Friday, June 29, 2012

Book Review - A Shadow in Summer

A Shadow in Summer- Daniel Abraham:
There are a few authors that I have never read but am really looking forward to reading: Patrick Rothfuss, Brandon Sanderson and Daniel Abraham. All three are well regarded within the fantasy community. Daniel Abraham is the one I have been looking forward to the most. A close friend of George R R Martin and a fan of his work, I was hoping for a tale that would capture my imagination as much as ASOIAF.
The Blurb:
The powerful city-state of Saraykeht is a bastion of peace and culture, a major center of commerce and trade. Its economy depends on the power of the captive spirit, Seedless, an andat bound to the poet-sorcerer Heshai for life. Enter the Galts, a juggernaut of an empire committed to laying waste to all lands with their ferocious army. Saraykeht, though, has always been too strong for the Galts to attack, but now they see an opportunity. If they can dispose of Heshai, Seedless's bonded poet-sorcerer, Seedless will perish and the entire city will fall. With secret forces inside the city, the Galts prepare to enact their terrible plan. In the middle is Otah, a simple laborer with a complex past. Recruited to act as a bodyguard for his girlfriend's boss at a secret meeting, he inadvertently learns of the Galtish plot. Otah finds himself as the sole hope of Saraykeht, either he stops the Galts, or the whole city and everyone in it perishes forever.
Do you ever read a book and get annoyed at yourself for not understanding part of it? You begin to doubt your intelligence or become annoyed at the author for making things too complicated. You then spend half the novel trying to work out what is going on.
Unfortunately this happened to me whilst reading, “A shadow in summer.” I can’t quite put my finger on why this was. I thought it could have been a number of things: Daniel Abraham’s characters all have unfamiliar names for example. Marchat, Maati, Lait, Amat, Seedless, Heshai,  Itani are the main cast, but then you have several other characters that all sound the same: Tahi-kvo, Dai-kvo, Milah-kvo. These all began to make sense eventually but initially I found it difficult to remember who was who. Still most fantasy books have odd names, so that shouldn’t have been the problem.
Maybe therefore it was the style in which it was written. Every character adopts a pose to express their feelings. For example Maati might form a pose of “query” rather than have a puzzled look on his face. This happens frequently and I mean frequently. I guess people are either going to love or hate it, personally I hated it to begin with, but it grew on me.
Finally maybe, it is just that I wasn’t in the right frame of mind to be taking the book in when I began reading it. This happens occasionally and when you’re feeling in that mood it is never best to start a book you are not familiar with.
Whatever the reason, I missed two important bits of information towards the start of the book and spent the next third getting increasingly frustrated and confused as I waited for them to be explained.
Having said that, once I had figured out who was who and got my head round what was going on, I really enjoyed, “A shadow in Summer”. It is difficult to believe that this is Daniel Abraham’s first novel. His prose is assured and he refuses to compromise on the story he wishes to tell. For example, action in the novel is virtually none existent. There is no gratuitous violence to appeal to a wider audience. Instead, what we have here is a real slow burner, focussed solely on the characters and their motivations.
And what good characters they are. Itani, Maati and Lait are all strong protagonists with individual traits, but it is the andat, Seedless that steals the show. His sinister plotting is reminiscing of Iago in Othello, although he does not hide who he is. This is fascinating, as the rest of the characters know where they stand with him, but still are unsure.
For those expecting a fast paced novel, look elsewhere. “A Shadow in Summer,” is a slow paced examination of characters and one I eventually enjoyed immensely. I feel that Daniel Abraham could have explained the event that the book hinged on slightly better, but now I am familiar with the world, I am looking forward to book two.
My rating: 8.2

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Book Review - Lost Fleet - Dauntless

