Tuesday, July 31, 2012

On Writing - An update

Another odd week this week. Only managed to write on two days but somehow managed to hit my weekly target. On one hand this is deeply satisfying on the other hand intensely annoying. Every day that goes past without writing I feel frustrated. Not because of the lost opportunity, but because this is what I want to do.
Monday – 0 words
Tuesday – 0 words
Wednesday – 823 words
Thursday – 0 words
Friday – 1,923 words.
Total words: 2,746
Total words so far: 32,884
As you can see, Friday was a monster of a day. I knocked those words out in an hour and a half to be fair. It just goes to show if you have the right environment what you can do.
It also helps that I was in the middle of a chapter. A quick read of what I had already written and that was all I needed to get in the zone again.
The eagle-eyed amongst you may have noticed I have lost some words from the “total words so far” count. I made the decision to get rid of the prologue I had written. It was well written but ultimately added nothing to the story. It was meant to introduce a character that I have now decided to leave out and so there was no point keeping the rest of the prologue in.
I’m really pleased with how this second book is going. It is better than the first in some respects as I am not restricted to the word count (first novels tend to have to be under 125,000 words – not always, if they are good enough they make it through). With this book though I am taking my time with the characters as opposed to only using dialogue to progress the plot and flesh out the characters as in the first book – that is a generalisation, my first book is excellent of course!!
I am on leave next week so I don’t think I will get too much writing done unless I work at midnight again. I haven’t set myself a target so anything I write will be a bonus.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Book Review - Heretic

Bernard Cornwell – Heretic

Heretic marks the final part of the grail quest trilogy. Except it doesn’t as Bernard Cornwell has announced his next book will also be the final entry in the series. Still it has been a series that I have enjoyed so far. I found the second entry better than a first. Let’s hope the upward trend continues.
The Blurb:
 In 1347 the English capture Calais and the war with France is suspended by a truce. But for Thomas of Hookton, the hero of Harlequin and Vagabond, there is no end to the fighting. He is pursuing the grail, the most sacred of Christendom's relics, and is sent to his ancestral homeland, Gascony, to engineer a confrontation with his deadliest enemy, Guy Vexille. Once in the south country Thomas becomes a raider, leading his archers in savage forays that will draw his enemy to his arrows. But then his fortunes change. Thomas becomes the hunted as his campaign is destroyed by the church. With only one companion, a girl condemned to burn as a heretic, Thomas goes to the valley of Astarac where he believes the grail was once hidden and might still be concealed, and there he plays a deadly game of hide and seek with an overwhelming enemy. Then, just as Thomas succeeds in meeting his enemy face to face, fate intervenes as the deadliest plague in the history of mankind erupts into Europe. What had been a landscape of castles, monasteries, vineyards and villages, becomes death's kingdom and the need for the grail, as a sign of God's favour, is more urgent than ever.
With a Bernard Cornwell book you know you are going to get authenticity. It is area of his writing which sometimes let the story down. Not always, but it depends on the mood I am. For example, Heretic opens up with a battle where the French repel the English. It did not feature any of the characters I have enjoyed in the series so far and you get the impression it was included in the book because it really happened. Flick forward to the historical note and sure enough it did. The problem is, I wanted to read about Thomas of Hookton not some random battle and so it was difficult to invest in a struggle that you know your protagonist is not involved in.
Thankfully this is the only time the book suffers from incorporating history into the narrative. There are other times when Cornwell describes how a bow is made, or how a canon is fired that verge on lecturing but these are included into the prose in a more believable way. Again, one day I might find this fascinating the next it really takes me out of the story.
With the negatives out of the way, I can gush at the third entry in the series. Thomas of Hookton is put through the wringer again in this one. Close friends become enemies, old enemies become even more dangerous and nature is the worst of them all.
Thomas pursues the Grail reluctantly. He is torn between believing it even exists and focusing on his real objective attracting the attention of his cousin Guy Vexille. The idea works well as the Grail is mentioned regularly but is not at the forefront of the novel.
Thomas is forced into the unfamiliar position of leading men on his quest. Cornwell handles the struggle well. Thomas stays true to his beliefs but does not always make the right choices, losing friends along the way.
There is the customary love interest, but again this is underplayed somewhat and never feels artificial. The rest of the supporting cast are well described. His loyal men in particular are a pleasure to read especially Sir Guillaume. The villain’s may be artificial but that does not always bother me. If they do something different or memorable then that normally is enough for me. Here.Joscelyn performs two heinous acts that will make me remember him for months.
The end is satisfying without being too impactful. There is the final battle which as always with Cornwell is well describes but there is a sense of petering out.
Out of whole trilogy, this is the book that Cornwell confesses he made up the most. I think it benefits from his imagination.  Cornwell would make an excellent fantasy writer, if only he could be persuaded to write one.
My rating 8.5

Friday, July 27, 2012

Book Review - Criminal

Karin Slaughter – Criminal
The next entry in the Will Trent / Sara Linton amalgamated series is always a must read for me. Karin has the superb ability to keep the series fresh. There is never a feel of the author going through the emotions as she puts her characters through the emotional turmoil of being attached to the police force. To say I was looking forward to this was an understatement.
The Blurb:
Will Trent is a brilliant agent with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. Newly in love, he is beginning to put a difficult past behind him. Then a local college student goes missing, and Will is inexplicably kept off the case by his supervisor and mentor, deputy director Amanda Wagner. Will cannot fathom Amanda's motivation until the two of them literally collide in an abandoned orphanage they have both been drawn to for different reasons. Decades before - when Will's father was imprisoned for murder - this was his home. . . .

