Thursday, May 31, 2012

Book News: New Stephen King novel announced

A new Stephen King book is always welcome news. His latest book will be called Joyland and is slated for a summer 2013 release. Check out  his latest newsletter below:
Stephen King's picture

Hard Case Crime, the award-winning line of pulp-styled crime novels published by Titan Books, today announced it will publish JOYLAND, a new novel by Stephen King, in June 2013.  Set in a small-town North Carolina amusement park in 1973, JOYLAND tells the story of the summer in which college student Devin Jones comes to work as a carny and confronts the legacy of a vicious murder, the fate of a dying child, and the ways both will change his life forever.

Full press release

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Book Review - The Summer Tree

The Summer Tree by Guy Gavriel Kay
The Summer Tree
Review by Jacqui Slaney

I could not write reviews without mentioning at least one of this author’s works. So I chose the first one that I read called The Summer Tree, this is the description:
 Five men and women find themselves flung into the magical land of Fionavar, First of all Worlds. They have been called there by the mage Loren Silvercloak, and quickly find themselves drawn into the complex tapestry of events. For Kim, Paul, Kevin, Jennifer and Dave all have their own part to play in the coming battle against the forces of evil led by the fallen god Rakoth Maugrim and his dark hordes.

This is a first in a trilogy called The Fionavar Tapestry, as in any first book, it starts relatively slow. The book begins in our world and you meet the five main characters and get a slight insight into who they are and how they relate to each other. The move to Fionavar is occurs relatively quickly and the 5 humans at first think they have been picked at random to take part in a celebration for a King in Fionavar, but later finds that each of them has a different part to play in this world.

As with any fantasy novel you will find similarities with other books, there are Elves and goblins or lios alfar and svart, as they are known here. There are wizards and gods both good and bad, magic, blood and death. There is also a prevalent Arthurian theme running through the story as well.

As I said, the story starts slow and I found it a bit hard to accept that you could be shown this other world and accept it and then go there as easily as these five people apparently do. You do need to persevere with the book though as it is worth it, as the story picks up, the characters become less wooden and stilted the further into the story you go.

The writing really starts to flow, and speaking for myself, I enjoyed it, there is plenty of action to keep the plot moving, and you start to care about the characters and the things that are happening to them, as people do get hurt.  As I mentioned in other reviews I am not a great fan of magic being used in books just for the sake of it. However, in this story it is cleverly used with the mages and their sources and the priestesses with their blood magic.

Some reviews call this a cheap copy of the Lord of the Rings, but this is a world in it’s own right and speaking as someone who is trying to write a book themselves I would be happy if anything I wrote turned out half as good as this one. I read this book and the rest of the series years ago, but I can honestly say I can still enjoy it today and the battered set of paperbacks still sits happily on my bookshelf. I would recommend this book to anyone who likes fantasy, as I am sure that they will not be disappointed

8 out of 10

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

On Writing - Update

I am writing!!

Judging from the way the readership of the blog has increased recently (we are now getting 25 views a day still minor but to a guy like me, I can’t tell you how chuffed I am), I would say that we have got the review section of the blog flowing along nicely.
However, one area that is woefully lacking is commenting on my writing. You know that small thing I started the whole blog for!! The bad news is that I have been terrible in posting regular updates on my writing. The good news is that I have been writing and writing a fair bit.
Unlike when I was writing the first book I have even less time to write these days. Back then, Although I had a newborn, I had an easy job and used to come into work early and knock out 1,000 words a day without breaking a sweat.
Now, I have two children: Joseph who is three and Jamie who is 10 months and hasn’t seemed to grasp the whole concept of sleep yet. I have also changed jobs and it is very demanding to say the least. I thrive on pressure at work, so I don’t mind too much, but I miss having the luxury of having 5 minutes to myself.
However, within the last month or so, I have found myself a nice little half hour window in which I can write on a semi regular basis. It is not nearly as much time as I want but it has got me back in the rhythm of writing daily again rather than attempting to pick up where I left off at sporadic intervals – never the best time to write and I now use that to time to post reviews or write posts like this one!!
So Monday to Friday for half an hour I have been vigorously writing away. My aim is to get 2,500 words done a week. 500 a words a day sounds easy right? In theory it should be, but sometimes those half hour slots aren’t possible.
To give an indication. Two weeks ago my words per day looked like this:
Monday = 1,024
Tuesday = 219
Wednesday = 645
Thursday = 205
Friday = 508
Total = 2,601
Not a bad week, although I sometimes used to do that in a day! However, last week was hit and miss to say the least:
Monday = 154
Tuesday = 1,644
Wednesday = 0
Thursday = 0
Friday = 506
Total = 2,304
As you can see, I was going great guns until Wednesday and Thursday happened to be days from hell at work. You can also see I take the weekends off to dedicate time with my family.
However you look at it, the positive is that the book is progressing.  I am now up to 18,733 words which is about a 6th of the way through. It is getting there, slowly and surely.
I have agreed with Jacqui (who is writing a novel too) that we would report how many words we have done each week to spur each other on. It is a sort of a friendly competition so to speak with the aim of making us write.
I will try and post updates every Tuesday. Although I am on holiday next week and so the updates won’t be regular to begin with.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Book Review - The Heroes

