Friday, January 31, 2014

Book Review - Alex Cross, Run

Alex Cross, Run – James Patterson
They say every author has a dip in form. Stephen King apparently had it just after his car accident (although I cannot testify to that), Patricia Cornwell is said to have had a major dip and hasn’t recovered from it (again I can’t really comment on it). What I tend to find is that a lot of the time, these apparent “dips” occur part of the problem is the reader finding an author they like and then only reading that author until they become bored of his or hers style and no longer excited about them.
With me that was very much the case with James Patterson’s “Alex Cross series.” I loved Cross but around the 9th or 10th entry in the series, I really noticed a drop in quality. I decided to take a break from Patterson’s book and broaden my horizons. It worked wonders. Although I bought this book the day it came out, I have sat on it a year, until I was ready to embrace it.
The blurb:
Detective Alex Cross arrests renowned plastic surgeon Elijah Creem for sleeping with teenage girls. Now, his life ruined, Creem is out of jail, and he's made sure that no one will recognize him--by giving himself a new face.

A young woman is found hanging from a sixth-floor window, and Alex is called to the scene. The victim recently gave birth, but the baby is nowhere to be found. Before Alex can begin searching for the missing newborn and killer, he's called to investigate a second crime. All of Washington, D.C., is in a panic, and when a third body is discovered, rumours of three serial killers send the city into an all-out frenzy.

Alex's investigations are going nowhere, and he's too focused on the cases to notice that someone has been watching him--and will stop at nothing until he's dead. With white-hot speed, relentless drama, and hairpin turns, FREE ALEX CROSS is James Patterson's ultimate thrill ride.
The 19th entry into the series is one of the best. James Patterson has got the series back to its riveting self. In the past I have lamented that the villains became way to over the top and cartoonish, whilst Cross became too untouchable and his family life too sickly to read.
The last few entries have restored the balance of all of the above issues and made the series interesting again.
In this novel, Alex has to contend with not one but three serial killer cases. As a premise this had me groaning as I assumed the novel would rely on just raising the stakes in the cheapest way possible.
It doesn’t. The serial killers from part of the story but they are not its main focus. The nucleus of the plot involves a reporter that targets Alex Cross personally and sets out to besmirch his good reputation. Ironically, after all the psychopaths “the Dragonslayer” has faced, it is this man that is able to get under Alex’s skin the most.
It makes for great reading. We see Alex struggle to handle the situation with no contact in the bureau to help him out. Alex for the first time in a long while is not just put in danger, but is fallible. He doesn’t have all the answers and makes the wrong choices.
I mentioned in my review of the last book how it was great to have Ava on board as a character. Ava acted as the perfect foil to the idyllic Cross family set up and here this continues. Alex struggles to connect with the girl despite his best attempts and there is no quick win in sight for the situation which is nice to see.
It is also nice to see Sampson, Alex’s former partner and close friend have a larger role in the book. Sampson has been greatly missed in this series as he has been relegated to more of a background role.
The plot in short is excellent. With the focus more on the characters rather than the waiver thin villains, the book benefits greatly. However, the killers in “Run, Alex Cross” are an improvement of the killers of the past. It is also nice to see the pressure that the NYPD come under from the public office. These are all good little touches which help make the novel more rounded and substantial.
Overall, this is Patterson back near his best. His style has moved on from, “Along came the spider” and “Kiss the girls,” and once you accept James Patterson has evolved, you begin to really appreciate his return to form.
My rating: 9.0

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Book Review - Jingo (JS)

