Friday, August 31, 2012

Book Review - Linda Welsh (JS)

Along Came a Demon by Linda Welsh
Product Details

Review by Jacqui Slaney

What would you do if you could see the dead, chat to them and hold normal conversations?  A bit Sixth Sense?
This is the description that caught my eye:

I am told the dead are all around us. I would not know about that, I see only the violently slain. They can be victims of hit-and-run, innocents caught in a crossfire, the murdered. They whisper to me and they never, ever, forget the face of their killer. I have learned to live with my uncanny ability; in fact I've made a career out of it. The departed are not the only supernatural’s I see. No, they are not vampires, werewolves, or fae - those things do not exist. We live side by side with what some call the Otherworldly. That is too much of a mouthful for me, I call them demons. If you saw them as I do, you would know why.
Right now, I am trying to track down a missing six year-old boy whose mother was murdered. Or maybe she was not. To further complicate the case, Clarion PD gave me a partner I would rather shoot than work with.
I cannot tell them he is a demon.
They would think I am crazy.
I am Tiff Banks. Welcome to my world.

This is a different type of book; it is a mixture of crime, romance and a touch of horror. The main character is Tiff Banks and as mentioned in the description above, she sees the ghosts of victims of violent crime and demons! The ghosts appear where they died, show her how it happened, and are able to identify their killer. Due to her ability, she has a job as a consultant to a Police Department although they just think she is a very good psychic. On this latest case, however she is asked to help a detective who has just transferred. With one look, she sees that he is a demon and that is where the story really begins.   

This is the first in a series, the story is told from Tiff’s point of view, and she is soon a character that you will really like. Although her ability could be seen as rather far-fetched, she is a believable well-rounded character. The others in the story are less so, including Royal – the detective/ demon, which is a shame, as he is quite an interesting character, but this does not detract from the story at all, as there is plenty of action. The two ghosts that live with Tiff in her house are excellent as well and they have some great dialogue.

The story is well written and keeps you intrigued, so you need to read on to find out what is going to happen next and the ending is well handled. The sexual tension that is cleverly developed between Tiff and Royal is skilfully done, and does not get in the way of the main plot.

This is not a long story, but it is an enjoyable read with the promise of a good series behind it, and I would recommend it.

9 out of 10  

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Book Review - Fifty Shades Darker (JS)

Fifty Shades Darker by E L James

Fifty Shades Darker

Review by Jacqui Slaney

When I read 50 Shades of Grey, I was glad I was reading it on the Kindle, due to the amount of hype and hysteria about the book. According to the reviews, either it was the worse book ever written being just an excuse for porn, or it was the best thing since sliced bread was invented.

I found it neither, as Rob said in his review of the book, the writing was poor and sometimes monotonous, but it did not deserve the one star reviews that it picked up, however I did find the ending abrupt and inconclusive, hence why I picked up part two to read.

On this book, the reviews are strange, as there does not seem to be any specific comments on the writing in this book. Book 1 is continually mentioned and the series as a whole, so to get a feeling for the story before you purchase, is almost impossible.

This is the description:

Daunted by the dark secrets of the tormented young entrepreneur Christian Grey, Ana Steele has broken off their relationship to start a new career with a US publishing house. But desire for Grey still dominates her every waking thought, and when he proposes a new arrangement, she cannot resist. Soon she is learning more about the harrowing past of her damaged, driven and demanding Fifty Shades than she ever thought possible. But while Grey wrestles with his inner demons, Ana must make the most important decision of her life. And it's a decision she can only make on her own...

Part two takes up almost immediately from the end of 50 Shades of Grey, Ana has left Christian, as she feels that their relationship will never be what she needs and she also feels that she cannot be what he wants and needs. However, they soon reunite due to his persistence, and their relationship moves onto a different level.

With most second novels, you can see the change in the authors writing, with characters becoming more rounded and having more of a depth to them. This book is no exception; the writing has improved, with the character of Christian being much more explored. You get to read more of his past and understand what drives Christian and his hatred of himself. Ana however, is still as annoying at times, as she was in 50 Shades of Grey. Her subconscious is still arguing with herself, her almost continual self-doubt and her continual reference to how much she loves the smell of Christian. There is still as many sex scenes in the story with all of them being described and nothing left the imagination, which in many cases can be more effective for the story. 

Unlike the first book, there are quite a few sub plots in this story to keep your attention, with everything seeming to conspire against Ana and Christian being together. Ana now finally meets Mrs Robinson and one of Christian’s ex-Subs. One sub plot in particular leads into the final book of the series, and though interesting does come across as a bit far fetched. There is an attempt as well by the writer to try to show that a lot of both Ana’s and Christian’s problems are caused by their inexperience in relationships. Neither of them is used to being with someone else, and so to find themselves in such a passionate relationship has been a shock.

Overall, this is not a bad read; many of the ideas that appear could have been developed further to make the story stronger and improve on the characters development. If you ignore the hype though and keep an open mind, then it’s and easy book to read and something that will not overtax you.

