Friday, September 28, 2012

Book Review - Dark Fire

Dark Fire – C J Sansom
I read C J Samson’s debut novel a couple of years ago now. I enjoyed it immensely and immediately identified it as a series I would follow. Like so many books I seem do this with, I then took an eternal age to actually getting round to book two. This is not a reflection on the author or the series just my own inability to stay in touch with the series I am reading. For instance, I mentioned to my friend that I had just started Dark Fire and he said, “Oh yes, the series about the hunchback.” This did not ring any bells with me, I recalled the main events of “Dissolution” but the fact that Matthew Shardlake was a hunchback completely slipped my mind. Note to self – don’t leave it so long between books.
The Blurb:
The year is 1540. Shardlake has been pulled, against his better judgement, into defending Elizabeth Wentworth, charged with murdering her cousin. He is powerless to help the girl, yet she is suddenly given a reprieve - courtesy of Cromwell. The cost of the reprieve to Shardlake is two weeks once again in his service.
It is little secret that I love Robert McCammon’s Matthew Corbett series, but if you are looking for an alternative to fill in the time between Robert’s books, you can’t go far wrong with this series.
Matthew Shardlake is indeed a hunchback. This automatically imposes restrictions on his movements and makes him at odds with the world. He has grown up enduring the cruel japes of other children and even adults still comment on his disability. Matthew as a result has chosen to spend his life in books, choosing to use his brain rather than the lack of brawn he was born with.
Any character in any book who has to overcome obstacles just to survive in the world is immediately more interesting than the perfect swordsman or the good looking hero. Matthew is no exception. Like Matthew Corbett, he is likeable from the start. A man that sees how the world should be and strives to do good.
In Dark Fire, he is up against pretty much everyone for the outset. The fascination lies in how he ingratiates himself with the aristocracy to varying degrees of success. Some recognise his intelligence as an asset whilst other are jealous of it or see him as interfering in matters beyond him.
The best interaction comes with the enforced pairing of Matthew and Barak. The chemistry between the two characters is excellent. Two men from completely different background are forced to work together. This results in some compelling dialogue. The way their relationship is developed is portrayed excellently as each is grudgingly forced to admit the strengths of the other and acknowledge their value.
As a secondary character, Barak is fleshed out well. Not only does his character grow as he interacts with Matthew but we also see his perceptions change towards others characters such as Guy.
Barak is not the only character who is well handled. All of the characters Matthew is forced to converse with in his investigations are intriguing. Bealey is suitably despicable, whilst Lady Honour more than just your lady of leisure. In fact the weakest character is probably Cromwell himself. He is largely kept to the periphery of the action and is portrayed as someone to be feared because of his position. I can see why C J Samson has done this however, as by minimizing the role of Cromwell it gives him more license to tell his own story.
The plot is mainly divided up into two investigations. One, although dealing with murder is on a small scale and the other larger investigation regards the safety of the country. The two provide a nice contrast to each other and serve to keep both plot threads fresh. C J Samson strikes the perfect balance of pacing the time Matthew spends on each case and the novel is richer for it.
The setting of the novel is well described. I am certainly no expert of the time period but the novel depicts well the hardship of the times. To travel to an inn a few streets away involves negotiating the muddy streets, meandering through fallen carts and even being diverted whilst buildings are dismantled. All add to the story and give it an authentic feel. On a personal note, the book is based around Fleet Street which is where I currently work and so the description of the streets of London in the time period I found to be fascinating.
The ending ties up all of the plot threads well. I had a small issue with Matthew not seeing something that was glaringly obvious but it did not spoil my enjoyment of the novel. “Dark Fire” reminded me just how good this series is. I will not leave it so long before I pick up the next novel that’s for sure.
My Rating: 8.9

