Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Book Review: New Moon

New Moon - Stephanie Meyer

New Moon

There is something weird about these books. Overall I felt exactly the same about the second book as I did the first, except in every case my feelings were stronger.

New Moon picks up shortly after the events of Twilight. Bella and Edward are madly in love, the type of love that is so sickly and dare I say it “teenage girly” that has turned so many people off the series and prevented many from even picking it up to begin with.

However, the dynamic soon changes. An incident highlights just how fragile and impractical their relationship is forcing Edward to withdraw his love and move away. From Bella’s silly opinion, this is because he doesn’t love her anymore. Why she thinks this is beyond me. Edward is mean but it is obvious why he is doing it. What follows (I read this on the Kindle so forgive the percentages) is from 5% to 30% utter mind numbing drivel. Bella is distraught, she wallows in self pity and pines like someone has never pined before.

This section of the story was way too long. I was wanting to stick pins in my eyes and came so close to giving up on the book. I thought I had finally realised why so many people ridicule the series.

Thankfully I persisted a little bit longer. Enter Jacob. By far and away, Jacob is the most interesting character in the story. Bella’s attraction to him is believable, their growing relationship (after the initial ooh I think I love him now), is actually well handled. Jacob comes with a good back story and an air of mystery to him. Unlike the Bella / Edward relationship which is too impossible to imagine (both are madly in love with each other, the type of love that when they don’t see each other they ache).

Following Jacob’s appearance, the story also begins to get some semblance of a decent plot. My main criticism of the first book is that nothing happened.  Although this story suffers from the same fate, there are story threads going on.

The story here surrounds random attacks on innocent hikers. There is also the angst going on around Jacob and his friends and the return of some vampires that appeared in Twilight.

The ending of the book is actually quite good. Why it comes about on the other hand irked me. Some minor spoilers follow: Bella in an effort to overcome Edward, resorts to taking part in dangerous activities. The logic being, she hears Edward’s voice in her head warning her to be careful when she does these and can therefore imagine him again. I made a logical assumption here that Bella was actually hearing Edward and not imagining him. This proved to be incorrect as later in the book Edward acts upon something he hears Bella has done which proved my assumption wrong (sorry for the confusion, trying not to give too much away). However, later Bella can hear Edward in her thoughts again, which makes no sense whatsoever.

Another strong element to the book is the natural and growing hatred between werewolves and vampires. When Edward and Jacob finally come face to face, the animosity is evident. Obviously anyone with a y chromosome will root for Jacob (I can’t believe I just weighed in on that argument).

Overall then, I had mixed feelings about the book. After the appalling start, the story kicked in and dare I say it was quite enjoyable. The ending was satisfactory and there is enough left over to keep me interested in the next book. My rating: 8.0

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Book Review = The Devil you know

The Devil You Know - Mike Carey

The Devil You Know

Earlier this year I read my first Jim Butcher novel and loved it. Whenever, I researched Jim’s novels, one name was always mentioned in conjunction: Mike Carey.

With his Felix Castor series, Mike delves into the supernatural too but his books are set in London which make them that bit more fun for me.

Felix Castor is a struggling exorcist. Temporary retired although not officially.  Since an early age he could see ghosts (or was sensitive) to such things. We are introduced to Felix as he is struggling to make ends meet and takes on a short term job as a children’s entertainer/magician.

The result of the unwanted job and how it unfolds, informed me all I needed to know about this book. I was going to like it in a big way.

Felix is a wise cracking, smart mouth but not overly so. He is handy in a fight but again not overly so. He is confident in his ability but you guessed it, not overly so. Felix would rather run than fight. He knows when he is outmatched and so adjusts his position accordingly. It is this refreshing take on a character that endeared me to Felix so much.

I am so used to reading about characters that although have flaws, doesn’t stop them being a badass. Felix is not one of these yet he still manages to come across that way.

Inevitably, Felix is forced to delve back into the supernatural world and rid Bonnington archives of a ghost: A girl with a veil over her head that has been seen multiple times.