The Heroes – Joe Abercrombie

“Best Served Cold” was my favourite read of 2011. I loved the “First Law Trilogy” as well. When Joe Abercrombie announced a date for his sixth book “Red Country” to be released, I knew it was time to dive back into his books. “Heroes” has been labelled his strongest book. It is an understatement to say I am was looking forward to it.
The Blurb:
They say Black Dow's killed more men than winter, and clawed his way to the throne of the North up a hill of skulls. The King of the Union, ever a jealous neighbour, is not about to stand smiling by while he claws his way any higher. The orders have been given and the armies are toiling through the northern mud. Thousands of men are converging on a forgotten ring of stones, on a worthless hill, in an unimportant valley, and they've brought a lot of sharpened metal with them. Bremer dan Gorst, disgraced master swordsman, has sworn to reclaim his stolen honour on the battlefield. Obsessed with redemption and addicted to violence, he's far past caring how much blood gets spilled in the attempt. Even if it's his own. Prince Calder isn't interested in honour, and still less in getting himself killed. All he wants is power, and he'll tell any lie, use any trick, and betray any friend to get it. Just as long as he doesn't have to fight for it himself. Curnden Craw, the last honest man in the North, has gained nothing from a life of warfare but swollen knees and frayed nerves. He hardly even cares who wins any more, he just wants to do the right thing. But can he even tell what that is with the world burning down around him? Over three bloody days of battle, the fate of the North will be decided. But with both sides riddled by intrigues, follies, feuds and petty jealousies, it is unlikely to be the noblest hearts, or even the strongest arms that prevail. Three men. One battle. No Heroes.
In reading fantasy books I have firm preferences on the style of book I like. I love books that focus on the characters first and foremost and how they interact. I am not so keen on books that are based on tons and tons of action with no substance. The “Heroes” has a lot of both.
After the first chapter I had a huge grin on my face. Just being back immersed in the world the Joe Abercrombie creates is extremely satisfying. Lots of people describe Joe’s books as “dark and gritty” they are that, but they are also very funny in places.
The banter that fires back and forth between his characters is second to none. His characters are cool without even trying to be. They are just normal warriors, disillusioned with war. They do not have any conviction in the cause they are fighting for, just that they are required to fight.
Not a lot happens for the first third of the novel, but to me that didn’t matter in the slightest. I can count on one hand the number of authors that could have two characters locked in a room just talking back and forth and I would lap it up. Stephen King is one, but I think Joe Abercrombie tops the list. There were a couple of real laugh out loud moments in this book and I use that phrase sparingly, as I don’t often experience that emotion when reading.
Every character that gets a point of view is enjoyable to read. Calder is a fantastic creation, it is nice to see a character that is a genuine coward but also has a backbone. Gorst is also far more than a bitter observer of the war, being hilariously in love one minute and ferocious the next.
My favourite of the main characters has to be Curnden Craw. Instilled with a huge sense of honour, Craw is determined to do the right thing even though he is not always sure what that might be. His dozen are soldiers that you care about, with Wonderful and Whirrun being standouts.
But it is not just the main characters that excel in “the Heroes.” A sign of a good novel is when the minor characters stay with you as well. Tunny, Beck and Forest certainly do that and old favourites such as Shivers and Black Dow are also as delicious to read as ever.
Essentially though, this book is about war. That means there is are a lot of action and fight sequences contained within. Nevertheless, I’m pleased to say this book the exception to my aversion to action set pieces. The battles are well described and are told from individual’s perspective, so you really get the sense that the character you are reading about is developing as they fight.
It is not perfect, there is one chapter where the battle is described in short paragraphs by unknown characters. After a while I found this slightly tedious and wanted to get back to the characters I had been reading about. This was only because Abercrombie made the characters so dam enjoyable.  
Overall, I loved this book. It pushes Joe Abercrombie up into the upper echelon of my favourite authors. Red Country is due out in a few months time and I can’t think of a book I am more looking forward too.
My rating 9.1

Friday, May 25, 2012

Book Review - Before I go to sleep

Before I go to Sleep- by SJ Watson
 Before I Go To Sleep

Review by Jacqui Slaney
As you can probably tell from the reviews I have done, my main reading does revolve around fantasy.  I do try to read other genres though, for example, a friend got me on to John Connolly who I now really like, so when I saw this book and read the reviews and the description, I thought it sounded intriguing:
Memories define us.
So what if you lost yours every time you went to sleep?
Your names, your identity, your past, even the people you love - all forgotten overnight.
And the one person you trust may only be telling you half the story.
Welcome to Christine's life.

As you can see the idea sounds interesting; you can imagine what this would be like, waking up everyday to not knowing who you are, or where you are and having to trust completely what you are told. You can imagine the confusion and the hopelessness of what your life would be.