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

The Dirty Streets of Heaven by Tad Williams
The Dirty Streets of Heaven
Review by Jacqui Slaney
I had promised myself that I would not buy any more books for a while until I caught up with at least some of the ones I had on my shelf. Then a certain blog writer let me know the ridiculously low price of a new James Herbert, so of course, I had to buy that, but it was on the Kindle and I reasoned that it did not count. Then I saw this book and having bought all of this authors work over the years, I knew that I had to buy it.
This is the description:
Sure, he takes the occasional trip to Heaven, but his job as an advocate - arguing the fate of the recently deceased - keeps him pretty busy on Earth, and he's more than happy to spend the rest of his time propping up the bar with his fellow immortals.
Until the day, a soul goes missing, presumed stolen by 'the other side'.
A new chapter in the war between heaven and hell is about to open. And Bobby is right in the middle of it, with only a desirable but deadly demon to aid him.
This is a book about Heaven and Hell. There are angels and demons, ghosts and you find out what happens when a person dies.
The main character is Bobby Dollar, or the Angel Doloriel as he is correctly known and he is one of Heavens many advocates for newly departed souls. Every time someone dies, there is a court case for that soul, an angel and demon fight for the soul to be sent either upstairs or downstairs depending how the presiding judge decides. Bobby is good at his job; he questions everything, which is not something an angel would normally do. He is known for being grumpy and sarcastic and is suspicious of his superiors. He also used to be member of the Harps who are the soldiers of heaven and often wonders about his past, altogether he is a great character, who you quickly start to like. Everything is quite normal until the day one soul vanishes before Heaven and Hell can decide where to send him, then one of Hells prosecutors is killed rather nastily and suddenly everybody is looking at Bobby as the cause of all these problems.
The pace of this book is fast, and you are hooked quite quickly, you want to know what happens next. As I said, Bobby Dollar is a great character, and he has soon become a favourite of mine. Other great characters are described along the way, with Bobby’s interactions with them, you find out some of their history, which does flesh them out and makes the whole story more interesting and the writing zip along. Fatback for example, and the Sollyhull sisters who are brilliant, you also have Sam his best friend and Monica his occasional love. Best of all you have the Countess of Cold Hands, who ends up meaning a lot more to our hero than he expected. There are great descriptions of Heaven and the higher angels but not too much that it allows the story to become bogged down
 As I said, I bought this book without hesitation as I have enjoyed all of Williams’s books, and I have seen other reviews from people who have done some same. They however seem to criticize the story for not being as good as some of his other work. This book is completely different from the others though and so I think it is a bit unfair to compare a story like this to say ‘Memory, Sorrow and Thorn’ or to ‘Shadow March’.
You should enjoy this book on its own merits, trust me, it’s an excellent read and whether you know Tad Williams writings or not, you will definitely enjoy it.

10 out of 10

Monday, September 24, 2012

Book Review - Notes from a Small Island

Notes from a Small Island – Bill Bryson 

After travelling ....
Bill Bryson is an author I have always been aware of and curious about. As a teenager working in WH Smiths his name was plastered everywhere. The books were described as “funny and endearing.” I always thought it would be a great way to pique my interest about other countries and cultures that I may never experience. So finally, I decided to purchase one of his books and what did I choose to read about? Well my own country of course!!
The Blurb:
After nearly two decades in Britain, Bill Bryson took the decision to move back to the States for a few years, to let his kids experience life in another country, to give his wife the chance to shop until 10 p.m. seven nights a week, and, most of all, because he had read that 3.7 million Americans believed that they had been abducted by aliens at one time or another, and it was thus clear to him that his people needed him.

But before leaving his much-loved home in North Yorkshire, Bryson insisted on taking one last trip around Britain, a sort of valedictory tour of the green and kindly island that had so long been his home. His aim was to take stock of the nation's public face and private parts (as it were), and to analyse what precisely it was he loved so much about a country that had produced Marmite, a military hero whose dying wish was to be kissed by a fellow named Hardy, place names like Farleigh Wallop, Titsey and Shellow Bowells, people who said 'Mustn't grumble', and Gardeners' Question Time.
I can see why Bill’s books are popular. He talks about his experience in the UK with honesty. If he doesn’t like a town he will say it, he might try and make an excuse as to why he did not like it such as being tired that day, but you never get the sense that he is trying to ingratiate himself with the countries inhabitants.
In fact, he can be quite scathing in his commentary of places. He willingly points out the absurdity of some of the cultures, or expresses his disbelief as to why the locals behave in the way they do. The book was also quite informative. For example, he will point out why so little money is given to National Parks to preserve the spots we regard so precious and beautiful, yet the government will happily spend money on other pointless ventures. This is all backed up with facts and figures. Whether these are accurate I couldn’t say but it is still insightful nonetheless.
Where Bill likes a place his enthusiasm shines through. I’ve never contemplated travelling to Iverness but the way Bill describes the town I am tempted. His observations of the landmarks are generally spot on and he comments on all the so called tourist attractions good or bad.
It is observations from the local people he encounters on his travels that are the real winner in this book though. Bill provides funny observations as to how the British do things differently to the Americans. Some of these make perfect sense whilst others seem ludicrous. Coupled with these insights are the genuine events that occur to him as he stays in the various bedsits. Some bedsit managers make Basil Fawlty look candid. It is rare that a book makes me laugh out loud, but I did a couple of times in this book. His differences between men and women paragraph was spot on.
The book doesn’t always work. Some of the travelling can sometimes appear a little to meandering and some of the anecdotes Bill recounts are not always interesting or spoil the rhythm of the book. I think reading about a country I am not familiar with will also be more rewarding, but overall, I thoroughly enjoyed reading about his experience of travelling around the UK and feel proud to be British.
My rating 7.8

