Friday, April 2, 2021

Book Review - Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo

Shadow and Bone - Leigh Bardugo

Very often I find people apologising for the books they read. It seems to become the vogue for people to make excuses as to why the read Harry Potter for example as if reading YA fiction is something to be ashamed of. 

Personally, if the story is good and the characters are enjoyable than that is all that matters. One of my sons has devoured Chris Colfer’s Land of Stories series. Wanting to discuss it with him, I have read the first three as well and have to say I’ve thoroughly enjoyed them. 

I was only vaguely aware of the Shadow and Bone series and it wasn’t until I saw the advert on Netflix for the forthcoming TV series that I got interested. I immediately downloaded the first book:

Here is the blurb:

Soldier. Summoner. Saint. Orphaned and expendable, Alina Starkov is a soldier who knows she may not survive her first trek across the Shadow Fold-a swath of unnatural darkness crawling with monsters. But when her regiment is attacked, Alina unleashes dormant magic not even she knew she possessed.
Now Alina will enter a lavish world of royalty and intrigue as she trains with the Grisha, her country’s magical military elite-and falls under the spell of their notorious leader, the Darkling. He believes Alina can summon a force capable of destroying the Shadow Fold and reuniting their war-ravaged country, but only if she can master her untamed gift.
As the threat to the kingdom mounts and Alina unlocks the secrets of her past, she will make a dangerous discovery that could threaten all she loves and the very future of a nation.
Welcome to Ravka . . . a world of science and superstition where nothing is what it seems.

I enjoyed this novel but wouldn’t say I loved it.  Alina is your classic protagonist that you will find in 90% of young adult fantasy novels (i.e. an orphan who is unaware of her powers) but that doesn’t matter as she is very likeable and it is a trope we all know and love. The problem I have with her is that she was a little passive. Things just seem to happen to Alina and well, she just lets them. She does undergo some personal growth as a character but there is no signs of this developing throughout the novel, it is more when she is forced into a corner that she stands up for herself.

The two other male characters I have mixed feelings about. The Darkling was initially intriguing but suddenly changes mid-way through the novel and then becomes a little too cartoonish as a villain. Mal on the other hand is a great character. The scenes he shares with Alina are well done and the dialogue between them is easy and feels natural. 

The setting is a little under explored but I really like it. The Grisha are intriguing as an elite fighting force and the Shadow Fold dominating the middle of the landscape with its grotesque monsters is a great idea. However, I very much got the sense that we were just given a taster of what is to come in the series, rather than having the world realised in great detail. 

The plot is simple. Alina is identified as having great power (Sun Summoner) and the Darkling wants it for himself whether for good or evil the reader is not sure about in the first half of the novel. Whilst the plot evolves around Alina and her attempts to control her power, I couldn’t help but think Mal’s offscreen journey was more interesting. In truth I would liked to have read about both. 

The majority of the story unfortunately involves the pettiness of other characters. There is the token mean girl in Zoya which really does highlight how this is intended to be a YA novel. I would have much preferred the attention to be on Alina being more proactive in exploring and discovering things for herself.

As I said at the start, overall I enjoyed the novel rather than loved it. There were things I would have liked to have seen expanded on and characters fleshed out, but as an opening novel it is decent and I will be checking out the second novel.

My rating 8.1

Friday, March 19, 2021

Book Review - Target: Alex Cross (RD)

 Target - Alex Cross by James Patterson

Of all the many, many authors I read there's one author I always return to for a nice, quick easy read that brings me comfort. That author is of course, James Patterson. Over the years James Patterson has assembled a stable of authors and has steadily increased the number of books he releases year upon year. He is currently averaging over a book a month. I know many casual readers that read his books exclusively. I am not one of these people obviously as I tend to find the quality of the books he co-authors with others are a bit of a mixed bag. I tend therefore, just a stick to his Alex Cross series which James writes exclusively by himself.

Target: Alex Cross is the 26th novel in a series which has mostly been excellent. The books are very different from when they began with Alex cross as a detective hunting down the likes of Gary Soneji with his partner John Sampson. These changes have been organic but not always for the better.

At one point I thought James Patterson had written himself into a corner as Alex Cross solved more and more cases as a detective and got promotion after promotion. Consequently he was given more high-profile cases until he was dealing with terrorists and presidents. Thankfully, James Patterson readdressed this balance and the last few novels have concentrated on more intimate cases and have been all the better for it.

In this novel however he does indeed deal with an incident involving the President, here is the blurb.


Alex Cross and his family join men and women from across the nation lining the streets of Washington, DC to mourn the unexpected death of the President.


With the country still in shock, the assassination of a prominent Senator strikes another devastating blow to the heart of the nation's capital. As Chief of Detectives, Alex's wife Bree Stone faces an ultimatum: solve the case, or lose her job.


The new President calls on Cross to lead an unparalleled FBI investigation to help capture America's most wanted criminal. But what follows will plunge the country into chaos, and draw Cross into the most important case of his life.