Jingo: A Discworld Novel by Terry Pratchett
Having read recently books about death, war, violence etc, I decided that I needed to read something a bit more light hearted. Although I have read and reread this book many times before, I decided another visit to the Disc World was long overdue, and anyway, reading one of these books is a good way to get a space to yourself on a tram, as sniggering soon causes an empty space to form around you. So I chose this one, a book about war.
This is the description:
DISCWORLD GOES TO WAR, WITH ARMIES OF SARDINES, WARRIORS, FISHERMEN, SQUID AND AT LEAST ONE VERY CAMP FOLLOWER. As two armies march, Commander Vimes of Ankh-Morpork City Watch faces unpleasant foes who are out to get him... and that's just the people on his side. The enemy might be even worse.
As I have mentioned before when reviewing the disc world novels, Vimes, Is my favourite character. There is something about him that I always enjoy reading, he is sarcastic, cynical and hates authority, so as you can see there is not much not to like about him. 
In this book, Ankh Morpork faces the possibility of war, a mysterious island has appeared and the city wishes to claim it as their own. Unfortunately Al-Khali, capital of Klatch, Ankh Morpork's old adversary, also wants it. So despite the Patrician pointing out to the cities Ruling council, that they have no standing army, it seems that nothing will stop a war.
Things are made worse by an attack on a diplomatic mission sent by Klatch, and conspiracy theories abound. Soon Sam Vimes is caught between staying and defending Ankh Morpork or finding out the truth.
Yes I know that dosen’t sound like the funniest thing that you have read, but trust me this is war Discworld style. Prachett as ever takes our history and understandings of things and turns them on their head, the one arrow assassination attempt will remind you of something for a start.
Vimes in this book is trying not to go along with the war propaganda, he does not want to be classed as racist and believe the worst of the enemy: It was so much easier to blame it on Them. It was bleakly depressing to think that They were Us. If it was Them, then nothing was anyone's fault. If it was us, what did that make Me?
Vetinari is as sneaky as ever in this novel and the description of him in Klatch with Colon and Nobby is just brilliant. I defy people not to laugh as they read about the donkey and the image of Nobby in womens clothes!
All the old favourites of the Watch is here, Carrot, Angua, Reg the Zombie and it is great to see the change in the troll Detritus when the temperature drops in the desert. There is also a good new character in 71- hour Ahmed, and no I will not explain his name. There is also a clever sub plot where Vimes is given the opportunity to hear what would have happened if he had not acted as a policeman and given chase.
So this is a book about war, but a different one, a book that I would encourage everyone to read, even if they were new to the Discworld. Yes I know that I am prejudiced, I already know this book and like it, and some people may have looked at say 'the Colour of Magic' and thought this was not a series for them. Trust me, these books have moved on a lot from that novel, so I would really recommend that you give the Discworld a go.
10 out of 10

Friday, January 24, 2014

Book Review - Shadow's edge

Shadow’s Edge – Brent Weeks
Anyone that read my review of Brent Week’s debut novel in the Night Angel trilogy will know that I did not get on with it. I found some of the dialogue so amateurish that I couldn’t believe an author had actually written it. I also knew I was in the minority.
You always hear of readers who laugh out loud at books, or openly cry at certain scenes, I have read some great books in my life, but none have ever made me cry and very few have made me laugh out loud. There was one scene in particular in Brent Week’s first book though that made me put the book down in disgust at the writing.
I try not to judge an author based on one book and I know how hard it is to not only write a novel but to put it out there to be judged by others but I did make a vow not to continue with the rest of the series.
A strange thing happened though. My brother in law read the book (we share very similar tastes) and hated the book with a passion. I however, found myself defending it. I began pointing out parts that I thought were actually very good. 
As time went on, these scenes stayed with me, more than some other books that I regarded quite highly. It got to the point where I decided Brent Weeks decided another chance.
So after a very long winded introduction:
The blurb:
Kylar Stern has rejected the assassin's life. The Godking's successful coup has left Kylar's master, Durzo, and his best friend, Logan, dead. He is starting over: new city, new friends, and new profession.

