Monday, December 31, 2012

Happy New Year

2012 – A year in review:
Well we made it! No end of the world for us. Not that the Mayans themselves thought it would end but we do like to make a drama out of things. It has been an interesting year. Sleep deprived is the first thing that springs to mind, but two excellent boys make it all worthwhile.
We have also had the Olympics and the Queen’s diamond jubilee. Both of which were much derided at the start of the year, but ended up being one of the best things that have happened to this country and created an amazing buzz for a couple of months.
Writing wise, I managed around 50,000 words. Not ideal but then not too shabby considering all that I had going on either. Next year, I am determined to finish the second book in the Ballad of Frindoth trilogy. I think I will do it, I am also determined to hit my target of sending the first book out to at least twenty publishers (only 4 so far).
In terms of the blog, I have now had over 18,500 visits since it began. That is tremendous. I regularly receive around 30 visits a day which is just brilliant. I can’t thank you enough and hope this figure continues to grow.
This readership is in no small part to the regular contributions of reviews from Jacqui. I owe her a massive thank you as she is just as responsible for making the blog what it is as I am. Without her, there would be days where nothing is posted as I sometimes struggle to balance everything. Between us, we have managed 150 posts this year. Most of them are well over 500 words in length, which considering we both have full time jobs and other commitments is pretty good I’d say.
We hoped to write this post together, but due to me being stupidly busy over Christmas, I have not managed to raise anything. Maybe, Jacqui can do her own blog in the next few weeks? (How’s that for pressure?) But in all seriousness, Jacqui has been generous in her time and I am truly grateful.
So how much did I read this year? Two years ago I averaged 32 books a year. Last year I blew that out of the water and read a whopping 54 books. This year I read even more...
Total books read = 72
Most read genre = Fantasy (16)
Not sure how I found the time to do read all of those books. The longer commute has certainly helped but by Jove that is a vast amount of books. Even more frightening is the fact that I slowed down considerably from October onwards when the Kindle Fire came out and I found myself playing games on it. I doubt I will read that many next year but you never know.

Most read authors:
Stephen King = 5
Bernard Cornwell = 3
James Patterson = 3
Karin Slaughter = 3
Tess Gerritsen = 3
Suzanne Collins = 3
Wow, I might as well copy and pasted last year’s stats. This surprised me as I definitely experimented with a lot of new authors this year. I guess, every time I did not enjoy a book, I returned to the one of my favourite authors. I read two books by both Robert McCammon and John Connolly my other two favourites authors, the former I’m not sure why and the latter because I have read everything he has written.
Anyway on to the Awards Ceremony
Top 5 books of the year:
5. Water for Elephants – Sara Gruen
This book was part of my initiative to try new genres. It was the second one I tried and I absolutely loved it. The film did not do a too bad adaptation either but as always the book was far superior.
4. The Wind through the Keyhole – Stephen King
The Wind Through the Keyhole
King treated us to a return to his Ka-tet and did not disappoint. Reading about Roland and co again was like meeting old friends.
3. The Providence Rider – Robert McCammon
The Providence Rider
McCammon does not seem to miss with this series. Every entry gets stronger and stronger. In this book we at last meet the infamous Professor Fell – he exceeds expectations.
2. When the Lion Feeds. – Wilbur Smith.
When the Lion Feeds
Last year I lamented that I took so long to read second Smith book. This year I went back to his debut which was the best book I had read of his so far. Fast becoming one of my favourite authors.
1.    Red Country – Joe Abercrombie
For the second year running Joe takes the honours. Considering I read the Heroes this year as well, I was really spoilt for choice. Red Country steals the award for me, as I was in the mood all year for a western type book and this hit the spot.
Best New Series Discovered:
Legend – David Gemmell
Douglas Hullick deserves a mention but although it might be the last book I have read this year Legend steals it for me. I can’t wait to read more.
Best old author discovered (Author that has been around a while and I have only just started to read).
Jennifer Fallon.
I saw the Wolfblade trilogy in the charity shop and liked the looks of them. The first book surprised and delighted me.
Best continuation of a series:
Dark Fire – C J Samson
Dark Fire
Although there might have been other books that continued a series that I rated higher, this book reminded me how much I loved the first book and made me by the others in the series immediately.
Best scene from a book:
Red Country – Joe Abercrombie
Again, there were a few candidates,  Matthew Corbett sitting a Professor Fell’s dinner table in the “Providence Rider”, the scene in the field in “the Twelve” or Alex Cross facing down the deranged father in “Merry Christmas Alex Cross,” but the scene that wins is Lamb’s entrance into the bar in “Red Country.” It had been years since we say Ninefingers do his thing, and he had never done in better than in that bar.
Biggest surprise:
Ender’ s Games – Orson Scott Card
Ender's Game
There were a couple that could go in here. I was surprised how much I enjoyed the Hunger Games trilogy and how the third book in the Twilight series was actually very good but for me considering my aversion to sci-fi I loved Enders Game.
 Biggest disappointment:
The Twelve – Justin Cronin
I was really looking to the follow to the Passage. Unfortunately I have to put the Twelve down as a big disappointment. Although there, were some excellent writing contained within the book.
So that is it. I hope you enjoyed the award ceremony. I wish you a very Happy and prosperous New Year.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Book Review - The Marvellous Land of Oz (JS)