7 out of 10

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Book Review - Hard Landing

Hard Landing – Stephen Leather
For me Stephen Leather is one of them authors that you always see on the shelves, wonder what his books are about but never get round to reading them. The truth is, without the Kindle this probably would have always been the case. You see the Kindle has a knack of tempting you to read books you wouldn’t normally buy. Due to the low price of, “the basement” on a whim I tried the book and discovered I liked Stephen Leather’s style. In a fantastic piece of marketing, I saw the first book in his series was also a very low price and bought that. So was the book any good?
The Blurb (minor spoilers):
Shepherd is used to putting his life on the line as a detective in an elite undercover squad. But when a powerful drugs baron starts to kill off witnesses to his crimes, he faces his most dangerous assignment yet - undercover in a top security prison, where one wrong move will mean certain death.
“Hard Landing” grabbed me from the outset. I didn’t actually read the blurb and although I guessed what was occurring straight away, I thought it was a nice twist and a great way to start a series.
Spider is a great character. In this novel you are frequently trying to figure out what is his true personality and where the role he is forced to play stops. One thing I was sure of though, is that he is an engaging character and one I definitely want to read more of. Think Child’s, “Jack Reacher” crossed with Billingham’s, “DI Thorne” and you get the picture.
I have not read too many stories set in prison. The ones I have read, although they might have been good, had a certain fantastical feel to them. “Hard Landing,” feels like the real deal. Leather portrays the tedium of prison well. If Spider wants to speak to someone, he has to work hard at finding a way out of his cell. If he wants to go to a location, he has to wade through the tedious hours before he can get the chance. Realistic this book maybe, but it never feels boring either.
Instead the book rattles along at a frantic pace. The characters within the prison feel fresh. So often authors fall into the trap of casting stereotypical roles: I.e the psycho everyone is afraid of, the grisly vet near the end of his time or the complete wimp. Stephen Leather avoids this and concentrates on creating good, well rounded characters in Carpenter and Digger. The former behaving suitable diabolically in a bid to buy his way out of trouble by removing all witnesses at his trial.
However, it is Spider’s interaction with the police force and his family that are the best part of the story. Conflicted between his job and his role as a father and husband, I was surprised to find I was quite moved at some of the scenes contained within this book.
The plot also progresses in a logical fashion. The twists when they happen are surprising and keep you on your toes.  Spider always appears calm and in control, so it is nice when the carpet is pulled out from underneath him and he squirms to survive  
The climax of the novel is good even if it does have a bit of a deus ex machina feel to it. I will definitely be picking up the next book in the series and Stephen Leather is now firmly on my reading radar.
 My rating: 8.6

Friday, August 24, 2012

Book Review - Rapscallion

Rapscallion by James McGee

Review by Jacqui Slaney

This is the third in the series of books with the Hawkwood character, and as in the last book Resurrectionist, the author has gone for a completely different theme to the story.

This is the description:

Matthew Hawkwood, ex-soldier turned Bow Street Runner, goes undercover to hunt down smugglers and traitors at the height of the Napoleonic Wars in this thrilling follow-up to Ratcatcher.
For a French prisoner of war, there is only one fate worse than the gallows: the hulks. Former man-o'-wars now converted to prison ships, their fearsome reputation guarantees a sentence served in the most dreadful conditions.
Few survive. Escape, it is said, is impossible.
Yet reports persist of a sinister smuggling operation within this brutal world – and the Royal Navy is worried enough to send two of its officers to investigate.
However, when they disappear without trace, the Navy turns in desperation to Bow Street for help. It is time to send in a man as dangerous as the prey. It is time to send in Hawkwood

In this book, Hawkwood has to deal with the French prisoners of war on the dreaded prison ships or ‘Hulks’. He goes undercover as a prisoner following the disappearance of two naval officers who have been sent to the hulks to investigate smuggling, one of whom is found drowned.

Through the vivid imagery of the writing, the reader gets an image of the state that the prisoners had to live in. You can almost smell the stench of the men and the ships, and within a short time, Hawkwood is fighting for his life.

The plot is excellent and the pace of the writing is fast and gripping. The story line is brutal; this is not a story for the faint hearted, though not as gruesome as Resurrectionist is.

The characters are all strong and believable and I particularly liked Mrs Flynn and the friendship that is developed between Hawkwood and one of the French prisoners Lasseur. Hawkwood is as good ever; it is refreshing to have a hero that is as ruthless as those he comes across.

There are reviews that say that this book is the weakest of the three and that it takes a while for the story to get going, I did not find that at all. The focus of the plot does change slightly as the story develops but I did not find this distracting or a let down. I found that this story matter grips you from the beginning and though it is obvious that the author knows his period history well, you do not feel that you are reading a factual historical novel.

Through the three books, I have found the writing get better and better, with Hawkwood developing strongly so am looking forward to the next instalment in this series.

10 out of 10

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Book Review - Wolfblade

Wolfblade - Jennifer Fallon

I had never heard of Jennifer Fallon, she is not a name frequently mentioned on any of the forums I frequent and so when I saw this trilogy with their great covers winking at me from a charity shop with their great covers, I was intrigued. A quick scan of the blurbs and I decided it could be a series I was interested.
The books sat on my shelf for quite a while, by that time I had discovered that Jennifer is actually highly regarded and this series is supposed to be very good. Alas, the urge took me and I plunged into reading the first volume.
The Blurb:
Marla Wolfblade of Hythria is determined to restore her family's great name, but conspirators surround her: the Sorcerers' Collective, the Patriots -- even members of her own family.  She must make sure her son Damin lives to be old enough to restore the Wolfblade name to its former glory.

Elezaar the Dwarf is a small man with big secrets -- but that doesn't matter to Marla Wolfblade. Her brother is the High Prince of Hythria, and, in this fiercely patriarchal society, her fate will be decided on his whim. She needs someone politically astute to guide her through the maze of court politics -- and Elezaar the Dwarf knows more than he lets on.