Friday, September 21, 2012

Book Review - Fluke

Fluke – James Herbert,
James Herbert is an author that I have read in passing over the years and always enjoyed. His books might not have been astounding but they are very enjoyable and have stayed with me. The Kindle have recently offered several of his older books for a very low price and so I couldn’t resist in snapping them up. “Fluke” was the first to intrigue me.
The Blurb:
He was a stringy mongrel wandering the streets, driven by a ravenous hunger and hunting a quarry he could not define. Somewhere in the depths of his consciousness, the dog they called Fluke knew that he was once a man.
Some people might be turned off having a dog as the main character of a book. Even if it is a man trapped in the dog’s body as is the case here. I have only read one other similar story and that was a very enjoyable short story by James Rollins in the Warriors 3 Anthology. Considering that and the fact in “Nobody True” James Herbert has already demonstrated how skilled he is about writing about a situation where someone is trapped in another body, I was looking forward to this.
I am pleased to say I was not disappointed. Maybe, it is because I have a dog but I found myself identifying with all mannerisms Herbert managed to portray in his main character “Fluke”.
When describing the world through the eyes of a canine it is obvious objects and animals are going to be called different things. However there is a danger of acknowledging this and therefore relabeling everything until you are unable to describe a dam thing, or ignoring the fact and just getting on with the story which lessens the impact of the canine character. Herbert skilfully avoids such a trap by having Fluke retain some human memories whilst also having the instincts of a dog. The result is effective as the lines are blurred and so Fluke is able to describe things through the eyes of a human and others through the eyes of a dog. The result is effective and allows the reader to immerse themselves in the world of Fluke and believe in the fact he is a dog.
Herbert’s portrayal of Fluke is so effective that I have found myself looking at my own dog and wondering if there is a man trapped in there.
The plot itself rattles along at a frantic pace. This is a short read but feels like the perfect length. Fluke travels from area to area encountering all kinds of characters but human and animal. The best of these is Rumbo whose friendship with Fluke is actually quite touching.
Underlining the sojourn, there is the need of Fluke to get home to his wife and child. This always focuses the plot and gives Fluke purpose to his otherwise meandering but eventful travels.
The ending comes quickly, but is satisfying if predictable. I was worried that the plot was going down one route which would have been silly (I won’t say as I don’t want to spoil the book) but thankfully Herbert avoids this and only hints at it.
Overall, this is another strong entry into the Herbert library. I am looking forward to reading more of his stuff soon.
My rating 8.8

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Book Review - Temeraire (JS)

Temeraire by Naomi Novik
Review by Jacqui Slaney
I saw this in a bookshop and the idea sounded intriguing, dragons being used in Nelsons navy! I did not know the author, but took a chance this is the description:
Captain Will Laurence has been at sea since he was just twelve years old; finding a warmer berth in Nelson's navy than any he enjoyed as the youngest, least important son of Lord Allendale. Rising on merit to captain his own vessel, Laurence has earned himself a beautiful fiancée, society's esteem and a golden future. However, the war is not going well. It seems Britain can only wait as Napoleon plans to overrun her shores. After a skirmish with a French ship, Laurence finds himself in charge of a rare cargo: a dragon egg bound for the Emperor himself. Dragons are much prized: properly trained, they can mount a fearsome attack from the skies. One of Laurence's men must take the beast in hand and join the aviators' cause, thus relinquishing all hope of a normal life. However, when the newly hatched dragon ignores the young midshipman Laurence chose as its keeper and decides to imprint itself on the horrified captain instead, Laurence's world falls apart. Gone is his golden future: gone his social standing, and soon his beautiful fiancée, as he is consigned to be the constant companion and trainer of the fighting dragon Temeraire…

As I said, the idea in this book is interesting. Novik builds a world where dragons are common and are used as an aerial threat in the Napoleonic wars. The dragon riders themselves are seen as a service apart from the others and not quite part of polite society.
In this story, Captain Lawrence has all his life planned out, but when his ship captures a French frigate and finds a dragon egg that was being sent by the Chinese to the French, these plans drastically change. The young dragon will only bond with him, so he is forced to leave everything he knows and enters a strange world of dragons and their riders. It is quite a harsh world where the dragons themselves are not understood by the riders or the service themselves and are treated like dumb animals. Its takes the friendship that grows between Lawrence and the other riders and most particularly between him and the dragon Temeraire that’s starts to change this attitude and also the fighting skills that are shown in England’s defence.
This is not a heavy read, its easy going and quite fun. There is some action and descriptions of the battles, more of which would probably have helped the story but those that are mentioned are quite vivid, but it is still an enjoyable read. I know the thought of changing this part of our history may seem a bit odd, but read it, it is different and it does work.
The descriptions of the dragons are excellent and the character of Lawrence and his dragon develop well through the story. Unfortunately, the rest of the characters are less fleshed out and could have been improved upon. I was not to sure if I would actually like Lawrence as a character but he grows on you as the story progresses.
This is clearly the first in a series and there is enough in the book despite some flaws to keep you interested enough for the second part, and I would suggest that it is definitely worth a read.
7 out 10

