Thursday, March 31, 2011

March review

Another month over and a very good one for reading. I managed to read 4 books this month and some of them were rather large. Without further ado I will review the books I enjoyed.

Bernard Cornwell – Sharpe’s Tiger:

Product Details

As many of you know, I considered the Warlord trilogy as my favourite series of books last year. Cornwell is an author I can’t believe I have taken so long to start reading. On the strength of the Warlord trilogy I went out and bought the first 12 novels in the Sharpe series (it was on offer for £17).
            I had heard that the Warlord Chronicles were Cornwell’s best work so I went into reading Sharpe’s Tiger with a little bit of trepidation, hopeful that I would not be disappointed. Incidentally Sharpe’s Tiger is not the first book Cornwell wrote in the Sharpe series but it is the first chronologically. Cornwell himself wants his readers to start there.
            The book does not reach the superb standard of the Arthur books, but it is still a very good read. Sharpe is a likeable hero and the supporting cast especially Hakeswill are interesting characters. I was worried at first that the battle scenes would be arduous as the soldiers primed their rifles read to fire the next shot, but I shouldn’t have fretted. What I liked most about the book was that it was a quick and easy read. I am looking forward to reading more about Richard Sharpe. My rating: 8.6

Robert Jackson Bennett – Mr Shivers:

Product Details

I did not know anything about this book until Niall reviewed it on his blog the Speculative Scotsman ( The concept and cover intrigued me enough that I ordered the book there and then. Niall loved the book calling it his favourite read last year. I don’t disagree with the high praise he heaps on the book. Connelly is an excellent protagonist, laconic but instantly likeable. The book is underpinned by a code of honour amongst vagrants and also contains cool supernatural elements. For a debut novel, Bennett is assured and installs an excellent sense of atmosphere throughout the novel. The ending is predictable but that does not detract from climax. I would thoroughly recommend checking this book out. My rating: 9.1

Re-read: George R R Martin – A Game of Thrones.

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Many of you know that I don’t generally re-read books. I have been contemplating re-reading this series for ages, mainly because I had forgotten so much. With book 5 now definitely on the horizon, I decided to take the plunge. For those of you that love this series as much as I do and can’t be bothered with reading all 4 books again. I highly recommend checking out the Tower of the Hand website. It contains comprehensive summaries of every chapter of the series.
            So did I enjoy the re-read? You bet. Surprisingly so in fact. If anything I enjoyed it more than the first time.  I remembered the key events but the little things like how whinny Jon is at the start of the series or how hard Catelyn is, I had forgotten. Tyrion is cool as I remember and his friendship with Bron is most amusing. The re-read has whet my appetite for book 5 and I plan on reading one book a month is the series to be read by July. Winter is coming. My rating: 9.5

Jonathan Aycliffe – Whispers in the dark.

Product Details

I cannot for the life of me remember why I ordered this book from ebay. I think I saw it praised on a forum and ordered it that same day. However, I have never seen it mentioned since.  I have over 60 books in my “to be read” pile (make that 100 when you consider books in a series) and this book was near the bottom.
            Having just finished Game of Thrones I fancied a light read. My eyes fell on this book and the urge took me. At first I thought I was going to really struggle with the story. It is almost written in a Jane Austen style. Whilst I am not adverse to this, I generally have to be in the mood for such a book. I soon found myself too immersed in the story to notice however. Before the supernatural element of the plot begins, we are told of a damaged and cruel childhood. The protagonist endures a horrible existence all expertly shown to reflect the era the book is set in (the turn of the 20th century). The language is rich but used smartly. There are no over blown descriptions here. When the supernatural element comes, it is portrayed very effectively. Whilst books don’t seem to scare me, Whispers in the Dark does a good job of portraying the fear of the protagonist. The setting of Baras Hall (I think that is the correct spelling, I am typing this from memory), is excellent, from the terrifying folly to the empty mansion itself. By the time the book reaches its satisfying conclusion I was desperate to find out what was behind the mystery.
            Jonathan Aycliffe is an author I will revisit. My rating: 8.8

Friday, March 18, 2011

Writing: Book 2

Hopefully next week I will write a blog about how the publishing is going and the progress I am making with the Ritual of the Stones. For now I want to talk about book 2.

If I am truthful I had a spell where I doubted whether or not I had it in me to write the sequel. Part of me recalled how much of a challenge the first book was, (especially the editing) and the rest thought I might be wasting my time. Suppose (as is most likely), nothing ever comes of this series. Book 1 never gets picked up by an agent, and then I am writing a sequel to something that will never be seen beyond a few close friends.

All writers have doubts, I am under no illusion abut that. It was not until I reached the 30,000 word mark on the first book that I began to seriously think I could complete a novel. But these doubts were a bit different. Not only did I worry about the quality of writing but I worried about the time and effort I was about to invest on something linked to a book that might never see the light of day. Should my time be better utilised writing a completely new book altogether?