As Elezaar teaches Marla the Rules of Gaining and Wielding Power, Marla starts on the road to becoming a tactician and a wily diplomat -- but will that be enough to keep her son alive?
I was unsure what to make of the book for the first 100 pages or so. Parts of it were really good, others moved along at a swift pace with a certain amount of detachment from the action and some parts I thought the dialogue was a bit weak.
However, I felt the story got better and better as it progressed. As the blurb indicates the book focuses on Marla Wolfblade but there are several other characters who received point of view chapters.
Marla is quite an intriguing. I hated her at first, her petulant behaviour, coupled with her propensity to fall in love within seconds on anyone she met reminded me of a teenage, paranormal romance. However, this was only in parts and she drastically improved as she became more self aware of her importance and the political impact she could have.
Marla’s development is well handled. It would be easy to have her transform into a doe-eyed teenager into a shrewd politician but Jennifer Fallon makes sure she is far from perfect. She is easily manipulated at times and makes rash decisions at others.
The other POV characters are mostly solid. Wrayan is the most intriguing and his arc is the one with arguably the biggest story going forward but others are enjoyable to read. Jennifer Fallon tries to paint most of her villains in shades of grey but she does not always succeed. Some characters are just evil no matter how Fallon tries to justify their actions.
The High Prince is the weakest character in the book and he is the most important. It is a shame as Jennifer could have had a lot of fun with him and his depraved nature, but instead he is relegated to the background and is one dimensional at best.
Another character that does not quite succeed is Elezar the dwarf. His aim is to become indispensible  to Marla by advising her to use her political station to her advantage. However, rather than fleshing out his character and giving him his own motives, this remains his goal throughout. Again, although he is enjoyable enough, you feel there is a missed opportunity there.
I don’t want to sound to negative about this book as it would not be doing it justice. Whilst some parts of the book were a little “off” for me, I enjoyed it immensely. As it drew to a close I found myself thinking more and more about the book when I wasn’t reading it. A sign of a good book in my opinion.
Overall, as an introduction to Jennifer Fallon, Wolfblade impressed me. There are things that I would improve but there was much for me to recommend.
My rating 8.6

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

On Writing - Update

It was a good week last week. With the exception of Thursday, I managed to reach my target of 500 words every week day. It meant I completed a whole chapter in a week, which makes for better reading as that is purely what I focussed on.
I am really happy with how the book is progressing. My writing is stronger and I am enjoying exploring the characters. All of their stories are strong at this stage and so I think the reader will enjoy the pace of the book as well.
The only small concern I have is I know I need to introduce a new POV. All aspects of the story are covered except for one area. I was hoping to get away with using a wandering character to uncover what a certain Warlord was up to, but whilst this mystery is good, I fear the drip feed of information is too slow and too restricted given the magnitude of the character involved.
The question I now have is who do I use for this POV? I think I know, but I need to do a lot of thinking around their back-story. This needs to be done in the background to my time I spend writing so as to not affect my output.
Anyway, since none of you have read book one yet, all of the above must comes across as rather vague.
The stats:
Monday – 707 words
Tuesday – 719 words
Wednesday –  825 words
Thursday – 0 words
Friday – 1,128 words
Sat/Sun – Non-working
Total words for the week – 3,379 words
Total words book 2 – 39,566 words


Monday, August 20, 2012

Book review - The Night Watch

The Night Watch by Sergei Lukyanenko
The Night Watch

Review by Jacqui Slaney

I found this book completely by accident, using my normal book buying habit of thinking the cover looked good and the description was worth a further look. I was a bit more wary on this one, as it was the first in a series, but I thought it sounded worth the risk.

This is the description:

Walking the streets of Moscow, indistinguishable from the rest of its population, are the Others. Possessors of supernatural powers and capable of entering the Twilight, a shadowy parallel world existing in parallel to our own, each Other owes allegiance either to the Dark or the Light.
The Night Watch, first book in the Night Watch Trilogy, follows Anton, a young Other owing allegiance to the Light. As a Night Watch agent, he must patrol the streets and metro of the city, protecting ordinary people from the vampires and magicians of the Dark. When he comes across Svetlana, a young woman under a powerful curse, and saves an unfledged Other, Egor, from vampires, he becomes involved in events that threaten the uneasy truce, and the whole city...

The themes of Good and Evil are looked at extremely well in this book, with the owners of supernatural powers split between different sides. The Night Watch is for the Light and rule the night keeping watch on the Dark ones or the Day Watch who then monitor all works of the Night Watch. The author uses Cold War analogies to show how the streets of Moscow are split between the different forces and how ordinary humans are completely oblivious to what is going on around them.

 The book is separated into three parts, though the characters overlap with each part being a different story. Though each story is separate, the threads from them do lead you through to the next story.

The main character in the novel is Anton, who begins the book as a relatively unimportant member of the Night Watch, with few powers. When he comes across Svetlana who is apparently cursed, he sets events in motion, which could destroy the world.

The reader does come to like Anton after a shaky start who starts to question the role of the different Watch’s and the things that are allowed to happen to the ordinary people just to keep the uneasy peace between Night and Day.

The writing is plain and simple but the story flows, as the author lets a dry humour show throughout. The descriptions of the different scenes are very vivid and imaginative, and you will find yourself hooked by the story.  I think splitting the book into three helps with this as you have three distinct stories instead of one long tale. I think the only thing that slightly bugged me, was the frequent mention of the different music that Anton was listening to on his walkman.

There is interest and action throughout with shape shifters and vampires (Not sparkly kinds) and the journeys that the Watch members take though the different levels of Twilight, which cannot be seen by ‘normal’ humans. The mysterious Inquisition is good as are the characters of Gesar and Zabulon's, although all the characters used are well fleshed out.

Do not worry that you have to be interested in magic or vampires to like this book; you don’t, under all this there is suspense and intrigue that will keep you hooked.