This is exactly what the character Christine goes through every day. Every morning she awakes to find that she has lost all memories of the day before. Therefore, she has to go through a routine of rediscovering herself. She finds that she is older than she expects to be, and the man that she finds in bed with informs her that he is her husband and that she has been like this since an accident.  She starts to keep a journal of her day following the advice of a new doctor, which starts to help her, but when she starts to get flashes of old memories, that is when she starts to find things out about her life.

The story is a thriller and there is suspense. You will see reviews where the reader was kept gasping all the way through, that the suspense was brilliant and they could not work out the plot, and others who really disliked it.
This is a debut novel and it is quite a good one (I know, you can all hear the ‘but’ coming along), but, I must admit I worked out the ending from quite early in the book, and worked out why all this was happening, and that is someone who has not read that many thrillers!   I thought the writing was predictable and repetitive and so there was little suspense for me. A reader in my opinion had to read too many times about Christine’s start to the day and her rediscovery of things, and too be honest I did keep thinking that some of the plot was far fetched and that other people would be there, helping Christine and not just have left her to her condition.

Although all the hype on this book says it is brilliant etc, I am afraid that I will be one of the few voices not enthusiastic about it, the idea was excellent, but think it could have been dealt with in a much better way.

5 out of 10                   

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Book Review - The Silent Girl

The Silent Girl – Tess Gerritsen
Tess Gerristen’s last two books in the Isles and Rizzoli series couldn’t have been more different if she tried. Tess has the ability to explore completely different themes whilst still effortlessly focusing on the core group of characters she has created. Most importantly, it always feels natural and not like she is trying to meld her characters with the new themes. In “Keeping the Dead,” the theme was centred around the ancient art of mummification and in “the Killing Place” the theme was around close knit communities ruled be cults.
Needless to say, I couldn’t wait to see what the “Silent Girl” was about.
The blurb:
When a severed hand, clutching a gun, is found in a Chinatown alley in downtown Boston, detective Jane Rizzoli climbs to the adjacent roof-top and finds the hand's owner: a red-haired woman whose throat has been slashed so deeply the head is nearly severed. She is dressed all in black, and the only clues to her identity are a throwaway cell phone and a scrawled address of a long-shuttered restaurant. With its wary immigrant population, Chinatown is a closed neighbourhood of long-held secrets - and nowhere is this more obvious than when Jane meets Iris Fang. Strikingly beautiful, her long black hair streaked with grey, she is a renowned martial arts master. Yet, despite being skilled in swordplay, neither she nor her strangely aloof daughter, Willow, will admit any knowledge of the rooftop murder. And pathologist Dr Maura Isles has determined that the murder weapon was a sword crafted of ancient metal from China. It soon becomes clear that an ancient evil is stirring in Chinatown - an evil that has killed before, and will kill again - unless Jane and Iris can join forces, and defeat it ...
As the rather long blurb indicates, the theme of the “Silent Girl” is ancient Chinese lore. What I love most about these books is that there is always the hint of the supernatural. It is clear that Tess’s passion for weird phenomena shines through her writing, but it is always grounded in gritty reality.
When the book opens, Maura is testifying in court against a law enforcement officer. The officer despite having an impeccable record up until his last arrest is guilty of rough housing a criminal. Maura’s code is to stick to the facts and do what is right. This immediately puts her at odds to the rest of the police force and puts a strain on her friendship with Rizzoli.
Just like that, nine books into the series and we have a new dynamic between the two protagonists. This is the way to keep a set of characters fresh and interesting. Tess cleverly explores this theme by having it mirrored with the main plot of the story.
The Chinese culture within this story have their own code which is more in keeping with Jane Rizzoli’s and that is to do what must be done to get the correct outcome.
“The Silent Girl,” returns the series back to more of the police procedural format. Jane and her partner Barry Frost have to try to piece together the very view clues they are presented with and have to constantly interrogate potential suspects. This means the personal lives of Jane and Maura take a bit of a back seat, which is not necessarily a bad thing.
Jane’s marriage and daughter is still frequently mentioned, as is her mothers relationship and Maura receives a visit from Rat (the boy from the Killing Place), but other than that, very little about their lives move forward.
Arguably, the character who receives the most attention is Barry Frost. Barry comes across as a little lost as he desperately tries to fill the void left by his recent separation of his wife. It is nice to see Barry get this kind of attention as he has been a constant character in the series. Special mention also goes to Tam who hopefully will continue to be part of the series.
The plot itself is good. With each incident, there appears to be no natural way for the crime to have been committed. There is also the inclusion of a mysterious monkey like figure which plays nicely into the whole Chinese myth of the Monkey King.
The thing I enjoy most about Tess’ books is that apart from being so darn enjoyable, you feel like you are being educated. Tess introduces just enough history that inspires you to look explore the subject matter further if you wish. The “Silent Girl” not only touches on Chinese lore but also on organised crime.
The climax is good. The mysterious figure is revealed and is believable and all loose ends are tied up. It is all you can want really from an ending. Tess continues to impress.
My rating: 8.6  

Monday, May 21, 2012

Book Review - Faerie Tale

Faerie Tale by Raymond E Feist
Faerie Tale
Review by Jacqui Slaney
Most people who think Of Raymond Feist associate him with the RiftWar, with Pug and Jimmy the Hand and all other such characters, I was the same and then I found this book.
This is the description of the story:
 Successful screenwriter Phil Hastings decides to move his family from sunny California to a ramshackle farmhouse in New York State. The idea is to take some time out, relax and pick up the threads of his career as a novelist.
Good plan, bad choice. The place they choose is surrounded by ancient woodland. The house they choose is the centre point of a centuries-old evil intent on making its presence felt to intruders.

