Friday, October 28, 2011

Book Review - Gates of Fire

Gates of Fire - Steven Pressfield:

Gates of Fire: An Epic Novel of the Battle of Thermopylae

This is one of those books that has received unanimous praise. Look on and out of 117 reviews it gets an average of 5 stars. So you could imagine my level of expectation before I started reading the book, especially considering it is based on a period of Ancient history I studied at university and loved.

It is fair to say then that I was initially disappointed. The opening couple of pages left me wondering what I had started reading. It felt like I was reading Herodotus all over again - whilst not a bad thing, it is not something I read for leisure.

As the book progressed though, the story settled into a rhythm. It focuses on the captured Xeo the sole surviving member of the Spartans. Xeo is forced to recount the tale of the battle of Thermopylae for the Persian king Xerxes.

Xeo starts his tale with his childhood and flashes to different key points in his life. Sometimes this happens chronologically and other times it shifts to the present battle. This can be confusing as Pressfield recounts the history as he goes along and it easy to get lost for a few paragraphs if you are not familiar with it.

I also wonder how someone who is not familiar with the Greek names would get on with the story as some of them are quite similar, but I guess the 5 star reviews suggest this is not a problem.

If I am honest, for the first two thirds of this novel although I was enjoying the story I struggled to see where all the 5 star reviews were coming from. The book although far more historically accurate did not set itself apart from anything I had read like Conn Iggulden’s Genghis Khan’s series. However, something happened over the final third of the book where my opinion towards the story changed from merely enjoying to the book to loving it.

I can’t quite put my finger on why this was, especially as the final third consists almost entirely of the battle itself. Personally I do not like big battle scenes and much prefer character based novels. However, Pressfield really captures the imagination. The deeds of the Spartan’s although glorified are not shown off to make each warrior look good. Instead Pressfield concentrates on the other side of war. The fact that the Spartan’s were crawling about from exhaustion at the end of the first skirmish of the first day really brought home to me how gruelling an ordeal the battle was.

Without realising it, I had come to care for the characters. Dienekes in particular stands out. Despite his renown in battle, the battle commander shows a greater philosophical side, particularly in his pursuit to the answer, “what is the opposite of fear?”

Other stand outs are the conflicted Rooster and the coming of ages of heroes like Alexandros. Pressfield also does justice to the other allies who fought at the battle, in particular the Thespians whose deeds are often overlooked when this story is told.

Everyone of King Leonides speeches hits the spot and the indifference of Xerxes towards his conscripted army makes you route for the Spartans even more.

Away from the battle other characters are well developed. Unusually for ancient history the women are given high prominence and their importance is really highlighted by Pressfield.

This novel is faultlessly researched and does justice to the monumental struggle that occurred back in 480 BC. Despite the “good rather than great start,” Gates of Fire is a tale of heroes, of love, of courage and the will to survive. One that is thoroughly recommended. My Rating: 8.9

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Robert McCammon comes to the UK Kindle

Finally Robert McCammon's books have been released on the UK edition of the Kindle. This is fabulous news. Not all of them are available (it is all of his collection pre the Matthew Corbett series) but this is fantastic news for fans and not yet fans.

So far if I wanted to read a book by Mr McCammon, I have had to resort to purchasing a used copy on ebay. This has bothered me, one because I want to support this great author and want to give my money to him and two all of the copies that I have received second hand have been so used they are barely bound together.

Now however, all of his books are on the Kindle.

They are quite pricey at £9.19, but are worth a look. Hopefully they will come down to a more reasonable price so I can snap them all up. Swan Song (arguably his most famous book) is priced at an astounding £2.27. This was my favourite book of last year and one of my favourite of all time. If you like post apocalyptic drama then please, please, please snap this book up and give it a try. You won't regret it I promise.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Book Review: The Hanging Shed