This is more of a mystery novel more than anything else. The supernatural elements (as with Jim Butcher) are embraced as the norm rather than explained. Felix knows what he has to do to get rid of spirits but has no idea why it works. This part of the story works well. It sets the stage for things to be discovered in subsequent novels thus making the story feel fresh.

Inevitably, as Felix uncovers more about the ghost of Bonnington, all is not as it seems. Rather than a malignant spirit haunting the poor workers at the archive, Felix senses there is something more sinister going on. What follows is a great mystery that twists and turns more times than a hog roast.

The supporting cast are great. The ever reliable Pen is a constant in Felix’s life, but the workers in the archive are also well portrayed. There are other supernatural creatures and they are described in vivid detail but also succeed in being believable.

As I mentioned, the setting is mostly in London, and so personally it is great to picture the locations that Felix traverses. Especially as I have just started working nearby one or two.

I am struggling to come up with any negatives about the book. It is no epic novel I guess, but it is exactly what it sets out to be. A fun tale, a little gruesome in places but overall great stuff. My rating: 8.8  

Friday, November 4, 2011

Author League - Part 2

Part 2: Crime Genre
There are a lot of books that I read that fall into the category of, “crime/thriller.” When looking at the 10 regular authors I read in this area, they can be divided into two areas: Crime – general and crime detective. Crime detectives (part 3), deals with the type of books that focuses on Private Detectives. The protagonist is not necessarily part of the police and therefore does things there own way.
In this section I will talk about all the books that fall into the crime genre. First up is:
Mark Billingham (U): B
Total books read: 7
Total books written: 12
Sleepy HeadScaredy CatLazybonesThe Burning GirlLifelessBuriedDeath Message
Mark released his first crime book, “Sleepyhead” in 2001. I can’t recall what made me pick up the book but I was pleased I did. Up until that point the books that I had read in the genre were far removed from my every day life. The stories may have been realistic but ultimately they took place in the U.S and so were like stepping into another world and experiencing some escapism.
Mark’s DI Thorne books changed that. His books took place in London. The names and place were all familiar, if Thorne entered a cafĂ©, I might know it. When he talked about how his favourite football team was getting on, I could readily identify.
The books just added that extra link to my every day life and made them appear that bit more real to me. Also, they were bloody good.
Mark writes an intriguing story. The killers are always interesting but more importantly Thorne is compelling. He is a grumpy sod who experiences every day issues such as feeling guilty about not caring for his father more. He is supported by a fantastic cast of colleagues, who evolve with him as the series progresses. Mark’s background was in stand-up comedy and this comes through in his novels. He strikes the perfect balance between escalating tension and providing more light hearted moments.
It is easy with this genre to think that all of the books are much of a muchness, but each time I read Mark, I am pleasantly surprised. Reading his books are like putting on an old comfortable pair of slippers. You forget how good it feels until you do it.
In 2007, Mark took a break from the series and wrote a standalone book. I haven’t read it yet but it was well received. His books consistently score well on Amazon and his website contains a hardcore group of fans that are very welcoming. Mark also chimes in quite a lot and is always accessible.
In the last year his books were adapted into a TV series staring David Morrissey and the excellent Aidan Gillen. Again I haven’t seen it but the fans were happy. With a consistent roll out of books and the TV series Mark Billingham’s career is definitely on the rise. The 11th entry in the Thorne series, “The Demands” is due out next year.
SJ Bolton (u): A -
Total books read: 4
Total books written: 4
SacrificeAwakeningBlood HarvestNow You See Me
SJ Bolton is vast becoming one of my favourite authors. Her first book, “Sacrifice” debuted in 2008. I stumbled across it when I was looking for a book that was a crime novel with a hint of the supernatural. The blurb on the back of this book immediately grabbed me and fitted what I was after perfectly. It is set in the Shetland Islands and begins when a woman’s mutilated body is found with runic symbols carved into skin and the uterus removed. As the book progresses, links to an ancient myth becomes more and more evident. Could trolls possibly exist?