Lost Fleet – Dauntless – by Jack Campbell
Review by Jacqui Slaney

Before I started reading Fantasy and to be honest most other types of genres, I used to read Sci- Fi almost exclusively. Having an older brother who read Star Trek and authors such as Robert Heinlein and Asimov meant that these types of books were always lying around, so I was hooked at an early age. Now although I read many types of books, I still like to go back to Sci Fi now and again.
Amazon recommended this book, I did not know the author, but was intrigued by the idea so took a chance.
This is the description: 
  The Alliance has been fighting the Syndic for a century, and losing badly. Now its fleet is crippled and stranded in enemy territory. Their only hope is Captain John "Black Jack" Geary – a man who has emerged from a century-long hibernation to find himself heroically idealized beyond belief. Now, he must live up to his own legend.
It is not a complicated story; a hero thought years dead is found in a ships escape pod from a long ago battle. He awakes from hibernation to find that everything has changed. This is no longer the world he knew, the morals and honour that he believed in has changed dramatically after years of warfare and all the people and family that he knew have died. He himself is seen as a legend that has come back to life and will save them all. After a meeting with the enemy Captain John finds him self in charge of a fleet and has to battle against the enemy, his own legend and petty jealousies to try to get everyone home.
This is not a long story and it is the first in a series so it obviously has a very open ending. As I mentioned, it is not a complicated plot and some of the writing is a little basic. I am not sure what holds you; I have read much better stories with better science and much more action, so I think the characters themselves hold your interest.
With Geary, you get a sense of how shocking the changes in his circumstances are. He is not used to command especially of such a large number of ships and men, he has to deal with this and the fact that even the way war is now waged has changed especially with the treatment of the enemy. You see how he fights against his hero status and how this works against him with some of his officers. There are really good scene in the ships virtual conference room when he confronts those who speak against him and also how he deals with a political leader who wants to split the fleet.
If you are looking for an easy but enjoyable read and don’t expect too much star wars type battles then give this one a go, I do not think you will be disappointed.
7 out of 10


Monday, June 25, 2012

Book Review - Before I go to sleep (RD)

Before I go to sleep – S J Watson
Review by Rob Donovan
I was looking forward to reviewing this one. My wife bought it a little while ago as she thought the premise sounded good. Jacqui reviewed it recently and was not overly keen, but my wife read it and loved it. I was intrigued by that alone, as normally my tastes in reading is very similar to both.
The Blurb:
'As I sleep, my mind will erase everything I did today. I will wake up tomorrow as I did this morning. Thinking I'm still a child. Thinking I have a whole lifetime of choice ahead of me ...'

Memories define us.
So what if you lost yours every time you went to sleep?
Your name, 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.

I have to admit, I did scan Jacqui’s review before I read the novel. I wasn’t going to as I didn’t want to be influenced in anyway, but I am pleased I did.
Jacqui’s main issues were that she guessed the ending and found the whole sequence of Christine waking up each day too repetitive. I will comment on both of these in due course.
First of all, anyone that reads the blurb and is not immediately intrigued is a robot. The book has a fantastic premise and the possibilities are endless. Can you even imagine being in that situation. Have to discover your identity every single day? Wonder who are the strangers that are telling you they love you? It might just be me, but the thought just blows my mind.
It is probably why, from the first chapter I was totally immersed in the novel. As Christine began to look for clues to her pass, so was I. I was on that journey with her. It may help knowing that you are reading a crime/thriller but I was still as suspicious as she was.
S J Watson strikes a terrific balance between Christine discovering things and then rediscovering things each day, without making it tedious for the reader who has the advantage of having a memory. Perhaps it was because I was forewarned that this may have been tedious that I did not find it as bad as expected, but I don’t think this is the case.
After the initial waking up and not remembering anything, S J Bolton does a great job of skipping this part of Christine’s morning and goes straight to the point where she has read the journal she has kept and reacquainted herself with her past. There are only a few occasions she does not do this but this is essential to the plot.
Another issue Jacqui felt the novel fell down was that she found it completely implausible that Christine would not have more people around her to offer her help. Admittedly I agree with this as once her husband Ben goes to work, she is left to fend for herself which just would not happen. However, I can see why S J Watson has done this. Introducing more characters would have bloated the plot and meant the reader would not focus as much on the few main characters in the novel, namely Ben and Dr Nash.
Both of these are well drawn and provide just enough of a hint to make Christine suspicious of them.
If I am honest I did guess the ending fairly early on. Unlike other novels when I do this however, I was not annoyed. I think we are supposed to guess most of it. The clues are laid out for all to see and it is not as if Christine is one of those dumb protagonists that miss the glaringly obvious all the time.
The ending is well handled and satisfying, even if you have to suspend your belief system for a number of parts.
As you can see I enjoyed this novel. I can see why it got the positive reviews it has, but then again I can completely understand why Jacqui had issues with it. It just goes to show how lucky I am to have Jacqui on board this site to offer an alternative opinion.
My rating: 8.4