9 Out of 10

Friday, August 17, 2012

Boo Review - John Doe

John Doe - Tess Gerritsen
These short stories on the Kindle have been a bit of a mixture for me. Karin Slaughter’s recent effort was excellent where as Tess Gerritsen’s effort earlier this year was so short and silly that I didn’t even bother to review it. That is not to say it was bad, it was just a bit tongue in cheek and passed 5 minutes nicely.
This effort is slightly longer at 42 pages so I was interested in how it turned out.
The blurb:
It should have been a night to remember, but Maura Isles can’t recall a thing.Maura is at a party. A handsome man approaches. He’s charming and sophisticated. She flirts and drinks champagne. And then nothing. Total blackness. Nothing, that is, apart from these two facts: a man is dead and her address is found in his pocket . . .
The actual premise of this story is really good. It could have easily been stretched out into a longer effort and to a certain extant I think Tess might have missed a trick here. Maura Isles is currently hated by the police force and so when there is the opportunity for them to treat her as a plausible suspect in a murder enquiry I thought more time should have been dedicated to this opportunity.
Having said that, the story is nice and intriguing. The usually unflappable Maura is completely out of her comfort zone, rendered out of control by the actions of a predator. Jane demonstrates her feelings for her friend, by going all out to prove her innocence.
The problem with these short stories is that due to their length, you know that any character introduced is going to be part of the resolution as there is simply not enough pages for anything else. This makes the end somewhat predictable.
That doesn’t mean it is not a good story. Far from it, I really enjoyed this book and have decided to welcome these short visits to the characters between each book.
My rating: 7

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Book Review - Whispers Underground

Whispers Underground by Ben Aaronovitch
Whispers Under Ground

Review by Jacqui Slaney

I purchased this book as soon as it was released, but I promised myself that I would wait, and not rush to read it as I did have numerous other books waiting on the shelf. Whom was I kidding?

Peter Grant is learning magic fast. And its just as well - he's already had run ins with the deadly supernatural children of the Thames and a terrifying killer in Soho. Progression in the Police Force is less easy. Especially when you work in a department of two. A department that does not even officially exist. A department that if you did describe it to most people would get you laughed at. And then there is his love life. The last person he fell for ended up seriously dead. It was not his fault, but still.
Now something horrible is happening in the labyrinth of tunnels that make up the tube system that honeycombs the ancient foundations of London. And delays on the Northern line is the very least of it. Time to call in the Met's Economic and Specialist Crime Unit 9, aka 'The Folly'. Time to call in PC Peter Grant, Britain’s Last Wizard.

I was slightly concerned that having enjoyed the first two books so much, that the quality of this third instalment might slip slightly, how wrong could I be. Anyone who has travelled on the underground knows that the empty platforms can be creepy, after reading this book, I would definitely think twice about looking or going anywhere near those dark tunnels hearing strange noises… 

The story starts with Peter being pestered by a relative to go look at a ghost on a railway tracks and from there to being called in by the Murder squad to go look at a dead body in Baker Street. At first it seems that there is nothing strange involved with the death, but after finding a shard of pottery, he realises that there is magic involved and finds himself temporary assigned to the Murder Squad, where he meets a FBI agent who has also been attached to the case, because the dead body was an American Senators son. The story then centres round the sewers and underground systems of London, as Peter, Lesley and Nightingale try to solve the mysteries of this death and still track down the rogue wizard who previously tried to kill Peter.

The plot is fast paced and entertaining. There is more police procedural in this story and less about Peter and now Lesley being taught spells. If you read different reviews about this book, you will see that this has upset a few readers who seem to demand Harry Potter type schooling in each novel. This story is set over seven days before and during a Christmas, so it is hardly surprising that not a lot of time is spent in a classroom.

The character is Peter is as strong as ever and the humour his character brings to the story is excellent. This author is one of the few to make me laugh in public, so be warned that you will attract strange looks on public transport when reading this series.  It is also good to see that the character of Lesley May is much more involved in this book with her now also attached to the Folly as an apprentice much to the disgust of Seawoll! It is interesting to see how Peter’s attitude to her injuries starts to change by the end of the book.

There are some new characters in this book, but the regular ones are also all included. One of whom is Molly, who I admit I would really like to read more of. A character that can wake someone by sheer creepiness by standing in a doorway has to be good!

I was worried that this book would not be as good as the others, but I ended up liking this one more. The writing is a slightly more polished, and the characters now that they are established are more developed.
Though it is possible to read this story first, I would recommend that you read the others first, just so, you can see how all the sub plots develop and you get to know the characters.