This is a dark fantasy story that borders on horror and if you have read any mythology tales, you soon recognise some of the characters that Feist has used, and weaved together in a story, which is certainly not for children.

The story revolves round a family- a writer and his wife- twin sons and a teenage daughter who move out to a rural location so that Phil the writer can have the peace and quiet that his writing needs. It sounds an ideal location but you soon find out that it certainly is not ideal for the family. The house is next to a gateway to the Land of the Faeries, and is part of an old pact between the two worlds and so should never have been sold. Now I know that sounds like something out of a children’s book, but trust me, these creatures are nothing like Tinkerbelle.

This is a stand-alone book but it is still a very strong story and it is a welcome change from the normal long series. This is another reason that I chose to read it, there is no complicated plot to follow or different characters to remember, and the story is simple but compelling.

 The way Feist describes the other world is imaginative and vivid, and the readers find themselves pulled into the story and the battle between Good and Evil, you can imagine these creatures being there causing these problems quite easily. As always Feist’s characters are well described and real and the action graphic and scary. In fact it is the described sexual violence which though only a tiny part of the story is what makes the whole story more disturbing.

Some people complain that this book is not like a Stephen King horror and is no good, but nowhere does this book claim to be like a Stephen King novel- so I am confused by the comparison. I have read this book countless times and always enjoy it and would recommend this story to anyone who likes fantasy and would like to read something a little different.

10 out of 10

Friday, May 18, 2012

Book Review - Catching Fire

Catching Fire – Suzanne Collins

Catching Fire
Having been pleasantly surprised by the Hunger Games, I was even more surprised by my desire to return to the world of Panem so quickly after. It was less than a month ago that I read Suzanne Collins first book in the trilogy and normally I wait at least a couple of months before returning to a series. However, I found the lure of how Katniss would respond to her success in the games and the repercussions of her defiance too much to wait any further.
The blurb:
Against all odds, Katniss Everdeen has won the annual Hunger Games with fellow district tribute Peeta Mellark. But it was a victory won by defiance of the Capitol and their harsh rules. Katniss and Peeta should be happy. After all, they have just won for themselves and their families a life of safety and plenty. But there are rumors of rebellion among the subjects, and Katniss and Peeta, to their horror, are the faces of that rebellion. The Capitol is angry. The Capitol wants revenge.
I was expecting this book to be about the rebellion against the Capital. It is to a degree but not what I was expecting. To begin with we are shown the immediate fallout of the Hunger Games, how everyone responds to the events that took place and how they reacted to Katniss. Some of the character’s reactions are expected, others are not. What is not expected is how severe the Capital’s response is.
We get to see a lot more of President Snow, who is an excellent character. On one hand, sinister, ruthless and an all round nasty bit of work and on the other (well there isn’t another hand) but we get to see the facade he puts on in front of the cameras as he and Katniss are forced to demonstrate a cordial relationship.
If I’m honest, around a third of the way into the book, I was concerned it was beginning to stagnate. I was unsure as to how Suzanne Collins was going to kick start the next stage of the plot that was desperately needed. I shouldn’t have worried. Without spoiling the book, the event that ignites the action again is very effective and the pace of the novel picks up considerably.
As a result, Catching Fire is similar in many ways to the Hunger Games. However, Suzanne Collins improves on her first effort in many ways. Whereas the first book is about survival, this book is about fighting back and opens up into a wider scale.
Katniss’s character is a bit weaker this time round. It seems she hasn’t really developed from the young girl we saw in the Hunger Games. She is still annoyingly pessimistic and can’t possibly conceive the notion that others may be trying to help her. I found this frustrating. Yes, I can see that the idea is that she should trust no one, but to still question the motives of those that have proved their loyalty over and over was a tad tedious.
The new cast of characters are all good editions, especially, Nuts and Volts, although Finnick is a great edition too. The plot is tight and moves things along nicely. Whilst it might not carry as much on an emotional punch as the first book, Catching Fire is a very good middle book of the trilogy and is used to establish events for the finale.
My rating: 8.5  