The Hanging Shed - Gordon Ferris

It is impossible to own a Kindle and not have heard of the Hanging Shed by Gordon Ferris. The book has been lingering the top 10 lists for ever. It is still one of the cheapest books you can get and receives copious amounts of praise.
Sucked in by the hype it was one of my first purchases but it is only now that I got round to reading it. The Hanging Shed is a plain old good book. That is not meant to be an insult, I really enjoyed it but it did not set my world on fire.
The story focuses on Douglas Brodie, an ex cop who is now back from the horrors of WWII and struggling to cope. Douglas receives a call from an estranged childhood friend who is on death row for the murder of a young boy – a crime he swears he did not commit.
The setting takes place largely in Scotland and whilst I admit I am completely ignorant to the geographical goings on in Scotland, Gordon seems to have captured the atmosphere perfectly. He really creates a bleak picture and at times uses authentic dialogue. This makes for some difficult reading as I struggled to understand what was being said, although I could always work it out in the end don’t ya Ken?
Douglas Brodie is a good protagonist but not great. It seems that Gordon Ferris could not decide what he wanted him to be. On one hand he is the tragic war veteran, trying to make sense of the nightmare he has just endured and on the other he is delivering quick one liners in a devil may care attitude reminiscent of Coben’s Myron Bolitar or Crais’ Elvis Cole. Whilst this is not a problem, I found that the two traits did not mesh together as well as they could have.
The rest of the cast are solid, although sometimes it is hard to believe that everyone is as hard and nasty as they are.
The plot itself, it well thought out and complex enough to intrigue the reader. All in all, this is a good book and one that I would recommend. My Rating: 8.5

Monday, October 17, 2011

Update - Writing

It’s been a while since I have commented on my writing, (thank you Catherine for badgering me!) There has been progress but not in a tangible way - let me explain.
Back in April I was at the stage where I had finished the book and had sent it out to two agents – disappointingly, neither have even acknowledged that they have received the submission. Which leads to a lot of second guessing in itself: Did they not get it? Did they get it and think it was too crap to reply? Are they still considering it?
Whatever the answer, I realise that 2 agents is far too few a number to have sent the book out too. I therefore convinced myself to set aside a day where I would identify the agents, tailor a submission to them and then approach them. Due to the arrival of our second child, going through the process of redundancy at work and a host of other issues, this day has never occurred.
I then decided to get started on book two. This was both a joy and a chore. You see, I wrote the first book on Y:Writer, a fantastic tool for keeping track of all your characters, locations and notes – That is until you lose your USB. No problem, as I had backed them up on my laptop – until it crashed.
Suddenly, I found myself in a situation where I was writing book two but having to use the search function on word to refresh my memory on who certain characters were and what they looked like. This was impractical and left me rather despondent. I knew the only answer was to go through the first book and make notes on each and every character.
Until recently, I have been putting this off and have been on hiatus. I needed a break before taking on such an undertaking.
Which brings us to the present day, as things stand, I have almost completed my character index. I have about 4 chapters left to take notes on but I don’t think I introduced any new characters in these chapters and so the process should be relatively painless.
I will then send the book out and begin again on book 2. So there you have it. The important thing to report is that I have the writing bug back now and all the tools in which to carry on.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Author League

I love spreadsheets and I love lists. I think most men do, they don’t? Oh well I still love them. I follow a few other blogs and one blogger (John Canton if you must know) recently did a post on the state of wrestling and how he thought individual wrestlers were performing and progressing. Needless to say I thought it was excellent and wanted to do something similar with my blog.
Now considering this site is primarily about writing (less so on mine lately - but that is changing) in order for me to do something similar I would have had to read every author in a particular genre. In short I am not qualified to do that.
What I could do though is look at the authors I have read and talk about how I think their work is going. There are some self imposed rules that I have set myself:
1)    I had to have read 3 or more books by the author.
2)    I have to still be interested in reading the author – I may have read all of the Enchanted wood and Wishing Chair series by Enid Blyton when I was young, but I am not interested in checking out an more of her books.
3)    The author has to still be writing – sadly I do not get to talk about David Gemmell here.