The Marvellous Land of Oz by L. Frank Baum
The Marvelous Land of Oz
(Review by Jacqui Slaney)
After enjoying the first of these books, I knew I would read more of them but did not intent to return as quickly as I seem to have done. I blame my suddenly increased workload and a bad cold which has meant that I just want an easy story to enjoy that is not taxing on the old brain ( well that’s my excuse):
The sequel to The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and set shortly after the events in the first book, The Marvellous Land of Oz follows the adventures of a young boy named Tip, who, for as long as he can remember, has been under the guardianship of a witch named Mombi in the Land of Oz. One night he plans his escape to the Emerald City, stealing Mombi's powder of life. Along the way, he meets with our old friends the Scarecrow and Tin Woodman as well as making some new ones such as Jack Pumpkinhead, the Wooden Sawhorse, the Highly Magnified Woggle-Bug, and the amazing Gump. Can they escape Mombi and make it to the Emerald City?
Just as in the Wizard this is a strange little tale, but it is entertaining, with the idea of an army of girls throwing out a ruler of a kingdom armed only with knitting needles. They think men have ruled long enough and any way the jewels decorating the city would look much better on them.
As mentioned in the description you have the familiar characters of the Scarecrow and the Tin man along brand new ones such as Jack- who is slightly annoying with his continual worrying about his head spoiling and the Gump, who is made up of sofas and tree branches and the mounted head of a animal.
For those who may have seen it, Jack and the Gump have been used in another film about Oz the rather strange sequel called Return to Oz. But do not worry this book is nothing like that, it is a tale of a boy running away from an evil guardian and on his journey creates three rather strange creatures and has battles with Jackdaws and finds out the truth about his past.
As I have said in the previous review, the writing is simple, there are not pages of descriptions, but the characters make you smile and the good guys win which with some stories that are around and especially with Christmas close surely that’s what everyone wants to read.
7 out of 10

Monday, December 17, 2012

Book Review - Foundation

Foundation – Isaac  Asimov

 Prelude to Foundation

This book came highly recommended by a close friend whose taste in books is uncannily similar to my own. He even said it was the type of sci-fi I was looking for, i.e. not bogged down in technological babble and character focused.  Once I started reading up on the novel I was surprised at just how highly the book was regarded. The first Foundation trilogy beat the Lord of the Rings to the Hugo  Award in 1965 for “Best All-Time series” don’t you know.  The books are short as well. To say I was looking forward to it was an understatement.

The blurb:

Foundation marks the first of a series of tales set so far in the future that Earth is all but forgotten by humans who live throughout the galaxy. Yet all is not well with the Galactic Empire. Its vast size is crippling to it. In particular, the administrative planet, honeycombed and tunneled with offices and staff, is vulnerable to attack or breakdown. The only person willing to confront this imminent catastrophe is Hari Seldon, a psychohistorian and mathematician. Seldon can scientifically predict the future, and it doesn't look pretty: a new Dark Age is scheduled to send humanity into barbarism in 500 years. He concocts a scheme to save the knowledge of the race in an Encyclopedia Galactica. But this project will take generations to complete, and who will take up the torch after him?

I always read the foreword of any book. I think it gives a good introduction to the style and “voice” of the author. In this instance, I immediately liked Asimov’s style. The first couple of the chapters of the book are excellent. The world building is excellent, not too in your face but not vague either. Asimov has a way of drip feeding you information without pandering the reader.

We are introduced to Hari Sheldon, a psychohistorian and mathematician. What this means is that Hari can foresee the future having worked out the scientific probability of events unfolding. He is a cagey character and soon it is apparent that what he says cannot always be trusted. He always seems to be one step ahead of the reader.

When we initially meet him he is standing trial for predicting the downfall of humanity. Asimov’s style is one that shows you brief episodes of a scene and then the rest of the action takes place off screen and is recapped later through people discussing the events that have unfolded. It is interesting but not always effective which I will come on to.

Asimov has chosen to cover a huge time span. As a result the above mentioned scene is the first of many taken from specific time periods. Hari’s trial for example, happen 50 years before the next event in the book, and the one after that is another 30 years in the future.

Each time we jump in time, a host of new characters are introduced and although the previous time period is recapped well, you spend the most of the time struggling to get your bearings and getting used to the new characters.

The story is not dissimilar to Simmon’s Hyperion in the regard that the story visits different stories encapsulated within the main arc.  As with Simmon’s work, some of the stories are better than others but the main problem I had is that by the end, I just did not have the enthusiasm to learn about another set of characters.

This was a shame as the storytelling was excellent. Asimov builds tension well and the climax of each episode in time is exciting, it is just a shame that I did not feel as if enough time was spent with the characters to become attached to them.

A few reviews mention the lack of female characters. I can’t say this bothered me especially given the period the book was first written. I just wish we stuck with the characters that were first introduced.

Overall then, given my high expectations, I was disappointed with Foundation. Given that it is such a swift read, I will not rule out finishing the trilogy. I will just not be in a rush to do so.

My rating: 7.3

Friday, December 14, 2012

Book Review - Legionary (JS)

Legionary by Gordon Doherty
(Review by Jacqui Slaney)
I am very fond of books about the Roman Empire, particularly those focusing on the armies. I have read the majority of Simon Scarrow books, all of which I have found excellent. This was a new author to me, but as the description sounded interesting and the price on the Kindle very cheap, so thought I would risk it.
The Roman Empire is crumbling, and a shadow looms in the east…