But when he learns that Logan might actually be alive and in hiding, Kylar is faced with an agonizing choice: will he give up the way of shadows forever and live in peace with his new family, or will he risk everything by taking on the ultimate hit?
I am so pleased I gave Brent Weeks another try. Everything I hated about the first book had been eliminated (well almost) and everything I loved there was more of. What is more surprising is that Brent released his trilogy back to back over a period of three months. He did not have time to react to public feedback, but instinctively seems to have written a better book.
Kylar is a lot more rounded as a character. He struggles to leave his violent life behind and lead the life he thinks he wants to lead. However, it soon becomes apparent he is not happy doing that. Weeks handles the angst Kylar feels well. The conflict is realistic and the journey Kylar undergoes in accepting who his inner self, is believable.
It is not perfect however, the whole frustration Kylar feels at the lack of intimacy with Elene is sometimes clunky. It can read like a teenager’s diary in places but overall the situation is well thought out and reasoned well. Elene herself is a bit weak as a character. Yes she takes the initiative and tries to take control of her destiny, but you never really take her seriously.
Kylar is immortal and this also has his drawbacks. There is nothing worse than seeing someone die and then never known if they are really dead. It spoils all emotional impact of their death and becomes more of an eye roll than anything.
Logan Gyre however is a fantastic character. The early scenes with him in Hell’s Arsehole are terrific. Weeks captures the despair and misery of the hole perfectly, whilst also creating a truly memorable cast of characters for Logan to interact with. It is these scenes that are the strongest in the novel by a long way.
Vi is also a character that develops in this book. Vi wrestles with the path she has chosen and one that has been chosen for her by the God King. Out of everyone in the story, Vi is perhaps the most complex and well drawn. She has the typical hard exterior that dominate how others view her, but gradually Weeks peels back layers to her character that make her more sympathetic. Her interactions with Kylar are also a high point.
The God King is a little cartoonish as a villain. For some reason many dislike this these days preferring to have “real” villains that have logical motivations, but I like it. Sometimes you want your villain to be evil for the sake of being evil.
The plot is rather simple but unravels at a nice even pace. The reluctant hero being forced into action one more time is certainly nothing new, but Kylar’s resistance is not out of stubbornness, he wants to go back to his old life but tries to fight that desire. Around him the other parties gather together and scheme but despite the multiple viewpoints, this is really Kylar’s story.
The ending whilst satisfying for the most part, also felt a little rushed in others. The main story was concluded nicely, but Weeks used a long epilogue to wrap up some sort of resolution for all of the other characters, before leaving it on a nice cliff hanger.
Overall, I was very impressed with the second entry in the Night Angel series. I was definitely pleased I gave it a chance.
My rating: 8.7

Monday, January 20, 2014

Book Review - The River ofFire (JS)

The River of Fire (Tom Pascoe 2) by Patrick Easter

Having read book 1 so recently, I was going to wait before moving on to the next in the series, well that was the plan anyway. However, anyone who has read my reviews before, knows that I am terrible at waiting when I have the next book in the series burning a hole in my book shelf.

This is the description:

River Surveyor Tom Pascoe of the Marine Police finds the bodies of two men entombed in the crew cabin of a sunken lugger. Suspicion falls on a third member of the crew seen fleeing the scene. He had a known motive for murder. Against the background of a nation at war with Napoleon, Tom Pascoe finds his own life under threat as he digs deeper into the case. He uncovers the existence of French agents whose task is to undermine England's ability to continue the war. Tom's job is further complicated by the presence of a new member of the police crew with a shocking secret of his own...

This book starts  a few months after the end of Book 1 and sees Tom Pascoe now a well known figure in London, comfortable in his role as a River surveyor with Sam Hart now his confirmed right hand man.

He is called to the scene of a sunken ship, holed deliberately and left to sink with two crew members locked in their cabin. A rumour soon spreads that a third injured man was seen leaving the scene, and the hunt is on to find him. Talk of two men seen trying to find this crewman also surface and Tom realises that these are the bigger threat not only to this crewman but to London and it’s commerce as a whole.

My main complaint about the first book was that the characters were wooden and that at some points, the writing turned quite factual which did spoil the story slightly. 