10 out of 10


Tuesday, August 14, 2012

On Writing - Update

So there seems to be a bit of a pattern forming. Whenever I take a week off and know I am going to do little writing, the subsequent week back at work also means I do hardly any writing. This is very frustrating. The will power was there, it is just that the time was not.
As it happens the week I spent at home was fairly productive, amongst the days out and DIY, I managed to get up early on three occasions and be productive. Only three mornings I hear you say? Man, that Rob is lazy. But let me put it into some sort of context for you. My second son does not sleep. That is not an exaggeration, it is a simple fact. Since he was 4 months old, he has not gone through the night more than a couple of times. He hasn’t even only woken up just the once more than a dozen times.
A typical night would be to get my eldest down around 7:30 to 8pm. He will typically stay asleep all through the night until 8 a.m. (although lately they have been double teaming us.). Jamie on the other hand may go down for an hour between 8:30 and 9, which leaves us an hour to get the house straight for the next day and maybe, you know, sit and have a cup of tea (heaven forbid). Just as we settle in bed and put on a programme to watch he will be up at 11:00. We will get him down by about 11:30 and then go to bed.
Jamie will be up again at 1:30. Half an hour later, we can think of sleeping again. 4am or 5am he will get up and then again at 6:30 ish. During that time he sleeps but cries rather loudly during his sleep. Always at the times above and always loud enough so we are awake and forced to do something about it in case he wakes Joseph.
I leave for work at 6:40am and so I operate each day on little sleep. The reason for this self-pitying moan? If I want to do any writing then getting up early, means staying awake from the 5am time and forcing myself.
I did this on three occasions two weeks ago. So I was impressed. Last week when I was back at work, I was swamped. No time for writing at lunch and no early finishes. We also had a couple of bad nights with Jamie. (Bad constitutes even worse than the norm above!!)   
If you are interested in what it is like to try and write a book when you are a parent, that is an insight. You can read all the patronising self-help books you want saying that if you want to be an author bad enough you will make time, but sometimes it is just not possible. When I can, I write. I want to write. There is no lack of desire, but sometimes I can just keep my eyes open.
I’ve grouped the two weeks together:
Monday: 1,532
Tuesday: 650
Wednesday: 0
Thursday: 0
Friday: 944
Sat – Thurs: 0
Total: 2,726
Total book two: 36,016

Monday, August 13, 2012

Book review - When the Lion feeds

When the lions feeds – Wilbur Smith
The previous two books I have read by Wilbur Smith have been part of the Ancient Eqyptian series. I have loved both of them and so I was really looking forward to the first book he ever wrote.
The Blurb:
WHEN THE LIONS FEEDS is the story of South Africa at the burgeoning time of the gold rush in the 1890s. Sean Courtney was raised in cattle country, accidently maimed his twin brother Garry as a boy. In inflicting weakness, Sean came to despise weakness in all. This, plus his own strength, was to dictate Sean's iron resolve to win, no matter how much the gamble cost.

After a stint fighting the Zulu tribes, Sean trys his luck in the gold fields. Venturing an impossible claim which miraculously proves out, Sean gains wealth beyond counting and power. Power that was unmanageable without cunning. But cunning was an art he was to learn the hard way.
“When the lion feeds” is split into three parts and follows the life of Sean Courtney. Unlike many books I have read of this ilk, the excellent thing about the book is that each part is as strong as the last. Just when you think you know where the story is going, it moves off in a new direction.
Sean himself is a great character. Strong, moralistic, stoic, he is everything a leading man should be, but what makes him so great is that he is flawed to boot. Each decision he makes is not always the right decision and how he treats people is not always how they should be treated, but at his heart, his intentions are mostly for the good.
It is the secondary characters where this book excels however. Each time we are introduced to a new character Wilbur Smith immediately ingratiates them to the reader. They may be abhorrent but they are dam readable. When Sean leaves them behind, I genuinely lamented that I was no longer reading about them.
Special mention goes to Duff. Whose friendship with Sean is a good a pairing as I have read. Duff is a brilliant character and their partnership provides a level of trust and respect born out of mutual interest in life. This relationship is nearly equalled by that of Sean and Mbejane – his zulu friend and loyal follower. Their devotion to each other provides some of the most touching scenes in the book.
Wilbur Smith writes with such ease, his prose draws you in and it was incredibly hard to put the book down at some points. He brings Africa to life in a way that is both interesting and exciting. To be honest, I was searching for a decent western novel to read, but this adventure hit all the buttons I needed. In many ways it felt like a western.
 I mentioned that each part was as strong as the last. However, it is the ending of the third part that really is touching. The ending is foreshadowed a mile off and normally when it is so obviously hinted at I despise it. However in this case, despite knowing what was going to happen, I felt an increasing sense of unease. I have my theories around certain plot elements but one thing for sure is that this is a tremendous book.
Overall, I loved the two other Wilbur Smith books I have read so far, but his first ever surpasses them. Easily one of my top five reads so far this year, if not my favourite.
My rating: 9.4

