Monday, February 27, 2012

Book Review - Fade Away

Fade Away - Harlan Coben
Fade Away
Fade Away is Coben’s third entry into the Myron Bolitar series. In this book we learn a lot more about Myron’s past and what makes him the man he is today. The premise is centered around Myron being recruited to find missing basketball star Greg Downing. The problem is Myron and Greg used to know each other very well. They were both rising stars and had built up a strong rivalry. Where Myron’s career ended, Greg’s went on to have all the success the sport could bring.
Myron takes on the job and as you can imagine, it is not quite as straight forward as it seems.
I cannot praise this book enough. It has everything you would expect from a Coben thriller, plot twists galore, red herrings, quick, sarcastic humour and of course I’ll favourite team of at MB Sportsrep.
The great thing about the book is that it is so much more than your average mystery. As each new snippet of evidence is uncovered it becomes more personal to Myron. We learn how painful it was for him to suffer the tragic accident that cost him his NBA career and also the effect it has on those closest to him.
The ever lovable Win also takes a more prominent role in the book. Whereas in the past he has been a silent partner (silent being the operative word), in this novel he has a lot more to say from himself and his bond and care for Myron is brought to the fore.
The same can be said about Esperanza, Myron’s secretary. She now develops a stronger personality then in the first two novels and starts demonstrating her own value to Myron.
The strongest aspect of the book though is Harlan’s ability to unravel the mystery whilst still allowing the reader to keep up with the plot. No author I read has more complicated plots than Harlan yet where as I have sometimes had difficulty in following parts of other plots such as minor characters not reappearing after 100’s of pages, Harlan manages to avoid such confusion.
He pulls this off by using a very effective technique. Every so often, Myron will pause and talk over the case with someone such as Win or Jessica. He will recap what has occurred and look at it from all angles. I have seen this technique used in other books and it can comes across as patronising to the reader, but with Harlan it never comes across as unnatural or forced. You feel you are actually part of the theorizing yourself. It also serves as a great way to mislead the reader.
Although I guessed parts of the ending (well the killer) it is highly satisfactory. There are many more facets that blew me away and every plot threat was completely wrapped up. My rating. 9.1

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Book Review - A Dance of Cloaks

A Dance of Cloaks - David Dalglish
A Dance of Cloaks

Hmm, this book is kind of.....well you see I thought it was....hmmm!!
Normally when I finish a book I know exactly how I felt about it and what the majority of my review will say. With Dance of Cloaks, I simply cannot make up my mind whether I thought the book was quite good or terrible. Notice I only said “quite” good. This is definitely not a good book. It is a million miles away from the quality of anything George R R Martin has written but at the same time I can’t bring myself to wholly condemn it. In that regard it is a little like Brent Weeks.
The story centres primarily around Thren and his son Aaron. As least I think that is supposed to be the focus. You see Dalglish introduces so many characters that are so non-descript you struggle to keep track of who they are and what they are doing.
Thren is the leader of a guild of thieves (the Spiders). There are twelve other guilds who are largely permitted to run amok by the real faction that controls the city the Trifect.
Thren is looking to unite the thieve guilds and overthrow the Trifect whilst also grooming his remaining son to be his successor andn be even greater than him in every way.
Undoubtedly, Thren and Aaron are the best thing about this story. Their characters are strong and believable. Their relationship with each other starts off strong and gradually deteriorates in an intriguing fashion. Aaron continually has doubts over his father’s decisions whilst Thren is always one step ahead of everyone and is a badass to boot.
However, despite there being a host of other characters, none of them grabbed my attention and made me care what happened to  them. Some I have already forgotten about and I only finished the book two days ago. Other were introduced 3/4s of the way through the plot and you think where the hell have you been? It is not as if these new characters are introduced to feature later on in the trilogy either,  they are merely brought in as a device to resolve part of the plot.
Scathing review so far huh? But this is where the book upsets me. Some of the characters have good story arcs. It is clear that Dalglish has attempted to make them more than just cardboard cut outs and I commend him for this. The problem is he has devoted so little time  on developing the reader’s relationship with them that when a plot twists occurs or a characters experiences a revelation I felt more disappointed then shocked. Disappointed in the sense that I felt it was a shame as that part of the story would have been really good had I cared more.
Not all the characters are non-descript. The mentor Robert Haern is intriguing and one of Thren’s right hand men is likeable, but overall everyone else is much of a muchness. At times the book has a decidedly Erikson feel about it in the sense that a new character is introduced meant to be more cooler and uber powerful than the last.
The setting never really establishes itself. The city fills very similar throughout. The magic is well handled however. It is understated and not bogged down with any sort of lengthy explanation.
When the conclusion happens it feels very anti-climatic. There are deaths galore but none that moved me. I think somewhere hidden amongst the confusing plot and multitude of characters a very good story is hidden. I sincerely believe that. There are enough positives for me not to rule out Dalglish’s writing and I will revisit him at some stage. My rating: 6.2