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor 
Daughter of Smoke and Bone
 Review by Jacqui Slaney
I was in a bookshop, just generally browsing when I found this book, my bad habit of choosing books by their dust covers and reading the blurb inside kicked in, and I found myself at the till, where the cashier proceeded to gush for ages ( well it seemed ages, it was probably only 5mins) about the virtues of this book. I nodded politely, paid my money and left the shop, thinking that bookshops had become a lot pushier lately.
This is the description of the book:
Errand requiring immediate attention. Come.
The note was on vellum, pierced by the talons of the almost-crow that delivered it. Karou read the message. 'He never says please', she sighed, but she gathered up her things. When Brimstone called, she always came.
In general, Karou has managed to keep her two lives in balance. On the one hand, she's a seventeen-year-old art student in Prague; on the other, errand-girl to a monstrous creature who is the closest thing she has to family. Raised half in our world, half in 'Elsewhere', she has never understood Brimstone's dark work - buying teeth from hunters and murderers - nor how she came into his keeping. She is a secret even to herself, plagued by the sensation that she isn't whole.
Now the doors to Elsewhere are closing, and Karou must choose between the safety of her human life and the dangers of a war-ravaged world that may hold the answers she has always sought.

After checking out the reviewers, one of which was John Connolly, I started to think, this book may be something after all, though I was slightly concerned that it maybe aimed at the teenage market. Now I have a whole pile of books to read, but this one intrigue me, so decided to read it straight away- big mistake- I was hooked.

I should add here that it was only a mistake, as I have a sort of plan with myself where I write every other lunchtime, this book made me fail miserably at this. I thought I would just read it travelling to work in the morning and home in the evening, but no, I was hooked on the story and had to read it every chance I had, so it meant my writing schedule went out the window.

 I read the book easily in three days, it is not a complicated story, as it is the first in the series, you know you going to end on a cliffhanger and I was right. The writing is intensive, flowing so it pulls you along. The other world is described in short snatches and the reader really wants to learn more. All the character descriptions though sometimes brief, are excellent and the character of Karou is well defined. The reader is caught up in divided loyalties over Karou’s feelings about Akiva, especially following his actions to her other world family. The other world is imaginative and is easily pictured.

If I have one complaint, it is that I wanted to know more about the Chimaeras’ mentioned. However, this didn’t happen, but then again as I said earlier this is the first in a series, so I will just have to hope this is rectified later.

There are also some complaints in reviews saying that everyone is just too perfect, just too beautiful, especially Karou. Well obviously, they did not read the book properly or they would have understood why this is. I cannot explain as I do not want to put in a spoiler here, but personally, I thought it was obvious why the writer had done this.

As you can tell, I really liked the book, and can’t wait for the second, which I hope is as good as this.

9 Out of 10

Monday, May 14, 2012

Book Review - The Return

The Return – Victoria Hislop
As far as “Reading outside my usual genre” goes, “the Return” did not fit into my original plans. The book was recommended to me by my mother who knew I had recently started reading historical fiction and thought this might kind of fit the bill. One look at the blurb told me that it was not going to be my cup of tea. However, not wishing to disappoint dear old mum - who wants to be that guy? I said I would give it a whirl.
The blurb:
"Beneath the majestic towers of the Alhambra, Granada's cobbled streets resonate with music and secrets. Sonia Cameron knows nothing of the city's shocking past; she is here to dance. But in a quiet cafe, a chance conversation and an intriguing collection of old photographs draw her into the extraordinary tale of Spain's devastating civil war. Seventy years earlier, the cafe is home to the close-knit Ramirez family. In 1936, an army coup led by Franco shatters the country's fragile peace, and in the heart of Granada the family witnesses the worst atrocities of conflict. Divided by politics and tragedy, everyone must take a side, fighting a personal battle as Spain rips itself apart.
After the first 20 pages I was seriously worried. In fact, for much of the first 150 pages I struggled. I was spurred on by assurances from my mother. Victoria Hislop commits all of the writing sins I have been taught to avoid:
·         Too many adjectives – check
·         Explaining every minor detail – check
·         Not sticking to the protagonist’s viewpoint and therefore learning what every character is thinking all of the time – you guessed it, check.
I grew increasingly frustrated that Sonia and Maggie could not just meet in a cafe and talk about the subject relevant to the plot. Instead: the walk to the cafe had to be described in minute detail; as would the 2 second conversation asking someone politely to move out of the way; as would the food they were eating; as would the..... well, you get the idea.
I understand why Victoria Hislop went into this detail as it did provide a flavour of setting and what life in Granada was really about. However, a lot of the time it simply came off as tedious. In the grand scheme of things, 60% of this was irrelevant to the story and the problem was I knew it was irrelevant as I was reading it.
The story really begins when an elderly cafe owner takes the time to educate Sonia about the Spanish civil war. This is where the novel steps up in quality in a big way. Gone are the overly descriptive passages, replaced with a frank retelling of the events surrounding the Ramirez family.
Victoria Hislop spares no feelings as she describes the harsh realities of the time and even more impressive is that as interesting as the retelling of the facts are, they are eclipsed by the internal war that rages within the Ramirez family as the parent attempt to unite their children.
All of the children are well portrayed: The arrogant bull-fighter Ignacio is suitably loathsome, the reclusive Emilio is both sympathetic and frustrating, the pragmatic Antonio is torn between family and duty and finally there is Mercedes who just wishes to dance. Mercedes is almost a retelling of Sonia’s story in her passion for dancing. However, here is actually interesting and VH succeeds in capturing the reader’s imagination.
I have no idea how much of this novel is factually correct, I assume the way it is told means that a lot of it is accurate. What I do know is how ignorant I was of the whole Spanish war and the tyrant that was Franco. This novel has made me go and research the whole subject further and so you can’t praise a book better than that.
When the book returns to the present day we discover that the two stories are actually linked. Any experienced reader will see the link a mile off. The whole set up is a little far-fetched as to how Sonia discovered the cafe but I was entertained by the book.
Overall then, do away with about 70 pages of the first 150, edit some of the prose in this section as well and put a little more thought into making it less of a coincidence, you are left with a very good novel.
My rating: 8.2

