Saturday, April 30, 2011

April Reviews

April is done and boy have we had some nice weather. It sure was a good month for reading. Apart from when I have been sprawled out by the pool on a holiday I have never got through 6 books in a month before. A new record.

1) Conn Iggulden – Wolf of the Plains

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I have heard good things about Conn’s books for quite a while. I was determined to pick them up when one day I read a couple of negative reviews detailing how inaccurate they were. This immediately put me off, especially as I did my degree in Ancient History and get annoyed when things are wrong. However, I think I have mellowed a bit. Recently, I don’t care if the book is accurate or not, it is the story and characters I am interested in and if they are good then what does it matter if a particular dress style was not common in the period the book is set in. Even so I decided to start with Conn’s Genghis Khan series as I know virtually nothing about the period.

I loved it! I thought the story telling was spot on, the character’s great and the overall setting excellent. If there is a minor criticism, it is that Conn had a tendency to shift POV’s sometimes between paragraphs. However, this did not ever get confusing and is more of a personal gripe as I know writers are not supposed to do that.

There are some genuinely moving scenes contained within the book and some shocking ones too. You root for Genghis and his brothers from the first page. I will definitely be checking out more of Conn’s work. My rating: 8.6

2) Robert McCammon – Gone South

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The man that is fast becoming my favourite author delivers again in another genre. So far I have read historical fiction, horror, contemporary fiction and now I guess you would call this book action, all written by Robert McCammon and all thoroughly enjoyed.

I have to admit the premise of this book did not grab me, but I trusted in the author and was not disappointed. At times I was laughing out loud, in the bounty hunters Robert has created some of my favourite characters.

I never really knew where the plot was going to end up, but it did not matter as the journey was just so enjoyable. The swamps oozed life and the final scene was fantastic. I like how McCammon ends his books, they are satisfying and for some one like myself who likes dark endings normally, not too cheesy.

The Five is due out next month. I urge anyone who reads this blog to buy it and support this author. He deserves to be more recognised more in the UK. My Rating: 8.8

3) Re-read: George R R Martin - A Clash of Kings

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Having enjoyed the re-read of A Game of Thrones much more than I thought I would last month, I was looking forward to getting my teeth into this one. It did not disappoint. Once again, I had knew the basic story but had forgotten most of the detail. I forgot how Brienne comes into the book for example a nice surprise. I won’t talk about the plot as I don’t want to ruin it for those of you watching the TV series without having read the books. They get better in my opinion. My Rating: 9.4

4) Aesop’s Fables:

Product DetailsA random choice I hear you say. You would also be correct. I left my book at work and was wondering how to feel my time in on the inane bus journey (I need something to tune out some of the less savoury characters in our society). I have the kindle link on my phone and Aesop’s fable was one of the books they offered for free.

During my many years studying ancient history, Aesop was one of the texts I never studied so I thought I would give him a whirl. If you were to read this book all in one go you would struggle. Some of the fables are so short that it is difficult to adjust moving on to the next and then the next and then the next. I often found myself reading but not taking them in. The best way to read the text is little and often.

Having said that, there are some amusing fables contained within, some of which have inspired some sub plots for my writing. In that regard the book has been invaluable. I was also surprised to discover how many classic stories originate from these fables: The hare and the tortoise, the north wind and the sun, the boy who cried wolf. I had no idea these came from Aesop. Ultimately however, I found that after a while the fables all seemed to be telling the same kind of story and it became a bit of a chore to finish. My rating: 6

5) Stephen King – Just After Sunset

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Look at reviews for Stephen king and you will generally get positive reports from his fans and mostly positive reviews from everyone else with gripes about his inability to produce satisfying endings. When it comes to short stories it is almost universally agreed that the man is (excuse the pun) the king. Criminally despite owning most of them, I have not read any of his short story collections. I decided to start with what is generally perceived to be the weakest.

Overall I really liked Just After Sunset. There isn’t a bad story in this collection which is rare for an anthology, but I have to say the majority of the stories fell into the category of “good” rather than “great”. The great stories being: “N” the story of a patient with OCD; “Mute” the story of a man who picks up a mute hitchhiker and “A very tight space” the story of two warring neighbours. Other good stories are the “Gingerbread girl, “Rest Stop” and “Ayana.” My rating 7.8

6) Matthew Reilly – Seven Ancient Wonders

Product DetailsIn 2006 I was at Gatwick airport awaiting the flight to sunny Florida. I was in Waterstones searching for a quick and easy read. After all, I was off to Disney, how much time would I have. I discovered the Contest by Matthew Reilly. As the holiday progressed so I found myself in love with the book. This book was fast paced action that never let up. I had never read anything like it. I lent it to my brother in law expecting him to love it as well – he hated it. He thought it was the worst written book he had ever had the misfortune to read. I then looked at the reviews on Amazon and found many others were split down the middle regarding Matthew Reilly’s work.

I decided to give Ice Station ago and loved it even more, followed by the Temple with the same result. Whilst I appreciate the writing is not brilliant, the stories were great escapism, very unrealistic but read like an Indiana Jones movie.

I subsequently read Matthew Reilly’s other novels. They were good but not as good as Ice Station and the Temple. Therefore I had no hesitation in purchasing Seven Ancient Wonders. After all what could go wrong? A new protagonist in Jack West jnr; a great subject matter in the seven ancient wonders and Reilly’s ability to write action sequences like no other. The answer - everything. This book is bad. Maybe it is because I now have a couple of years of discovering the common errors in writing behind me, but Matthew seems to tick an awful lot of them. Adjectives are used in plenty, the book is littered with illustrations to depict what Reilly seems to have an inability to describe and the characters are none existent.

From the word go the reader is thrust into the action. This would normally not be a bad thing but there is never a pause for breath to flesh out the characters we are supposed to be caring about.

Maybe, it was just the mood I was in when I read it. With the contest I was in the right frame of mind, with this maybe I wasn’t. There are some excellent action scenes contained within the novel. The Hanging gardens of Babylon is well done for example. However James Rollins seems to do the whole thing a lot better.

Am I done with Matthew Reilly? Of course not, I enjoyed his other novels too much even though I recognise they are flawed. Let’s hope the next one is an improvement though. My rating: 4.5