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

On Writing - An Update

I mentioned in my last update that since I was going away and the first week back at work is always manic, I didn’t think I would get any writing done. I was pleased to say I was wrong. They were not prolific weeks by any stretch of the imagination but they were productive nonetheless.
What is more pleasing is that I was writing about a new POV character. This is so much harder than writing about a character I am already familiar with and whose actions and dialogue comes naturally. The chapter takes a lot longer to do as you flesh out some of their background in your mind and then decide how much to reveal early on etc.
In this particular instance, I have not quite completed the chapter yet, but know what I need to still write. However, it has allowed me to already go back and change a previous chapter that did not quite work. In the second draft I will now add to that chapter and so the process of making the story flow will begin. Still that is all a long way off. The important thing for now is the first draft. Man I wish I had the time. Just two hours every morning.
On another note, I am quite relieved that I haven’t sent out my first novel in bulk yet for two reasons: 1) I have thought of a scene that I would like to include in order to make events in book 2 a lot clearer. It is not essential as I could have worked round it, but by adding the scene, it adds to some of the intrigue and saves a lot of exposition. 2) Voyager are accepting manuscripts unagented manuscripts at the start of October. One of their rules is that the work can’t be submitted elsewhere. It falls at the perfect time for me and allows me to concentrate on book 2, whilst I take advantage of Voyager’s generous offer.
My progress:
Week 1:
Monday - 808 words
Tuesday – 685 words
Wednesday – 0 words
Thursday – 780 words
Friday – 0 words
Sat/Sun - 0 words
Total – 2,273 words
Week 2:
Monday – 243 words
Tuesday – 0 words
Wednesday – 824 words
Thursday – 338 words
Friday – 0 words
Sat/Sun – 0 words
Total – 1,405 words
Total words book two: 46,246

Monday, September 17, 2012

Book Review - The Wrath of Angels

The Wrath of Angels – John Connolly   
It seems ages since I have read a Charlie Parker novel. Whilst I have enjoyed his young adult books his bread and butter is his original series. For those unfamiliar with the Charlie Parker novels they are essentially crime novels about a Private Detective with hints of the supernatural throughout. Some of the novels feature the supernatural element more prominently then others but it’s never too in your face and as such as a certain mystery about it. For the record, I prefer the novels where the paranormal element is prevalent but the whole series is incredibly strong and there has not been a book that hasn’t been “very good.” I was looking forward to this ever since I read the blurb.
The blurb:
In the depths of the Maine woods, the wreckage of an aeroplane is discovered. There are no bodies, and no such plane has ever been reported missing, but men both good and evil have been seeking it for a long, long time. What the wreckage conceals is more important than money: it is power. Hidden in the plane is a list of names, a record of those who have struck a deal with the Devil. Now a battle is about to commence between those who want the list to remain secret and those who believe that it represents a crucial weapon in the struggle against the forces of darkness.

The race to secure the prize draws in private detective Charlie Parker, a man who knows more than most about the nature of the terrible evil that seeks to impose itself on the world, and who fears that his own name may be on the list. It lures others too: a beautiful, scarred woman with a taste for killing; a silent child who remembers his own death; and the serial killer known as the Collector, who sees in the list new lambs for his slaughter.

But as the rival forces descend upon this northern state, the woods prepare to meet them, for the forest depths hide other secrets.

Someone has survived the crash.
Something has survived the crash.
And it is waiting . . .
It is only when you haven’t read a John Connolly book for a while that you realise how good his writing actually is. No one describes a scene more vividly or succinctly as him. It seems a cliché but sometimes his prose is like poetry. The way he sums up the mood of a town and its inhabitants in a couple of paragraphs is second to none.
This book starts with a young lady and an elderly man telling Charlie a story. From the outset I was captivated. Not only is the story enthralling but interspersed with its telling you have the excellent comedic relief of Charlie interacting with his questionable associates at the bar. It is this chapter alone that encapsulates everything that is great about a Charlie Parker novel.
Charlie learns more about what is going on in this novel as regards to the reoccurring story running through the series. This novel explains a lot of the mystery around the so called “angels” and Charlie’s perceived role within them. However, John Connolly is careful not to reveal too much. It is a great novel to recap what has happened so far in the series. Charlie himself has clearly developed from the rash, angry man we met in the early books. He is now more inclined to weigh up his options that wade in now.
As always the highlight of a John Connolly novel is the characters. Fan favourites Angel and Louis who have taken a back seat of late feature heavily in the “Wrath of Angels.” Their snappy dialogue is on point and often I found myself laughing along with their banter as it seems so effortless. One scene in particular towards the end was perfect. I could read a whole book on just those three characters talking in a bar.
The other characters are all well drawn, with Epstein in particular getting fleshed out. There is even a surprise return of one of Charlie’s nemesis.
The plot is fairly simple but it is the intrigue around the plane and those after it that is the hook. As all great writers do, John feeds the reader titbits of information but never leaves them tangling for too long.
The conclusion is good if not wholly satisfying. It does not resolve all of the plot elements but then you don’t really want it to when you have an underlining story running through the series. Overall, this is a fantastic entry into the Charlie Parker series and reminded me just how good John Connolly’s writing is.
My rating: 9.2

