – I found myself routing for Nomad, Ariel and the like as they struggled to deal with the tragic events that befall them. Despite never having heard the song, I defy anyone not to be humming “Bad cop” by the end of the book.
If I have one criticism, it’s that there were some sub plots or side stories that hinted at events which were so cool, I wished they were explored further. Nevertheless, they would make fantastic books in themselves if Robert ever wished to tackle them.
The five has been hailed as McCammon’s best book yet. Although it does not quite reach the heights of Swan Song or Boy’s Life it is still a very good read and better than 95% of other books out there.
My rating: 9.3
4) Seahorse in the Sky – Edmund Cooper
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About a month ago I got Lost withdrawal symptoms. I lamented that there was not another TV show that captured the imagination like that show did. I use to love sitting at work, wondering what was going on and coming up with various theories. I “googled books like Lost” and the most common answers were, “Lord of the Flies” and “Hyperion.” Both books are excellent, but only Hyperion comes close to posing the level of mystery I was after.

Then on one forum someone suggested Seahorse in the sky. I immediately checked the book out and the blurb sounded exactly what I was after. 16 people wake up in are on a flight to London and then suddenly wake up in coffins in a deserted town. Food and drink is mysteriously replenished and they can all speak the same language despite coming from different parts of Europe. They also encounter humans from a different time period.

This book filled the whole left by Lost. The prose is tight but effective and the characters intriguing enough. My only problem is that the book is so short. 190 pages in fact. Normally, I find books are unnecessarily blotted. In this case I was lamenting that it wasn’t. I wanted a series made of this story. I would quite happily have read a trilogy of books. No disrespect to Edmund Cooper, but I couldn’t help rue the fact that Stephen King or Dam Simmons had not come up with this premise and run with it. I wanted the books told from multiple points of views and the mysteries to keep layering themselves on top of each other.
Instead, what I was left with was a very good story, intriguing and satisfying but more of an outline to what could have been fantastic. The conclusion to the mystery is excellent. In fact as much as I liked Lost and had no problem with its finale, I wish they had gone with the explanation that Cooper came up with.
I will be checking out more of Edmunds work though, so that can’t be a bad thing.
My Rating 7.8

5)    Solomon Kane – The Complete Tales – Robert E Howard.
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I really enjoyed the film of Solomon Kane and was disappointed that it was not popular enough to procure sequels.  I think Hollywood missed a trick by not believing in the franchise but hey what do I know?

I was pleased to discover the complete tales available on the Kindle for a very reasonable price. I purchased them immediately (I love the fact that I can do that) and settled in to enjoy Solomon’s adventures.
To begin with I was reading with a big smile on my face. Solomon was the true hero, putting right the evils of this way. However, after a while the stories all felt the same, Solomon would wander through the jungle, stumble across some evil and then be determined to defeat it. The formula became jarring, so jarring that it became a chore to carry on. I stopped reading the book and read something else. I then came back to the book and groaned. Don’t get me wrong, the stories are not bad and the writing holds up quite well in today’s times but it is like watching the same episode of Quantum Leap over and over. Other than the obstacles Solomon faces nothing changes. Even the way he is introduced (a tall puritan dressed in black wearing a hat with no feathers) is the same ever story. Quantum Leap was great because it stuck to the same formula but no two episodes felt the same.
There are some stories that stand out above the others. My picks are: The moon of skulls and the footfalls within. However, I would recommend you read this book slowly over time and not all in one go.
My Rating: 7.2
6)    Re-Read – A Feast of Crows – George R R Martin
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A Feast of Crows gets a raw deal in terms of the A song of Ice and Fire series. It is largely thought to be the weakest of the four books with many fans feeling cheated at the lack of key POV characters. I suppose it matters when you read the book. I began reading the series in 2007 and about from A Dance with Dragons, never had to wait for any of the books to be released. I also knew that half the characters would be missing well in advance of reading the book. Having said that, whilst I enjoyed Feast of Crows the first time round, I couldn’t help but acknowledge it dragged a little in places (Brienne I am looking at you).
So has my opinion changed upon the re-read? Yes. 100% yes. Having enjoyed all of the books the second time round, I probably enjoyed FoCs the most. Armed with the several theories that fans have suggested, it was fun to appreciate the book and all it tried to achieve. Where I first thought the Brienne chapters were there merely to illustrate the horrors of war on the common folk, I now appreciated the way they were used to set up future events. Cersei and Jaime’s point of views are superb and the chapters dealing with Dorne and the Iron Islands are all expertly handled.
As I write this, it is just over 2 weeks to go until a Dance with Dragons is released. I cannot wait.
My Rating: 9.2
7)    Pet Sematary – Stephen King.
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I knew very little about this book going in. I did not even read the blurb on the back. I had a preconceived notion that it would be about pets coming back to life and haunting a family judging by the covers I had seen over the years.
I was not expecting the excellent story that unfolded. This story has heart and bundles of it. Don’t get me wrong, it is definitely creepy in places, but what makes it such a great book is how easily I could identify with the main character Louis. Louis is in his 30’s, married and has too kids and a pet cat. We are about to have our second child and have a dog.  Therefore everything that happened to Louis and his family deeply resonated with me. I was so caught up in the emotion of this book that I genuinely couldn’t wait to get home and hug them tightly at the end of each day.
You can guess where the book is going very early on, but the skill in which King unfurls the plot reaffirms why I regard him as one of my favourite authors. I don’t wish to speak too much about the plot but the ending is one that will stay with me a long, long time. I also love the reference to Cujo the King makes. Little tips of the hat to the reader really ingratiate me to an author.
If you haven’t read King I strongly recommend you try this book. You will not be disappointed.
My rating: 9.5