These faults were corrected as I hoped they would be, although Pascoe is still being built as character, he is much stronger in this tale, more rounded with a history of his own. The characters around him are more two-dimensional as well; Sam Hart seems much more real, and stands out as someone in his own right rather than just a name. Along with the sub plot of Pascoe’s relationship with the nurse at the hospital, you have the added story line of his crewmember Ruxley.

The men that Pascoe meets in the course of the investigation are described well and again they add detail and depth to the story. I really liked the description of Pascoe’s journey to Hastings and the surrounding area, knowing that area quite well, it is interesting to read how it was then and how complicated and uncomfortable the journey must have been.
There is much violence in this story, the main culprit of which is one of the French agents Dubois, who is an old enemy of Pascoe. The story line is well thought out and you are hooked from chapter to chapter waiting to see what happens next as the pace of the writing is fast and full of chases so is exciting to read.

As you can by this positive review, this book is a vast improvement on the last, and promises excellent things for the next, which yes is also sitting on my shelf.

9 out of 10

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Book Review - Dangerous Women

Dangerous Women – Various

I usually read a compilation over the Christmas period. Picking up and reading a short story in between the multitude of guest, days out and eating and drinking is a darn sight easier than trying to read a book. This year I was extremely excited to read Dangerous Women for a couple of reasons.

Firstly it contained a story by GRRM set in Westeros, anything set in this world is a massive must for me. Secondly, there were a couple of authors who have contributed stories, who I have wanted to read for a long time i.e Brandon Sanderson and Sam Sykes. Finally Joe Abercrombie... need I say more?

The blurb:

"Here you'll find no hapless victims who stand by whimpering in dread while the male hero fights the monster or clashes swords with the villain, and if you want to tie these women to the railroad tracks, you'll find you have a real fight on your hands.  Instead, you will find sword-wielding women warriors, intrepid women fighter pilots and far-ranging spacewomen, deadly female serial killers, formidable female superheroes, sly and seductive femmes fatale, female wizards, hard-living Bad Girls, female bandits and rebels, embattled survivors in Post-Apocalyptic futures, female Private Investigators, stern female hanging judges, haughty queens who rule nations and whose jealousies and ambitions send thousands to grisly deaths, daring dragonriders, and many more."

It is very rare for a compilation to contain a collection of excellent stories and Dangerous Women is no exception. The quality of stories here tend to range for the very good to the reasonable. It is by no means the strongest collection I have read, but there is the odd little gem. After a strong start the quality definitely takes a dip in the second half of the book.

The Excellent:

Jim Butcher - Bombshells

Despite the massive spoiler contained in the story for those of us that have not read all of the Dresden Files. This is a very good story containing a character I had not yet encountered. Molly is naive but competent, she is witty and the situation she is involved in is great. 9/10

Joe Lansdale - Wrestling Jesus

It is criminal I have not read Joe R Lansdale. Every short story I've read of his has been brilliant. This one is based on an old wrestler who mentors a victim of bullying. The old man had a tradition of wrestling an old foe every 5 years to win the favour of a woman. Great stuff and touching. 10/10

Brandon Sanderson - Shadows for silence in the forests of hell.

Great life story about the legend of Grey Fox. Who is really the patron of a homestead. She tries to collect a bounty but is betrayed and attacked by shades (ghosts). Good backstory of a hard-ass grandma. The most important thing here was that I loved Brandon’s writing.  9/10.

The following books I rated all 8 out of 10:

Some Desperado - Joe Abercrombie.
My heart is either broken - Megan Abbot.
Melinda Snodgrass - The hands that was not there.
Sharon Kay Penman - A queen in exile.

The above were all very good, the last three authors in particular I will be looking out for in future. All the other stories in the collection scored 6 or 7 with only. Only Sherrylin Kenyon’s story and S M Stirling scored lower than that. Sherrylin writes young adult fiction and her short ghost story really reads like one. It is a standard idea but needed to be fleshed out massively. It also seemed contrived just to deliver the last line. S M Stirling on the other hand just bored me to tears unfortunately.