Friday, June 22, 2012

Book Review: Gallows Thief

The Gallows Thief by Bernard Cornwell:
Gallows Thief
Review by Jacqui Slaney
Most of you will have heard of Bernard Cornwell through his ‘Sharpe’ series and ‘The Warlord Chronicles’, all of which have been mentioned on this blog by Rob.
Having read all these and enjoyed them immensely, I picked this one up with no hesitation. This is the story description:
It is Britain in the 1820s. After the wars with France, with unemployment high and soldiers paid off, the government lives in mortal fear of social unrest. The solution is draconian punishment for any crime, and thousands die on the gallows. But despite this, it was possible to petition the King and instigate an investigation. Cornwell's new hero Rider Sandman is a hero of Waterloo struggling to repay his family debts when he becomes involved in the case of a man waiting to be hanged in Newgate prison. Given the job by the Home Secretary of investigating the man's guilt or innocence, Sandman finds himself knee-deep in labyrinthine plots involving bribes, sedition and a massive conspiracy of silence. As this suggests, the contemporary parallels are never far away. The world Cornwell has conjured for us is as richly drawn as any in his distinguished career: gentlemen's clubs and taverns, haughty aristocrats, fashionable painters and their mistresses, and professional cut-throats; all this creates a heady melange that is just as impressive as anything in Cornwell's Sharpe series

Rider Sandman is the hero of the story, he has been likened to Richard Sharpe- but unlike Sharpe, Rider came from a well-to do family. It is due to his father’s debts and suicide that he has been left virtually penniless, as he has given the majority of his funds from selling his officers commission to look after his mother and sister. He lives in rough lodgings while looking for work. He is finally commissioned by the Home Secretary to look into a murder following a recommendation from a friend. In 1817, most people once convicted of a crime hang, but in this case due to Royal intervention, there has to be seen to be a token investigation. Rider however is an honourable man, and cannot just let the case go so easily. The book follows his investigation into the case and we are given insights into the appalling nature of the legal system in those days, the treatment of the prisoners and the complete lack of justice.

 This is another excellent story from Cornwell. He sets the scene easily with his descriptions of the worlds in which Rider moves, one minute in the shabby lodgings with highwaymen, the next with his wealthy ex fiancĂ©e. At the start of the book, a hanging is described and the graphic description brings it vividly to life, and you feel the hopelessness of those involved and what they have to do to have an efficient hanging. There is good period detail with the use of the slang of the time and  also some interesting detail about cricket, which Rider uses as an escape from his problems and we get to see the problems that there were with gambling in the sport even then.

Some reviews say that this is one of the weaker Cornwell novels, as the intrigue is quite basic. However, in my opinion, it is good as any of them with a good plot and as in any of the Cornwell novels, the characters are real and completely individual. There is also a small chance of a sequel, as this novel has a slightly open ending, which we can hope is revisited by the author, as Rider is an excellent character.

9 out of 10

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Book Review - Hells Bells

Hells Bells: Samuel Johnson Vs the Devil – John Connolly
John Connolly has been one of my favourite authors for a long time now. His Charlie Parker crime/supernatural series which forms the main body of his work is excellent. However, John also writes in other genres. His fantasy novel, “the book of lost things” is brilliant and his short story collection of horror tales, “Nocturnes” is far from shabby as well. Recently John ventured into the Young Adult market with, “the Gates,” a humorous novel not dissimilar in comedy to Pratchett. Hells Bells marks his second entry into this series.
The Blurb:
Samuel Johnson - with a little help from his dachshund Boswell and a very unlucky demon named Nurd - has sent the demons back to Hell. But the diabolical Mrs Abernathy is not one to take defeat lying down. When she reopens the portal and sucks Samuel and Boswell down into the underworld, she brings an ice-cream van full of dwarfs as well. And two policemen. Can this eccentric gang defeat the forces of Evil? And is there life after Hell for Nurd?
I really liked the first book in the series, the writing was simplistic without being too basic. John continues in exactly the same fashion with this book. The story is accompanied by a collection of footnotes where John light-heartedly talks to the reader sometimes about random observations, science and sometimes about figures in history. In “the Gates” many reviewers found the footnotes hilarious, personally I found them a bit hit and miss. They often distracted from the flow of the story and I found myself skipping over them until the end of a chapter. In “Hell Bells” I thought they were great. Everyone of them was wistful and added to the enjoyment of the book. They introduced enough information about historical figures to make you go and research them more – fantastic for young readers.
The story is much the same as the first, although this time it takes place in hell. Samuel is a little more grown up this time round. He is interested in girls now and starts to question his parent’s actions more. It is a nice development of his character.
Most of the characters are back although the stars of the first book, “Nurd and Wormwood” are not as prominent in, “Hells Bells.” This is a shame as they were my favourite thing about the first novel and where most of the humour came from.
However, John introduces Mr Merryweather’s Dwarves. Anyone that has read “The book of lost things,” will know how enjoyable the dwarves in that novel were. It seems John enjoyed writing about them as well, as “Hells Bells” the dwarves he writes about are fantastic. He seems to have let rip on their personalities and made them as despicable but at the same time, delightful as possible. I genuinely laughed out loud on a couple of occasions when reading about their antics - something I hardly ever do.
There story itself is hardly taxing. But the love and humour poured into the novel is evident. There are several minor characters that you can’t help but love. The battle that rages in hell is well handled and there are some surprisingly graphic moments for a children’s book.
All in all, this is a delightful book. It does feel a little too similar as the first in terms of the plot but the comedy and characters can’t help but win you over.
My rating: 8.4