With that being said there are currently 20 active authors who I read on a regular basis. A nice number I am sure you will agree and one that can be divided equally by 5 to give you 4 different blog posts:
Part 1: Fantasy and Historical Fiction
Part 2: Crime - General
Part 3: Crime – Private detectives
Part 4: Horror and Action
When looking at each author I will list the books I have read, discuss what I like about them. Look at their recent books and look at their forthcoming work. I will also assign a ranking to the author of how I currently regard them.
Shamelessly stolen from John Canton’s blog as well I will state whether or not I think the author’s work is on the up (u) or declining (d) or staying the same (-).
So without further a do I introduce part 1: Fantasy and Historical Fiction.
Joe Abercrombie (U): A
Total books read: 4 (The First Law Trilogy and Best Served Cold)
Total books written: 5
The Blade ItselfBefore They Are HangedLast Argument Of Kings
Joe Abercrombie exploded onto the scene in 2006 with, “the Blade Itself.” The book received highly favourable reviews and Joe was lauded as one of a few new wave exciting authors. Since then he has written a book a year with the exception of 2010 (Heroes was released at the start of 2011). His books are described as, “dark and gritty,” whatever that means, but the moniker fits perfectly.
Joe does the basics right and that is what I love about his writing. I love an author that tells a good story with excellent characters. I do not need to be bogged down in endless world building, or trying to work out what is happening (Hey Erikson, nice of you to pop in). Mystery is good, in fact there is nothing better than trying to second guess people’s actions but not when the mystery is, “what the hell is going on?”
Joe also comes across as a nice guy. His blog posts are good and he is quite active and witty on the forums. Whilst that is not a requirement for a good author, it certainly helps.
Best Served Cold
With each new book, Joe seems to be improving. Best Served Cold was his finest work so far that I have read. I can’t wait to read the Heroes but am restraining myself until his next book has a release date. From the sound of it (a fantasy book with a western feel) it seems Joe is going to keep on getting better.
Raymond E Feist (-): B –
Total books read: 6 (The Serpentwar saga and the first two in the Conclave of shadows trilogy)
Total books written: 28 (according to
Shadow of a Dark QueenRise of a Merchant PrinceRage of a Demon KingShards of a Broken Crown
I know, I know, how can I possibly talk about this guy having never read “the Magician?” A book that makes most people’s top 10 fantasy lists. What can I say? It’s my list, so there!
In truth, I am a little ashamed. On a whim many moons ago (see my affiliation with comics post), I decided to start reading a fantasy series. After some rushed research, Raymond E Feist was a name that occurred over and over again as a safe bet for a good story. The though of starting from the beginning was too daunting at the time and so I read the Serpentwar was as good a place as any to start.
I loved the series immediately. It was everything I was looking for in fantasy (at least at the time). Your typical “farm boy come good” story opening out into a sprawling epic encounter with evil. There was enough of a hint of intrigue to keep me interested. What I liked most about the series (although not at the time) was that each book concentrated on a different point of view. In the first book Erik was the main character and in the second, another character took centre stage (I won’t say who as I like to avoid even the must inane spoilers).
The Conclave of shadows series, has continued with much of the same quality. The books are a little shorter but no less enjoyable. In fact as I type this I am wondering why I have only read 6 of Raymond’s books!
Talon of the Silver HawkKing of Foxes
Raymond E Feist has released a book a year for getting on nearly 25 years with only a few exceptions. He is still hugely popular and his books are still well received, with only the odd book receiving less than favourable reviews. His next book, “The Crown Imperilled” is book 2 in the Chaos War saga and is due for a 2012 release.
Robin Hobb (-): A-
Total books read: 3 (The Farseer Trilogy)
Total books written: 15
Assassin's ApprenticeRoyal AssassinAssassin's Quest
Robin Hobb is an author I will definitely be reading a lot more of. I loved the Farseer Trilogy although I was disappointed with the ending and overall pacing of the third. It appeared far too rushed and left an unsatisfactory feeling to the series. Hence the A-  grade.
Overall though Robin gets characters like only a few other authors do. In Fitz she has created a complex but believable hero. Some say her books are too slow paced. With the exception of the aforementioned Assassin’s quest, I disagree. If ever there was a case to demonstrate the classic, “show don’t tell” adage then Hobb’s books should be the example. Book one, “Assassin’s apprentice” does an excellent job of building the tension and laying on the mysteries. Who is the Fool? Why is he helping Fitz? Is he helping Fitz. What has gone on in Chade’s past. So many questions are dangled before the reader but Hobb expertly reveals answers slowly and when you at least expect them.
I have also read the odd short story by Hobb. They have stood out in the collection as being one of the better stories.