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Championing Robert McCammon

 Championing Robert McCammon
For those regular visitors here, you will know that I discovered Robert McCammon around the same time as I started the blog. In fact the first book I read of his was the first Matthew Corbett book, “Speaks the Nightbird,” which was one of the novels that inspired me to seriously have a go at writing a novel.
Over the past three years I have read six more of McCammon’s novels. I have loved every one of them and the only reason I have not read all of his back catalogue is because I am restraining myself. The thought of not having one of his books on hand to read makes me sad. I have though, purchased most of those unread books.
Of those six other books I have read. Three of them have been from the rest of the Matthew Corbett series. You can click on the link for my reviews for the last two on the right hand side of this blog. In short though, I think they are some of the best books I have read. It is easily up there as one of my favourite series and Robert McCammon is one of if not my out and out favourite author.
Therefore, I was gutted to read his latest blog post over at his website. I have copied and pasted an extract below:
I will tell you the truth, guys. The New York publishing world has little use for Matthew. They see that I am a “horror writer”—and kind of a “has been” at that—and Matthew is not “horror” but some kind of  boring “historical piece”, so what do I think I’m doing?
Well…I think I’m aiming at a target that no one can see but me. I trust myself. I will hit that target in the space of ten books, and you can count on it.
Getting back with a New York-based publisher means cultivating a wider audience. This is very important for any writer’s future. I have a loyal and steady audience, it’s true, but my contemporary work is more appealing to “New York” than the Matthew series, so this is why I really do need to alternate Matthew with the contemporary books. Those books have the greatest chance of getting promoted, reviewed and noticed, and put into bookstores…whereas Matthew, for all his charm and worth and manners, is not welcome in very many Barnes & Nobles. One might say the era of the brick-and-mortar bookstore is  coming to an end, but my work must be on the shelves of as many bookstores as possible, or I will find myself laboring at a “hobby” instead of having a “career”.
It is true, I have many more Matthew books ahead of me. It is equally true I have many more ideas for contemporary novels. I must alternate them in this way, as my best chance for success…and, actually, the wider reach of the contemporary novels will hopefully bring more Matthew readers into the fold. So it can be a win-win situation if I stick to my schedule.
Now there are authors I enjoy immensely, but I can see why they could be struggling. Perhaps they are a guilty pleasure where the stories satisfies a need in me and so I can blindly look past their flaws etc. However, Robert McCammon does not full into this category.
His writing is outstanding. To think his Matthew Corbett series struggled for sales and is not looked on favourably by the publisher really saddens me. If Robert is struggling then what hope is there? The books are always magnificently presented to: excellent covers and great illustrations.
I just can’t fathom what is going on in the industry when someone of Robert’s talent has to fight to publish his work whilst there are so many other authors who seem to reach supersonic sales figures for vastly inferior work.
I am not a literary snob and I don’t dismiss novels because others ridicule it either. I will try any book and judge it on its merit – just check out my reviews. But this is the first time I have felt moved to comment on a situation.
I have no doubt Robert McCammon will continue to sell and publish excellent novels. But I urge you to try out the Matthew Corbett series. If just one reader of this blog buys his novels I would have felt like I helped. Just give them a go and then tell me I am wrong about how good they are. If I’m wrong, I’m wrong but I don’t think I am.
Matthew Corbett series:
1.    Speaks the Nightbird
Speaks the Nightbird
2.    Queen of Bedlam
The Queen of Bedlam
3.    Mister Slaughter
Mister Slaughter
4.    The Providence Rider
The Providence Rider

Rant over.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Book Review - The Help

The Help – Kathryn Stockett

“The Help” marks the third book I have decided to try that is outside my usual genres. Whilst I adored, “Water for Elephants” by Sara Guen, I felt that Victoria Hislop’s “the return” was good but had its problems.
Of the three books, “the Help” has gained the most attention in the UK and has mainly positive reviews. Averaging 5 stars from 2,126 reviews on Amazon, I was looking forward to it to say the least.
The Blurb:
Be prepared to meet three unforgettable women:

Twenty-two-year-old Skeeter has just returned home after graduating from Ole Miss. She may have a degree, but it is 1962, Mississippi, and her mother will not be happy till Skeeter has a ring on her finger. Skeeter would normally find solace with her beloved maid Constantine, the woman who raised her, but Constantine has disappeared and no one will tell Skeeter where she has gone.

Aibileen is a black maid, a wise, regal woman raising her seventeenth white child. Something has shifted inside her after the loss of her own son, who died while his bosses looked the other way. She is devoted to the little girl she looks after, though she knows both their hearts may be broken.

Minny, Aibileen's best friend, is short, fat, and perhaps the sassiest woman in Mississippi. She can cook like nobody's business, but she can't mind her tongue, so she's lost yet another job. Minny finally finds a position working for someone too new to town to know her reputation. But her new boss has secrets of her own.

Seemingly as different from one another as can be, these women will nonetheless come together for a clandestine project that will put them all at risk. And why? Because they are suffocating within the lines that define their town and their times. And sometimes lines are made to be crossed.
The book is split into three different points of view. All of them are highly readable but some fare better than others. The main point of view comes from Miss Skeeter. As a white lady and aspiring writer, Miss Skeeter is disillusioned with the treatment of black people. In an effort to impress an editor in the publishing world she uses this anger to write about something she is passionate about. She decides the best way to do this is to interview the coloured woman who work for white families and let them tell their side of the story.
Initially the risk involved in doing this is too much for the black people and Miss Skeeter faces the challenge of persuading them to take part. This sets up an interesting aspect of the book, but after initially persuading Aibileen, Miss Skeeter’s involvement in the matter is rather limited. Instead it is Aibileen who does most of the work which means Miss Skeeter comes across as rather passive. There are other elements to her story which are intriguing. Her relationship with her mother is fascinating as is her first real relationship with a young man she meets, although this is a bit predictable. However the other areas of her life such as the relationship with her father and brother are woefully underexplored.
Aibileen on the other hand is a great character and makes the book worthwhile to read by herself. She is the stoic, kind –hearted elder figure with a small dose of devilment in her.  In many ways, I wish the story had been told purely from her point of view. Her attempts to recruit her friends into participating in the interviews is riveting as she has to tread carefully around the white folk whilst also respecting the precarious position they are in.
Finally there is Minny, a great character in her own right. To the outside world she is feisty, strong and always pushing the boundaries as to what is acceptable. However to those that know her she has her own personal demons and struggles to cope with them. I enjoyed Minny immensely, but if I am honest I felt some of the impact of her character was diluted by giving her a point of view. Although, I did enjoy her sub-story with her new employer and the mystery around her behaviour.
The characters then get an overall thumbs up from me. Where I thought the book could have improved was the emotional impact of the events that took place. Kathryn Stockett does an excellent job or detailing some of the atrocities that took place in the era around the segregation between the colours, however most of it takes place off screen. We hear about it through the main protagonists hearing about it from friends. Whilst the events are abysmal, without knowing the characters that they happen to it is hard to feel any emotional attachment. This may have been realistic but harmed the story to some degree.
For example, the embarassing and truly appalling episode where Aibileen’s employer was having a new toilet installed so that the coloured help could have somewhere to do their business was great. Katryn Stockett really portrayed the awkwardness around the scenario as other characters openly discussed this with Aibileen and did a great job of portraying her torment between replying correctly to keep her job and what she really wanted to say. I just wish there were more events like this in the story that impacted the characters directly.
The end of the book delivers this to some degree, as when the book is published, the furor around it and the suspicions around who wrote it are intriguing. Although I was not displeased with the ending I did think more could have been made of this area.
Overall I enjoyed “the help” immensely. This review may appear to be critical of it but it is more of a “wish it was like this” rather than anything the book failed to deliver on. Kathryn Stockett mentions Harper Lee’s, “to kill a mocking bird” at least three times in the narrative. The book obviously influenced her, but it is just a shame that it is referenced so much as all it did was remind me how superior, “to kill a mocking bird” is.
My rating: 8.4

