Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Book Review: Broken

Broken – Karin Slaughter


Following hot on the heels of my high praise for Karin Slaughter, I decided it was time to delve back into her writing. I mentioned that Karin was brave in taking her series in a new direction and then bringing two seemingly unrelated story threads together. “Broken” marks the second outing of this amalgamation.

All of our favourite characters feature in this book and all are given the chance to shine. Sara is still seething at Lena and does everything in her power to avoid her. Lena is still Lena, trying to do good but landing herself in trouble and Will Trent, well he is just placed bang in the middle of the whole situation and is trying to figure out what the hell is going on.

If I am honest, I was disappointed with the opening chapters of Broken. The prologue felt a bit to samey and predictable. Once the book got going though, it really got going. The dynamics between all of the characters feels fresh. Watching Will interact with both Sara and Lena is fascinating. Sara’s hatred towards Lena, does not cloud his judgment and so we are treated to both sides of the fall out of their tragic story.

The story itself centres around the murder of a young college student supposedly at the hands of a retard young man. Inevitably, all is not as it seems though and the story that unfolds twists and turns more times than maggot on a fishing hook.

Will’s interviewing techniques are always fascinating and Karin Slaughter does a nice job of portraying the parallels and discrepancies regarding his character and that of the immortal Jeffrey Tolliver.

The plot is tight and quite clever. Karin resists the urge to tell a story about your typical disturbed serial killer but instead focuses on the more realistic solving of some murders where the motivation for the crime makes sense.

The great thing about this book is that whilst all our favourites are present, Karin could have easily have just centred the book around them. Instead we are treated to all of the supporting characters attached to each character. Will is constantly talking to his heavily pregnant partner, Sara has her loveable sister and parents, and Lena has her boyfriend and the police force. Each time the book goes to each of this characters the pace doesn’t let up and the story remains interesting as a result. Alongside this you have the residents of Grant Country all of which are well portrayed and interesting.

“Broken” then, continues Karin Slaughters excellent run of form. The lives of the characters are neatly wrapped up but there are some dangling cliff hangers to make you impatient for the next book. My rating: 8.9

Friday, December 16, 2011

Author League Part 3: Crime General

Author League Part 3 – Crime: Private detectives:

Harlan Coben (u): B +

Total books read: 8

Total books written: 22

Deal BreakerDrop Shot
Harlan Coben could have easily have fit into a number of other categories in fairness. I put him in here as I have recently started reading the Myron Bolitar series. I love Myron’s character but there is only one problem, he is remarkably similar to Robert Crais’s Elvis Cole. They even have the same stoic sidekick: Myron has Win and Elvis has Joe Pike.

The characters are so similar that I have to space out Harlan and Robert’s books to avoid them getting stale. However, looking at the books objectively as I should do, Myron is an excellent creation. Primarily a sports agent but sometimes Private Investigator Myron often finds himself embroiled in situations that seem simple but unravel into complex mysteries. To help him through these cases he often relies on his friend Win - a posh and rather lethal martial arts expert.

I’ve only read two books in the Bolitar series and enjoyed them both. He is an author I will be reading again soon so look out for a review.

Tell No OneGone For GoodNo Second ChanceJust One LookThe InnocentThe Woods
The main body of work that I have read of Harlan’s are his standalone novels. These are must buys for me and my wife. Since having kids we are a slightly behind the latest releases but I find that these books never fail to deliver. They usually open with a mystery that really captures the imagination. Maybe a man will wake up one morning and his family will be gone with no explanation, he will then try to investigate what has happened. What follows is a fantastic story that twists and turns and then twists and then turns, has about three false endings and then twists and turns again. In other words they are fantastic. How Harlan keeps track of the plots is beyond me, but they are always well written and can be followed easy enough.

At the time of writing, Harlan is due to release another standalone novel early next year. He has also just released a spin-off series from the Myron Bolitar series and so I can only say the author despite his popularity is on the up.

Robert Crais (-): B-

Total books read: 5

Total books written: 20

The Monkey's RaincoatStalking the AngelLullaby TownFree FallVoodoo River

Elvis Cole is cool. There is no other way to describe him. Geeky yes, with his propensity for his Mickey Mouse clock but undeniably cool. And the best thing is, Robert Crais has written 19 books and the majority of them are centred around Elvis Cole. Lately, he has expanded the universe slightly and focussed on Elvis’s constant professional partner the enigmatic Joe Pike.

The Elvis Cole series starts with the Monkey’s Raincoat. Immediately you feel at home with Elvis. He is the type of guy that you root for. Set in his ways, cynical about the world but a sucker for a guy/girl in trouble. His inner dialogue is hilarious as is the rare face twitching of his laconic partner Joe Pike to let you know he is amused at something.