376 AD: the Eastern Roman Empire is alone against the tide of barbarians swelling on her borders. Emperor Valens juggles the paltry border defences to stave off invasion from the Goths north of the Danube. Meanwhile, in Constantinople, a pact between faith and politics spawns a lethal plot that will bring the dark and massive hordes from the east crashing down on these struggling borders.
The fates conspire to see Numerius Vitellius Pavo, enslaved as a boy after the death of his legionary father, thrust into the limitanei, the border legions, just before they are sent to recapture the long-lost eastern Kingdom of Bosporus. He is cast into the jaws of this plot, so twisted that the survival of the entire Roman world hangs in the balance
The initial story line does sound familiar a young boy is orphaned and sold into slavery to a cruel master. A meeting between his owner and an old woman in the market place however saves Pavo’s life and after a rather bloody event sees him being freed and given entry to the Roman legions where the reader follows him through his training and eventually out into the field of battle.
I really enjoyed the writing, this is a first book from the author, but the writing is excellent, with some good characters who in a short time, take on a life and become real for the reader.
There is plenty of quite brutal action but it is handled well, and twists and turns showing all the intrigue and plotting you would expect from the wealthy of Rome.
 The points of view change through the book, which is a good tool for keeping a readers interest, though it can be confusing. In this book though as the characters are clearly individual it causes no problem so you can jump from Pavo to the Emperor Valens back to the Centurion Gallus with no scratching of the head wondering what is going on.
This is not a tomb of a book but it is long enough for the reader to get engaged with the story. The chapters are quite short, so you get into a habit of thinking , just one more and then I will put it down, and  four chapters later, you are still reading, this to me is a sign of a good book.
This is a first in a series, and though it is also a first novel, I would definitely recommend this one and I will be looking for the next one.
8 out of 10       

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Book review - Breaking Dawn

Breaking Dawn - Stephanie Meyer

When I decided to ignore everyone who slated the Twilight series and give the book a whirl, I was torn between agreeing with them and enjoying the book. Who would have thought weeks after I finished the third book, I would be eagerly eyeing the fourth and final book to see how it concluded. The release of the film and the subsequent wish to avoid spoilers, told me all I needed to know about how much I cared for the series.
The Blurb:
To be irrevocably in love with a vampire is both fantasy and nightmare woven into a dangerously heightened reality for Bella Swan. Pulled in one direction by her intense passion for Edward Cullen, and in another by her profound connection to werewolf Jacob Black, she has endured a tumultuous year of temptation , loss, and strife to reach the ultimate turning point. Her imminent choice to either join the dark but seductive world of immortals or pursue a fully human life has become the thread from which the date of two tribes hangs.

Now Bella has made her decision; a startling chain of unprecedented events is about to unfold with potentially devastating and unfathomable consequences. Just when the frayed strands of Bella's life--first discovered in Twilight, then scattered and torn in New Moon and Eclipse--seem ready to heal and knit together, could they be destroyed...forever?
Breaking Dawn starts off with the same quality we saw in the third book. The writing is far more accomplished and flows in an easy read kind of fashion. Bella and Edward’s wedding at the start of the novel is actually enjoyable to read. I never thought I would say that after reading the maddening way Stephanie Meyer described the love the two shared in the first book in the series.
The wedding naturally progresses to the honeymoon and it is from there the real story begins. I will avoid spoilers but anyone that has seen the trailers to the final film will know what happens.
Needless to say, the resultant fallout is a brief shift to Jacob’s viewpoint. This adds a freshness to the series. Jake is clearly a character SM enjoys writing about and his interaction with Edward is fascinating as both characters struggle with their mixed feelings of respect and hatred towards the other.
The incident also causes fractions in the respective camps of both the pack of wolves and the clan of vampires. Again, it changes up the dynamics nicely and keeps the characters interesting. We also see alot more of Leah, who emerges as aanti-hero type figure.
This all leads to a twist in proceedings, which unfortunately I saw a mile off. To be fair I think a lot of readers saw it coming to. At first I was not too sure how I felt about it. I think I would have preferred events to transpire as they were before the twist as this would have made for a more intriguing scenario. Instead the twist allows a nice out for all the characters to be united, which is a shame.
The second half of the novel builds to the inevitable confrontation that has been escalating since the second book in the series. Before we get there however, we get to witness Bella experience her transformation. I had mixed feelings about this. It reads well but all of the foreshadowing that made me look forward (did I just say that) to the event never comes to pass. I wanted to see an out of control Bella turn psycho. Instead, she handles the transformation rather effortlessly.
We are then treated to several pages of a rapidly increasing cast and storytelling that verges on being padded. The final confrontation when it does arrive, sizzles with tension. Yet this too flatters to deceive. When all is said and done I could not help but feel disappointed with the showdown. Perhaps if Bella’s descent had not been so low key the ending would have been satisfactory.
New Moon then is a bit of a mixture. The storytelling continues to improve but the plot is slightly underwhelming compared to the third book. It is a shame, as there are many elements that you wished had gone in another direction to elevate this book into the very good category. Oh and Leah remember her? SM doesn't seem to in the second half.
My rating: 8.3

Monday, December 10, 2012

Book Review - 50 Shades Freed (JS)