Flash back nearly forty years. In the summer Will Trent was born, Amanda Wagner is going to college, making Sunday dinners for her father, taking her first steps in the boys' club that is the Atlanta Police Department. One of her first cases is to investigate a brutal crime in one of the city's worst neighbourhoods. Amanda and her partner, Evelyn, are the only ones who seem to care if an arrest is ever made.

Now the case that launched Amanda's career has suddenly come back to life, intertwined with the long-held mystery of Will's birth and parentage. And these two dauntless investigators will each need to face down demons from the past if they are to prevent an even greater terror from being unleashed.
It would have been easy for Karin to have “Phoned this book in.” The events of her last novel meant she had the perfect opportunity to explore areas of the main character’s relationship without it being too taxing. Instead, from the outset she throws a massive spanner in the works and ruins the idyllic relationship.
The book is split into two time periods. The present day focuses on Will and how he reacts to the news of his father’s unexpected release from prison. The second focuses on the mid seventies and recalls Amanda Wagner’s early days on the force.
Will has always been a strong character. He has a good moral compass but is often the victim of his childhood and the self destructive path he chooses to endure as a result. In Criminal, the shocking news he receives allows Karin to unleash the rage in him that he has kept well contained all his life. Karin does an excellent job of portraying his fears and anger towards the monster that is his father and also his frustration at being forbidden to do anything about it.
However, this is truly Amanda’s book, as we finally get to see her backstory. Karin not only treats us to a fascinating tale but also provides an insight on how things used to be back in the police force in the seventies. The prejudice to women and black people was quite horrific as is also the widespread alcoholism amongst the force.
With this being Karin Slaughter, you know she has meticulously researched the subject matter which makes the story even more compelling.
The younger version of Amanda is recognisable as the ball busting, laconic boss we are used to seeing, however it is also nice to see her naive side. A side that is not confident and definitely not sure of her own ability. In fact it is great to see her develop towards the character we know and love, as she is determined to prove the pig headed male colleagues wrong by doing a better job than them.
The backstory consumes the majority of the narrative but the two time periods intertwine well. There is never a sense of one just informing the other for the sake of it, instead like an onion each layer of the mystery is slowly peeled away. Just when you think you have the plot figured out, Karin manages to cloudy the water.
As both stories reach their conclusion, you begin to discover just why Will and Amanda are like they are. I for one, would like to read more of Amanda in her early days, but then I say that about every character that Karin decides to focus on.
My rating 9.0

Thursday, July 26, 2012

On Writing - Update

A bit of a weird one last week. On Monday, I found myself with a spare few hours and really got in the zone to produce my highest output in a day for quite some time. Tuesday was a pleasing effort: considering I only had a limited slot, I managed to do my quota for the day. Wednesday was a no-show as I was far too busy. From then on I was off work to spend time with the family (our youngest boy turned one) and so didn’t expect to do anything, but found myself writing at midnight on Thursday just to make sure I still did something.
What is clear is I am not getting a regular time to write every day. That would be the ideal situation but as long as I keep hitting my weekly target I am happy.
The output:
Monday: 1,829
Tuesday: 526
Wednesday: 0
Thursday: 1,083
Friday: 0
Total: 3,438
Total project: 30,445

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Book review - Lord Fouls Bane

Lord Fouls Bane by Stephen Donaldson
Lord Foul's Bane
Review by Jacqui Slaney
I could not write reviews on books without a least one mention to this author. My brother actually gave me this book, and told me to read it. At the time, I was still very much into solid Science Fiction so viewed fantasy novels as something completely new so was not particularly enthusiastic.
This is the description:
The first book in one of the most remarkable epic fantasies ever written, the Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, Unbeliever.
He called himself Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever because he dared not believe in the strange alternate world in which he suddenly found himself. Yet he was tempted to believe, to fight for the Land, to be the reincarnation of its greatest hero....
I struggled at first with this story. I found that the main character Thomas Covenant was not very sympathetic, despite all the things that happened to him- catching leprosy and his wife leaving him taking his child with him, I could not like him. When he enters ‘the Land’, he is so resolutely against believing that this other world is real, that I found it grating on me, he is a very self pitying character which is quite annoying, he is not nicknamed ‘ the Unbeliever ’ for nothing.
 However, as I got more into the book, it became clear why Covenant was like this. The author showed how the character was so devoted to surviving his disease that he could not allow himself to believe in the other world where the inhabitants looked upon him as a reincarnation of a long dead hero, even when he assaults one of the women helping him, he is still looked up to.
This is very much a book one, though there is very little time actually spent in this world, the author uses it to build the character of Covenant. This helps the reader to understand him and the internal conflict that he goes through, his fear that if he lets his defences down for anything, even friendship then he is doomed. I loved the description of ‘The Land’, this other world is cleverly constructed; there are few authors that can create such a detailed world  for the reader, but with the skilful writing of this author, you get a real sense of its history and the different peoples that inhabit it.
Though this is, just the start of the series there is still a good plot running through the book. There is a clear struggle between good and evil in the story, which continues through out the series. The different characters use magic, but its use is interwoven into the story so it seems a natural part of the book, even Covenant himself thanks to his white gold wedding band is seen as a magic wielder, which he manages in the end to use despite his protestations.
 This is one of those books that stays with you, I first read this book years ago, but I still have a copy of this and the rest of the series. Every time you read it, you see another aspect of it.  There are characters here that you will remain fond of, Foamfollower the Giant- just to name one, I even like Covenant himself  now, which considering my first reaction to him is quite surprising.
This is a must read for any fantasy fan.
9 out of 10

Monday, July 23, 2012

Book Review - The Company Man

The Company Man – Robert Jackson Bennett
The Company Man
Three books to the good and RJB is already viewed as a class author. His stock is steadily growing and his name is popping up more and more. I loved his first book (Mr Shivers) and enjoyed his third book (The Troupe) even more. The Company Man is his second book and whilst the premises of the other books grabbed my attention immediately, the sci-fi noir feel of the Company Man did not. The genre is not really me.
Nevertheless, on the strength of the other books the Company Man definitely deserved a chance.
The Blurb:
A trolley car pulls into the station with eleven dead bodies inside. Four minutes before, the factory workers were seen boarding at the previous station. Now, all are dead. And all of them are union.