Friday, September 14, 2012

James Herbert - Ash: Silly price

I am sure this is an error. But James Herbert's brand new novel, "Ash" is being offered for just 20p on Amazon for the Kindle. Snap it up people!!

Product Details

Book Review: A Song for Arbonne (JS)

A Song for Arbonne by Guy Gavriel Kay
A Song for Arbonne
Review by Jacqui Slaney
Some books stay with you long after you have read them. As I mentioned in my review on The Summer Tree, this authors books are re readable and I can probably pinpoint my love of reading fantasy to them, as there is just something different about them. This book is historical fantasy and is one of his stand-alone novels this is the description:
 Based on the troubadour culture that rose in Provence during the High Middle Ages, this panoramic, absorbing novel beautifully creates an alternate version of the medieval world. The matriarchal, cultured land of Arbonne is rent by a feud between its two most powerful dukes, the noble troubadour Bertran de Talair and Urte de Miraval, over long-dead Aelis, lover of one, wife of the other and once heir to the country's throne. To the north lies militaristic Gorhaut, whose inhabitants worship the militant god Corannos and are ruled by corrupt, womanizing King Ademar. His chief advisor, the high priest of Corannos, is determined to eradicate the worship of a female deity, whose followers live to the south. Into this cauldron of brewing disaster comes the mysterious Gorhaut mercenary Blaise, who takes service with Bertran and averts an attempt on his life. The revelation of Blaise's lineage and a claim for sanctuary by his sister-in-law sets the stage for a brutal clash between the two cultures. Intertwined is the tale of a young woman troubadour whose role suggests the sweep of the drama to come.

This to me this is one of the best books Kay has written, and as such has always been a personal favourite of mine. There is everything in this tale that as a reader you could possibly want; there are heroes and villains, intrigue and deception, action with some real brutal descriptions of what can happen in a war and carefully written descriptions of love and friendship. There is even a form of magic which is very subtlety used.

This is a historical fantasy and is set in a medieval era. Due to this is Kay is able to use the troubadour culture and show their importance in Arbonne. He shows how wide their influence can be and the wrong impression that can be given of a country that values music especially a love song.

As I mentioned before, I am not overly keen on too much romance in a novel, but the way it is dealt with here is brilliantly done. The love and romance is woven throughout the story and it shown in all its aspects and the damage it can do. For instance, the treatment of women in the south, allowing them to rule over men, gives the impression of weakness to the North, and so eventually along with other events that occur, gives the North an excuse for a war.

The story starts with a woman having an affair, a simple enough event it would seem. The woman though was the heir to the throne, and had been married to build a family alliance, but she had wanted more. This leads to her becoming pregnant, she gives birth and later dies, but not before telling her husband that the child is not his. This causes a heated feud down through the years between the different families involved. It causes problems with the leadership of the army and furthers the impression of weakness to the invaders, that this sort of behaviour could be allowed.

The writing is vivid and the characters really stand out. The main character is Blaise, who comes from the North driven by his hatred of his father, He first sees the peoples of the South as he had been taught, corrupt and soft. However, he soon comes to understand that this belief is wrong and that there is real power in the Goddess that the South worships. There are other great characters though; Bertran, Ariane and Lucianna Delonghi just to name a few.

This is no simple tale; there are complex twists of deception and violence. The excellent writing builds the characters levels for the reader so they can see what drives that person. Even the violence in the story is handled well; there is attempted assassination, poisoning and a large-scale battle, which is described superbly.

For a stand-alone book, there are enough events for the author to have actually written a series of novels. However, it makes the story better in a way that it is completed under one cover; for one thing, the reader is not left waiting endlessly for the next instalment. The pace of the novel is swift but it is not rushed, the author does not allow it to be bogged down on irrelevant events, but ensures there is plenty of attention when it is needed.

This is an absorbing story from start to finish, a brilliant world has been created and I would really recommend it to anyone.