Monday, June 18, 2012

Book Review - The Last Days of Newgate

The Last Days of Newgate by Andrew Pepper
Review by Jacqui Slaney
The Last Days of Newgate
As you have seen from my last few reviews, recently I have not been talking about books that I have only just read but books that I have read in the past and enjoyed.
This one is another one of those. I bought this book shorting after reading Ratcatcher by James McGee, as I thought that it would be similar, that Pyke, the hero of this story would be of the same style of McGee’s Hawkwood, I could not have been more wrong, though Hawkwood bend the rules- Pyke smashes them.  This is the description:
 St Giles, London, 1829: three people have been brutally murdered and the city simmers with anger and political unrest. Pyke, sometime Bow Street Runner, sometime crook, finds himself accidentally embroiled in the murder investigation but quickly realises that he has stumbled into something more sinister and far-reaching. In his pursuit of the murderer, Pyke ruffles the feathers of some powerful people and, falsely accused of murder himself, he soon faces a death sentence and the gallows of the Old Bailey. Imprisoned, and with only his uncle and the headstrong, aristocratic daughter of his greatest enemy, who believe in him, Pyke must engineer his escape, find the real killer and untangle the web of politics that has been spun around him. From the gutters of Seven Dials to the cells of Newgate prison, from the turmoil of 1800s Belfast to the highest levels of murky, pre-Victorian politics, THE LAST DAYS OF NEWGATE is a gripping, darkly atmospheric story with a fantastic, pragmatic - and reluctantly heroic - hero.
Pyke’s job is a Bow Street Runner but is sometimes not far from the criminals he is supposed to be catching. The book is quite dark and you get a real feel for the time in which Pyke lives by the excellent writing and descriptions of the places and of the characters with which he interacts. Some of the dialogue may be a little stilted at the start, but this is a new author, and to be fair the story is good enough so that this not distract at all.
The book starts by Pyke being asked to investigate robberies at a bank, but then the story really takes off with quite a horrible murder. The description is not for the faint hearted, as one of them is a baby that death stays with Pyke on his investigation and spurs him on. There is violence throughout the story, not least when Pyke finds himself accused of murder, and you find your self really gripped by the fast pace that the author has set for the story. The violence may be unsettling, but it is part of the world in which Pyke moves and very much part of him. 
I found myself changing my mind about Pyke as I read the book. I found myself disliking him, as Pyke is not an easy character to like, in fact in real life I doubt if you would want anything to do with him. He is completely ruthless, but does have some softer feelings, which I found made him a bit more human.  Pyke is not the normal run of the mill type hero, but then again as you read the story, it comes across quite clearly that the author was not planning to make him such. To do what he does, he has to hit back as hard as those around him do without too many qualms of conscience. This is shown very well when he takes his revenge at the end of the book.
I would recommend this book to anyone who wants to read a different type of detective story. This is a good read which excellent characters. It is the first of a series as well, so the writing gets better as the series goes on.  
9 out of 10