There is always the fear that when you read a book like Sacrifice the book can becomes far too implausible and plain silly. SJ Bolton’s novels are anything but. The first three novels all deal with solving a grizzly series of murders where the supernatural or other forces are hinted at but not necessarily brought to the fore.
The fourth novel, “Now you see me” seems to mark the start of a new series staring the same characters. I was anxious when I read this, as SJ Bolton’s opening novels had been so good as standalones. “Now you see me” is the best so far (check out my review).
Dead Scared
SJ Bolton’s books are released in April in the UK and make a welcome birthday present each year. The next one is entitled, “Dead scared,” and is one of my most anticipated novels of 2012.
Tess Gerritsen (u): A –
Total books read: 8
Total books written: 24
The SurgeonThe ApprenticeThe SinnerBody DoubleVanishThe Mephisto ClubKeeping the DeadIce Cold
Tess is best known for her Rizzoli and Isles series. This series works for a number of reasons but the first and foremost is that Tess has allowed herself to explore the crime genre from two different perspectives. Where as most authors focus on just one character Tess uses two. Jane Rizzoli is a detective and Maura Isles is a medical examiner. By exploring both of their lives, Tess allows the reader to witness two distinctive methods of approaching a crime scene and solving the mystery of the killers.
This is effective as not only does it keep things fresh, it also makes the books more believable. Quite often when a series is on it’s 10th book although I may be enjoying it, part of me is thinking, would one person really solve this many high profile crimes (hey Alex Cross)?
Tess also introduced the characters in an effective way. For the first two books she concentrated on only one of these characters, the third focussed on another. Over time they both have either taken equal prominence or one takes centre stage. Again this keeps things fresh.
Another strong point in the series is the relationship between the Rizzoli and Isles. They don’t always see eye to eye. Although mutual respect exists between them, that gradually gives way to friendship; the two are not in each others pockets. They have their own lives that they keep private. In short the dynamic between the two is very good. The supporting cast is good although not as strong as other series and each new book always focus on an interesting subject rather than just your standard thriller.
The series has been adapted for TV. I’ve seen the first 3 episodes and although the relationship between Rizzoli and Isles is very different to the books (as is the overall feel of the show), I am enjoying it a lot.
The Rizzoli and Isles series only makes up a third of the books that Tess has written. The others are all standalones and I have not read them, although I intend to. Where as the Rizzoli and Isles books receive universal high praise the standalones vary wildly in the reviews. Some are loved and others are despised. The subject matter of the books seems also to vary in content, one I believe even occurs in space! I raise my hat to Tess for exploring different genres but as I said cannot comment on the quality of the books.
With the consistency of material and the success of the TV series so far, Tess is on the up. The 9th book in the Rizzoli and Isles series was released in July. I will be reviewing it shortly.
James Patterson (d): C +
Total books read: 39
Total books written: 78 (I think. Who knows? Another 20 will be released next year probably).
Along Came a SpiderKiss the GirlsJack and JillCat and MousePop! Goes the Weasel
I wrote quite a long blog on James Patterson late last year (included below) which pretty much still sums up my feelings on Mr. Patterson. At the end I will talk a bit more about him:
I was around 18 and at University. I had taken a summer job to subsidize my drinking during the term time at my uncle’s air conditioning firm. It was also a time when I didn’t really read. A girl I was fooling around with recommended a book called, “Along came a spider.” As a young lad and eager to impress I duly obliged.

I was delighted I gave it a go. In Alex Cross I had found a cool detective that I didn’t know existed in literature (I have subsequently realised there are far better ones out there). In Gary Soneji there was the type of villain I loved. In short the book was fast paced with a good story. I was hooked. The short chapters gave way to the very definition of the term page turners.