10 out of 10

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Book Review - Desperation

Desperation – Stephen King
This is one of King’s books that I have been meaning to read for a while. It has been likened to the Stand in the whole Good Vs Evil theme and that is fine by me. Other than that I knew next to nothing going about the book before I started reading it.
The blurb:
Welcome to Desperation. Once a thriving copper mining town in the middle of the Nevada desert, Desperation is now eerily abandoned. It's the last place that travellers like the Carver family, bound for vacation, and writer Johnny Marinville, astride his Harley, would expect to be stopped and charged. But Desperation still has a local cop - a unique regulator who patrols the wilderness highway.

The secrets buried in Desperation are as terrifying as the forces summoned to encounter them. A terrifying transformation is taking place and the travellers will soon discover the true meaning of desperation . . .
I find Stephen King’s books usually start off in one of two ways. The first focuses on a single character often with a unique voice and grabs you from the start (Dolores Clairborne or 11/22/69) the other consists of multiple point of view characters and can be either a bit confusing initially (IT) or slow to get going.
Desperation falls into the last category. King introduces a number of characters quickly. The reader is treated to their background and just as things begin to get interesting with them we are introduced to another character. Normally this would not bother me too much, but with Desperation the same event or situation kept occurring to each character. Whilst this was fairly interesting, I found myself impatient for the story to get going.
Luckily once the story does get going it’s a doozy (sorry but I love King’s language and turn of phrase). I thoroughly enjoyed Desperation, to the point where I think it is one of my favourite King books.
The plot maybe simple but as always the characters are fantastic. David as the boy who seems to have more to him is great. King strikes an excellent balance between drawing out his vulnerability and making him confident as being the crucial member of the group.
Johnny Marinville the writer (is there ever not a writer in King’s books) is brilliant as the flawed anti-hero. On one hand struggling to better himself and on the other selfish as sin.
It is the nemesis that is the real triumph of the story. The supernatural force behind the events in Desperation is delightfully despicable. King provides enough of an explanation to reveal what the entity is, without dwelling on the detail. That is just the right amount for me.
I purposefully try to avoid spoilers in my review so I won’t say anything revealing, but throughout King’s use of wildlife etc to creep out the reader is excellent. It really adds to the atmosphere and makes you grateful that you are safely tucked away in doors.
King has often been derided for his endings. I mostly disagree with these comments and Desperation is no exception. I would even go as far as to say that the ending to this book is very good. The plot is resolved in a definitive manner in keeping with the story.
Overall, I really enjoyed Desperation. King always hits the mark with me but this is one of his better books.
My rating: 9.0  

Monday, September 10, 2012

Book Review - The Princess of Mars (JS)

A Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs
A Princess of Mars
Review by Jacqui Slaney
I read this story years ago, but over time had forgotten all about John Carter and the peoples of Mars. It was only when I saw the trailer for the film that has now been made, that I actually remembered how much I had liked the story. Thanks the Kindle, I was able to find the whole series again.
‘Princess’ is the first book in the ‘Barsoom’ series and this is the description:
When Civil War veteran Captain John Carter is incredibly transported from Earth to a strange and weird landscape on Mars, he finds that the weak gravity exponentially increases his speed and strength. Taken prisoner by Martian warriors, Carter impresses them with his remarkable fighting skills and is quickly made a high-ranking chieftain. Before long, the captain finds himself embroiled in the deadly warfare raging across the Red Planet and thrust into dark intrigues that have been polarizing the Martian races. The heroic Carter also finds dangerous romance with the divine princess Dejah Thoris, who wins his love the first moment his eyes meet hers. A Princess of Mars is the first book in the classic, best-selling John Carter of Mars science-fantasy series, written during the heyday of the pulp fiction era by Edgar Rice Burroughs, the renowned author of the immensely popular Tarzan novels, these epic, swashbuckling Red Planet tales of derring-do and dazzling romance permanently remapped the terrain of fantasy and science fiction.

The story starts on earth and after a short burst of action, John Carter, the lead character is transported to Mars. He is taken prisoner initially, but after impressing his ‘green’ captors by the strength and ability given to him by the lighter atmosphere on Mars they make him a chieftain.  It is while he is with them that he meets another captive, the woman he falls in love with, Dejah Thoris, the princess of the title.
This is early science fiction which you can tell by the style and language used but it is real fantasy adventure. The writing is vibrant and moves the reader rapidly from scene to scene, each one full of action. Any hard science is glossed over; we never understand how Carter actually travels to Mars, but this is not missed, the focus instead is on the land itself and the different tribe’s interactions and their wars and disputes.
 There are great descriptions of the technology used, the Martians flying ships for instance and all the varied creatures that live on Mars. I really love the beast that is set to watch over John Carter, who starts off as seemingly vicious but ends up devoted due to Carters treatment of him.
Much of the story though is about the affection of the two main characters and the misunderstandings that arise. This is normal at the best of times between men and women, but in this scenario they are made worse due to the difference in language and cultures.
This is no mushy love story though as the action is non-stop. Yes the writing maybe a bit basic at times, and there is no in depth building of characters, but it is a fun story, and the fast pace of the story if anything adds to the style and the whole enjoyment of the book. You still get a feel for the characters and can visualise them well as you are caught up with the events.
The story is not that long and ends on a bit of a cliff-hanger, which is good in the true nature of the adventure story. I have not actually seen the film of this, but have heard it is not that great. Do not let put you off this story though, as its enjoyable, and well worth a read.