Friday, June 15, 2012

Book Review: Water for Elephants

Water for Elephants – Sara Gruen
A few weeks ago I posted about trying books in new genres. My first foray was, “the return” by Sophie Hislop. The book left me with mixed feelings. Next on the list was the popular, “Water for Elephants,” a book known to many probably due to the film adaption starring Robert Pattison and Reese Witherspoon.
I tend to find popular books a bit hit and miss but I’d watched a two minute scene from the film when flicking through the channels recently and it was enough to get me interested in the blog.
The blog:
When Jacob Jankowski, recently orphaned and suddenly adrift, jumps onto a passing train, he enters a world of freaks, grifters, and misfits, a second-rate circus struggling to survive during the Great Depression, making one-night stands in town after endless town. A veterinary student who almost earned his degree, Jacob is put in charge of caring for the circus menagerie. It is there that he meets Marlena, the beautiful young star of the equestrian act, who is married to August, the charismatic but twisted animal trainer. He also meets Rosie, an elephant who seems untrainable until he discovers a way to reach her.
My experience of reading about circus life in a normal genre is non-existent. I’ve read, the excellent, “the Troupe” recently and also “Something wicked this way comes,” but both were more fantasy/horror.
“Water for Elephants” was my first venture in this type of novel. As most regular viewers know, I prefer my novels to contain strong interesting characters rather than action or plot driven, “Water for Elephants” has a wealth of such characters on display.
The novel starts with an elderly man, struggling to come to terms with his age and begrudging the fact he is in a residential home. In truth he is the most likeable of people but Sara Gruen captures his frustration well. The story then splits to his younger life and it is here the story begins in earnest with constant trips back to the older Jacob.
Jacob could easily have been the robotic protagonist that we so often see in novels. The type that allows the other interesting characters to shine around him. To a certain extant he is, but in a very good way. He is naive, but never annoyingly so. He struggles between his conscience as he longs to do what is right and learning to accept the code of the circus lifestyle. It works well as reader learns at the same pace as him.
The members of the circus he interacts with are all intriguing. It would have been easy for Sara Gruen to define them purely by the acts they perform, but quite often their acts supplement their characters. For example, security are more than the tough guys they first appear to be.
Kinko the clown is perhaps the best of these. The relationship he has with Jacob is a delight to read, but Big Al and especially August are great creations.
The romance element to the book is well handled. It is prominent but without being dominant. Which leaves the real star of the novel to shine through – the circus and animals themselves. Rosie the elephant is so well written she is almost like a human character.
Sara details how she went about researching the novel, including studying the animal’s behaviour etc. I am no expert but the resultant novel feels very authentic and I would say the era and lifestyle has been captured perfectly.
One thing I was delighted to read is that a lot of the events involved in the novel are lifted from old circus stories. It is nice to think there is an element of truth to the novel particularly with some of the more outlandish behaviour of the animals.
As you may have guessed, I loved this novel. The ending is very touching and pretty much all a reader could ask for. Sara Gruen’s affection for the subject matter oozes through the pages. One of my favourite reads this year.
My rating: 9.3

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Last Light by Alex Scarrow
Review by Jacqui Slaney
Last Light
I came across this book completely by accident, was actually looking for another author but after reading the description I thought I would give this one a read instead.
This is the description:
It seems to be a very normal Monday morning. But in the space of only a few days, the world's oil supplies have been severed and at a horrifying pace things begin to unravel everywhere. And this is no natural disaster: someone is behind this. Jenny is stuck in Manchester, fighting desperately against the rising chaos to get back to London, where her children are marooned as events begin to spiral out of control; riots, raging fires, looting, rape and murder. In the space of a week, London is transformed into a lawless and anarchic vision of Hell. Jenny's estranged husband, oil engineer Andy Sutherland, is stranded in Iraq with a company of British soldiers, desperate to find a way home to his family, trapped as transport links and the very infrastructure of daily life begins to collapse around him. And against all this, a mysterious man is tracking Andy's family. He will silence anyone who might be able to reveal the identities of those behind this global disaster. It seems that the same people who now have a stranglehold on the future of civilisation have flexed their muscles before, at other significant tipping points in history, and they are prepared to do anything to keep their secret - and their power - safe.

Without giving too much away, the idea for the book is quite a simple one, disrupt the oil supplies, cause the different countries leaders to fall and then take power and make a lot of money. However, things are never that simple, and then it is like the domino effect, once that first block falls, it is impossible to stop the process.  To make the story more personal, the book focuses on one family. The husband is abroad, the mother is in Manchester and the daughter in London, their main goal when the trouble begins is to get to each other in London, and you follow their desperation as riots grow and spread and the transport links are broken. You see the horror of what is happening through their eyes to people around them and then to themselves.   Switching from one character to another sounds as if it should be confusing, but the author manages to switch the point of view without too trouble and still manages to keep the plot moving along at a fast pace. The characters are believable and you do care about them.
The story line takes off quite quickly and not far into the book you find yourself unsettled as this plot is all too plausible and you find yourself thinking that this could actually come true. We all know that the worlds oil supplies will not last forever and that new energy sources need to be found, but this story shows us how truly dependent we are and how close civilisation is to disaster if our normal way of life is taken away.
You only have to watch the news following any disaster or even a threat of fuel strikes to see how normally sane people react to a crisis in just one place, it is not a pretty picture and this book shows what can happen when it is on a global stage.
There are a few errors in details mentioned that as a reader you can pick holes in, wrong motorway etc, but to be honest, once you start reading you will get caught up with the story. It is extremely easy to read and it will stay with you long after you have finished the book.
9 out of 10

Monday, June 11, 2012

Book Review - Dead Scared

Dead Scared – S J Bolton

Dead Scared is Bolton’s fifth book and the second in her new series featuring DC Lacey Flint. Her no nonsense female police officer. I was concerned when Bolton announced she was beginning a series but I loved, “Now you see me” so much I was looking forward to this entry.