A good friend has read the Liveship Traders and rated them even higher than the first trilogy so I can’t wait to get reading. The general feeling on the forums is that the first 3 trilogies are excellent and then the quality takes a dip, reviews on Amazon suggest this is not the case. Since I have not read them I have Robin’s progress as level for now.
Her next book is due out in April 2012 and will be the third in the Rainwild chronicles.
George R R Martin (U): A+
Total books read: 7 (5 = A Song of Ice and Fire, Fevre Dream and RRestrospective)
Total books written: 10
 A Game of ThronesA Clash of KingsA Storm of SwordsA Feast for CrowsA Dance with Dragons
There is only one other author I rate as highly as George at the moment and that is Robert McCammon. In a Song of Ice and Fire George has created a world and characters that cannot be surpassed in my opinion. Before I started reading the books if someone had asked me what would be the ideal fantasy story this would be it. It has everything: Great characters (and I mean great). Every one of the hundreds on display in Westeros feels real. George has the ability to turn a character you hate in one book into an understanding and sympathetic character you end up routing for in the next. The world he has built up is both believable yet removed from anything we know. The magic is hinted at but is far from dominant and the mystery and subtlety is second to none.
In addition to this series he has also written 3 novellas called the Dunk and Egg series. These easily match the quality of ASOIAF and add more depth to an already involved world.
However George was famous way before the ASOIAF series. As the founder of Wild cards and as a TV writer he had already acquired a modest recognition. Whilst I have not been inclined to get into the wildcard universe the few stories I have read by George in this area have been good. His RRetrospective book is a fantastic collection of stories that any author would be proud of. Most notably, the Skin Trade and Sandkings (which was an absolute favourite episode as a kid when I saw it on the twilight zone).
In Fevre Dream, George has managed to write the only vampire novel that I can say is truly excellent. A story that made me fall in love with the protagonists passion for steam boats as much as the threat of the vampires.
Fevre Dream
Much has been written about the amount of time it has taken George to write the last two books in the ASOIAF series, and with two more books (at least) still to come, the wait is agonising. Many have said he has lost his passion for the series or had writer’s block etc. However, when book 5, A Dance with Dragons was released earlier this year, personally, all that talk was kicked to the curb. Maybe the plot did not move forward as much as I would have liked, but the book was excellent.
When considering the success of the TV series as well (an excellent adaptation) then I can only award George an A + . The Winds of Winter is his next release. When who knows? But I can’t wait.
Bernard Cornwell (-): A
Total books read: 6 (The Warlord Chronicles, Sharpe’s Tiger, Sharpe’s Triumph and Sharpe’s Fortress)
Total books written: 50
The Winter King: A Novel of ArthurEnemy of GodExcalibur: A Novel of Arthur
As you can see, I have a long way to go to read all of Cornwell’s books. This is the author that got me into historical fiction. Before I had a strong prejudice against the genre, believing that if I wanted to know about the time period, I would just read the relevant history books. However, once I was tempted to read the Arthur books I never looked back. The Warlord Chronicles, for me, are the perfect trilogy of books. It is the best completed series I have read – David Gemmell’s Troy series is a close second. When you already have such a richness of characters to work with such as Arthur and Merlin it would be tempting to just write about them. However, Cornwell chooses to put his own stamp on the series. In Derfel Cornwell manages to create a character that stands strongly beside the well established characters in stature, whilst having fun playing with the popular perception of said characters traits. In short he takes the characters and the retelling of a well known story in his own unique direction.
Again, magic is hinted at but only that. This seems to be a key ingredient for the books I like. The ending of the trilogy is wrapped up neatly and not necessarily nicely. Cornwell has said himself this was his favourite series he has written and I can see why.
The Sharpe books are equally as entertaining. This is the series that started Cornwell on the way to superstardom. Although not as in depth as the Warlord Chronicles, these books are short, swift reads that do not disappoint. In Richard Sharpe Cornwell has created a figure that all the women love and all the men want to be. The series is so far 21 books long and fans are clamouring for more.
Sharpe's TigerSharpe's Triumph: Richard Sharpe and the Battle of Assaye September 1803Sharpe's Fortress
The latest series Cornwell is working on is the Saxon chronicles. They look at the life of Alfred the Great and are told from another character’s point of view as well. Fans agree that these books are almost on a par with the Warlord chronicles. The sixth book “Death of Kings” came out days ago and sees Cornwell consolidate his position as one of the planet’s top writers.
I mentioned how Joe Abercrombie is interactive with the fans. Cornwell is more so. If you visit his homepage and go the questions section, you will see Cornwell tirelessly answer fans questions. Even if the question has been asked for the hundredth time, Cornwell will answer it as if it was a fresh enquiry. That is the measure of the man.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Book Review:

The Basement - Stephen Leather
Product Details
This was actually labelled on Amazon as, The Basement: Serial killer thriller with a breathtaking twist. This kind of thing annoys me for two reasons:
1)    If you have written a book with a good twist why would you want to draw attention to the fact and have the reader second guessing the plot?
2)    I fall for it every time.
You see I like a good twist. Not many books blow me away with a twist at the end. Only Shutter Island by Dennis Lehane and one of the James Patterson Alex Cross books have ever really succeeded in fooling me.
The Basement was my first foray into Stephen Leather. An author I had heard of but never tried. This was a novella (coming in around 160 pages) that had been getting good reviews on Amazon.
The story focuses on two POV. The first is of an arrogant failed writer and prime suspect Marvin Waller. The second told mostly in second person of the “killer.” The two work well together. The writer has an extremely high IQ and is intensely annoying but at the same time great to read. Throughout the book he shares numerous ideas of storylines he is thinking off. Most are actually quite good and it is this that has made me want to read more from Mr Leather.
The story that follows is an intriguing tale of one-upmanship. As Marvin goes out of his way to annoy the two detectives investigating the latest girl that has gone missing. Marvin is amusing but you really feel for the detectives too as he constantly delays their enquiries with semantics.
Some reviewers has complained about the second POV – that of the serial killer. All of the killer’s scenes take place in the Basement as the killer watches and messes with the girl. Said reviewers say these scenes are too graphic. I don’t agree. They are not anything that has appeared in countless other thrillers I have read and the description always stops before the killer goes too far.
The twist when it happens, totally fooled me. I liked it even if it didn’t necessarily make sense. I would have to re-read the book to say for sure though.
One thing I didn’t like (and this is unrelated to the story) is that on Amazon Stephen Leather felt compelled to respond to the 1 star reviews. Initially, he is really childish and for every one star review he posts a 5 star review in the comment section. This almost turned me off him, but having delved deeper into the reviews, when the first 1 star reviews appeared, he does try to respond to the criticism in a constructive way and explain what he was trying to do. I guess he just got frustrated and let his guard down. Still I think it harmed his reputation rather then enhanced it.
Overall then, I enjoyed this story a lot and have already downloaded the first in his main series.
My Rating: 8.4