8 out of 10

Friday, September 7, 2012

Book Review - Lords and Ladies (JS)

Lords and Ladies by Terry Pratchett
Lords and Ladies
Review by Jacqui Slaney 
Despite my favourite characters in the Disc world novels being the Watch, especially Vimes their commander, I am also fond of the witches: Granny Weatherwax, Nanny Ogg and Magret ( wants to be a Margaret, but held back by her mothers lack of spelling).  They are in a few of the novels, but this one I think is one of the best.
This is the description:
THE FAIRIES ARE BACK - BUT THIS TIME THEY DON'T JUST WANT YOUR TEETH...  Granny Weatherwax and her tiny coven are up against real elves. It is Midsummer Night. No times for dreaming...With full supporting cast of dwarfs, wizards, trolls, Morris dancers and one orang-utan. And lots of hey-nonny-nonny and blood all over the place.
This book continues from Witches Abroad and begins with the return of the witches to their home town of Lancre. Everything seems fine at first and then the crop circles start forming everywhere. They discover that some local girls have formed their own coven, one of whom actually tries to challenge Granny, and Magret discovers that her wedding is close and that royalty and famous people from all over including amongst others Ridcully the Arch chancellor of the Unseen University are actually coming.
All this may sound quite ordinary but then complications arise from the town being invaded by elves that are not as nice as they are portrayed in other stories. It is therefore up to the original witches, the Unseen University’s Librarian and the towns Morris dancers (trust me, you will never think of Morris Dancing the same) to save the day.
There is plenty of action in this story; one of the best parts involves Magret fight in the castles armoury and there is some quite effective use of tension-filled suspense and like Night Watch, there is a real dark feel to this tale.  There is plenty of humour as well both dark and otherwise as you would expect in any Pratchett story. I really liked the return of Casanunda the dwarf and his attempted wooing of Nanny Ogg, some of whose scenes will really make you laugh.
Granny has always been shown as one of the most complex characters, and it is good that in this story that she is more developed. The reader gets to see her past and understand a little of what makes her tick and to see the connection between her and Ridcully.
You can probably tell from my enthusiasm that I really like this book and I do. From the start to the finish, there is one great scene after another. The Morris Dancers, Magret thinking she was a warrior queen, Granny’s face off with the Elf Queen and the speech from Simon- Nanny Ogg’s son and the sole member of Lancre’s standing army.
Do not worry if you have never read any other Disc World novel, you can read this book without knowing the rest of the series as the author gives a short synopsis of the witches at the start of the book just to give a new reader some understanding of who and what they are. I would recommend that you do try it, the writing is excellent and it will have you laughing at times.
10 out of 10

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Book Review - Prince of Thorns

Prince of Thorns – Mark Lawrence       
This book caused quite a stir when it burst on to the scene last year. Many found the opening sequences and the subsequent material offensive. They said the protagonist was too psychotic and they could not identify with him in any capacity. I read one review that they couldn’t get past the first chapter as they found it so repulsive. Others simply loved the book and thought it was refreshing. I am not overly squeamish and needless to say I was really looking forward to the furore Mark Lawrence had created.
The Blurb:
When he was nine, he watched his mother and brother killed before him. By the time he was thirteen, he was the leader of a band of bloodthirsty thugs. By fifteen, he intends to be king...

It's time for Prince Honorous Jorg Ancrath to return to the castle he turned his back on, to take what's rightfully his. Since the day he was hung on the thorns of a briar patch and forced to watch Count Renar's men slaughter his mother and young brother, Jorg has been driven to vent his rage. Life and death are no more than a game to him-and he has nothing left to lose.