The blurb:

When a Cambridge student dramatically attempts to take her own life, DI Mark Joesbury realizes that the university has developed an unhealthy record of young people committing suicide in extraordinary ways. Against huge personal misgivings, Joesbury sends young policewoman DC Lacey Flint to Cambridge, with a brief to work under-cover, posing as a depression-prone, vulnerable student. Psychiatrist Evi Oliver is the only person in Cambridge who knows who Lacey really is - or so they both hope. But as the two women dig deeper into the darker side of university life, they discover a terrifying trend ...And when Lacey starts experiencing the same disturbing nightmares reported by the dead girls, she knows that she is next.

The book opens with Flint accepting a simple undercover role of posing as a student at Cambridge University to investigate a series of suicides. Immediately the relationship she developed with DI Joesbury in the first book is reset as the two are forced to limit their contact. Their mutual feelings are still evident but Flint struggles with the fact that Joesbury is her senior officer.

The plot is the real winner here, as it soon becomes evident that there is more to the suicides then meets the eye. It appears that the victims are being encouraged to take their own lives as they slowly lose their mind.

Before long Flint herself is targeted. This makes for an interesting dynamic as Flint starts to experience various strange phenomena which play on her worst fears. It is good as the reader is kept in the dark as they are not sure what is real or not - much like Flint.

The only other person who is aware of Flint’s task is Doctor Evi Oliver (in her second outing), a woman trapped in her own nightmare and confined to a wheelchair following an unfortunate ski accident. Evi is a good character and her own hallucinations add to the tensions.

The pace of the novel speeds up towards the end as Flint herself becomes slightly unhinged. I suppose this explains some of the silly mistakes she makes, but I did find myself frustrated at some of the clues she missed.

Overall though, this is a very good addition to the series and Bolton continues to be one of the authors I buy as soon as she releases a new book.

My rating: 8.4  

Friday, June 8, 2012

The Many Coloured Land by Julian May
The Many-Coloured Land
Review by Jacqui Slaney
Having once asked Rob for suggestions on what books he would like reviews on and being told to choose what ever I wanted, I am now totally taking advantage of this and writing a review on an author that I am very fond of.
The Many coloured Land by Julian May is the first book in a series of four - The Saga of Exiles. I first read this book quite a few years ago, I liked it so much, I went out and bought the rest of the series and then the second related series as well.
This is the description:
 Among the misfits and mavericks of the 22nd century, there are those who pass through the time-doors of the Pliocene Epoch into the battleground of two warring races from a planet far away.
Ok, so this does not tell you much, but let me try to expand on it.
The story is set in 22nd century; Earth is part of a Galactic Milieu along with many different alien races. The aliens all have higher mind powers such as telepathy; ESP, healing etc and humans now are developing these so-called special powers as well. The aliens as well as the humans are part as the elite as they have the high-powered roles within the Milieu, although for the ‘greater good’ everyone has to fulfil the role that the milieu picks out for them.
As can be guessed not everyone is suitable for this ideal world. These people are seen as misfits and not quite belonging.  A one way time portal is then discovered between 22nd Century France and Pliocene Earth, and it is not long before people who no longer want the modern age, travel back to this very much simpler era. However, they soon discover that they have left the frying pan and jumped into the fire. The story centres around one group of travellers who go back to the Pliocene and the world they discover there and the changes that occur not only to themselves but also to the world as a whole.
I found the story was a little slow to start. As is typical in the first of a series, the writer has to introduce all the different characters and try to give the reader an insight in the world that the writer is aiming for.
It is not long though before the story takes off. Julian May’s writing skills are excellent and the story is gripping and although set in a modern age is completely believable. The characters are described in a way that they soon become separate individuals to the reader. There are villains and good guys, though you may change your mind as you read the series, who is who. There is action and a good story line.
I know the thought of mind powers, aliens and time travel will put some people off reading this book and series, as it sounds too implausible. However, trust me it is completely worth it. You may struggle to find a copy but if you find one read it, or actually any Julian May novel to be honest. My set of this series I am happy to say is sitting on a shelf at home.
9 out of 10

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Book review - The Providence Rider

The Providence Rider – Robert McCammon

The Providence Rider was one of my most anticipated novels this year. It is marks the 4th entry into the superb Matthew Corbett series and see Matthew finally meet the mysterious Professor Fell. As fans of the blog know, Robert McCammon is rapidly becoming one of (if not is) my favourite authors.