Friday, October 7, 2011

Some changes:

For those logging in today, you may have noticed some changes to the blog. Lately, I have taken a little more care in reviewing the books I have read, spending more time to describe what I liked and disliked about the work as opposed to just giving my initial thoughts.

As a result, I have decided to review each book as I read them rather than clump them all together at the end of the month. This not only stops me having to struggle to remember what I have read but also makes the blog more interesting as it will be worth viewing it every couple of days rather than once a month.

I have also set up a review index of the books I have reviewed so far. Again the standard of the books I reviewed recently are far superiour to my earlier half hearted efforts. So if you click on a link for George R R Martins - A Clash of Kings and think the review is crap, it is because it is. I have only included the early rubbish reviews if they are part of a series I will be reading. Also, all of the books in the index so far are linked to the blog post I reviewed them. So the link to Wilbur Smith's - A Seventh Scroll will take you to the September reviews and you will have to scroll down 7 reviews before you reach it. At present I can't see anyway to change this (that won't involve starting the blog from scratch), so please forgive me and enjoy.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

September reviews:

I have been on a roll of good books recently. Before this month 4 out of the previous 5 books I rated 8.9 or more. Will the trend continue?

The Burning Soul – John Connolly.
Product Details
I rate Mr Connolly highly, very highly in fact. Still it is not until I have one of his new books in my hands that I realise why I rate him so much. Charlie Parker is an excellent character. The typical anti hero but with a darker side.
With “The burning soul,” Parker finds himself taking on an investigation of a guy he doesn’t particularly like due to a subject matter that is close to his heart. The thing I like most about Connolly’s writing is unlike your typical series where the main character always solves the problems and they can become a tad formulaic, Parker doesn’t necessarily solve everything himself. He influences the story but does not have to be the hero in every aspect of the tale.
The focus of the story is on a missing girl and how a small town of Pastor Bay deals with the investigation. Parker’s own investigation is loosely tied to the girl’s disappearance but it is not clear throughout how directly the two are linked. Connolly skilfully weaves a plot of twists and turns that leaves you guessing. Is Parker’s client all he makes out to be? Is he a victim of his past? The great thing about this book is that you just don’t know until the end.
The residents of Pastor Bay are brilliantly drawn. All have their own motives and history. Add in Connolly’s wonderful descriptions, Parker’s usual wit, a touch of the supernatural, Angel, Louis and the Fulcis brothers then you know full well you are in for a treat. My rating 9.3
Sharpe’s Fortress – Bernard Cornwell.
 Product Details
I was advised to read book 3 in the Sharpe’s series quickly after the second as it carries on and concludes Sharpe’s business in India. I was pleased it did. Whilst it followed on it wasn’t necessarily to read it so quickly afterwards. What it was however, was a big step up from book 2. I liked Sharpe’s Triumph but did not think it was up to the standard of the first book in the series. I’m pleased to say Sharpe’s Fortress is the best of the three.
In this book, Sharpe struggles with his new post as an Ensign. Despite wanting to be an Officer all his life, he finds it difficult to not be involved in the action and discovers that most of his fellow officers reject him on the grounds that he is not made from proper stock.
The difference between this book and the Sharpe’s Triumph is the Sharpe is far more involved in this book. In Sharpe’s Triumph, although the book focused on him, a lot of the story and the significant events passed him by and he was almost a bystander. With Sharpe’s Fortress he is fully immersed in the action. His character comes to the front and boy is he dam one likeable guy.
I assume anyone reading this review would have read the previous books in the series but if not be warned of spoilers.
Hakeswill once again returns. Sharpe did not learn his lesson the first time by leaving a tiger to finish him off and now it appears leaving him to an elephant didn’t work either. Not that I mind, he is a good character to have around. It says so in the scriptures.
Wellesley is also present and once again is intriguing. Here he is uncomfortable with the fact that Sharpe saved his life. He recognises that he should be thankful to him but is not sure how he feels towards Sharpe. It makes for an interesting dynamic between the two.
The actual story focuses on how to penetrate the unconquerable fortress of Gawilgur. However, again unlike the previous book there is more to the story. The battle of the fortress only appears towards the end of the novel, whilst the rest centres around developing Sharpe’s character. I hope this is the route that Cornwell takes with the rest of the series as it certainly works in my book. My rating 9.3
MEG: Origins – Steve Alten
Product Details
Is the first of two short stories I read this month offered free on the Kindle. I am a big fan of the MEG series. Ever since I watched Jaws, I wanted to read a book with a similar subject matter that was half decent. The MEG series is certainly that. It is sort of Jaws meets a James Rollin novel, which is always a good thing in my book.
This book is a prequel to the series and expands on a backstory briefly mentioned in the first MEG book. It is a bit of treat for the fans of the series as it explains an incident that has been referred to Jonas’s past. However, it also serves as a nice taster for new fans.
Steve Alten has also enlisted his artist friend Erik Hollander to draw a nice picture at the start of each chapter. This is an excellent addition to the story and one I hope is adopted by all books in the future.
Basically if you like the series, it is definitely worth checking out. My rating: 8.2
Freaks – Tess Gerritsen
Product Details
This short story couldn’t have been more than 20 odd pages long. It is a nice, almost tongue in check tale that involves Gerritsen’s two main characters Jane Rizzoli and Maura Isles.
The story centres around a dead girl and the boy found next to her who believes he is a vampire. There is not too much that can be said other than it brought a smile to my face. My Rating: 6.5