The year is 1919. The McNaughton Corporation is the pinnacle of American industry. They built airships that crossed the seas. Guns that won the Great War. And above all, they built Evesden: the city of tomorrow, dominated by the immense McNaughton Tower. But something is rotten at the heart of Evesden and one man must uncover its dark secret before it all goes up in flames.

Caught between the union and the company, between the police and the victims, McNaughton investigator Cyril Hayes must find the truth behind the city of the future. Because if he doesn't . . . he's history.
I shouldn’t have worried. Stylistically, the Company Man is very different to the other books but the writing is just as compelling. The Blurb is actually misleading, as the event that takes place in the blurb does not occur for quite some time into the novel. Instead RJB concentrates on developing his world and more importantly his characters.
When I think of Crime Noir, I think of a man in a trench coat dispatching smart quips to every character he interacts with. Not bad but all a bit samey. RJB avoids this cliché and instead opts for a far more flawed and to some extent unpleasant protagonist in Hayes. That is not to say Hayes is unlikeable, far from it. He has his own charm but in general he is a loner and disliked by the other characters in the novel, oh and he is also an alcoholic. It is impossible not to be in these type of novels it seems.
Another thing that separates Hayes from your typical noir stereotype is his limited telepathic ability. He is almost able read people’s minds if he is around them long enough. This is a nice supernatural power as it gives him an advantage over others, but it is also fallible.  
Samantha and Garvey the other main characters are a bit more endearing. Samantha is naive, attracted by the promise of a better life with the Company and the bright lights of Evesden itself. She is fooled by her expectations and becomes disenchanted with the place. On the flip side she very intelligent and talented and it is these traits the Company exploit in order to ensure she keeps Hayes on a leash.
Garvey on the other hand is a jaded cop with strong morals. He is Hayes’ only true friend and this alienates him somewhat from his colleagues and peers.
The three make for an interesting dynamic. RJB wastes little time on the typical I-don’t-like-you-but-I-will-by-the-end-of-the-novel storyline and instead plunges into exploring their difficult relationship as they struggle to understand their methods of working whilst obviously respecting each other at the same time.
The city of Evesden is well described. RJB gets across nicely the cities nuances as it expanded out of nothing and struggled to contain the increase in populace and technology. For every impressive building there is a shanty town. The city comes across as a complete mishmash of ideas and has a rich if short history.
The Company (McNaughton Corporation) itself is suitably shady. Enough is revealed so that the reader suspects everyone’s motives but the mystery of what if anything is truly going on is kept firmly in check. This makes for an enjoyable ride.
As the plot is slowly revealed, it is clear not everything is black and white – so much for the noir novel. I certainly didn’t guess the direction of the novel and was satisfied by the conclusion.
The best way to sum up RJB’s career so far is to draw comparisons to the first three M Night Shylaman films. All have been terrific and although they explore similar themes were about very different subject matters. The Company Man very much resembles Unbreakable in that it may not be the most popular of the three but is well respected and is many people’s favourite.
My rating: 8.7

Friday, July 20, 2012

Book Review - Mockingjay

Mockingjay – Suzanne Collins
As rule I don’t read series very quickly. I tend to start the first book, wait at least 6 months to a year and then read the next one. This allows me to savour the series, whilst still keep the books relatively fresh in my mind. 
I started the Hunger Games in mid-April and here I am in July having read the last book. The trilogy is no “A song of Ice and Fire” but something about it engaged me and kept pulling me back. Did the Mockingjay successfully conclude the trilogy?
The blurb:
Against all odds, Katniss Everdeen has survived the Hunger Games twice. But now that she's made it out of the bloody arena alive, she's still not safe. The Capitol is angry. The Capitol wants revenge. Who do they think should pay for the unrest? Katniss. And what's worse, President Snow has made it clear that no one else is safe either. Not Katniss's family, not her friends, not the people of District 12.
I was concerned before I started this book. I enjoyed the Hunger Games but Catching Fire began slowly and was a bit directionless until the Quarter Quell started. It seemed Suzanne Collins had her comfort area within the story and unless she was writing within said area then the story was not as strong. With Mockingjay, Suzanne had no choice but to write out of this comfort zone and so I was anxious as to how it would turn out. (That paragraph was deliberately vague to avoid any plot spoilers).
This time round the plot is handled a lot better. The rebellion against the Capital takes place as Katniss finds herself in District 13. What makes the story so engaging is that although the obvious enemy is the Capital, the rebels of District 13 headed up by Coin are no saints either. It adds a nice new dimension to the good vs evil story line.
Katniss also develops in this book. She is still unsure of who to trust but she has much more of a purpose. She is also more ruthless. Gale and Peeta also develop nicely and are given their own story lines rather than just hopelessly fawn over Katniss.
For a large part of the book, the relationship of the three is not really addressed. Surely Katniss would be able to work out who she actually wants to be with by now? But in Mockingjay she is still unsure. This is a minor source of irritation but it is pleasing to see that both Peeta and Gale react to the situation as well.
There are a wealth of characters in Mockingjay and every character gets the attention they deserve. Finnick emerges as a more prominent force and is fun to read. Boggs and Coin are also good additions. The only one to suffer is Haymitch. He is a constant in the plot but does not have much to do.
The book builds towards the inevitable showdown between the rebels and the Capital. At first I thought I was going to be disappointed with the conclusion as it feels a bit abrupt, but by the time things are all explained and sorted out, I was more than satisfied. The ending is good and wraps up the trilogy nicely.
And so ends a surprising and engaging trilogy. One that I read on a whim and ended up more than happy with.
My rating 8.9
Trilogy rating: 9.1