It is worth mentioning Caroline Spector’s story here. I expected to hate her Wildcard story from the opening page, but ended up actually really enjoying it. I am not a fan of the wildcard stuff, or more it has never really captured my imagination. Caroline’s story has made me reconsider.

And that brings us on to the main event – George R R Martin’s “the princess and the queen.”

I loved GRRM's work. In my eyes the man can do little work. Whilst I would do anything to read the next instalment in his ASOIAF series the Dunk and Egg novellas have been worthy replacements. To say I was looking forward to this was an understatement.

Boy was I disappointed. Let me start of by saying that this has nothing to do with the quality of George's writing and everything with my expectations. I was expecting a novella like the aforementioned Dunk and Egg series. This is certainly not that. Instead this is an historical account of the war of the dragons. X kills Y which leads to Z joining the war who betrays A, B and C.

It is not that this isn't good material it is just that there are so many names and no emotional attachment to any of them that after a while it becomes boring. Dare I say it that the story struggled to retain my attention and was a bit of a chore. Instead I spent more time lamenting the fact that GRRM had not completed his series and started a new prequel series using this material.

It would be too harsh to say that the novel is not any good (I do struggle to see how those unfamiliar with George's world would understand what is going on though) but I was definitely looking for something different. 6/10

Overall, Dangerous Women is a mixture of quality: Some very good stories and others that it would not have harmed the novel if they weren’t included. The disappointment in the GRRM story does mar the book somewhat which is a shame.

My rating: 7/10

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Book Review - The Watermen (JS)

The Watermen - Patrick Easter

Review by Jacqui Slaney

Having enjoyed ‘The Ratcatcher’ series by James McGee and ‘The Last Days of Newgate’ series by Andrew Pepper, when I saw this novel in the bookshop I was browsing, I thought it sounded interesting enough to buy,

This is the description:

In the dark and slimy streets of Wapping a prostitute is beaten half to death, a not uncommon fate in late 18th century London.  So begins this gripping tale set in 1798 in the Port of London: a cruel villain holds sway over the underworld. His name is Boylin. His face is scarred by lime and his back by the two hundred lashes he received following a naval court martial. He holds Captain Tom Pascoe responsible for his suffering. They meet again when Pascoe becomes River Surveyor for the newly formed marine police. They have had orders to investigate a sudden fall in government revenue that is affecting the nation's ability to fight the war against Napoleon and stem the rising tide of Irish rebellion. Pascoe knows that Boylin is behind it, but he cannot prove anything, yet. THE WATERMEN follows these two adversaries across London as they try to outwit one another. Working alongside Pascoe is Sam Hart, a Jewish immigrant with his own agenda; Pascoe throws the rulebook out the window, scouring East London and the docklands in search of information. However, fate takes a cruel twist when the two men find themselves involved with the same woman - there is much more at stake than the fate of the nation.

This is the writer’s first novel, which at times is obvious, especially at the beginning. The characters started with being wooden and a bit stilted in their actions and speech and some of the descriptions are slightly overlong.

Tom Pascoe loses his ships command through no fault of his own and ends up being employed by the new marine police branch, he forces his employer to take on Sam Hart as well, a man who helped him, and the pair of them becomes a good team, patrolling the River Thames. The new patrol  are soon tasked to find why so much cargo is going missing, and they are lead into a dark world full of violence, which is linked to both of their pasts.

The main character Pascoe is a little too good to be true, but I soon warmed to him as a character, he is interesting and has a good back story. I liked Sam as well; the hints about his mysterious past are good, although I must admit to working out what this was quite early on. Too be fair though this does not detract much from the story as there is plenty of action from the off, and the story is fast paced. The villain of the piece is Boylin, a real nasty bully, but who also comes across as some what as a coward at times, which is a bit odd.