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Book Review - The Forgotten Legion

The Forgotten Legion (The Forgotten Legion Chronicles) - by Ben Kane

The Forgotten Legion

By Jacqui Slaney

I found this book when browsing for something new to read. I really enjoy reading about ancient Rome, though normally it is about the army or about the rulers of Rome so the description of this one caught my eye:

Romulus and Fabiola are twins, born into slavery after a drunken nobleman rapes their mother. At thirteen years old they are sold - Romulus to gladiator school, Fabiola into prostitution, where she will catch the eye of one of the most powerful men in Rome. Tarquinius is an Etruscan, a warrior and soothsayer, born enemy of Rome, but doomed to fight for the Republic in the Forgotten Legion. Brennus is a Gaul, his entire family killed by the Romans, and he rises to become one of the most famous and feared gladiators of his day. The lives of these characters are bound and interwoven in an odyssey, which begins in a Rome riven by political corruption and violence, but ends far away, at the very border of the known world, where the tattered remnants of a once-huge Roman army - the Forgotten Legion - will fight against overwhelming odds, and the three men will meet their destiny.
As I said most of the books, I have recently read such as the Simon Scarrow series are set in the army and revolve round the officers and elite of Roman society. This novel is different though, you see a different side of Rome, the less glamorous side. The characters are different; they are from the lower classes and are the ones who actually make the Roman society work, you also get a different perspective on the wealthy nobles.  

You have four main characters in the story: Romulus and Fabiola, taken away from their mother at a young age, Fabiola is sold into prostitution and Romulus to a gladiator school. They are the children of a slave who was raped by a noble, now this man is not named but the clues become obvious as the story goes on, which is a good sub plot. There is Brennus who becomes one of the best gladiators in the school and befriends Romulus. The two of them are then forced through events to join the army where they meet Tarquinius the soothsayer who has visions of the future.

Each of these characters is introduced individually so have their own part before the different lines of the story come together. It sounds confusing, but thanks to the skilful writing, you do not become confused. The characters are given depth and their own history, so the reader can identify with their actions and keep track of what has happened to each of them.
Fabiola is one of my favourite characters, it would be easy to assume that she would be a weak add on character, mentioned only now and then, especially when the three male characters stories all join up. However, the author does not do that, he makes Fabiola strong and her story interesting. The description of the brothel and the characters of the women and men there are entertaining.

The history of the time is very accurate and there is plenty of action, very well described with the battles of Crassus in Parthia.

Through the excellent writing, you get a real feel of what the legions went through and the horrors of the desert.

This is a new author, and it is a worthy debut. The characters are enjoyable and seem real so you actually care about them and the plot is fast paced and holds your attention. I read this book quickly, and though I would normally wait before going on to book two I have also read that, which I will shortly review as well.

 10 out of 10

Monday, August 6, 2012

Book Review - Out of time

Out of Time: by Monique Martin

 Out of Time

This book was described as a paranormal romance, now I don’t as a rule read romance, the whole Mills and Boon, hearts and flowers type book has always left me bored. But the write up for this sounded interesting.

This is the description:

Professor Simon Cross has spent his life searching for evidence of vampires and avoiding emotional entanglements. When a mysterious accident transports Simon and his new assistant, Elizabeth West, back in time, Simon finally finds both the proof that he's been looking for, and the romance that he hasn't. In 1920s Manhattan, they find that are more than mobsters vying for power in the city's speakeasies. Will Simon and Elizabeth's developing relationship survive the vampires' teeth? Will they survive to make it back? Or will they be forever out of time?

Simon Cross is a Professor in Occult studies, Elizabeth starts as first his student and becomes his assistant.  While going though some of his relatives belongings an event causing the pair of them to be sent back in time to 1920’s New York and that is where the story really begins. As Simon finds that he maybe he should not have wished  to prove that the occult is real, as underneath all the gangsters and speakeasies in New York there seems to be something much darker lurking there.

I have read some time travel books and not been overly keen but in this case, it is used very effectively in taking two characters out of their normal lives and transporting them in to completely different surroundings and then watching how this in effect makes them come together.

The attraction between the two of the them is handled well by the author. She uses the trick of changing the point of view backwards and forward  so showing the reader what each of them are thinking. So you see that both Simon and Elizabeth think that the other has no feelings towards them, this soon changes obviously and the romance that develops is described really well.

I loved the description of 1920s New York, you do feel like you are there and it brings to mind all the old gangsters films that you have ever watched. The story flows well and the characters are natural and believable, with Simon and Elizabeth both being developed as completely separate people. They have their own histories which is refreshing, as in some novels only the main character has any depth. The speak easy used in the story is realistic and you do want to go there- and meet Charlie who runs it,  who I really liked as a character.