As the months progressed, I devoured the next couple of books. I will never forget that summer doing air conditioning. It was a time where internet was not common place and so when I was strolling through Covent Garden on the way to a job in the Lyceum theatre and saw a board in a bookshop that read, “Roses are Red by James Patterson” coming soon, I punched the air in delight. God I miss those days when you didn’t know when a book was coming out – you only get that with George R R Martin these days!
Roses Are RedViolets Are Blue

A weekend job in WHSmiths had me looking forward to the book catalogue to see when the next book was coming out. Patterson led me to other authors: Mo Hayder, Mark Billingham, Harlan Coben, Karin Slaughter, Tess Gerritsen etc. All of which I now regularly read. (John Connolly I discovered in a unique way, which I will talk about some time).

Thrillers were my thing way before Fantasy. Usually it is the other way round but I’ve always been a geek at heart. As the amount of books I read increased so did my knowledge of the authors. Suddenly James Patterson had two books out a year, and then three and then four. His name was always on the cover but other names joined him. I still bought every book but the stories were hit and miss. The woman’s murder club started off fantastic and then by the time I read the “5th Horseman,” I half enjoyed it and I was half disgusted with how lazy the writing was.
The 5th Horseman

I was actually half way through the “Lifeguard” before I realised I had already read it. I was appalled at how frequently the books were coming out and how hit and miss they were. At least he was still writing the Alex Cross series by himself I reconciled. However, even these were starting to take a dip. “London Bridges” was woeful in comparison to the others.
The LifeguardLondon Bridges

I was torn between ditching him all together and remaining loyal. After all he was the author that kick-started my reading interests again. In the end I decided to just read his Alex Cross books which were written solely by him and released once a year. This worked well, when I read them it was like meeting an old friend. The weak writing didn’t matter so much and instead I remembered why I liked him in the first place.
Following this I have read three James Patterson’s books. Two have been in the Alex Cross series. “Cross Fire” was good and “Kill Alex Cross” (released last month) was better. The other one, “Beach House,” I read in the summer and I can’t remember a thing about which says it all really.
Cross FireKill Alex Cross
On the back of his books James Patterson has seen two films made with Morgan Freeman playing Alex Cross – perfect casting and not bad films. A third film is due to come out and Idres Elba was attached to the role of Alex Cross. Again good casting but not as good as Morgan. However, I believe Idres as left the project and so my interest has waned already.
 The Women Detective series was also made into a TV show. This has only aired in the US and so I have not seen it. I believe it is no longer on air but don’t quote me on that.
With the TV series and the unfaltering popularity of the juggernaut that is the brand James Patterson I really should be saying he is on the up. Personally, for me he is heading in the opposite direction. Maybe, it is nostalgia. Maybe if I reread, “Along came a spider” I will appreciate that he should never been put on the pedestal on placed him on. I don’t think so though. His first books were quality.
I think James Patterson needs to change something in the series and I deplore the increasing number of writers in his stable. Some like Andrew Gross have gone on to be successful so I can’t argue that system is not beneficial. Still if you are buying a book with an author’s name on it, you want to read that author’s work and not his ideas and editing whilst someone imitates his style. Between now and July next year, James Patterson and his ilk are set to release 8 books. It is simply ludicrous.
 Karin Slaughter (-): A
Total books read: 9
Total books written: 11
BlindsightedKisscutA Faint Cold FearIndelibleFaithless
My write up with Karin is fairly similar to Tess Gerritsen, where as Tess has focused her series on two protagonists, Karin has done a similar thing but in a different way. So all the positives apply as above but Karin approach is slightly better. Her initial series concentrated on Grant Country and Sara Linton which was excellent.
The series began with Blindsighted in 2001 and told the story of Sara, a paediatrician and medical examiner. Like Tess Gerritsen, Karin Slaughter uses the effective method of telling the story from another perspective as well. We get point of view chapters from Police Chief Jeffrey Tolliver who also happens to be Sara’s estranged husband.
The two protagonists struggle with their own lives, Sara with her family and Jeffrey with his junior member of staff Lena Adams. The interactions between Sara and Jeffrey are always interesting. There is hatred there, but it is one sided. There is also a mutual respect. This makes for a fascinating character study at the two are forced to work together to solve the various grizzly murders in the books. Karin also chops and changes the dynamic. One book for example focuses a lot on Lena Adams and her history. She is a great creation and a fan favourite. Karin is also not afraid to mix things up either. The sort of thing I have been crying out for James Patterson to do with his Alex Cross series, Karin does effortlessly.
With these characters Karin has created a series that could have easily sustained for a number of books. However, not content with this. In 2006, Karin wrote a seemingly standalone book about special agent Will Trent who operates in the Atlanta area. Triptych was a nice and tantalising break from the Grant County series. It was a surprise then, when Karin returned to Will Trent after visiting the Grant County series for only one book.
The character of Will was fleshed out and so were the supporting cast. Karin then merged the two series and so what we now have is the familiar and new all at the same time. It is what Karin does, to keep her at the top and she pulls it off with ease.
As things stand, I have two books left to read until I am up to date. Look out for a review shortly for the first of them.
Karin has recently written and offered a couple of short stories on the Kindle. The first of these, “the unremarkable heart” was very reasonably priced and marked a change of style to a more brutal tale. I loved it and Karin continues to be a must buy for me.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Book Review - A Cavern of black ice

