Friday, September 2, 2011

August reviews

Skeleton Crew – Stephen King:
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Having read Just after sunset recently, I was eager to read some of Stephen King’s earlier short story compilations. With the birth of a new born baby, it was the perfect book to just pick and put down again.
Skeleton Crew consists of a variety of stories that encompass mainly horror tales with the odd sci-fi story thrown in for good measure. The stories also vary wildly in length, from 1 or 2 pages to one novella (the mist).
It is said novella that is the stand out story in the book for me. I had seen the film before reading this collection and so knew all about the Mist and how the end had been tweaked (brilliantly I might add) in the film. Normally, this would mean I would find reading the story a chore. Not so with the Mist. This is one of the best books that Stephen King has written. It is a terrific study of the human psyche under pressure. Atmosphere just oozes of the pages and although I prefer Frank Darabont’s conclusion to the tale, Kings works very effectively just the same.
There are other stand outs in Skeleton Crew. The sci-fi story, “the Jaunt” is a superb piece of work, as a man tries to placate his family before the teleport for the first time by telling them out teleportation was invented.  The other 10 out of 10 story is “the Raft.” 4 friends decided to drunkenly swim out to a raft where they discover a rather unpleasant entity.
Special mention to other very good stories goes to: “Survivor Type,” “Gramma” and “Word processor of the Gods.”
Most of the other stories fall into the “good” category and there are only a few (mostly the flash fiction pieces) that fail to evoke any sort of emotion.
Overall, Skeleton Crew is a very good collection of stories with a few standouts, that really are top notch writing. My Rating: 7.8

Sharpe’s Triumph – Bernard Cornwell
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I touched upon how this period in history does not really interest me when I reviewed the first book in the Sharpe series, “Sharpe’s Tiger.” Being a big fan of Bernard Cornwell though, I was pleasantly surprised. I was reliably informed that Sharpe’s Triumph was not as good as the other books in the series and so perhaps it was because I had slightly lower expectations that I was again pleasantly surprised by the book. Whilst it is not a patch on the Warlord Chronicles, Sharpe’s Triumph is a quick fun read. The plot is not overly complex but it is the characters that make the story. Sharpe is just one of those characters you instantly love and want to be. Other favourites from the first book are also back such as the reprehensible Hakeswill and the highly moralistic  McCandless. If there is one downside to this book (and this is just a personal dislike of mine) is that there a lot of battle scenes. Cornwell writes these well, but I think his strength lies in his characters and I found myself yearning for the quieter scenes in between the action.
I am looking forward to the next Sharpe though. My rating: 8

Now you see me – S J Bolton
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Now you see me is S J Bolton’s 4th book. All have been standalone and all have been bloody good. In my opinion they have all improved on the last. This is the first time that Bolton takes on police procedurals in the traditional, “there is a killer out there and I’m the cop to stop it sense.”  I hope it is the start of a series.
The novel focuses on a copycat killer of Jack the Ripper. A subject that although I always thought was cool, have never been bothered to explore. Bolton’s painstaking research means now I don’t have to (although I most certainly will following this book). She weaves a complex tale whilst expertly weaving in the history behind the Ripper at the same time. Both the story and the history are fascinating and this is one of the few books where I genuinely had no idea where it was going or who the killer was. I suppose the clues were there, but I was so rapped up in enjoying the story that I did not concern myself with piecing it all together - a sign of a good book in my opinion.
The main character is Lacey Flint, an enigma if ever I saw one. I spent half the time trying to figure out whose side she was actually on. No easy feat to pull off considering we are inside her head for the majority of the novel. Nevertheless, all the characters are colourfully realised and just when you think you have them figured out, they go ahead and surprise you.
However, it is the history tied in with the setting that is the books forte. Bolton’s books have all been rich in their settings, atmospheric as well as descriptive. “Now you see me”, is no exception.  I live just outside London and had no idea about the underground tunnels. Another thing I have since looked up!
As you may gather, I rather liked this book. More please S J Bolton. My rating: 9.2

Best Served Cold – Joe Abercrombie
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A few years ago Joe Abercrombie burst on to the fantasy scene with Scott Lynch and a host of other authors. Joe was largely lauded as the best of these new wave authors and after devouring the First Law trilogy, I found it hard to disagree with all the praise that was being heaped on him.
If I am honest, I didn’t rate him as highly as George R R Martin, Bernard Cornwell, Stephen King or Robert McCammon but then they are my four favourite authors. With Best Served Cold, Joe Abercrombie has taken a large step to breaking into this upper echelon on my persona list.
Best Served Cold is dark, gritty and in places pretty funny. Joe has a general theme running through his standalone books. His next book (after Heroes that is) is rumoured to have a strong western influence (as in cowboys not dress code). Best Served Cold is specifically about vengeance.
There are both new and some familiar characters from the First Law Trilogy on display here and although the theme lends itself to some graphic and uncomfortable situations, no matter how abhorrent the actions of the lead characters are, you can’t help but route for them.
All of the characters go through some sort of transformation as the book unfolds. The best of these is Murcatto, who on a moral scale, some argue is the only likable figure in the tale. Although Murcatto is obsessed with revenge and dammed if anyone gets in her way, she unwittingly learns the most about her self. Shivers, on the other hand, probably learns the least. His journey is a fascinating portrayal of how one is a victim of circumstances and reacts to the everyday struggle to trying to be a better man.
The supporting cast are all well realised. My favourites of these are Cosca the loveable, mad rogue and Friendly, whose need for order is also quite amusing.
By the very nature of the plot, Abercrombie could have easily fallen into the trap of becoming a tad repetitive. Instead, he skilfully avoids this by bringing a different feel to each act of revenge. At times the book was reminiscent of Scott Lynch in the planning and deception that the characters carried out.
As always, the action sequences are extremely well handled as is the dialogue. In fact I am struggling to come up with a minor complaint about the book. At a push I would say that there is a scene between Morveer and Day that did not quite work for me in that it felt a bit amateurish but that is being picky. To refer to its exact location will spoil the book too much, but you will probably know what scene I mean.
I normally have a good break before going back to authors, but with Abercrombie on this kind of form, I may just pick up Heroes sooner rather than later. My rating: 9.4