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Writing - Inspiration

It is an age old question, "where do you get your inspiration from?" Many of the top authors answer in different ways. Stephen King for example always says he plays the "What if" game. For example, What if a man woke up one morning and found his legs were gone? What if you had the opportunity to skip to anywhere in history or in the future? What if one day everyone stopped moving? He then takes the idea and begins writing. It is a simple idea and has served him well.

Other "how to" books suggest you read the newspaper headlines for ideas. For example, one quick glance at a random page in my local paper and two headlines jump out at me: "Lightning starts fire in house" and "teacher says sex claims "made-up"." If we take the first of the headlines. Imagine if everyone in that house except for a young boy died. How would that boy react? Would he be thankful and go on and make the most of his life? Would he be bitter and have a vendetta against the world? If we take the second of those: What is really going on? Is the teacher telling the truth? Are their pupils out to get him? What if he was having an affair with a student and a jealous student found out and wanted to punish him? By just considering this ideas, more ideas spawn and the beginnings of a story take place.

The idea behind The Ritual of Stones came to me one night when I was feeding my first baby. At the time I had just read the Wolves of Calla by Stephen King and Speaks the Nightbird by Robert McCammon. I was so impressed I wanted to emulate those works. I was also listening to Kings of Leon. Whilst thinking about a combination of all three the idea slowly came to me. I got Joseph to sleep and frantically scribbled down a scene. That scene turned into a chapter the next night and from there the story took place. For a long time I kept that chapter and tried to make it fit into the story as it evolved, mainly because it was where the book came from. However around the second edit of the whole book I eventually got rid of it. It added nothing great to the story and the main character behaved so uncharacteristically in contrast to how they were in the rest of the book it made no sense.

What does that have to do with inspiration I hear you ask? Well impatient reader let me tell you. Where ever you get you ideas from, when they do strike write them down as soon as you can. Not the next day or week, I am talking within the next few hours. I am not going to suggest carrying a notebook around with you everywhere you go, but I echo the sentiment. Write down the premise of the idea and then also a few paragraphs. Those paragraphs are crucial. You may not use those them in the final version but they are important as they capture the tone and "voice" of the story.

There have been so many times I have come up with the idea of a story, captured the outline but when I have sat down to write the thing, I can't find that original voice I had when I thought of the idea. I can't capture the frame of mind I was in.

George R R Martin was famously working on something else when the first chapter of A Game of Thrones came to him. He immediately stopped what he was doing and wrote it down. Thank God he did.

The same goes for short stories. When I've had an idea for a short story, I have written out the first third of that draft within a couple of hours. I've written four short stories since I started writing again and all have been written in a matter of days. Three of them when I was in full flow of writing Ritual of the Stones. Where did those ideas come from?

Route 246 - I was on my way home from work and a woman started acting bizarrely on the bus.
Grief - I was angry at how a relative had treated my wife.

The other two stories came from events that affected me personally.

Where has the inspiration for this blog post come from? I have just come up with a really good idea for a standalone book. It literally came out of nowhere and would fit so well in today's market that I almost want to drop everything and start on it now. That first chapter is flowing through me as I type. Maybe I will just ......

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Book Review - Resurrectionist

Resurrectionist by James McGee
Review by Jacqui Slaney
I enjoyed the first book by James McGee ‘Ratcatcher’ and I liked the character of Hawkwood so did not hesitate when this second story in the series was published.
This is the description: 
Bow Street Runner Matthew Hawkwood brings his own form of justice to the salons and slums of Regency London in the gripping sequel to 'Ratcatcher'. For the body snatchers, death is a lucrative business. However, it is the corpse they leave behind, horribly mutilated and nailed to a tree, which sets Bow Street Runner Matthew Hawkwood on their trail. A new term at London's anatomy schools stokes demand for fresh corpses, and the city's "resurrection men" vie for control of the market. Their rivalry takes an ugly turn when a grave robber is brutally murdered and his body displayed as a warning to other gangs. To hunt down those responsible, Hawkwood must venture into London's murkiest corners, where discoveries that are more gruesome await him. Nowhere, though, is as grim as Bedlam, notorious asylum for the insane and scene of another bizarre killing. Sent to investigate, Hawkwood finds himself pitted against his most formidable adversary yet, an obsessive genius hell-bent on advancing the cause of science at all costs.
I am always concerned when I read the first in a series that the next book will be disappointing. In this instance, this book is just as good as the first; in fact, I think this one is actually better.
This story is about the need for fresh bodies for the medical schools to practice on and so describes the practice of grave robbing and the rivalry between the different gangs. After one of these gang rivalries ends in a death, Hawkwood, the Bow Street Runner is assigned to the case. The story takes an even more gruesome turn following an escape from Bedlam, which is also given to Hawkwood to deal with. He then soon discovers that he might not be investigating two separate cases after all.
The character of Hawkwood in the first novel appeared to me to be a little naïve. In this book, he comes across as stronger; much more suited to his surroundings and the story itself is nastier, much darker, and at times horrific.
Some people have complained about the gruesome slant of the story saying they do not like it, that it is not as fun as book one and that it is just too intense.  Yes, this book is gruesome, I found myself shuddering at some of the events, but the story is about grave robbers, and medicine in the 1800’s, so I would say that this would be a clear indication that this is not going to be a light comedy story.
 McGee has clearly researched the background to his novel well; the reader gets a good descriptive image of what London is like and how people live. The historical note at the end of the novel is also interesting. The plot is gripping and suspenseful and there is plenty of action. It is clearly a book two though, so you will need to have read ‘Ratcatcher’ before this novel, as events and characters from the first book are mentioned.
This book is not for the squeamish, but if you enjoy good writing and a good plot, then read this book, you will not be disappointed.
10 out of 10