Although a continual series, all of the books are practically standalones. This makes it great to dip in and out of the series without having to worry about continuity.

Robert has written a few standalone novels which I haven’t tried yet, but all are well received by fans. He releases his books consistently every year and is perfect if you just want to pick up a good story about a man solving a mystery in a cool way.

Lee Child

Total books read: 5

Total books written: 16

Killing FloorDie TryingTripwireThe VisitorEcho Burning

This sub genre of Crime could have easily been labelled “cool guys,” Jack Reacher is another man that fits the bill of men you wish you could be like. Unlike Elvis Cole or Myron Bolitar, Jack Reacher does not own his own agency or go looking for trouble/work. It just seems to find him.

Jack is a fabulous character, not trusting the state he remains off the grid. He doesn’t own a phone, or a computer or even a house. He prefers to remain unknown from the Government and gets by in life by performing non descript jobs such as cleaning pools and working in bars.

His problem is he can’t let a damsel go in distress. At over 6 ft, and as I said ex-military, Jack knows how to handle himself and certainly knows his way around a gun.

Each of the Lee child’s novels are standalone and we are only treated to snippets of Jack’s past. He was born into the army and moved around from base to base.

Each story starts with someone in trouble way over their head and Jack is usually the guy to help them where others won’t.

So far I haven’t read a bad book by Lee Child. One of them annoyed me slightly as I guessed the villain early on and it seemed so obvious I was frustrated when I was proven correct, but this was still a worthy read.

The reason for the lower mark is because the books do get a bit samey. They are once a year reads which means I am struggling to get up to date on them. The character has just been optioned for the big screen so I guess I should say Lee Child is on the up in my eyes. However, since the actor cast is Tom Cruise, someone who could not have been more miscast if they tried, I am happy to say Lee ‘s career is going steady in my eyes.

Mo Hayder (-): B+

Total books read: 7

Total Books written: 8

BirdmanThe TreatmentRitualSkinGone
Mo Hayder’s first book was the Birdman and it blew me away. Set in a location very close to me, it gave me somewhat of a frisson picturing the grisly murders that were occurring in the book.

The Birdman is the first in the Jack Caffrey series. As the title of the series suggests they centre around Jack, a man haunted by the abduction of his brother when he was young. If you are looking for a flawed protagonist then look no further than Mr Caffrey. Jack struggles to go through life whilst also having to live opposite the convicted paedophile he knows stole his brother Ewan. The books are brutal, but great. In Mr. Penderecki Mo has created a truly despicable villain who revels in Jack’s discomfort. They are always well researched and explore the darker side of human nature.

The second book in the series, “the Treatment,” still haunts me to this day. I have read and have enjoyed many books but few have stayed with me as much as this one had.

With the third book Mo took the interesting choice of taking the series in a new direction by relocating Jack from London to Bristol. Two new characters were introduced that have become series regulars: Flea Marley and the Walking man. Both characters are great but the latter of the two is a hobo who appears to be far more than just that, given the series just the faintest hint of the supernatural.

Mo has also released three other books that have been largely applauded. Tokyo has probably been the most well received of all her books and tells a story of a young woman doing some research on the Nanking massacre. She is forced to take a job as a hostess and soon finds herself embroiled in a world of danger. The book is excellent as it visits the site of the massacre and gives a real sense of what went on there. Before becoming an author Mo apparently spent some time as a hostess and her experience really shines through the pages of this harrowing book.


The next standalone is “Pig Island,” and is probably the list favourite by the public. Personally I loved it. A man who spends his life exposing supernatural hoaxes is sent to a remote Scottish island whose residents are deeply religious and practicing Satanism. Inevitably, his beliefs are overturned after meeting the pastor Malachi Dove. This book does have supernatural elements and I loved it for it.

Pig Island

Hanging Hill is Mo’s latest book yet. I haven’t read it yet but will do soon. Mo is not the fastest writer but she is great.

Hanging Hill

John Connolly (u): A

Total books read: 14

Total Books written: 15

I stumbled across John Connolly in a rather unique way. I had a part-time job whilst at University in a book store. One day a rather frustrated author came in (obviously John Connolly otherwise this anecdote would be a waste of time) complaining that he had been given the prime position on the book shelves under the “book of the week” category and we didn’t have any of his books out for people to purchase. I took the brunt of his frustration (polite frustration I must add) and rectified the situation.