The vampire in the story is sort of a strange unexpected add on but does add to the tension, especially with Elizabeth. A lot of other people have said that it is unnecessary and does not bring anything to the story. In my opinion though it does bring a link to Simon background but could have been developed further, as there does not seem to have been as much thought put into the vampire character as into the rest of the book.

It is not a long story, but it is enjoyable, and there are now also other books in the series, but this is a standalone book and has a definite finish to the plot.

I would recommend this book if you are looking for something a little different.

8 out of 10

Friday, August 3, 2012

Book Review - Stonehenge: A novel of 2000bc

Stonehenge: A novel of 2000BC by Bernard Cornwall

Stonehenge: A Novel of 2000 BC

Review by Jacqui Slaney

As you have probably guessed by some of my other reviews, I am a big fan of this author,  I have enjoyed reading his many series and his stand alone books, so purchased this one with no hesitation.
 I have always been intrigued by the strangeness of the stones on Salisbury plain, especially early in the morning so was caught by the idea of a book about how the circle was built.

This is the description:
   One summer’s day, a dying stranger carrying great wealth in gold comes to the settlement of Ratharryn. The three sons of Ratharryn’s chief each perceive the great gift in a different way. The eldest, Lengar, the warrior, harnesses his murderous ambition to be a ruler and take great power for his tribe. Camaban becomes a great visionary and feared wise man, and it is his vision that will force the youngest brother, Saban, to create the great temple on the green hill where the gods will appear on earth. Saban’s love for Aurenna, the sun bride whose destiny is to die for the gods, finally brings the rivalries of the brothers to a head. But it is also his skills that will build the vast temple, a place for the gods, certainly, but also a place that will confirm for ever the supreme power of the tribe that built it.
The hero of the story is Saban, forced to become an architect/builder by the ruthlessness of his brother. He is a very sympathetic character and the reader does feel for him through the trials that change his and Derrewynn- his bride to be life’s forever, all brought about by a stranger appearing bringing gold.

Through the excellent writing, you get a real picture of the land and the peoples of the time. You get a taste of the complex life the tribes led and the defined roles of the people within the tribe. The author has obviously done a lot of research into the beliefs of the time as the story told is believable and the historical footnote at the end is interesting.
This story tells of rivalry, both family and tribal. There are feuds between the different tribes, which lead to battles, and these are as well described as those in the Sharpe novels.
It is brutal especially when the sacrifices are described, but then again this is a book about Neolithic times so it is not going to be pretty.

As in all Cornwell books, the characters are brilliant. I had two favourite characters – Camaban and Saban. Camaban is the middle brother. He is disfigured and so outcast by the tribe, until through a series of events he becomes its sorcerer/leader and promises to save the tribe and banish winter forever. Saban is the youngest, the hero and you see the story from his point of view.

This is not a particularly long book, but then to have stretched the story out any further would have weakened the plot and taken away the interest.
I did not enjoy this story as much as I did the Warlord Chronicles or even some of the other Cornwell novels, but this is still an enjoyable book and I feel that it is worth reading.

8 OUT OF 10 


Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Book Review - The Red Church

The Red Church by Scott Nicholson

The Red Church

Review by Jacqui Slaney

Since buying a Kindle, I have started reading different authors that I had previously skipped past when looking for new books. Many of these books are quite reasonable in price, so I do not mind taking a risk in them.

I had seen quite a few Scott Nicholson books and this one sounded interesting.  I am sure that most people with remember a deserted building from their childhood,  there used to be an old house when I was growing up that all the kids told stories about, so the Red Church used in this story does strike a chord with the reader, except this one is much creepier than anything I remember.

This is the description:

 For 13-year-old Ronnie Day, life is full of problems: Mom and Dad have separated, his brother Tim is a constant pest, Melanie Ward either loves him or hates him, and Jesus Christ will not stay in his heart. Plus he has to walk past the red church every day, where the Bell Monster hides with its wings and claws and livers for eyes. But the biggest problem is that Archer McFall is the new preacher at the church, and Mom wants Ronnie to attend midnight services with her.

Sheriff Frank Littlefield hates the red church for a different reason. His little brother died in a freak accident at the church twenty years ago, and now Frank is starting to see his brother's ghost. And the ghost keeps demanding, "Free me." People are dying in Whispering Pines, and the murders coincide with McFall's return.

This is a good horror story of good and evil, it tells of faith and the beliefs that people have. The story is set in a small American town, where nothing ever happened and is told from the point of views of various characters. I know this can be confusing, but in this case, the technique does work and heightens the tension as you see the scene from the different people involved.

The characterisations are excellent. You have Ronnie Day, the 13 year old hero of the story, who as any child would, avoids looking at the church, talking about it etc knowing that if he does the monster will get him. I really liked Robbie, you sympathise with him and his typical teenage problems with his would be girlfriend. You have the Sheriff, who while still blaming him self for his brothers death years ago, finds himself dealing with a flurry of townsfolk being murdered in gruesome ways and then starts seeing his brothers ghost. You have the female detective determined to find the murderer herself.

You have Robbie’s parents, His mother who is a staunch follower of the Red Church and wants to take her children there and his father who wants nothing to do with it and so is determined to save his sons.

Then there is the Reverend Mc Fall and his mother both of whom are excellent, with Mc Fall being one of the most sinister characters you will come across.

The plot is well written, there is no slow build up as you start with a murder right at the start. It is more than just normal horror though as the story is clever and makes you guessing with the twists and turns of the plot. It is not a particularly long story and though it was a good ending, I found I felt a little let down by it as it seemed a bit too abrupt.
I would still recommend this book though to anyone and will definitely be reading more of this authors work

8 out of 10