50 Shades Freed by E L James

Fifty Shades Freed
When I finished 50 Shades Darker, I was in two minds whether to read the third part of the series. Though I had read worse books, I had a pile of books that I was looking forward to reading much more, so I hesitated for a while. Then reasoned, that the book was cheap, not a very long read and I always tried to complete any series that I started, so decided to give it a go.
When Ana Steele first encountered the driven, damaged entrepreneur Christian Grey, it sparked a sensual affair that changed both their lives irrevocably. Ana always knew that loving her Fifty Shades would not be easy, and being together poses challenges neither of them had anticipated. Ana must learn to share Grey's opulent lifestyle without sacrificing her own integrity or independence; and Grey must overcome his compulsion to control and lay to rest the horrors that still haunt him. Now, finally together, they have love, passion, intimacy, wealth, and a world of infinite possibilities. But just when it seems that they really do have it all, tragedy and fate combine to make Ana's worst nightmares come true...
Just like the rest of the series it is very hard to read an objective review on this book, in fact it is hard to find any comments apart from those on the sexual content. Again, people either say that this is either the best thing ever or the worst book ever written. In my opinion, it is not either, the writing has definitely improved since the first book and as the writing has changed so, the characters of Ana and Christian have matured.
The story line of Jack Hyde created towards the end of book two is fully developed in this one and keeps the readers interest and there are other sub plots as well, not particularly unexpected but they do keep the story moving. This is good as in some places the writing does have a tendency to stagnate with the continual references to Christians smell and the numerous sexual scenes that on many occasions actually distract from the story itself.
Despite all the various story lines in the book, the main theme is obviously Christian, Ana and their developing relationship. Though they are now married, they are still getting to know each other and both have limited experience in actually being with anyone else. Christian becomes a more rounded character as more of his background and history are revealed and Ana becomes stronger, more independent, though still very annoying at times.
The ending is conclusive and does tie up all the loose ends- if you pardon the pun and the author has also added some extra scenes at the end with one about Christians childhood and his first  meeting with Ana, this time from his point of view. The writing is not brilliant, but for those who have read the other books, do give it a go, ignore the hype and make your own mind up, it’s not a long book to read and there are far worse books out there.
7 out of 10

Friday, December 7, 2012

Book Review: The Price of the Phoenix (JS)

The Price of the Phoenix- A Star Trek Novel by Sondra Marshak and Myrna Culbreath
Review by Jacqui Slaney
Carrying on my theme of science fiction, and having mentioned Star Trek, I could not resist doing a review on one of the books. I know some of you are probably rolling your eyes at the thought, but I have always had a soft spot for the original characters and the dodgy special effects.  This book is one of those based on these original characters but has never been filmed:
Captain Kirk Is Dead- Long Live Captain Kirk
Spock, Dr McCoy and the other crewmembers of the Enterprise experience a stunning double-shock. The first, painful blow is Captain Kirk’s tragic death. Then his miraculous rebirth reveals the most awesome force the Enterprise has ever encountered. Spock is forced into a desperate gamble for Kirk’s human soul against Omne- the ultra human emperor of life beyond life and death beyond hell...
The story starts with the death of Captain Kirk and the crews’ disbelief that this could happen. To be honest this is what made me buy the book, as this sort of start is a real attention grabber.
All the elements of the original series is here, though the friendship of Kirk and Spock is touched upon only lightly in many of the stories, here it is an important part of the plot. It shows Spock is willing to do anything to get his Captain back, whether the original or even a copy of him and it is the friendship that Omne tries to use against Spock and Kirk and ultimately against the Federation.  The secondary Enterprise characters are all familiar and you have the unusual add on of the female Romulan Commander actually being on the side of the good guys for a change. The villain is excellent, Omne, is everything a reader could want in a Star Trek novel going against Kirk. In many series, where you have an established hero, the bad guy normally threatens a lot but is no real obstacle. Here though Omne is certainly an obstacle in fact it is very likely that he can actually win the day.
There are a some negative points, there are some long conversations that slow the pace of the story down, and you do have a fear that the story will stagnate. The emphasis on what Kirk looks like can also be slightly annoying.
Overall, this is a good story with an intriguing plot line of an invention that can make death no longer the end, and what could happen if such a discovery was made by a man with no rules and willing instead to sell to the highest bidder. For anyone who knows Star Trek this is a good story and even for those who have somehow missed all the fuss about it, I would still say that this is a good book to start with.
7 out of 10

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Book review - Merry Christmas Alex Cross

Merry Christmas Alex Cross – James Patterson           
After being underwhelmed by the last three books I have read, all of which had received positive reviews, I started to think I was in a bit of a funk with my reading. Was I reading too much? Had I just saturated myself with the amount I was reading? Or was it merely the fact I didn’t not enjoy the books as much as others had?
Whenever I feel like that, the only solution is to fall back on one of my favourite authors and read a story that you know you are going to enjoy. James Patterson is that man and his new Alex Cross novel has been released at just the right time.
The blurb:
It's Christmas Eve and Detective Alex Cross has been called out to catch someone who's robbing his church's poor box. That mission behind him, Alex returns home to celebrate with Bree, Nana, and his children. The tree decorating is barely underway before his phone rings again--a horrific hostage situation is quickly spiraling out of control. Away from his own family on the most precious of days, Alex calls upon every ounce of his training, creativity, and daring to save another family. Alex risks everything--and he may not make it back alive on this most sacred of family days.
Going into this book, I was aware that James Patterson was releasing another Alex Cross novel in April. I expected this book to be short and boy is it. I read it in less than a day, in a couple of hours in fact, which is fast even for a James Patterson book.
The good news is that it is a terrific read. In my previous reviews, I stated that the series was crying out for a change to shake up the characters. Instead, James Patterson has gone in a new direction with this novel and stripped everything back to a good old fashion story.
“Merry Christmas Alex Cross,” is essentially two stories in one, told over the Christmas period. The other problem with the series is that Alex Cross has become so well known by the public that each new book contains a villain more uber-powerful than the last and the situations he encounters are now global emergencies rather than local issues. That is why the first of the stories in “MCAC” is so refreshing. It deals with a local man that has gone insane and is holding his ex-wife and family hostage on Christmas Eve.
Alex is drafted away from his family to help and Patterson does a terrific job of portraying the tension in the scene as Alex is called upon to negotiate their freedom. The villain is plausible. The reasons behind his rash actions make sense and the terrible situation is really brought to the fore.
What is also nice is the reaction of Alex’s family to his need to respond to the crisis. Normally his home life is serene and sanguine. The love they have for each other is always over the top that it feels stupid sometimes. This time his family are irritated over their father’s decision to leave them and you actually feel sorry for Alex and question his judgement. It is a nice touch as normally Alex is presented as the flawless hero.
The second scenario is more familiar to regular readers. This involves a terrorist cell attacking Union Station. Alex is called into action but only as a bit part player to begin with. Again, this is nice to see. The story is engrossing, and the antagonists feel real rather than cartoon like.
James Patterson also manages to do something that he hasn’t managed to achieve in many books and that is to genuinely shock me. His brutal description is spot on and I can honestly say he really moved me in one scene.
Both stories are concluded well. Hopefully they will have repercussions going forward on Alex and his family, but that remains to be seen.
With such a short read the depth of character might not be there but after 19 books it could be argued that it does not need to be. This is a classic example of how a short book can be excellent. In short  - a great addition to the series.
My rating: 9.2