Friday, May 11, 2012

Moon Dance (Vampire for Hire 1) By JR Rain
Moon Dance
Review by Jacqui Slaney
It is strange how many different authors I have come across since getting a kindle. They have obviously always been there, but I have missed them on the bookshelves by looking for familiar names first.
This is such case; I came across this author shortly after getting the Kindle while looking at the recommended titles. I nearly passed it by, not a great reader of vampire books. Read a couple, Dracula and Interview with a Vampire, and do not mind watching films about them (though most admit- vampires that sparkle in sunlight, still strikes me as slightly odd) but they have never appealed to me that much.
However, the description on this one sounded interesting and a bit different, and the book was free so I thought I would give it a go:
Mother, wife, private investigator...vampire. Six years ago, federal agent Samantha Moon was the perfect wife and mother, your typical soccer mom with the minivan and suburban home. Then the unthinkable happens, an attack that changes her life forever. And forever is a very long time for a vampire. Now the world at large thinks Samantha has developed a rare skin disease, a disease which forces her to quit her day job and stay out of the light of the sun. Now working the night shift as a private investigator, Samantha is hired by Kingsley Fulcrum to investigate the murder attempt on his life, a horrific scene captured on TV and seen around the country. But as the case unfolds, Samantha discovers Kingsley isn't exactly what he appears to be; after all, there is a reason why he survived five shots to the head.
The writer makes Samantha Moon a very sympathetic character and you feel for her plight and her feelings for children. She has been a vampire for six years when you first start reading, and you feel her loneliness. She has made some new friends and as this is the first in a series, you are introduced to them briefly. They are still well described especially the husband, who I soon disliked intensely; I suppose to be fair you can understand his feelings of fear to find that his wife had been turned into a vampire, although the way he treats her will still have you booing him.
It is not a long story and it is not a complicated one, but it is an enjoyable read as the writing is fast and entertaining. Ok so it is soon obvious why her client survived the attack made on him, but the story is really about Sam coming to terms, which what she has become, and how she deals with her new life.
When you read other reviews on this series, there are complaints from some readers saying that each book ends on a cliffhanger, which forces you to buy the next one. I admit to not understanding these complaints, most series are like this and since when has some suspense been bad? These books are also inexpensive, so it is not as if you will have to spend a vast fortune keeping up with them either.
As you can probably guess, I have read the whole series, and enjoyed them all, if you want a short story that it is easy to read, then definitely try this one.
10 out of 10

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Book Review - The eye of the moon

The Eye of the moon - Anonymous
I read the “book with no name” a number of years ago.  At the time of its release there was a very clever marketing campaign. The book was written by a mysterious author (Anonymous) and who ever read the book later died.
It was more than enough to get me interested. I don’t know what I expected but it wasn’t the crazy, enjoyable romp full of witty dialogue and cool set pieces I got. Think “from Dusk til Dawn” meets “Sin City”. When the “Eye of the Moon” was announced I snapped it up immediately. I have a bad habit of purchasing books the minute they are released and then not actually getting round to reading them until much later (sometimes when they are released in paperback – which irks me as I could have saved myself loads of money). I don’t know why I do this but suffice to say I have only just got around to reading, “the eye of the moon.”
The Blurb:
In this, the sensational follow-up to "The Book With No Name", those who miraculously survived the blood-soaked conclusion to the first novel are back in town for another massacre to remember. Young lovers Dante and Kacy, hapless bartender Sanchez, Peto the Hubal monk and the mysterious Jessica - each will be drawn into the violent vortex surrounding the Bourbon Kid, the supernatural killer who is himself now being hunted. Hot on his heels are several vampire gangs, the US Secret Service, a couple of werewolves, some corrupt cops, and the Dark Lord himself, and none will rest until he is dead. But the Kid has vengeance of his own to wreak...
I am one of the few people that is not a fan of Steven Erikson’s Malazan series. Now I know what you are thinking, (apart from, “what the hell as Erikson got to do with anything?”) even if I didn’t like Erikson’s series surely I do not have the audacity to compare it with this book. Bear with me please.
The two main problems I had with Erikson’s “Garden of the moon,” was 1) it was unnecessarily hard to follow (some people like overly complicated plots and I do as well but only to a degree – it has to maintain my interest) and 2) it seemed every other chapter a new “cool” character was introduced that was even more badass then the previous incarnation and so you never got a sense of the order to the world.
I mention this digression, as this is exactly the same problems I should have with, “the eye of the moon.” The plot makes no sense in places and random characters are introduced who seemingly have no relation to the story. The difference is that Anonymous writes such enjoyable dialogue and with such humour that I didn’t care.
The book hurtles along at a frantic pace; the author leaves it up to you to decide who to root for as none of the characters are particularly nice and the thing is the manic plot makes sense in the end.
We also get an insight into the Bourbon Kid’s past. Well at least enough to know what made him so angry at the world.
All the other surviving characters from the first book return and we learn why the hapless Sanchez was spared by the Bourbon kid as well. The new characters are all enjoyable, especially the Shades. Dante’s attempt to infiltrate them is highly amusing.
As you may have guessed I loved this book. It shouldn’t work but it does. At the end of the book, although the plot threads are mostly resolved there is enough unfinished business to imply there will be a third book. You can bet your bottom dollar I will be there.
My rating 8.3  