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

On Writing - Update

Not the best week this week but I still hit my target. It started off so well and then Thursday was just too busy and Friday I really struggled to get going. I am currently working on a chapter where I know what I want to happen but I need to think carefully about how I execute it. I have been doing a bit of research on the topic and it has certainly helped. Hopefully I will nail it next week.

In the meantime, the project has been growing quite nicely. I have now decided to move it into yWriter the fantastic tool I used for my first book - although I am still bitter that I lost all the data with that. I was lucky to have the book backed up but all the notes on the characters, scenes and history was lost. I am slowly rebuilding that database.

Anyway, here are the stats:

Monday - 607 words
Tuesday - 79 words
Wednesday - 782 words
Thursday - 0 words
Friday - 554 words

Total - 2022 words

Total book word count - 27,007

Monday, July 16, 2012

Book Review - Gravity

Gravity – Tess Gerritsen
I’ve been perfectly aware that in addition to her hugely popular Maura Isles and Jane Rizzoli series, Tess has written over 15 other standalone books. I’ve always intended to read them but have been put off by the passing comments of others who state they are not as good. On a whim I decided to purchase one and give it a whirl.
The Blurb:
Emma Watson, a brilliant research physician, has been training for the mission of a lifetime: to study living beings in space. Jack McCallum, Emma's estranged husband, has shared her dream of space travel, but a medical condition has grounded and embittered him. He must watch from the sidelines as his wife prepares for her first mission to the International Space Station. Once aboard the space station, however, things start to go terribly wrong. A culture of single-celled organisms known as Archaeons, gathered from the deep sea, is to be monitored in the microgravity of space. The true and lethal nature of this experiment has not been revealed to NASA. In space, the cells rapidly multiply and soon begin to infect the crew -- with agonizing and deadly results. A recovery attempt ends in catastrophe; the NASA shuttle crashes, and the space station is left dangerously crippled. Emma struggles to contain the deadly microbe, while back home, Jack and NASA work against the clock to retrieve Emma from space. But there will be no rescue. The contagion now threatens Earth's population as well, and the astronauts are left stranded in orbit, quarantined aboard the station -- where they are dying one by one...
As the blur indicates this novel takes place in space. IN SPACE! A Tess Gerritsen novel of all things. I couldn’t believe it when I read the blurb as this was such a departure from her normal series. Could Tess write with the same quality? The answer is a resounding yes!
Gravity is a great novel. It has all the hallmarks of your classic adventure/horror novel but is complimented with Tess’s unique style and medical background knowledge.
The characters are all well defined. Emma, called upon to carry out a mission at the last minutes and Jack consigned to be a ghost within the program, in particular are well portrayed. They are the heroes of the novel but nothing they do is too outrageous. There is no defying all the impossible odds here, they just do what they can to survive.
With novels of this ilk, it is easy for the expendable characters to be one dimensional. Tess goes to great length to avoid this trap however. At the start of the novel she invests in the characters, giving them all distinct personalities and making you care for them. This is no mean feat considering the book is not too long.
The only exception to these characters is Luther. Who seems to have a personality transplant as the novel progresses, moving on from the caring colleague to the ruthless pragmatist.
The real strong point of the novel however is the monster/virus. The gelatinous blue/green globules are truly menacing and the havoc they cause is terrifying. Tess focuses her attention of the “monster” but you never feel like you are being over exposed.
As the deaths continue, it is clear that a shady organisation knows what is going on and so another element to the story surfaces.  Tess manages to keep the excitement and tension on the ground as good as it is in space.
The ending is a little to neat for my liking, but satisfying nonetheless.
I was thoroughly impressed with this novel and will certainly be checking out Tess’s other standalones.
My rating: 8.8

Friday, July 13, 2012

Book review - Imperium

Imperium - Robert Harris

Robert Harris has always been one of those authors that I have formed a preconceived opinion of that is completely unjustified. I can’t explain it but I have always had it in my head that his books were not for me. Robert Goddard is another such author, I just haven’t read them despite both authors being immensely popular. Maybe I have something against “Roberts,” call it a jealousy thing!
Imperium was recommended to me by my Brother-in-law. Since I trust his judgement and as it has been over 12 years since I studied Ancient Rome I thought it was time to give the author and book a shot.
The blurb:
I remember studying Cicero for my A Levels. I always found the character fascinating and the rhetoric he used in his speeches amusing. However, it was always in the mindset that, “I’m-studying-this-and-it-is-not-as-bad-as-it-could-be-although-why-can’t-it-be-written-plainer” kind of way.
Robert Harris achieves exactly this and then some. He really brings Rome to life without even trying too hard. The whole political system of Consuls, Aediles, praetors and senators is effortlessly explained and you never feel like you are being taught it. Instead it just forms part of the natural process of the story, which in a historical fiction novel that is heavily based on fact is a major achievement.
From my wilting memory, Cicero is captured perfectly. His character is clever and insatiable but Robert Harris does a nice job of conveying how he is perceived in a less than favourable light by the Aristocrats and in general.
I recalled some of his speeches as I read them, but Harris again makes such simple work of explaining the background behind each one and the political ramifications they have that they were far more enjoyable to read then when I studied them. Again they are all weaved easily into a story.
Like Derfel in Bernard Cornwell’s warlord chronicles, the narrator Tiro is an excellent character. He recalls his time with Cicero affectionately and in a candid manner that makes his own character highly likable.
It would have been easy for Robert Harris to focus most of his attention on the major characters of the time period such as Pompey and Caesar. The pair feature in the novel but do not dominate it. Instead we are treated to Cicero’s ongoing feuds with Verres, Hortensius and Crassus. All are great characters and nicely fleshed out.
Although the main focus of the book is Cicero’s attempt to gain the Consulship, there is not a plot in a traditional sense of the word. Instead Tiro recalls significant events in Cicero’s early life and these are tied into the records we have of him.
My rating: 8.4