Monday, December 3, 2012

Book Review - Come, Hunt an Earthman (JS)

Come, Hunt an Earthman by Philip E High
Come, Hunt an Earthman
As I mentioned once in an earlier review, the first real books that I read were all Science Fiction. Where other girls were reading about horses and small cuddly animals, I was usually deep in a book about space battles and aliens. I blame the fact that I had an older brother and the only things around to read were star trek books.
After Rob’s recent review, where he mentioned that he had problems finding good science fiction to read, I decided that I had to start doing reviews on the books that I know and still enjoy. This is one such story:
You may consider yourselves experienced hunters. Many of you have hunted on many planets, but here things are different, for there are no mindless monsters or charging carnivores, but a devious, intelligent and dangerous prey. A prey who is out to get you before you get him Man!
In this tale, the earth has become a hunting ground for aliens, all the main weapons have been destroyed and the only defences the Earth have are small-outdated arms and the brains of the defenders. In charge of the aliens are the Hunt masters who ensure that the hunt rules are followed- i.e. females and the young are left alone. Things seem impossible for the humans, but still they fight on.
The story is told from the point of view of one of the hunt masters, through him the reader soon realises that there is more to this particular alien than first thought. He influences certain humans and though he does not give them the means to fight back, he encourages the resistance of the human race against the hunters.
This is a fun story, and moves along briskly without being bogged down in too much technical detail. There is a fair amount of action and some violence, but what do you expect, aliens are trying to kill people after all.
The humans to a certain extent are secondary characters, the main is definitely the Hunt master, but Vincent Walsh and the scientist Singleton are still strong enough for the reader to be interested in them and so cheer for the home team.
It is not a long book and is very easy to read; I have had my copy for years and still enjoy reading it, and would recommend this as a story for those who want a Sci-Fi book without too much science.
9 out of 10

Friday, November 30, 2012

Book Review - The Twelve

The Twelve – Justin Cronin          
For me, “the Passage,” Justin Cronin’s first book was a hit. Although I was not a massive fan of the format in which he changed the cast of characters about a third of the way into the story, it seemed to work. I found that Justin could write action pieces well and invoke tension into his prose. I was really looking forward to “The Twelve” then.
The blurb:
At the end of THE PASSAGE, the great viral plague had left a small group of survivors clinging to life amidst a world transformed into a nightmare. In the second volume of this epic trilogy, this same group of survivors, led by the mysterious, charismatic Amy, go on the attack, leading an insurrection against the virals: the first offensives of the Second Viral War. To do this, they must infiltrate a dozen hives, each presided over by one of the original Twelve. Their secret weapon: Alicia, transformed at the end of book one into a half human, half viral - but whose side, in the end, is she really on?
I am going to be upfront and say I was left pretty underwhelmed by this book. Maybe I am in a funk at the moment as the last three books I have tried (“Darth Plagueis” and GGK’s, “The Summer Tree”) I didn’t enjoy as much as I thought I should have or as much as other reviews suggested I should have.
I found the characters in, “the Twelve,” far less engaging than Justin’s first book. Justin adopts a similar format to, “the Passage,” although this time I did not feel a sense of annoyance or loss when the book moved on to introduce a whole new cast. Whether that was a good thing or not, I am not sure.
That does not mean I did not enjoy any characters in this book. Lila in particular is very interesting. Justin does a magnificent job of portraying her madness and the conflict she feels in knowing she is mad.
Sara is also an intriguing character and the only one I felt myself routing for throughout the novel.  I think this is because she is the only character that seems to remain consistent throughout.
Quite often Justin Cronin introduces a character, and just as you are getting to identify with them and look forward to uncovering their story, he moves on to another POV. This is a classic technique to leave the reader wanting more. However, I found that when Justin did return to said character, they no longer acted the same way as when we last saw them. There are reasons for this and these are explained but it made the reading process very disjointed.
The “virals” themselves could not possibly live up to the fearsome creatures we met in the first book and that is because they were now too familiar and we know more about them. Justin knows this and to his credit embraces it. Rather than give the reader more of the same, he focuses on the plot around their existence which suddenly becomes more complex and mysterious.
There are also several “cool” scenes throughout the novel. These help elevate the story from being almost bland in places to enjoyable with interludes of information. The chapter in the fields is excellent for example, as is a scene towards the end.
These rare scenes are so good, that you wish the whole novel was more like them. It is no coincidence that both scenes feature characters that have been developed and are consistent either.
For the most part though, the constantly shifting time periods and the large cast of mostly generic characters left me frustrated as I tried to work out who was who. Maybe, this is where the Kindle fails, as I was not aware of the appendix at the back which helps with the characters until I had almost finished the book. Would this have helped? Probably, but a book shouldn’t have to rely on such things.
Cronin’s writing is still very good however. The way he writes scenes is effortless, describing settings briefly without impeding on the story. The dialogue is good, although there are a few borrowed phrases when he goes for humour here and there.
I’ve read some reviews that complain about the Hollywood style ending engineered towards the forthcoming films. I have to say I don’t agree with these, but then again, I didn’t find the final climax to be anything to spectacular. If anything it was disorganised and rushed.
“The Twelve” then was a bit of a disappointment. It had many good things about it, but overall, I found the story dull and I struggled to care what was going on, especially around the second third. This left me annoyed as I really wanted to enjoy the novel as others have.
My rating: 7.0