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

New genres

Branching out on reading
Lately, I have been thinking I should branch out on the genres I read. I’ve already read a lot of: fantasy, historical fiction, crime, thriller, horror and action books. However, two of my favourite books of all time, “Boys Life” by Robert McCammon and “To kill a mockingbird” by Harper Lee do not fall into any of these categories.
I therefore find it mind boggling that I do not read more variety. This can only aid my writing as well as I experience new styles etc. So if anyone has any suggestions I would love to hear them. I already have “Water for elephants” and “the help” lined up. Check out my forthcoming review of Victoria Hislop’s “the Return” as well.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Book Review - Night Watch (JS)

 Night Watch by Terry Pratchett
Review by Jacqui Slaney
Night Watch
Now I find myself doing reviews, I could not resist writing about one of my all time favourite authors, and in particular this book. I imagine that most people have heard of Terry Pratchett, and that if they haven’t read his books then they have seen one of the dramatisations that have been on TV, which are good but in my opinion do not capture the full flavour of his books. Everyone will have their own favourite character, mine is Samuel Vimes without a doubt.
He first appeared in ‘Guards, Guards’ one of the earlier Disc world novels, and due to the careful handling of the author, his character has developed as the books have gone on. He is cynical, sarcastic, endearing, trying to be a good man in difficult circumstances in other words a true copper. Even after his rise in the ranks to Sir Samuel Vimes, he is still a policeman who knows the street.
In this book he is very much the central character, you get to learn of his past and what makes Vimes Vimes. His wife Sybil is currently giving birth, and the story sees Vimes sent away from this event and back to his past. Back to the early days of the City watch, when Ankh Morpork was a lot nastier, and the ruler (or Patrician) was insane and there was a secret police force used to interrogate prisoners. Vimes travels back in time with a murderer who he is trying to capture and finds he has to defend both himself and his younger self from this crazed psychopath. To complicate matters he finds that he also has to save his future by ensuring that history takes its correct course.
This is a great novel, not one to read if you are new to the disc world series, but definitely one to treasure when you have read a few earlier books.  Night Watch lets you meet well known character when they were young, and gives you a whole other perspective on them. This is a darker story than the earlier ones, there is still the humour that you expect from Pratchett, but there is also horror, intrigue, grief and sadness. You see the light and dark conflicts in Vimes, of what he wants to do and what he will let himself do and how he wants to protect his younger self from seeing all the evil around him. 
I’m not a great lover of time travel in stories, but this story is excellent, Terry Pratchett’s skilful writing gets you hooked from the start through to the ending which came all too soon. Out of all the disc world novels I have read, I would say that this is one of my all time favourites, and I would definitely recommend it.