The blurb:

When an unexplained series of explosions rocks his Manhattan neighborhood, Matthew finds himself forced to confront a new and unexpected problem. Someone is trying--and trying very hard--to get his attention. That someone is a shadowy figure from out of Matthew's past: the elusive Dr. Fell. The doctor, it turns out, has a problem of his own, one that requires the exclusive services of Matthew Corbett.

The ensuing narrative moves swiftly and gracefully from the emerging metropolis of New York City to Pendulum Island in the remote Bermudas. In the course of his journey, Matthew encounters a truly Dickensian assortment of memorable, often grotesque, antagonists. These include Sirki, the giant, deceptively soft-spoken East Indian killer, Dr. Jonathan Gentry, an expert in exotic potions with a substance abuse problem of his own, the beautiful but murderous Aria Chillany, and, of course, the master manipulator and 'Emperor of Crime' on two continents, Dr. Fell himself.

 I read somewhere that Robert McCammon likes to have a different theme for each book which has been evident so far.  If the last book was a psychological game of cat and mouse adventure, then I suppose, The Providence Rider is a crime mystery.

The story begins shortly after the events of, “Mister Slaughter” with Matthew and Hudson still trying to deal with their ordeal. Although Hudson Greathouse seems to have dealt with his issues a lot swifter. Matthew is no longer the innocent problem-solver we met in, “Speaks the Nightbird.”

It is not long before someone wants Matthew’s attention, setting off a series of explosions throughout New York and trying to frame him in the process. This inevitably leads to Matthew succumbing to Professor Fell’s bribes and setting off the Pendulum island for a conference at the Professor’s castle. He is accompanied by a host of unsavoury characters along with some familiar faces from the previous novels.

It is here the novel really begins as Matthew is forced to assume a new identity in order to fit in with the villains he finds himself amongst. This is intriguing as not only is Matthew a changed man, he is forced to become a character he is not comfortable with: Someone who is ruthless and heartless but at the same time trying to retain his sense of self.

The other villains on the island are not anything you haven’t already seen, each repulsive in their own ways. However, McCammon’s skill as an author is such that they all appear fresh and original creations. Each would make worthy antagonists to Matthew if they were alone with him in another novel and you find yourself wishing for each to have more screen time. Having said that I never felt cheated by the time I did share with them.

It is professor Fell though who is the real star. The anticipation has been building to meeting the crime Lord and when Matthew does stand before him, he does not disappoint. The professor oozes malevolence and McCammon does a great job of showing Matthew’s unease around him.

The Providence Rider makes constant reference to the previous books and so the series is starting to fill more joined up rather than a series of standalone novels. This novel could still be read as such however and enjoyed just as much.

Despite the multi layered levels of intrigue, the novel hurtles along at a frantic pace. The conclusion is satisfying. McCammon’s endings are always fulfilling without having to resort to cheap shock tactics.

It would be clichĂ© to say that Robert McCammon gets better and better so I won’t. Robert McCammon continues to improve on his legacy as a master author. The Matthew Corbett (aside from a Song of Ice and Fire – an unfair comparison I admit) is easily my favourite series right now.

My rating: 9.2

Monday, June 4, 2012

Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks
Review by Jacqui Slaney
I had always meant to read this book but just never seemed to find the time. I had heard other people raving about it but it was only when the screen adaptation was set to come on the TV that I was actually motivated to pick the book up to see what all the fuss was about.
The book has really three parts to the story, one is set pre war and tells the story of an Englishman Stephen Wraysford, who is sent by his employer to France. He stays in the house of one of the factory owners and becomes close to the family, especially close to the owners younger wife. The second part is actually during the War and then the third part is the story of Stephen’s granddaughter who decides to research her family’s past after finding her grandfathers diaries. The book does not flow straight from past to present, so you have to be prepared for the story to move up and down the time line which is easy to do thanks to the excellent writing.
The pre-war part is a story of the love affair between Stephen and Isabelle the wife of the factory owner, but this theme runs through the whole book as its effect on Stephen stays with him all through his life. The love scenes are quite vivid and very believable with Isabelle drawn to the younger Stephen as her own marriage and life though comfortable is without real passion. At times, I did find Isabelle annoying especially in later parts of the book but the affair is written sensitively and the reader is drawn into their feelings for each other.
The story of Stephen’s life is well done and very moving with the War scenes poignantly captured, you can understand through Faulk’s words the horrors the men had to face digging the tunnels to lay the mines and trench warfare. The descriptions of the attacks and the men’s injuries are graphic and can be quite disturbing to read at times. There are many different characters in the story around Wraysford, but Faulks manages to give them all separate identities. He builds well the friendship between Wraysford and Michael Weir another officer and Weir soon becomes an important figure as he becomes Wraysfords closest friend. Faulks also shows the friendships and understanding that grew between the young officers and the ordinary soldiers themselves. Letters from home are used to give the reader images of the men, and one of the more moving parts is regarding one of the minelayers sons.
The only downside to the whole book I would have to say is the story about the granddaughter. I did not feel that this added anything to the book apart from I suppose showing how Stephens family continued. If anything, I felt at times that it was distracting from the real story of Stephen and his men in the trenches.
I am normally put off by a lot of hype about a book, I have been let down in the past by a story that promises to be wonderful but ends up being a bit of a damp quip. However, with this book, I was lucky; the writing is excellent and descriptive with well-created characters. This is not a long story, but it will stay with you and move you as well.
9 out of 10 