The description of London sets the scene well, as you can almost smell the waterside areas and imagine the hospital.  There are complaints if you read some reviews that some parts of the novel are not historically accurate. Well speaking as someone who enjoyed the book, I did not find that this distracted from the story at all, and if I had wanted to read an accurate account of the time, I would have chosen a factual book rather than one that is fiction.

Overall I did enjoy the story and will be definitely reading book 2, yes the writing was at times a little naive, but this is a first book and things can only get better.

7 out of 10

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Book Review - The Snow Child

The Snow Child – Eowyn Ivey    

I discovered this book by randomly browsing through the Kindle bestsellers. Every now and then, I fancy a different ride and this seemed to fit the bill nicely. The premise was intriguing and any book based on an accent fairy tale always grabs my interest.

The blurb:

Alaska, 1920: a brutal place to homestead, and especially tough for recent arrivals Jack and Mabel. Childless, they are drifting apart--he breaking under the weight of the work of the farm; she crumbling from loneliness and despair. In a moment of levity during the season's first snowfall, they build a child out of snow. The next morning the snow child is gone--but they glimpse a young, blonde-haired girl running through the trees.

This little girl, who calls herself Faina, seems to be a child of the woods. She hunts with a red fox at her side, skims lightly across the snow, and somehow survives alone in the Alaskan wilderness. As Jack and Mabel struggle to understand this child who could have stepped from the pages of a fairy tale, they come to love her as their own daughter. But in this beautiful, violent place things are rarely as they appear, and what they eventually learn about Faina will transform all of them.

I am firmly a “character” man. I need my books to have great characters to retain my interest, but sometimes I do appreciate expert descriptions. In the Snow Child, Eowyn Ivey has managed to convey the harsh Alaska setting perfectly. The sense of isolation and danger that the elements possess are really brought to life in colourful form. It may sound cliché but you can almost feel the cold, the frost and the silence.

Yet at the same time the book does not feel overly bleak. Ivey is careful to portray the beauty of the location and all it has to offer. Yes, there is the serious consequence of not having enough food stock piled for winter but there are also the breath taking scenery and the comfort of being cut off from everyone and being as one with nature.

Returning to the characters then, the story focuses on two protagonists: Mabel and Jack.
When we meet Mabel she is contemplating ending her life. Her and Jack have moved to Alaska to isolate themselves after they are unable to have children. The loss has struck them both hard and Alaska is their way to escape everything that reminds them of their former life.

Mabel is a good character. She is quite old fashioned in her conduct and appears fairly flakey as a character. However, she possesses an inner strength that becomes more evident as the story progresses.

Jack too is old fashioned. He is stoic and unable to express his emotions. This leads to difficulty in his relationship as Mabel often feels unsupported.
For the first part of the novel nothing much happens in regards of the plot. The introduction of the Snow Child then is most welcome. It changes the dynamic of the married couple and adds an intriguing mystery to the narrative.

The pacing of the mystery is handled perfectly. Ivey shows just enough of the Snow Child (Faina) to rouse suspicion but never confirms or denies who she really is until it is absolutely necessary. Alongside this, Ivey makes reference to the fairy tale the book is based on. It is a clever move as it leads the reader into thinking they know the direction of the plot.

The supporting cast is good but well realised with perhaps Ester being the strongest character in the book, think Kathy Bates in “Titantic” crossed with “Calamity Jane” and you are half way there. The other characters are solid although I would like to have seen the dynamic between Jack and Garrett explored further.

The ending is satisfying if a little disappointing. It was not so much a crescendo as more of a summary of what went on. I’d have preferred a more definitive ending that seemed inevitable.

Overall then, “The Snow Child” is a very good read. The prose is excellent and the characters are good. The plot could have been a little bit more intriguing. I am not a believer that action is essential in books but this novel could have certainly done with a bit more.