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Book Review - The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (JS)

The Wonderful Wizard Of Oz By L. Frank Baum
The Wonderful Wizard of Oz
Now I know that after seeing the title of this review, you are now singing in a high-pitched voice the tune from the film, the book though is not quite a sugary as that.
Here is the blurb- though I am sure that everyone knows the story:
Dorothy thinks she is lost forever when a terrifying tornado crashes through Kansas and whisks her and her dog, Toto, far away to the magical Land of Oz. To get home Dorothy must follow the yellow brick road to Emerald City and find the wonderfully mysterious Wizard of Oz. Together with her companions the Tin Woodman, the Scarecrow and the Cowardly Lion whom she meets on the way, Dorothy embarks on a strange and enchanting adventure.

 I have always had a soft spot for the Oz books, there is something the stories that appealed to me, and when I saw the trailer for the new film, I suddenly felt the need to reread them again.
This is not a long story and is certainly not complicated and I am sure that most people have seen the Judy Garland film at some point of their life so think they know all about it.
However, there are no ruby slippers in the book, these ones are silver and the Tin Woodsman axe is not just for show as he shows on numerous occasions saving the companions on their journey.
There are some great touches; the Emerald City for a start is only green, as everyone has to wear spectacles when they enter. The wearer of a cap controls the Winged Monkeys, but only for three wishes. There are fighting trees, and a land and people made completely of china that have to go off to be mended when they are broken.
Though there is violence in the book that was not in the film it is not overly dwelt on and villains (the wicked witch of the west for one), are quickly beaten. This is not complex writing; it is actually quite plain and simple,  the book will not take long to read and does not have pages of descriptions. This is a fun strange little book; with characters that all have back stories which make them come alive for the reader, whose friendships make them able to overcome all obstacles.
I would recommend this book, particularly for those amongst us, who have been forced to sit through the film over the years and know all the words to ‘Over the Rainbow’, to see where the story actually came from. Thanks to reading this one and enjoying it, I am now revisiting all the other books and the other much more strange characters that are there.
7 out of 10  

Monday, November 26, 2012

Book Review - The Summer Tree

The Summer Tree – Guy Gavriel Kay
GGK is an author I have been meaning to try for a long time. Several people I know hold him in high regard and he regularly gets high reviews. I decided to start at the beginning of his work although I was aware that this was supposedly inferior to his latter work.
The Blurb:
Five young people find themselves flung into the magic land of Fionavar, First of All Worlds, to play their part in the vast battle against the forces of evil led by the fallen god Rakoth Maugrim and his dark hordes. This is the first book in a fantasy trilogy in the "Lords of the Ring" tradition.
As a rule I am not a fan of mixing the real world with a fantasy world. I prefer my fantasy to be firmly that. There are exceptions of course, King’s Dark Tower series does it effortlessly and so does Enid Blyton. Most books though I think suffer for it.
The reason I don’t like it is demonstrated perfectly in the Summer Tree. Whenever, someone is transported to a mysterious realm it is hard to make it feel realistic. I would expect to see people scared out of their wits and struggling to get their head around the concept. Of course, I can understand why authors don’t bother with this as it would make for some pretty dull reading but GGK does not even attempt to deal with the situation. His characters so readily accept what happens to them that it completely dilutes its effect.
More so they do not seem the slightest perturbed by the use of magic or outlandish creatures and take it mostly in their stride. This annoys me to the point of distraction.
So that pet flaw aside are the character’s any good? Well to begin with, I would have to say, “no.” GGK flits around multiple view points but spends so little time on each that it is hard to remember who is who and get a sense of who they are. A third of the way into the book and I only just began to get a sense of the identity of one or two of them. Maybe that is just me but I would have preferred a little hand holding to begin with.
I have also read a lot about how wonderful GGK’s prose is, so I was therefore shocked how annoying I found it at the start. I have never been one that believes one should adhere to the common writing rules but one I do agree with is the overuse of adjectives spoils a scene. Also in dialogue if you need to use an adjective to describe how someone spoke a sentence rather than use “he said”, or “she replied,” then your dialogue is not clear. The reader should be able to discern how the character is feeling without being told. GGK does this in abundance at the start of the book, for example, “he intoned lugubriously,” Really?
So “The Summer Tree” did not get off to the best of starts in my opinion and this is where I am glad I begin my reviews 150 pages or so into the book. It is so easy it enjoy the climax of a novel and forget all that has come before it.
“The Summer Tree” did improve. It never reached the dizzy heights for me to rave about it, but the plot had a little more to it, the characters established themselves a little better and the prose improved tenfold. There was still far too much labouring on about the history of Fionavar for my liking, which rendered some scenes bland. But there were some very good scenes in there too. By the end of the novel, I can honestly say I enjoyed the experience enough to know I will be reading the next in the series.
My rating: 7.2

