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
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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
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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
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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
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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.