I decided to take a few weeks to think about things. The break did me good. I found myself waking every day and without realising I was doing it, thinking of the plot of book 2. With each day, more ideas spawned and gradually the story arc began to form. I began to form arcs for each character, make note of key events and record little snippets of dialogue.

The ideas grew and grew until Monday morning came and I began writing. It is now Friday and I have written 1,000 words a day. Hopefully I will knock out another 1,000 today and for many more days to come and so the process begins again.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Books: February reading

Welcome to my February reviews. Only 3 books read this month:

Robin Hobb – The Assassin’s quest: Ultimately disappointed, is the best way to sum up how I felt after reading the concluding book in the Farseer trilogy. I loved the first book, enjoyed the second one but not quite as much. This one left me undecided for the majority of it. First of all, it is a very different type of book from the two that preceded it. Gone are the comfortable surroundings of Buckeep. Instead, as the title implies, Fitz is on a quest. This means lots of ambling around through the country. I don’t like talking about plots too much in my reviews as I hate reading spoilers (even the most minor things) but the first 200 pages drag, the book finally picks up when a host of the characters we know and love return and then there is the final third, that turns out to be very tedious. Hobb really labours the point of the Skill affecting Fitz’s mind and this makes for very frustrating reading. I got to the final 60 pages and I wondered how on earth the story was going to conclude and tie up all the lose ends. Don’t worry, it does, but it felt extremely rushed.  After finishing the book, I went on to Amazon and looked at the reviews. The book received very divisive reviews. Whilst I can see why many hated it, I definitely wouldn’t go that far. The writing is as polished as ever as are the characters but it is the weakest of the trilogy. I rated it: 8.1

Lee Child – Echo Burning: I love Jack Reacher, I think he is a great creation. He is the type of man, we all want to be. So why have I only read 5 of Lee Child’s books and why was the last one I read over 2 years ago? There are two reasons: 1) they are very formulaic. Jack stumbles over a problem and decides to solve it. The story is always interesting and you are guaranteed a few really cool moments from Mr Reacher, but basically I wanted to avoid getting bored with the series. 2) I solved the mystery in the last book (I think it was the Visitor), really early on. I hate it when I do that. Part of me is pleased I solved it but another part of me feels cheated. It was after reading,“the Visitor” that I made conscious decision to not overly think about where a book was going too much in order to avoid disappointment.
            After 50 pages of Echo Burning, I was worried I had guessed the ending again. I prayed that I was wrong and…boy was I. Lee Child does a terrific job of changing the story every time you think you suss out what is happening. I did eventually guess the ending but there were many twists and turns on the way. Reacher delivers some killer lines and has one very cool scene in a bar. In this story, the normally correct Reacher ends up doubting himself, making for a refreshing read.  This is Lee Child back to his best. My rating: 8.5

The Beach House – James Patterson and Peter De Jonge. It seems every time I review one James Patterson’s books I always have a story to tell. Being the geek that I am, around 4 years ago, I started to record the books I had read. This was mainly to help me remember where I was in a series and out of interest as to how many books I read in a year. The system was not infallible though. Two years ago I got half way through James Patterson’s the Lifeguard before I realised I had already read it. This annoyed me as I think there are far too many excellent books out there to read then to waste time reading one that is not groundbreaking. In fact I have only ever read two books more than once. One was Lord of the Rings, not because I loved it (I do, but find it an unpleasant read) and the other was Harry Potter and the half blood prince (I wanted to refresh my memory before the final book came out). I am contemplating re-reading the Ice and Fire series before book 5 comes out but am still undecided. The point is I don’t re-read books as a rule.
Which brings me on to, “the Beach House.” Before I picked it up, I was unsure whether I had read it or not. When I started it, I was sure I hadn’t. Around two thirds of the way through I realised I had. Which kind of sums up James Patterson’s books. I enjoyed the Beach House, but it is instantly forgettable. Is it well written? The easy answer is “no,” but then I think that is unfair. I think like all of his books, the Beach Hose is well written. It is easy reading and a page turner. Does it have much substance? No, definitely not. Do you find yourself caught up in the story? Yes. So I guess that is the sign of a good book and author. James Patterson entertains me. When I am in the mood for a quick read, he is the perfect tonic.
The book itself whizzes by. Jack Mullen is a man obsessed with uncovering the truth behind his brother’s death. A death the community have deemed an unfortunate suicide having seemingly been bribed by the local billionaires. Jack’s character is the same generic character you will find in all Patterson’s books. If he loved jazz you would say he was the same as Alex Cross. Jack is aided in his mission by his friends who drift in and out the story, one minute they are hell bent on avenging his brother’s death and the next they are forgotten. There is also the obligatory love interest – a relationship that blooms out of no where. Basically all of the usual criticisms of Patterson’s books are there but dam it is still entertaining. I rated it: 7.4