The Review:

I mentioned I wasn’t a fan of the books where they got too high profile because I always thought they were a little outlandish. However, I thoroughly enjoyed this novel. Alex Cross’s children have all grown up and have lives of their own. I find this fascinating because as a loyal reader I have seen them grow up and personally have grown up with them.

The plot focuses on a series of assassinations to high ranking political figures including an attempted assassination of the President of the United States. Alex is drafted in to be a consultant on finding who is responsible for such heinous crimes, whilst his wife Bree is under extreme pressure from her boss as to why she has not done more in solving the murders. Running alongside this is a subplot where Alex has a patient in his role as a psychologist in dealing with a woman who cannot experience love.

The three plot threads are fascinating. Whilst Alex uses his experience and genius to help solve clues, he is far more fallible than normal, he misses things because he tries to juggle too much and he makes mistakes because he's tired and cares too much, basically he is human and that is great to see.

Unfortunately, the plot thread that I found the most interesting i.e. the one involving the patient is the one that is unexplored the most. Going forward, I would like to see Alex involved in a story where one of his patients is a criminal mastermind trying to outwit Alex Cross. I always think that he is at his best when he's up against the workings of a genius.

Bree struggles in her role and it is struggle mainly because she is living in the shadow of her husband and his reputation. This is a fascinating element to their relationship and one I would like to see explored further. Unfortunately, being James Patterson, the resolution is a little trite. There is no resentment on Bree’s part as she struggles to compete with Alex’s legend which is a shame. It would be good to see the strain it puts on their marriage and how much the case affected their relationship.

As usual we are always treated to the minds of the killer in short chapters. Some people love this element to the books whilst other people think that it makes the killers a little too cartoonish. I fall somewhere in between the two. I think sometimes we are shown the killer doing malicious and malevolent things purely to ramp up the tension but after a while I don't think they serve much purpose and it doesn't really add to the growth of the villain or make for an interesting arc. At the same time I see why such chapters are necessary.

At 26 books in, I am more interested in the family life dramas. I liked reading about his eldest new girlfriend or how Jannie is doing in her track career. Little Alex is also progressing from an annoying kid to adding more to the story and then of course there is the evergreen Nana Mama who is the backbone to the Cross family life.

It is difficult to say to much about the antagonists in the story without giving any of the plot away but I found the whole scenario fascinating; especially the repercussions of the crimes. The ending of the novel was also unexpected and refreshing.

Overall, after such a long time out, I loved delving into the Alex Cross series again. It is always the perfect tonic when you finish reading an epic and fancy a quick read.

My rating: 8.3

Friday, March 12, 2021

The Crystal Spear

The Crystal Spear

 It's been a while! To be honest I was going to abandon this site, it is only because I have have recently also set up a sister site about working from home entitled the Working From Home Herald that I returned to this site. I was gobsmacked at the number of views the blog still got. Gobsmacked and completely humbled. 

It also made me realise that I miss reviewing books. I can't promise that I will review as frequently as before but I will definitely be posting again in the future. 

In the meantime what have I been up to?

Well I have started writing a brand new series called the Forbidden Weapon Saga. In October last year (2020) I realised the first novel in the series (The Crystal Spear). The early reviews were very favourable and I am well and truly engaged in drafting the sequel (40,000 words as of the time of writing which equates to roughly 175 pages)

You can check it out in th
e link above:

Here is the blurb:

The Crystal Spear is a weapon so powerful that legends tell of how any warrior that carried it could single-handedly demolish entire armies. It was a story sung by bards across Merindel but nobody truly believed it…until now.

When Klayton is told by a mysterious stranger that the Crystal Spear is real and given instructions how to infiltrate the palace at Erisea to find it, he cannot resist the challenge. Naïve? Sure! Foolish? Completely. But Klayton could not have possibly known that his discovery would have deadly consequences and reveal an inexplicable bond to the weapon even the myths are unclear about.

Prince Horan had given up trying to impress his father. He has been considered a failure and a disappointment from the moment he could walk. But when the King and Queen are on a diplomatic visit to a neighbouring island and Erisea comes under attack, Horan sees an opportunity to alter the perception of his father by saving the city, without a thought of the long-term consequences of his actions.

Finally, there is the Black Shade. The most notorious pirate of the four Isles. The mere mention of his name causes men and women to anxiously glance over their shoulders. The Black Shade has heard rumours that the Crystal Spear is very real and has set his sights on obtaining it.

Merindel is about to discover that not all legends are myths, but sometimes it is better if they were.

New writing software:

I've also switched writing software. I now use Dabble as opposed to Ywriter. I loved Ywriter but Dabble gives me more flexibility and reliabilty. I will happily post about the merits of both in a future post.

What am I reading?

James Patterson's Target Cross - look out for a review soon.

Finally - It's great to be back.

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harness

Review by Jacqui Slaney

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

C J Sansom – Revelation

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

The Blurb:

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

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

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

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

Days to read: 58

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My rating: 9.2

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Days to read: 8

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

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

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

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

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

My rating: 8.4

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

So the wait is finally over.

Only Stones Remain has been released!

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

Purchase by clicking the link below

Only Stones Remain - UK

Only Stones Remain - US