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Red country is coming!!

Joe Abercrombie has announced on his blog the final synopsis and near to final cover art from his forthcoming release Red Country:

The Blurb:

“They burned her home.

They stole her brother and sister.

But vengeance is following.

Shy South hoped to bury her bloody past and ride away smiling, but she’ll have to sharpen up some bad old ways to get her family back, and she’s not a woman to flinch from what needs doing. She sets off in pursuit with only a pair of oxen and her cowardly old stepfather Lamb for company. But it turns out Lamb’s buried a bloody past of his own, and out in the lawless Far Country, the past never stays buried.

Their journey will take them across the barren plains to a frontier town gripped by gold fever, through feud, duel and massacre, high into the unmapped mountains to a reckoning with the Ghosts. Even worse, it will force them into alliance with Nicomo Cosca, infamous soldier of fortune, and his feckless lawyer Temple, two men no one should ever have to trust…”

This tops my list for the most anticpated book of 2012.


Click for the link: http://www.joeabercrombie.com/2012/07/11/red-country-uk-cover/

Book Review - The Cornerstone

The Cornerstone by Nick Spalding
Review by Jacqui Slaney
 The Cornerstone
Amazon recommended this book to me due to my previous purchases. I did not know the author, but the book was so cheap, I did not think there was much of a risk. After I had bought it, I then spotted some reviews, which said the book was slanted towards the young adult market-, which worried me slightly, but thought I would still see what the book was like.
This is the description:
On a gloomy Thursday afternoon, Max Bloom enters his local library in a last ditch attempt to stave off an epic case of teenage boredom. Among the hushed stacks, he discovers The Cornerstone, an ancient book tucked away on a dusty, forgotten shelf. Opening the cover, Max is instantly transported to an alternate dimension full of things intent on killing him - thus avoiding boredom with remarkable success.
He meets a beautiful girl called Merelie (brilliant), who tells him he could be a Wordsmith, a sorcerer able to craft magic from the written word itself, one strong enough to save both their worlds from the Dwellers - hideous monsters from beyond the universe (not so brilliant).
This all sounds completely unbelievable. The kind of thing you would read in a fantasy novel. However, the Cornerstone doesn't lie... and the danger is very real.
In a world threatened by monsters, where books are worshipped and powerful magic exists, Max Bloom must make a choice: close The Cornerstone and run home - or trust Merelie, become a Wordsmith, and save two worlds from certain destruction...
 The story begins on a boring wet Thursday with a teenager entering a library. Perhaps not the most promising start you would think to a fantasy novel, but you would be wrong. Due to some lost keys, Max follows a mysterious note to a doorway to another world. He then meets a girl, is told that he can do magic and so save the worlds from the Dwellers (monsters). The characters are original as is the story, it may sound on the surface as something you have read before, but this story still had a new feel to me.
Thanks to the excellent writing, you get the perfect picture of a bored teenager, and it is Max’s thoughts and conversations with others that make you laugh. The humour is well done, not forced and is just a natural part of the book, it is also quite English as well, so the reader is not given any puzzling American references, which do pop up in some books.
The magic used is cleverly done with the power of the written word having much more of a meaning in this world. The descriptions of the parallel worlds with the Chapter Lands and the different houses are well done, and you do want to read more about them.
I know I had been worried about a few reviews saying the book was for the younger readers, but I need not have feared. Though the heroes are young, the book is good enough to be enjoyed by anyone of any age. The writing is fast paced and the story is not too long, I read this in about roughly two halves and loved every minute. If you want a easy to read fantasy novel then this is definitely for you.  The ending was good, and leaves it possible for a sequel, for which I will keep my fingers crossed.
10 out of 10

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

On Writing - Update

Back into the swing

So going on holiday is great but it has his drawbacks. Most notably it really disrupts the routine you have built up in your everyday life. For instance before I went away, I had nice structure that afforded me to average 500 words a day during the week.
I went on holiday with the foolish notion that I may get a chance to do some writing as well. I hadn’t expected to do much but I thought anything I managed would be a bonus. This was a laughable pipe dream as having two kids under three around a pool is no time to be engaging in heavy writing.
What I did not expect though was the fallout from the holiday. The week back at work was so pressured and busy that I never got a chance to put pen to paper. Lunch breaks didn’t exist and I was working long days to catch-up on the backlog that had built up. Sometimes I do wonder if going away is worth it!
The following week, I caught the flu and was concentrating on getting through the days with everything I had on. So before you know it, BAM! Three weeks had elapsed and I had hardly done any work on my book.  I say hardly, I managed a paltry 721 words in that time.
Last week then I was determined to get back on track and into my routine again. I’m pleased to say I did for the most part.
Monday = 473
Tuesday = 814
Wednesday = 0
Thursday = 544
Friday = 1403
Total = 3234
 A good week. Monday and Thursday were closer to my average, Tuesday was a good day and Friday was a brilliant day. Wednesday seems to be my bad day but I am working on it.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Book Review - Fifty Shades of Grey