Friday, June 1, 2012

Book Review - Shadowmagic

Shadowmagic – John Lenahan 
It is very rare that I pick up one of Amazon UK’s “deals of the day.” I hardly ever know the authors and it seems like our US friends get a much better selection of established books offered to them. Whilst I commend the UK site for advertising lesser known authors, occasionally it would be nice to offer readers a author that has been heard of.
The blurb of Shadowmagic however caught my eye. It also had a few positive reviews that did not seem to be from friends and relatives.
The Blurb:
Conor thought he was an average teenager. Okay, so his father only had one hand, spoke to him in ancient languages, and was a bit on the eccentric side, but, other than that, life was fairly normal. Until, that is, two Celtic warriors on horseback and wearing full armor appear at his front door and try to kill him. Don't you hate when that happens? Join Conor as he grapples with typical teenage problems, like how to deal with a father's high expectations, how to survive in the world on your own, and how to woo a beautiful girl who wants you dead.
One of the issues I have with urban fantasy is that I want to escape into other worlds and not spend my time distracted by the fact that the protagonist does not believe what is going on. For example, I have no problem believing the world that Clive Barker created in Weaveworld, nor the world set up in Mike Carey’s and Jim Butcher’s series. Obviously those worlds are not reality but the difference is the characters believe they are real.
With Shadowmagic the very premise of the book whilst intriguing, ended up being its biggest flaw. You never get the sense that Conor comes to terms with the existence of the world he finds himself in and as a result nor did I.
Conor is a likeable character, at 18 years old he has the sort of charm that your everyday young man has: he doesn’t take things too seriously and is constantly found making wise cracks at the outlandish situation he finds himself in.
The problem is, only about 40% of these are successful. There are only so many times I could appreciate the whole “I’m from a different land so you are going to not understand my terminology” line of humour. There are also times that you wish John Lenahan would allow his characters to appreciate the gravity of the situation more which would add to the aforementioned believability factor.
The dialogue is also a little off sometimes as well. Mostly, In some of the conversations his characters has Lenahan almost comes across as a teenager writing a short story for a school project. This is most notable when Conor converses with Fergus (the boy he befriends). Obviously Lenahan has altered the dialogue between the two young men to illustrate their age but I felt he fell short as they came across as far younger than their intended age. I got the impression the characters were 14 rather than 18 years old.
It seems harsh to start the review off with so many negatives because overall, the plot isn’t bad. There is quite an interesting story here, nothing that would win awards for originality but still good nonetheless. The execution is far from perfect though. Rather than create any intrigue or depth to the story, Conor stumbles from scene to scene by default. Plot elements are revealed to the reader through info dumps from characters. These are not always awkward, but you never get the sense that Conor is discovering things for himself but rather things are happening around him.
The supporting cast is good although not brilliant, with Fergus being the only other character of real interest. Any interesting back story a character may have is usually fully explained in the following chapter to the one they appear in. Their stories may be good, but there is no suspense in waiting for it to unfold.
Shadowmagic has a lot of good ideas. The idea of the trees as living and holding equal prominence in the world as humans is great. They add an alternate threat to the world to what is usually something taken for granted. The magic system is nice and simple but effective as a result.
The ending is achieved rather hurriedly and doesn’t resolve an awful lot. It felt a bit like the ending of a cartoon, where the heroes will be back next week to fight again.
Overall, I think “Shadowmagic” did not quite work for me. I think it struggled to establish the type of book it wanted to be. As a light-hearted romp in a fantasy setting I think it falls short. To me, it feels like a good first draft to what could be a very competent book. If it scaled down on the humour and took itself seriously, “Shadowmagic,” would have scored more highly. Still many fans seem to love it, so take my opinion with a pinch of salt.
My rating 6.4