After he left the shop, I picked up the book to see what all the fuss was about. That book was “Every Dead Thing,” the first in the fantastic Charlie Parker series. John writes like no other author I know. He may begin a chapter with two or three pages dedicated to nothing but describing the town the chapter will be set in. This normally would be a massive turn off if any other author did it, but John’s writing is so vivid, so rich, that you are drawn into the beautiful descriptions. You often hear authors writing described as like reading poetry, well with John Connolly it is like viewing a beautiful painting and the best thing is, it is not even the strongest part of his portfolio.

Every Dead ThingDark HollowThe Killing KindThe White RoadThe Black Angel
John’s characters are second to none. Charlie Parker is an excellent hero. Haunted by the death of his wife and child and touched with a sort of supernatural power where they visit him in his dreams. Charlie walks the line between right and wrong. He is friendly with the wrong sort of men who all have big hearts. In Angel and Louis, John has invented my two favourite sidekicks - Louis especially. He is like Win and Joe Pike mentioned above in his laconic nature, but he is also far more human and realistic then either of those two.

The UnquietThe ReapersThe LoversThe WhisperersThe Burning Soul
With each book, John explores a new theme. It makes each book unique, which for a series spanning 10 books so far is a major achievement. There is no formula to the books. One might be heavy on the supernatural elements, one on the history of a place. There is not a bad book in this series and it does not show signs of weakening.

John has also written two stand alone books. The first Bad Man is an excellent book but it is the second, “the book of lost things” that is the stand out for me. Based on the premise of a boy entering a fantasy fairytale world, John mixes humour with empathy. He delights in taking all the traditional fairy stories we grew up with and flipping them on their heads. His treatment of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves is fantastic.

Bad MenThe Book of Lost Things
In recent years, John has increased his productivity. He now almost produces two books a year. The second book is a young adult book that is largely humorous. Based on a little boy dealing with demons escaped from hell, the books are littered with extremely funny footnotes and John has great fun letting his humour fly.

The GatesHell's Bells
All of these books, coupled with an excellent short story collection (some of the stories have been optioned for films) make John one of my favourite authors. He is easily the best in the crime genre and I look forward to his books every year/6 months.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Book Review: The Kinshield Legacy

The Kinshield Legacy - K.C. May

The Kinshield Legacy

A short while ago, I started exploring the reasonably priced books on Amazon. If they got good reviews, I purchased them. One such series was the Kinshield saga. I had vaguely heard of this title and so, looking for something new, I delved in.

I was pleasantly surprised. Book 1 the Kinshield Legacy focuses mainly on Gavin, a Warrant knight who lives in disgrace of his past and the actions of his ancestor Ronor Kinshield (Ronor basically failed in his duty to protect his King).

Gavin is a conflicted character. On one hand he has a deep rooted sense of honour and on the other he likes to waste his time in taverns and on wenches. However, Gavin has a secret. For some reason he knows the answers to solving the Rune stones (five gems that are placed in a tablet). Whoever solves the Runes, will become King. No one has got close to solving them in over 200 hundred years, but Gavin has already solved three of them.

The Kinshield Legacy is firmly in the “good book” category. The story is straightforward but very satisfying. K.C. May builds a believable world with a nice history. Gavin is complex enough to be interesting and the supporting cast are very much the same, providing a mixture of depth and humour that elevates the story above your run of the mill fantasy fare. The power that Gavin finds himself imbued with is well handled. Even if Gavin is a little slow to realise what is happening.

Daia arguably shares the spotlight as the main protagonist and it is her relationship with Gavin which makes up the best and weakest parts of the book.

The bond Gavin and Daia inevitably form is believable but sometimes clumsy. The only real negative I have when it comes to this book is in the dialogue these two characters share at the start of their relationship. K.C.May sets her story in a pseudo medieval world, however occasionally modern terms litter the dialogue.

For example, at one point Daia is trying to impress Gavin and says something stupid. Her inner dialogue says “dolt!”. For me this seems too modern, almost Homer Simpson-esque. Another example is when the dialogue is in full flow and Gavin says something sarcastic. Daia responds with something like, “You are such a comedian.” Again this doesn’t seem to fit with the setting and threw me out of story.