10 out of 10

Friday, May 4, 2012

Book Review - The Wind Through the Keyhole

Stephen King – The Wind through the keyhole.
When Mr. King announced he was going to return to Mid-world many so called fans took the opportunity to once again lament how Stephen King destroyed the series after book 4 and how he is not the same writer he was. Many others (and I fit firmly in this category) couldn’t contain their excitement at once again being part of Roland, Eddie, Susan, Jake and Oy’s journey toward the dark tower.
For the record, I do not prescribe to the belief that the books declined in quality after book 4. Book 5 for example is my favourite in the series and inspired me to write my book. Book 6 I agree is perhaps the weakest and book 7 has it’s problems but I still thought they were great. (I still maintain that moving the first third of book 7 to the end of book 6 would have improved both novels).
The blurb:
This story within a story within a story finds Roland Deschain, Mid-World's last gunslinger, in his early days during the guilt-ridden year following his mother's death. Sent by his father to investigate evidence of a murderous shape-shifter, a 'skin-man,' Roland takes charge of Bill Streeter, a brave but terrified boy who is the sole surviving witness to the beast's most recent slaughter. Roland, himself only a teenager, calms the boy by reciting a story from the Book of Eld that his mother used to read to him at bedtime. 'A person's never too old for stories,' he says to Bill. 'Man and boy, girl and woman, we live for them."
As much as I loved returning to Mid-World, the time spent with Roland and his Ka-tet is brisk to say the least.
We meet our heroes as they are just about to embark on the journey to Calla Bryn Sturgis from the Emerald City. Before they set out however, they are warned by the strange behaviour of Oy that there is an imminent threat of a Starkblast (a horrendous storm that is fatal for those that do not find shelter). This provides the perfect opportunity for Roland to regale the group with another one of his stories. Although the time spent with the series regulars is brief, there are still some nice touches. For example, once again we are reminded of how harsh Roland can be in his treatment of Jake.
So what we essentially have here is a similar set up to “Wizard and Glass” where the majority of the book consists of Roland telling a story of his childhood. I’m fine with that as I loved Roland’s stories.
This however, is slightly different as it is a story within a story encapsulated within a third story.
Story 2 then is of Roland’s childhood and recalls a time when he is sent by his father to investigate reports that a skin changer know as the Skin-man is killing innocents. Here we are treated to a Roland who is not quite sure of himself as a Gunslinger. We see glimpses of the man that he is to become, but there are times when he doubts himself and shows his naivety. It is refreshing to see how he approaches the investigation and his thought process as he unravels clues. King still uses the excellent technique of hinting that Roland is working towards a goal that the reader is not allowed to see until it is revealed. This is great as you pit your wits against Roland to figure out what he is doing. Lee Child does this sometimes with Jack Reacher and I wonder if King (a fan of Child) did this with Reacher in mind?
Half way through story 2 we are introduced to the third story where Roland recalls his favourite fairy story his mother used to read to him. The story is called the “wind through the keyhole” and takes up the largest portion of the book.
Undoubtedly this is the strongest tale in the book. Still set in Mid-world the story feels very much like King’s other excellent venture into the fantasy genre, “the eye of the dragon.”
The story involves the young boy setting off on a journey to find out what happened to his father and make things better for his mother. King handles the tale with style. His writing seems so effortless that I can’t help but wonder why he does not delve into this genre more often.
A host of great characters are introduced and we once again we meet the character that defines Stephen King.
When the story is finished and we return to Roland and the skin-man, the story is well wrapped up. The end is satisfying and we find out more about Roland’s relationship with his mother which is rather touching.
For those looking for another Dark Tower story involving the usual line-up you will be disappointed. For those looking for King writing at his best, you will not be. Stephen, if by some mad chance you ever read this blog, I know Dark Tower is your take on the fantasy genre, but please consider writing another fantasy series. You are so dam good at it. At the very least, please do a collection of short fairy tale stories that will pee all other the Grimm brothers!!
Overall rating: 9.3

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Book Review - The Wine of Angels

The Wine of Angels – Phil Rickman
This is another book that I happen to come across on the Kindle that seemed to be well regarded and very cheap. It is book one in the Merrily Watkins series, of which I believe there have been 11 books so far. It often amazes me how someone who has written 11 books and is relatively popular can escape my notice but Phil Rickman had done just that.
The Blurb:
The new vicar in the village of Ledwardine does not need a haunted vicarage, or controversy over the first Ledwardine Festival. The event's focus is the mysterious death of a previous minister during the 17th-century witch-hunts. Then a girl disappears and an old apple-tree bears fruit.
I will be the first to admit that the blurb hardly sounds the most original but I was pleasantly surprised with, “The wine of angels.” The characters in the village are all well portrayed and are not forced upon you. Phil assumes that his reader has a degree of intelligence and introduces them quickly but leaves it up to you to work who is who out for yourselves. After a while everyone falls into place and you realise that you are firmly immersed into the intricate world of Ledwardine.
Merrily Watkins is a flawed character. Nervous about her new role but with an inner confidence in her ability, she is mythed when she is unable to demonstrate this to her new flock. She also wrestles with her relationship with her teenage daughter Jane, who increasingly questions her mother’s parenting skills whilst forging her own existence in the village.
As with Robert Jackson Bennett’s the Troupe which I read recently, the mystery or supernatural element is not what you would expect. The spooky elements follow the familiar tropes of bumps in the night etc but overall they are underplayed and as such more effective.
The third point of view character Lol is a former musician who was relatively successful before his career spiralled out of control. Lol wishes to keep himself to himself but finds himself embroidered in the drama that engulfs the Watkins family. Lol is perhaps the most interesting character. You empathise with his pain, but also worry about the type of man he really is.
Rickman excels at dialogue, his characters are all believable and you can feel the hatred and tension they have for each other.
One reviewer on Amazon (A Watson) describes this book as, “a ghost story wrapped inside a mystery and bound tightly together with the twine of dark folklore.” This sums it up perfectly but I would go as far as to say that this is also a lesson in characterisation.
The conclusion is more than satisfying with a nice twist. This is again underplayed and adds to the book.
Overall I thoroughly enjoyed my first experience of Merrily Watkins and would recommend the book to anyone looking for something familiar but different.
My rating: 8