Saturday, November 24, 2012

On writing

On Writing – Update
Jacqui asked me why I hadn’t posted an update on my writing the other day. I told her it had only been a few weeks to which she pointed out my last update was 10th October. Wow, has it really been that long? Sorry for going dark on you all, I didn’t mean to!!
Any long term reader of the blog will know that when the writing is going well I post regular updates, when it is not going well I tend to keep quiet. After all there is only so many times a man can whine about having no time in the day.
As it happens progress has not been too bad. It is not as good as I had hoped but I have been more inconsistent than anything.
Back in October I was called to do Jury Service - a process that is both interesting and mind numbingly boring at the same time. The endless hours of waiting around, did allow me to do quite a lot of writing however so that was good. The bad news was that I was off work for two weeks, which meant stupidly long hours when I returned and which I haven’t really stopped doing since.
During the last couple of weeks I have also picked up a virus - Sinusitus (is it a virus?), which has meant after sorting out work and the kids I have mainly wanted to just go to bed.
At some point between my last update and the present, I realised I was being stupid in beating myself up in not getting writing done.  It was really getting me down and I was stressing as each day passed and I hadn’t found the time to progress the novel. One morning I woke up and decided it didn’t matter. If I don’t get the time, I don’t get the time. I am honest enough with myself to know when I am slacking on the writing front and at the moment this really is not the case. I therefore shouldn’t beat myself up when I am not writing due to factors beyond my control.
The last few weeks I have found some sort of rhythm again. The target of 500 words tends not to happen. Instead I have bursts of writing over 1,000 words every 2-3 days. Far from ideal but the book is progressing slowly.
Last time:
Total words book 2: 46,246
Total words book 2: 59,242

Friday, November 23, 2012

Book Review - The Silver Skull (aka The sword of Albion)

The Sword of Albion by Mark Chadbourn

The Silver Skull

With this book, I did my classic habit of like the look of the cover, blurb sounds interesting, and on special offer!

Did not know the author at all, but it is a period of history that I like with the added bonus of fantasy thrown in, so how could I resist.

This is the description:
1588: as the Spanish Armada prepares to sail, rumours abound of a doomsday device that, were it to fall into enemy hands, could destroy England and her bastard queen once and for all. Enter Will Swyfte. He is one of Walsingham's new breed of spy and his swashbuckling exploits have made him famous. However Swyfte's public image is a fa├žade, created to give the people of England a hero in their hour of need - and to deflect attention from his real role: fighting a secret war against a foe infinitely more devilish than Spain...For millennia this unseen enemy has preyed upon humankind, treating honest folk as playthings to be hunted, taken and tormented. But now England is fighting back. Armed with little more than courage, their wits and an array of cunning gadgets created by sorcerer Dr Dee, Will and his colleagues must secure this mysterious device before it is too late. Theirs is a shadowy world of plot and counterplot, deception and betrayal, where no one - and nothing - is quite what they seem. At stake is the very survival of queen and country...

As the description says, the story is set in Elizabethan England with the threat of invasion by Spain hanging over the country and starts with an attack on the Tower of London. Lights are seen under the Thames, the gates unfasten, and guards are transformed and killed.

A prisoner who has been held in the Tower for years is released and disappears into the streets of London.

Elizabeth’s spymaster Walsingham then calls in his small team of spies, chief amongst them Will Swyfte to recapture the prisoner who wears a mask of silver which is vital in the defence of England.

Will is described in pamphlets and by word of mouth as the hero of England someone that the people can rely on, a public face for the defence of the realm

Though he is a hero, Will is involved with the others in his team in a very different fight than the people suspect. They not only seek to defeat the Spanish but also the Unseelie or Unholy Court that look to destroy all of England and who look down on humans as less than animals.

Will is a great character, and very human, he drinks and knows many of the prostitutes of London, where he goes to relax. He has great banter with his servant- Nat, but he has dark side as he never forgets his lost love Jenny, who vanished due to the Unseelie Court who are behind many peoples disappearances.

The writing is fast paced especially towards the last third of the book and very enjoyable, and as the chapters are quite short, you tell yourself, you will only read one and end up reading more. There is plenty of action, with a touch of horror, a description of a straw man burning, makes you go a trifle cold.

There are many good side characters, though I did find Grace- Jenny’s younger sister annoying. As the story develops, you get an insight into many of their back-stories, which help the reader understand many of the characters actions, which is good especially in the case of Mayhew one of Wills band of spies. 

The detail of the period is very good and adds to the story appeal. I also liked the Unseelie court themselves, the descriptions of the grey shadows and the images that they can show is very good, I would have liked maybe a bit more of them

This is the first in a series, and you can see the strands of the story that will continue on, but there is a definite conclusion to this one so the reader is not left on a cliff-hanger. Would recommend this as a story with many different elements so there is very much something for everyone, and I will definitely be reading book number two.

8 out of 10

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Book Review - Darth Plagueius

Darth Plagueis – James Luceno

As a rule I am not a fan of the Star Wars novels and the EU. I am such a massive fan of the films - where was the announcement on this site Rob? I hear you ask – Chillax, I reply, it was old news within seconds and the world had already spoken about it to the nth degree – anyway, I digress, I am such a massive fan of the films that anything in the EU that even slightly doesn’t ring true irks me. I often spend pages of the novel thinking, “Han would never have said that,” and get too distracted by the whole thing.

The novels I have read all seem to be stories told with an attempt to fit the characters in and make it “Star Warsy,” rather than a good story where the characters slot in effortlessly. I have yet to read a SW novel that does not borrow a few lines of dialogue from the films to make them sound authentic.