Fifty Shades of Grey – E L James
What kind of blogger would I be if I did not see what all the fuss is about? To be honest, I can pretend that I am reviewing this book for my followers, but since half my family have bought into the hype and purchased this book, or now going insane as it is sold out everywhere, like a cat curiosity has got the better of me.
I’ve read what people on the fantasy forums have been saying, “It is nothing but porn,” “fanfic that has got published” and “even worse than Twilight” are the popular opinions. Even celebrities have used the book to raise their profile by admonishing it.  
A quick trawl on Amazon reveals the following head line comments from reviewers:
“Oh my! What a pile of discarded panties,”
Unintentionally hilarious,”
“Unadulterated tosh,”
 “Why? Why? Why?”
The Blurb:
When literature student Anastasia Steele is drafted to interview the successful young entrepreneur Christian Grey for her campus magazine, she finds him attractive, enigmatic and intimidating. Convinced their meeting went badly, she tries to put Grey out of her mind - until he happens to turn up at the out-of-town hardware store where she works part-time. Erotic, amusing, and deeply moving, the Fifty Shades Trilogy is a tale that will obsess you, possess you, and stay with you forever.
At the start of the novel I was all set to defend “Fifty Shades of Grey,” the story was intriguing and I could see no signs to warrant the terrible reviews the book had received....and then the sex scenes start.
To be honest, some have relevance are an integral part of the story, but there are also a lot that should not be in there. For example Christian may have sex with Ana where they explore some new experience for her and push a few boundaries, this is fine. It is the sex half an hour later that it gratuitous and tedious. Where a simple, “they shared a wicked smile and then they fulfilled their desires once again” would have sufficed, we are treated by a blow by blow account of the act again.
This leads on to the other problem with the sex scenes, the sheer repetition of the language used to describe the act. I would love to know how many times the word, “languid” was used to describe Ana.
The other downside of the novel is the character of Ana - Who since she is the protagonist is a problem. Ana is inexperienced and full of self doubt and insecurities. In parts this is o.k. (Why would a multi-millionaire be interested in her over everyone else) but most of the time it is infuriating. For example, Christian might pay Ana a compliment which will make her flush with embarrassment, but two seconds later she will be questioning why he said the comment. Has someone told him to say it? Is he being nice for another reason? Could he possibly have meant what he said? Arrrrrh! Ana made me want to slap her repeatedly and not in a turned on BDSM kind of way.
A lot of reviews talk about how annoying Ana’s inner Goddess is. E L James uses the literary device of Ana’s inner Goddess so the reader gets to understand her conscience. It is not needed but it is effective and personally I was grateful for it.
Christian on the other hand is a great character: Mysterious, enigmatic, powerful yet insecure himself. Ana completely befuddles him and he has trouble adopting his usual role of staying in control of his life. He makes you want to find out more about him and his past. He is also clearly a stalker.
The chemistry between the two is well handled, although the dialogue is occasionally sanguine as are the over the top use of emails between them. The relationship though is believable as the attraction is so well portrayed.
The rest of the cast are not really drawn out in great detail. The most fleshed out is Ana’s roommate, who is pretty one dimensional. She is inquisitive and bossy and that is about it.
In terms of the plot, it never really progresses nor is it that complex. Basically it is all about whether Ana can accept Christian for who he is. What seems like a simple issue at the outset of the novel, you are still waiting for a resolution at the end. Speaking of the end, the story seems to stop rather than conclude which is annoying as I very much doubt if I will read any more of the series.
All in all Fifty Shades of Grey is a long way from being the woeful novel many make it out to be. I can see why many love it, but I struggle to see why people would rate it 1star on Amazon. It certainly doesn’t deserve that. In my opinion, it needed to be 200 pages shorter by losing some of the sex scenes and Ana’s tedious self doubting moments
My rating: 6.3

Friday, July 6, 2012

Book Review - The World House

The World House by Guy Adams
Review by Jacqui Slaney
The World House
Another book I found for my Kindle, had not heard of the author, but the description caught my interest and too be honest the book was quite cheap, so I took a chance and bought it.
This is the description:
There is a box. Inside that box is a door. And beyond that door is a whole world.

In some rooms, forests grow. In others, animals and objects come to life. Elsewhere, secrets and treasures wait for the brave and foolhardy.

And at the very top of the house, a prisoner sits behind a locked door waiting for a key to turn. The day that happens, the world will end…
The story is an intriguing idea; a small box in our world can transport you to a large house, whose every room is a danger. In the glasshouse, a jungle grows where tribes of ex travellers have become cannibals. A bathroom contains a sea whose water can make you forget, a toy room, which it might be better to avoid all together and a library where the books are of your own life. The reader follows a few small groups of seeming unrelated people that unwillingly travel to the house. Each group initially begins at a different location, so you get to see how dangerous this house can be especially when one group for speed goes outside the house to travel to an upper balcony.
This is no cosy little fantasy as it is quite a dark story at times, especially with some of the things that occur.  There are many characters, and though it is easy to keep track of who people are due to the different groups, I found that some were quite similar in their attitudes and speech, which did become a little confusing. To be fair to the author though, this was his first novel, and having to make every character an individual is a hard job. I also found some of the characters reactions to their travel to the house and then through their different adventures was a little surprising. If I was transported to a strange place, and then woke up with someone about to eat me, I think I would have had much more of a reaction and been much more upset!
I still liked many of these characters though, especially an autistic girl called Sophie whose character is cleverly used in the story. The plot is entertaining and compelling; I ended up even when I was not reading the book, thinking about what would happen next. The ending I felt was a little of a let down, it felt almost as if the author had suddenly decided to make this a book one so the story seemed suddenly rushed towards the conclusion.  Ignoring all the flaws though in the writing, I still enjoyed this book and will definitely read book 2.
7 out of 10