Kill Alex Cross – James Patterson
Product Details
As a long time reader of the Alex Cross series it is fair to say it has had its ups and downs. I have long thought it has been crying out for a change in dynamic in the set up of Alex’s life. Not his love life as that has been done before, but maybe his family life.
In Kill Alex Cross, James Patterson finally does that to a degree and it is by far the most refreshing thing in the novel. That is not to say that this is a bad entry into the series. Far from it, it is actually one of the stronger ones recently.
The premise of the President’s children going missing and Alex being kept out of the loop is also a welcome set up. We have got so use to Alex being the all powerful “go to” guy that is nice to experience his frustration at suddenly being left out in the cold. This is what the series needed – character development. Inevitably Alex still becomes the “go to” guy but at least for a while things change.
The majority of the book sees Alex reacting to the terrible events that are occurring in Washington rather than having any influence on them. This is again nice to see. Alex is suddenly degraded in the reader’s eye and we realise he is not such a big fish.
Unfortunately, all of the other characters are as stale as ever. The villains being so one dimensional a plank of wood could have taken their place. The thing I have noticed with James Patterson’s books is that with the exception of Gary Soneji, every one of his villain’s could be lifted out of one book and placed in the next and the reader would not notice.
Having said that, I really enjoyed this entry. Dare I say it, but it seems as if Mr Patterson is slowly listening to his fans and there are signs of improvement in his work. My rating: 8
Something wicked this way comes – Ray Bradbury
Product Details
I have been waiting to read this book for a while. Ray Bradbury is an author that both Stephen King and George R R Martin rate highly and when your favourite authors rate someone and say they were inspired by them, you have to check them out in my experience.
This book also has the added bonus of being about a Carnivale. A subject I am really into having started the HBO series recently. So with high expectations did this book live up to the praise? Overall yes, but not entirely.
I found the prose in first quarter of the book (it is only short at 220 pages) quite clunky if I’m honest. It was intriguing but at the same time awkward. It is not until the Carnivale turns up that the book really takes off.
There are so many cool things in this book and some genuinely horrifying. The two boys who are the centre of attention really struggle between their curiosity and all out terror. Will is the more reluctant and cautious of the two and is probably the one who the reader can identify the most with. His complex relationship with his father is nicely handled, especially the dynamic between Will’s enthusiasm and his father’s regret over lost youth.
And then there is Mr Dark, a magnificent villain if ever there was one. He epitomises everything a villain should be. Sinister, yet charming. He makes people do things that they don’t know what they are doing. A splendid character and one I wish I could read more about.
The end comes a little to early for my liking but is satisfying. All in all a pleasing read. My Rating: 8.7
The Seventh Scroll – Wilbur Smith.
Product Details
I read River God (the first in the series) way back in 2007. Read it and loved it. At the time I had never read anything like it, especially dealing with ancient Egypt, which was surprising considering how much I like that period in history.
I went out and bought the next in the series immediately but have only now read it. Why the break? I guess I was put off by the fact that the Seventh Scroll takes place in modern day and so I couldn’t get my head around the fact it was meant to be a sequel.
I shouldn’t have worried. Yes, it takes place in modern day but in a clever way. The plot of the story involves the  young woman Royan and the struggling millionaire Nicholas. Royan has been working on 10 scrolls they have discovered written by Taita (the protagonist from River God) and through a series of events set off to find the hidden tomb of Tanus described in the mysterious Seventh Scroll.
At its heart, the Seventh Scroll is essentially an action adventure story. Indiana Jones fans may feel at home with the story. Where it sets itself apart from other action stories like those written by James Rollins and Matthew Reilly is that it takes its time. The action occurs but intermittingly. It is always well described and as seems to be the norm for action books, often unrealistic (hey surfing on a burst river, how are you doing?)
The characters are well drawn and fleshed out where they need to be. Nicholas is a mixture of loveable rogue and trying to be the nice guy. Royan is the classic grieving widow who really has now been set free to discover herself again. Whilst these character traits are nothing new, Wilbur Smith injects just enough of a twist in their actions to set them apart from what we’ve seen before. The villains are rather stereotypical and motivated by greed but I think it suits this genre. The dialogue is a bit old school. Expect lots of, “sorry old chap,” “Gosh you rascal’s” in there. I was waiting for the, “Tally-ho” to crop up!
The real forte of the novel belongs in the descriptions of the various locations. Having never been to any of the locations I can’t say for sure that Wilbur Smith has captured the atmosphere of the places he depicts, but he must certainly come close. His description of the tomb when it is uncovered certainly gives a sense of awe the reader expects.
If there is a downside, it is a personal preference. I loath it when a book or show breaks the fourth wall. Stephen King did it in the Dark Tower and I hated it. The only show that has done it successfully has been the TV series Supernatural (who are also the only series that handles time travel well but I digress). Wilbur Smith does it in this book and although it is understated and did not overly bother me, I would have preferred the book without it.
The Seventh Scroll then, is an excellent book, thoroughly enjoyable and an engaging read. It leaves me scratching my head as to why I haven’t checked our more of Smith’s books. It certainly won’t be another 4 years before I read the next in the series. My rating: 9.2
 Next month I will be trying only new authors. Should be interesting.