My rating: 7.4

Saturday, January 4, 2014

A year in review 2014

A year in review 2013:
This is the 4th year of doing this post and I love it each year. 2013 has been quite a year for me. In the summer I finally realised my dream and became a published author. The whole process was daunting and bloody hard work but well worth it.
Ritual of the Stones performed better than I expected it too for a first book by an unknown author and has encouraged me stick with this writing lark. On Amazon I have received a couple of cracking reviews and even the three star review (the lowest so far), was highly praised the book.
The year also saw me commit to releasing Pewtory the Lesser Bard on a weekly basis, which was an added pressure I did not need. This was snapped up by after the first week. I originally intended for this to only run for around 6-8 weeks but it is not on week 21 and going strong.  I know I have been slack posting it on here, so I will look to make amends for that in future.
Speaking of this site, it continues to grow in readership which is amazing and Jacqui and I would like to thank you all for your support. Lately, I have made the decision to put my writing first before the reviews, which is how it should be, but I am still managing to keep on top of it all – somehow!
In regards to my writing: I had a small break over the Christmas period but I am back to writing each day. NaNoWriMo was a fantastic achievement and I am looking to do something similar to get the first draft of the second book completed by the end of February (162,000 words so far if you are interested).
The aim is to release both Pewtory the Lesser Bard and the sequel to Ritual of the Stones this year (it has a name now but I am not willing to divulge it just yet).
So enough rambling. Let’s get on with what you really came here for the awards!!! Actually before I hand out any awards some brief stats for you on my reading habits in 2013.
Total books read = 53
Most read genre = Fantasy (15 books not including re-reads).
Most read authors:
Stephen King = 3 books
Scott Lynch = 3 books (including re-reads)
Mark Billingham = 2 books
Linwood Barclay = 2 books
Joe Hill = 2 books.
53 books is quite impressive considering I devoted so much more of my time to writing this year. Stephen King once again tops the most read author chart, but I am surprised that I have read only one book from my other favourite authors: Robert McCammon, Bernard Cornwell and John Connolly. Even more surprising is that last year I raved about David Gemmell’s “Legend,” stating that I would be reading much more of him and yet I have not read a single book. Considering one reviewer compared my own work to Gemmell’s (completely flattered by the way), it is something I intend to rectify. 
I am pleased that I have caught up a bit with Mark Billingham though.
Anyway on to the ceremony. We start with the biggest prize. The countdown of my top 5 books from last year in order. And in 5th place....
5. Outlaw – Angus Donald.
Jacqui put me on to this one. I love Robin Hood and this book was a fantastic start to a new series about him. They feel very much like Cornwell’s warlord Chronicles, which is one of my favourites trilogies ever. Enough said really.
4. Wolf’s Hour – Robert McCammon.
The only book by Rick I have read this year and of course it made the list. Once again, Robert McCammon displays his diversity by writing an action / adventure novel and doing it in style.
3. Joyland – Stephen King
I read three novels from King this year. The two he released and the Shining.  To be honest, they could have all made the list. King is on fire right now, but Joyland was the perfect demonstration of how to write a dam good story. It is one of his shortest novels but still quite brilliant.
2. The Name of the Wind – Patrick Rothfuss
I finally got round to reading it! To be honest, I read Anthony Ryan’s, “Bloodsong” at the start of the year and loved it. Ryan’s work was compared so much to Rothfuss that I had to give this book a whirl. Of course I loved it and will soon read the sequel and join the masses in waiting for the third. A special mention to Ryan’s debut though, as it could easily have been on this list as well.
And the winner is....
1. The Kite Runner – Khaled Hosseini
I was aware of this book when it was first realised but put off by the women in the office saying it was a political story. It sounded drool to me. Years later, I apologise and confess I am the fool. This book should have been described as “to kill a mocking bird set in Afghanistan.” It is a triumph and one of my all time favourite stories.
Those were the top 5 books I enjoyed last year. You can click on the links on the right hand side to see my proper reviews of them. However, an awards ceremony would not be a ceremony with only one award and so...
Best new Series discovered:
The Painted Man – Peter V Brett.
Obviously I could have gone for a few of the books above that made my top 5 but I thought I would spread the awards around a bit. The Painted Man had a great concept and offered something different..
Best continuation of a series:
D I Thorne – Mark Billingham
I neglected this series for too long. This year I reminded myself why I loved Mark’s books.
Favourite scene from a book:
The description of Christmas Land in N0S4R2.
There were so many scenes I enjoyed this year: Stephen King’s reference to his son’s work in “Doctor Sleep”, the final fight scenes in Trudi Canavan’s, “The High Lord,” and the scenes in the shack in Adam Nevill’s, “The Ritual,” are a few that spring to mind. Joe Hill’s “Christmas Land,” though was just chilling. Hill took something so innocent and pure and turned it into something that was as creepy as hell.  In Charlie Manx he created one of the all time best villains.
Biggest surprise:
Ann Cleeves – Raven Black
I brought this book on a whim and it really impressed me. So much so that I immediately went out and brought the other books in the series.
Biggest disappointment:
Disturbia – Christopher Fowler
This book has been on my shelf for years. Every now and then I hear someone say how good it is and I grow tempted to read it. This year I succumbed. It is undeniably well written, but is flawed to pieces and too high brow for its own good.
Most anticipated book of 2014
River of Souls – Robert McCammon
Matthew Corbett is back this year. I can hardly wait.
Well that is it for the review of 2013. Look forward to doing the whole thing with you next year.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Book Review - Arthur Britannicus (JS)