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Book Review: IT

IT by Stephen King

When I started secondary school the book everyone was reading was IT. It was “the" book to read as it was soooooooo scary. I remember picking it up eager to be scared witless. Instead, I was met with disappointment. I found myself trawling through pages and pages of meaningless characters awaiting the next appearance of the clown. In the end, frustration got the better of me and I gave up.
Now as an avid reader and a lover of King I have always looked forward to revisiting this book. My immature view of the so called “meaningless characters” are the things I love best about King’s writing. I figured more than enough time had passed for me to have forgotten about the small percentage of the book I had read for me to give it a whirl.
Imagine my dismay then, when after the first 100 pages or so, my opinion had not changed that much. King introduces a myriad of characters, all vying for position in a plot that doesn’t seem to realise what it wants to be. I had trouble caring for these characters as I had no idea who was supposed to the main protagonists.
Eventually, the book settles down and I began to get a grip of who was who. King tells the story over two time periods. Focussing on the characters when they were young and when they are older.
Initially this is confusing too, as he concentrates on six different people which I found hard to connect with and found myself constantly having to remind myself which adult matched up to the childhood experience I had just read about. Simply remembering all of their names was too difficult due to the aforementioned ton of characters King blasts us with at the start.
It was a good job I have faith in Mr. King and thankfully this book is huge, as after the initial disappointment, follows an excellent book that is both terrifying and heart-warming at the same time. The six children (lattery seven) soon become your best friends. With the exception of Mr. McCammon, no one writes childhood like King. He simply gets it and manages to capture the innocence and joy of being a child.
The children known as the “Losers” not only have to content with IT but also their dysfunctional families and local school bullies. It makes for some riveting reading. Each of the children feel like your best friend, you care what happens to them. When they suffer, you suffer.
The plot surrounds the small town of Derry, where an entity feasts on the residents in an alarming pattern every 27 years or so. The creature mostly forms the appearance of Pennywise the clown, but can assume the shape of your worst nightmare.
The scenes where the characters are adult s returning to Derry are also expertly handled. King cleverly plays on the fears of adults whilst also striking the balance of reminiscing  and nostalgia.
After the shaky start, the book is still not without its flaws. The interludes I found slowed the pace of the book down far too much and talked about characters I had no attachment to. I also felt that occasionally the kids behaved a bit too mature sometimes, but overall I am really going to miss stuttering Bill, fat Ben and the joker Ritchie.
This book is a master class in writing about childhood, it is just a shame it has flaws. Overall my rating: 8.9

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Book Review - The Sisters brothers

The Sister sBrothers - Patrick deWitt

I love the western genre but for some reason I never explore it. If there is a film on, I will watch it gladly, if there is a short story, I devour it, but for some reason I never go out of my way to get into the genre.
The Sisters Brothers was recommended by Niall over at the Speculative Scotsman. No disrespect to Niall but I never read his reviews if I haven’t already read the book. I read his last paragraph and if he liked the book then that is good enough for me.
The book centres on Eli and Charlie Sisters. Two notorious brothers sent on a mission to assassinate Hermann Kermit Warm. It is one job in a line of many that have come before. Just another job for two men who know there business and are good at it.
From the premise I thought I could gather what was going to happen. The job wasn’t going to go as planned and it would be the fallout of this that would make up the bones of the book.
However, the Sisters brothers is so much more than that. For a start the relationship of Eli and Charlie is excellent. At times they hate each other but are still compelled to stand by each other. The story is told from Eli’s perspective which is the right choice as he is the more sympathetic of the two.
Whilst Charlie is a ruthless killer, short tempered and interested in whores and money, Eli is full of doubts, craves the love of a woman and if he can help it won’t kill. This is all portrayed expertly so that Eli is never annoying and Charlie has more depth to him than first meets the eye.
The banter between the two is witty and doesn’t come across as forced. You really get a sense that the brothers know each other inside out and would die for each other.
Like the Reapers are the Angels, the book is made up of a series of events at various locations on the journey giving the book an almost episodic feel. Each bringing something different with new colourful characters introduced. Bizarrely one relationship that stands out is Eli’s relationship with his injured horse. Their mutual loathing of each other is amusing as their loyalty is touching.
The Western setting feels authentic and well researched. Importantly though you always get the sense the plot is progressing along.
When the brothers finally catch up with Hermann they begin to question their lives and that of their employer. The mystery of just what Hermann is up to is intriguing and trying to second guess what the brothers will do adds to the enjoyment of the book.
The end is satisfying although one part of it was a little rushed for my liking. This didn’t impede my enjoyment of the book though and Patrick DeWitt is an author I will be following. My rating: 8.6

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Book Review: The Reapers are the Angels

The Reapers are the Angels - Alden Bell

The Reapers Are the Angels

There are hundreds possibly thousands of post apocalyptic novels. The best I’ve read, McCammon’s “Swan Song,” King’s, “the Stand” and Cronin’s, “the Passage,” all deal with worlds that have been ravaged by something and focus on the human element of survival.
It is very hard to find a decent zombie novel though. Some of Brian Keene’s efforts have been enjoyable and Max Brooks does an interesting take on the genre but I have yet to find a zombie novel that I’ve really enjoyed....Until now.
The Reapers are the Angels is set roughly 25 years after the dead started returning to not so dead. The book focuses on Temple a young girl roughly 15 years old but with the experience of one who is much older.
Temple knows what it takes to survive. At the first sign of trouble she moves on. She has no emotional ties, just takes what she needs and goes. The story follows her progress across America. The people she encounters and the incidents she endures. Each of these episodes are intriguing and well portrayed. Whether it be communities in denial of the world around them, or mad mutants who feel they are superior you get the sense of desperation and loneliness of Temple’s plight.
Running alongside this survival, a carefully revealed back story is revealed that hints of a past family where Temple was happy.
Temple herself is a great character. She is hard and cuts herself off from getting close to other humans but at the same time displays a good sense of loyalty and at times subtle tenderness. It keeps her character fresh and the reader interested.
If surviving the zombies (slugs) wasn’t enough. Temple is also constantly looking over a man determined to kill her. It is this relationship that is the strongest part of the novel. Despite their hatred for each other, the two begin to recognise that they understand each other better then anyone else they have come across. The dynamic is interesting and plausible and concludes in excellent fashion.
Overall this is the first zombie book that I can say is really good. Others have been enjoyable but Alden Bell has struck the correct balance between portraying the horror or the situation and concentrating on the human elements of the story. My rating: 8.8