I must stress that these instances are rare. I found the book most enjoyable. Although the world seems a little restricted the history is rich and provided a nice layer of depth. In fact it was one of the only books where I have been tempted to progress straight on to the next in the series immediately. My rating: 8.6

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Book Review: 22/11/63

Stephen King – 22/11/63
I hate time travel. I mean really hate it. I can enjoy reading about it or maybe watching it to a degree but ultimately I am left disappointed and annoyed. You see most of the time, travelling back in time and altering events never makes sense. There is always there whole question of, “well if that person had to travel back in time to influence that event then when was the first time it happened and what happened then,” question.
It was one of the reasons why I’m one of the only people that does not regard the Back to the Future series so highly. I can enjoy them as films, (well 1 and 3, I find the second film woeful). At the end of the day they do not stand up to scrutiny.
I have the same opinion with Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. Harry ends up saving himself? Seriously? How does that even work if you think about it?
The only series that has ever got time travel right in my opinion is an episode of Supernatural. Sam and Dean travel back to when their parents were young and despite their best efforts are unable to alter much.
So after that lengthy introduction, you can imagine my dread when it was announced Stephen King’s next book was going to be based around time travel. I love King. The man is easily in my top 5 authors, but I was seriously dreading this.
As the book approached release date however, it began garnering positive reviews. I expect nothing less from King but often he is not always praised so highly. I then saw an interview with King where he talked about how time travel has never been done correctly. Some of the best authors had tackled it and in his opinion stumbled.
It seemed Mr. King shared my views and thus led me to purchasing the book.
22/11/63 centres around Jake - A divorced teacher plodding through life. His estranged wife left him as he was emotionally unavailable. He has only ever cried twice in his life. Once when his Mother died and the second at a true story one of his student s had written about a horrible night in their childhood where their Dad had murdered his family. However Jake doesn’t care as she was an alcoholic.
When one day he is shown an amazing secret - a portal back into 1958, his life changes for ever.
With this book King is extremely clever. He has built into the story a failsafe switch that resets any history that Jake may alter. Every time he travels back to 2011, no matter how many, days, weeks, months or years he has been gone. Only two minutes have elapsed. If he were to re-enter the portal he would find his back in 1958 and everything would be reset.
Jake is shown the portal by the owner of the local burger bar, with the one request of travelling back in time to prevent the assassination of John F Kennedy.
What follows is a fascinating portrayal of life in the 50’s and 60’s. King really captures this period in time perfectly. His depiction of Jake integrating himself into society is believable and engaging. Jake himself is an excellent character. A reluctant hero of sorts, he is sceptical and wary of the consequences of his actions. Instead of choosing to fulfil his mission he decides to experiment on altering the past.
The first of these events he tries to prevent is some of King’s best writing. Fans of Quantum Leap and Groundhog Day will love the book but that isn’t giving the book enough praise.
Another idea that King has come up with is that the past does not wish to be changed. Every time Jake tries to change the past, the past fights back throwing obstacles after heartbreaking obstacle.
At his heart though 22/11/63 is a love story. Jake falls in love with a local substitute teacher. Their relationship is explored gently. The courting is in keeping of the era it takes place. The secondary characters are all vivid. The best of these being Teke, who reminded me of the kind neighbour in Pet Semetary.
The battle Jake faces to keep his true intentions and past a secret is a constant source of interest. The characters around him are not dumb but King makes Jake’s character believable enough that they don’t question him too much.
Lee Harvey Oswald is well portrayed. I have no idea what the man was like in reality, but King portrays him in an effective way. His motivation for the assassination attempt is sound although unhinged. The best part is the way King portrays Oswald’s family. They are long suffering to a viscous spoilt bully, but King injects just enough tenderness in the family dynamic to make it realistic that they stay together.
Most people loath King’s endings. I am pleased to say that his latest offering is a good one. King says himself that his son came up with it but it is difficult to see how the book could end in any other way. My rating: 9.4

Friday, December 2, 2011

On Writing

So I guess a lot of you have been wondering what is happening on the writing front. I could come up with a list of reasons why I haven't been prolific on that front but I have decided to tell you how it is: At the end of September I was made semi-redundant. What the hell is that I hear you ask? Basically, I work for a massive organisation and when you are told that there is no longer a position for you, you are given 3 months to find another job within another department before they officially pull the trigger.

So for the last couple of weeks I have been scrambling around trying to get myself a job to pay the mortgage and keep a roof over our heads. Long story short, I have succeeded. The new job is demanding, very demanding, I barely have time for lunch and have to force myself to go home. The commute to London takes me an hour each way and when I get home I have two young kids quite rightly demanding my attention. It is all I can do to stay awake and give them the attention they deserve before I fall into bed.

Needless to say, finding time to write has been a challenge. But.....

Managed I have. Next to my building there is a quiet unimposing pub. Very Harry Potter-esque in that you would not know it existed unless you walked into it even though it is in plain sight. I happened upon the pub by chance. Inside is very dark, the beer is cheap and the floors are uneven. A fire burns smelling of chestnuts. If I force myself to take a lunch break, I get to sample the beer and write a couple of hundred words. It is not the 1,000 a day I churned out when I was working in book 1. But, I am getting there slowly and steadily.

Will keep you posted.