Arthur Britannicus by Paul Bannister
Arthur Imperator

Review by Jacqui Slaney

I have always had an interest in stories about the Arthur legend, and have read countless versions, one of my favourites being the Warlord series by Bernard Cornwall. So when I saw this book and read that it was a tale of a Briton fighting for the Romans and calling himself Arthur, I could not resist.

This is the description:

Carausius is born into a savage life.
His father was a respected warrior chief, a leader of men.
But as a boy, Carausius witnesses his violent death.
As the boy grows into a man and then a soldier, he dedicates himself to the cause of Rome.
As a centurion in the Empire's mighty Army, he earns the respect of his men: soldiers who will fight, and die if necessary, at his command.
But, just like his father before him, he is surrounded by enemies - both within and without.
He must manoeuvre his way through battle, knowing who to trust and who to put to death; not easy when paranoia among the ruling elite is so rife.
Will Carausius emerge victorious where so many before him failed and earn the great title of all?
Or will he meet an early, violent death, as his father did before him.

The story starts with Carausius as a young boy as marauders attack his village, enslaving some and killing others including his father. Carausius escapes and with the help of a friend leaves Britain. When he is grown he enlists in the Roman army, as it seems the best chance of a life for him, he quickly becomes a good fighter and thanks to his skills quickly moves through the ranks.
At this stage, you would be forgiven for thinking this is just a book about a soldier in the Roman army, and to a certain extent, you would be right. There are hints though of a destiny hanging over this character, talk of a mysterious man who spoke to Carausius’s father who name is a version of Merlin, and he himself has ambition to be an emperor, and later gives himself the name Arthur.
Carausius is an interesting character, he is bloodthirsty and quite violent, but makes the story, which is good as many of the other characters are very one dimensional.  You do have quite an entertaining bad guy in Maximian a Roman general, who hates Carausius and wants to see him dead.
The writing style itself is a little hard to get into at first, with some occurrences being quite factual. These are detailed historically speaking, but lessens a readers enjoyment in a fictional story.
Once you get used to the style though, you do find yourself drawn into the story, the book is not too long, so it is not tedious and the pace is set to keep the readers interest, with enough action to make you read to the end.
Overall I enjoyed the book, and will be looking at book two, where hopefully, some of the minor complaints will have been smoothed out.

7 out of 10