Darth Plagueis captured my interest though. A figure only mentioned in passing in the films, captured my imagination completely. Who was the Sith Lord that trained Sidious? When the reviews of the book were strong I was curious enough to give the book a whirl in celebration of the announcement of the new trilogy.

The Blurb:

He was the most powerful Sith lord who ever lived.
But could he be the only one who never died?

Darth Plagueis: one of the most brilliant Sith Lords who ever lived. Possessing power is all he desires. Losing it is the only thing he fears. As an apprentice, he embraces the ruthless ways of the Sith. And when the time is right, he destroys his Master - but vows never to suffer the same fate. For like no other disciple of the dark side, Darth Plagueis learns to command the ultimate power . . . over life and death.

Darth Sidious: Plagueis's chosen apprentice. Under the guidance of his Master, he secretly studies the ways of the Sith, while publicly rising to power in the galactic government, first as Senator, then as Chancellor, and eventually as Emperor.

Darth Plagueis and Darth Sidious, Master and acolyte, target the galaxy for domination - and the Jedi Order for annihilation. But can they defy the merciless Sith tradition? Or will the desire of one to rule supreme, and the dream of the other to live forever, sow the seeds of their destruction?

I was disappointed. I wanted to enjoy the book and in parts I did but at no point did I revise my above opinion on Star Wars books. Luceno is an accomplished writer and his knowledge of the Phantom Menace is vast. However, I found the book to be a bit all over the place if I am honest.

Darth Plageuis is interesting enough to begin with, but his character gradually fades away to be replaced by Palpatine. I was disappointed by this as I wanted to read about the Sith that trained Palpatine and not the senator of Naboo himself. By the end of the novel I am still struggling to think of anything interesting to write about Plagueis as a character.

Palpatine is not anything different from what we see in the films (I know this should be a good thing given my earlier comments) but there is no development of his character as his path to the darkside is generally skipped over. Although, there is an interesting segment of the book when we first meet him, scenes like this were few and far between. There is also a horrendous gloating speech at the end of the novel that had more in keeping with a “Scoopy-Doo” cartoon than a Star Wars piece of fiction.

What we get as a result is a history type text book of the events as they unfold. Dare I say it but it feels more like a fleshed out timeline, especially the latter parts where the plot shadows that of the Phantom Menace.

Others have praised the master manipulations of Plagueis and Sidious but I found it all rather bland and boring. Characters enter the story and then depart without getting any real sense of who they are and as a result I didn’t really care.

In keeping with the textbook theme, the ending of the novel felt more like a footnote to the Phantom Menace than a climax to a riveting story. James Luceno attempts to fill in the blanks and answer some questions not resolved in the films.

Maybe, I suffered from not having read any of the other EU books which I am told introduced a lot of the characters that I did not identify with. James Luceno is clearly a skilled writer and I can see how other regular readers of the EU have enjoyed this book but as a standalone novel I was not convinced.

My rating: 6.5

Monday, November 19, 2012

Book Review - The Railway Detective (JS)

The Railway Detective by Edward Marston

The Railway Detective

Review by Jacqui Slaney

I have always liked detective books, especially those set in an earlier time such as Agatha Christie and Ngaio Marsh to name two authors. Therefore, when I saw a series of books set in Victorian England, I was interesting the description sounded interesting, so I thought I would try it.

This is the description:

In 1851 England, the city of London anticipates the grand opening of the Great Expedition. Excitement is mounting with each engineering triumph of the railways, but not everyone feels like celebrating. A sudden attack hits the London to Birmingham mail train and it is looted and derailed. Planned with military precision, Detective Inspector Robert Colbeck fights to untangle a web of murder, blackmail and destruction. As Colbeck closes in on the criminal masterminds, events take an unexpected turn when the beautiful Madeline, daughter of the injured train driver, becomes a pawn in the criminals’ game. With time, running out, good and evil, new and old, battle against each other. But will the long arm of the law have speed on its side? Full of historical detail, unexpected twists and memorable characters, this is a mystery that will surprise you at every turn.

The story opens with violence, the mail train is robbed of its gold bullion and when one of the crew tries to resist as they see that their beloved engine is about to be derailed they are seriously assaulted.

Scotland Yard investigates and they soon decide that there must be inside knowledge of the trains’ cargo. This is where you first meet Inspector Colbeck and Sergeant Leeming who are given the case to solve.

I glanced at reviews before I purchased this book, as I did not know the author and the majority of them raved about how good the book was, so thought I would be onto an entertaining series.

 I started to struggle with the book though quite quickly although there were plenty of elements that should have made it good.

The story is set at the beginning of the expansion of the Railways so you have the conflict between landowners and the railway owners. The police force themselves were changing from consisting of ex military men to having a proper detective branch, so you have conflict between Colbeck and his superior who interferes with his work. You even have a love interest with a romance starting between Colbeck and Madeline.

However, I just could not get involved in this story; I found it dull.

Looking at what I have written, that sounds harsh, but unfortunately, it is true, all the things were there that’s should have made it a good read but they just did not gel for me.

I found myself flicking through pages trying to get into the story, but without success.
Looking back at the reviews, I can see that some people struggled but the majority seem to give the story and the writer ringing endorsements.
To me the characters were flat and did not get my interest even when they were in trouble.
I am a bit stubborn, so I did hold onto the end and so am able to say that by the end I had found the story had picked up slightly and came to a satisfactory conclusion.
Would I read the next one? Not at this time.

Would I recommend this one, well this is only my opinion, another reader might find it as good as the other reviewers did, but I do not think I could actually recommend this book to anyone.

5 out of 10