A Cavern of Black Ice - J V Jones:

A Cavern of Black Ice

JV Jones is an author who cropped up whenever I googled books like the Song of ice and fire series. Many people agree it is good; some even go as far as to say it is better. If I was to sum up the book I would say it is more of a cross between Robin Hobb and Conn Iggulden. For those of you who have seen my other reviews, you will know that is a good thing.

The story follows the paths of two main protagonists: Raif Severance and Ash.

Raif is a member of a clan and this is where the story has a similar feel to Conn Iggulden’s Genghis series. He feels a strong loyalty to family, to the clan but at the same time holds true to his own beliefs. When a tragic incident occurs and the clan starts to move in a direction away from what he feels is its true course, he chooses to commit the ultimate sacrilege and desert the clan and his family. It is the inner conflict that follows between holding true to himself whilst still trying to remain loyal to the clan that deserts him which makes up the majority of the book and makes for compelling reading. This is coupled with the truth the Raif shows signs of exhibiting the “old magic” something which is shunned by the clans

Ash on the other hand, is more of a mystery. When we first meet her she is held a captive of sorts in Spire Vanis by Iss ,Iss regards Ash as his “Almost daughter” as he found her abandoned at one of his gates. From the onset it is clear that something is amiss with the situation and JV Jones does a wonderful job of unravelling the mystery. When the reveal happens it occurs naturally and is very satisfying.

Sprinkled amongst these two points of views are a host of other secondary characters who have their own chapters. Raif’s sister is probably the pick of these, but the Dog Lord, a leader from a rival clan is also intriguing. Then there are other characters such as the Listener who are clearly introduced to feature later on in the series.

As I mentioned earlier, the story has a Hobb feel to it. Things are revealed in a gradual sense. Characters slowly reveal deeper layers to their personality and the mystery thickens. The Sull are extremely interesting as is the network of various clans with their own ways.

The few negative reviews that this book does get mainly focus on the violence. This is surprising. There is nothing in here that you wouldn’t find in most fantasy novels but JV Jones is ruthless in her treatment of characters like George R R Martin. The world is well realised but not especially so. It is not always clear where the various cities are located and so the map comes in handy. What is excellently portrayed is the atmosphere. The world is frozen and JV Jones makes sure you feel it. I would go as far as to say I have never encountered a world where the atmosphere is so well portrayed. Throughout the novel you really get the sense that the cold is always a threat to the characters.

Magic is hinted at but has its limitations. I like that. It means that there is not one uber powerful character that is superior to everyone. The idea behind the heart kill is fantastic and is certainly unique to me.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed, “a cavern of black ice.” It is the start of what I hope will be an excellent series. My rating: 8.8