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Book Review - Snatched

Snatched – Karin Slaughter
This year has seen a number of authors right a series of short stories and releasing them on the Kindle. Some are standalones, but others have involved their mainstay characters in the series they are known for. They have received with various degress of success. Tess Gerritsen for example released the extremely short (blink and you’ll miss it) “freaks.” The book featured Rizzoli and Isles but really was a bit of fluff. A nice 5 minute time filler but nothing more.
This book features Will Trent, one of Karin Slaughter’s main characters. At 72 pages it is a respectable length. Although it does feature the longest blurb for a novel its size!!
The blurb:
Will Trent, a dedicated agent with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation for fifteen years, knows that there's definitely such a thing as a cop's intuition. Which is why he should have listened to his own.

While in an airport restroom at Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson International, Will overhears a girl's pleading, plaintive voice: "Please, I wanna go home." Something isn't right here, thinks Will. He feels it in his gut. But he waits too long to act, and now the girl and the anxious, angry man she's with have disappeared into the crowds at the busiest passenger airport in the world.

After a desperate search and with time running out, Will makes a call to his supervisor, Amanda Wagner. Will's partner, Faith Mitchell, immediately sends out an abducted child alert. The entire airport will soon be grinding to a halt: Eighty-nine million passengers a year. Five runways. Seven concourses. Six million square feet of space that sprawled across two counties, three cities, and five jurisdictions. All shut down on a dime because Will has a hunch that he is certain is true: a girl, maybe six or seven years old, has been snatched from God knows where. And he intends to bring her back--no matter what it takes.
Unlike her recent books, Snatched focuses purely on Will Trent and his colleagues. The characters from the Grant County series are nowhere to be seen. In fact, Will’s colleagues are only peripheral characters in this novella. The story is all about Will performing a mundane duty and trusting his gut feeling when he senses something suspicious.
What follows is a tense action sequence as Will pursues the suspect through an airport and then the fallout from the action.
For anyone looking for an idea of what Karin Slaughter’s writing is all about, this is the perfect book for you to try. Her writing is tight, Will is described in the perfect way so that regular readers are not patronised and new readers get a sense of the type of character he is all about.
The plot itself is riveting and Karin could easily have squeezed out a full length novel around the premise. I applaud her for not doing this however, as the book works well in its current length.
All in all a quick but fully satisfying read, that whets the appetite for her imminent new novel. The closing lines are uncharacteristically cheesy for a Karin Slaughter novel but I can live with that.
My rating: 8.5

Monday, July 2, 2012

Book Review - Moon over Soho

Moon Over Soho by Ben Aaronovitch
Rivers of London
Review by Jacqui Slaney
I recently reviewed the Rivers of London by this author and thought it only fair to review this one too.
This is the description:
I was my dad's vinyl-wallah: I changed his records while he lounged around drinking tea, and that's how I know my Argo from my Tempo. And it's why, when Dr Walid called me to the morgue to listen to a corpse, I recognised the tune it was playing. Something violently supernatural had happened to the victim, strong enough to leave its imprint like a wax cylinder recording. Cyrus Wilkinson, part-time jazz saxophonist and full-time accountant, had apparently dropped dead of a heart attack just after finishing a gig in a Soho jazz club. He wasn't the first. No one was going to let me exhume corpses to see if they were playing my tune, so it was back to old-fashioned legwork, starting in Soho, the heart of the scene. I didn't trust the lovely Simone, Cyrus' ex-lover, professional jazz kitten and as inviting as a Rubens' portrait, but I needed her help: there were monsters stalking Soho, creatures feeding off that special gift that separates the great musician from someone who can raise a decent tune. What they take is beauty. What they leave behind is sickness, failure and broken lives. And as I hunted them, my investigation got tangled up in another story: a brilliant trumpet player, Richard 'Lord' Grant - my father - who managed to destroy his own career, twice. That's the thing about policing: most of the time you're doing it to maintain public order. Occasionally you're doing it for justice. And maybe once in a career, you're doing it for revenge.
This is the second in the series, and if I was worried that I would not enjoy this one as much, I was soon reassured.
This story continues not long after the events of the first book with both the characters of Nightingale and Lesley recovering from what they went through. So this leaves Peter as the only wizard on active police duty, which is worrying for all concerned as in his training his spells of the effect of setting fire to things.
This story is about creatures that feed off jazz musicians, sometimes killing them in the process, these creatures Peter labels as jazz vampires. You follow Peter through his investigation and his continued training. There is more of a background in this one to the history of this magic section of the Met Police, and you learn some more about Nightingale. His family is also more involved with Peter discovering how this vampire has affected his own fathers’ career. All the characters are much more rounded in this book which is normal once a series has become established, the writer hasn’t got to worry about introducing all his mains, he can spend time expanding them and making them more interesting.
As in the first novel there is loads of humour (people are starting to avoid me on buses now when I laugh but at least it gets you a seat), do not worry if you are not a jazz fan, I am not particularly but I still really enjoyed this book. It is such an easy book to read, Peter Grant is one of my favourite characters, his whole attitude to policing and magic is entertaining.
The plot of the story is good and the writing is fast paced and excellent. This is definitely a second novel though so I recommend that you read ‘Rivers of London’ first as it is helpful to the reader to know the previous events. 
The third novel is now out and with the experience of the last two; I know it is going to be a good one.
10 out of 10