But treachery awaits him in his father's castle. Treachery and dark magic. No matter how fierce, can the will of one young man conquer enemies with power beyond his imagining?
Initially I was most disappointed in the novel. I was left scratching my head as to what all the fuss was over as there is nothing included that I would deem offensive. Yes, Jorg is unsavoury and devoid of emotional attachment would be an understatement as he kills without remorse.
However, this was not why I was disappointed. The story did not grab me in any way. I guess I agree with those that struggled to find something in common with Jorg but not because of who he was but more so that he doesn’t do anything interesting. Jorg and his men meander though downs, plundering and killing but there seems to be no purpose to their actions. The only thing that kept me interested were the mention of Jorg’s past.
Around 33% of the way through (got to love the Kindle), things start to get more interesting as the flashbacks to Jorg’s past become more frequent. This was far more engaging for the reader and whilst it is a struggle to match the young boy Jorg was to the teenager he is now, you can begin to see the link
Despite the improvement, there were still elements of the book that I did not like. There are frequent references to Plutarch, Plato and even Robin Hood thoughout the narrative. This makes it difficult to place the setting of the novel. Credit to Mark Lawrence for moving away from the faux medieval world but I was left very unclear as to what kind of setting the book was supposed to be in.
One scene about two thirds of the way in, implies the world is set way in the future. If this was the case it throws up a whole raft of questions, especially since none of the locations resemble anything familiar. This kept me from focussing on the actual plot itself which spoilt my enjoyment.
Prince of Thorns is basically a revenge novel, however, I never got a sense of clarity regarding the direction of the plot. Jorg is clearly not one to plan out his next move but from a reader’s point of view, I found it hard to engage with the characters. Instead it felt like I was reading a collection of various scenes loosely tied together. Some were excellent and others needed more attention.
The secondary characters are o.k. but nothing to get excited about. See Joe Abercrombie’s Heroes as an example of how to write a collection of soldiers. In comparison, Liar, Rike et al come across as rather bland. The Nuban is interesting though as is Makin.
The ending is pretty synonymous with the rest of the novel. Jorg is saved by a Deus Ex Machina that is laughable, he behaves in a callous way true to himself but we never see the outcome of his decision other than we are informed everything is alright with his actions and the showdown I was waiting for never happened.
Overall, sometimes you get to the end of a book that you were disappointed with and that is it. You feel no compulsion to read anymore from that author. Mark is a talented writer and I am definitely looking forward to reading more of his work. I just felt that he was capable of more with this novel.
My rating: 7.2

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

On Writing - Update

So just that two weeks have flown by. They have been a bit of a contrast as well. The first week was one of the best weeks I’ve had, I still did not manage to write everyday but I exceeded my targets.

Last week on the other hand was very poor. I was simply too busy to get anything done. Monday was a bank holiday and so I had no joy there, Tuesday was a very forced session and then the week fell apart. I had hoped to catch up on Friday but it turned out to be another extremely busy day.

This week I am on holiday with my family and the week after is set to be manic at work. I am determined to get some writing done but have my sights firmly set on a couple of weeks time to get back into the grove – you have to be realistic about these things.

Big thank you to Jacqui who is really coming good with the reviews at the moment as well, to ensure we hit the three a week target that I have set.  

The stats:

Week one:

Monday – 1,105 words
Tuesday – 0 words
Wednesday –  572 words
Thursday – 0 words
Friday – 1,325 words
Sat/Sun – Non-working

Week two:

Monday – 0 words
Tuesday – 555 words
Wednesday –  0 words
Thursday – 0 words
Friday – 197 words
Sat/Sun – Non-working

Total words for the week 1 – 3,002 words
Total words for the week 2 – 752 words

Total words book 2 – 43,320 words

Monday, September 3, 2012

Book Review - Vampire Moon (JS)

Vampire Moon (Vampire For Hire 2) by J R Rain

Vampire Moon

Review by Jacqui Slaney

Having enjoyed the first book in this series, could not resist reading more about Samantha Moon, FBI agent, turned private investigator following an attack by a vampire.
This is the description for this one:

Mother, wife, private investigator...vampire. Six years ago, federal agent Samantha Moon was the perfect wife and mother, your typical soccer mom with the minivan and suburban home. Then the unthinkable happens, an attack that changes her life forever. And forever is a very long time for a vampire.
Now in VAMPIRE MOON, sequel to MOON DANCE, private investigator Samantha Moon finds herself hunting down a powerful crime lord and protecting an innocent woman from her ruthless ex-husband — all while two very different men vie for her heart. And as the stakes grow higher and her cases turn personal, Samantha Moon will do whatever it takes to protect the innocent and bring two cold-blooded killers to justice — her own brand of justice.

After enjoying the first book Vampire Moon, I was worried that the idea behind the story line would not be strong enough to carry another book.

I was definitely wrong, the character of Sam Moon, is if any thing stronger in this story, much more developed. The reader gets to know the characters around her as well. You have Fang her online friend, who knows she is a vampire and loves her, Kingsley the werewolf attorney who wants to be her boyfriend. Detective Sherbet who is a friend and has to deal with rumours of large bat like creatures and of course, her ex husband Danny- the man the reader will definitely love to hate.

In this story, there is plenty of action to keep the reader entertained. There are the two cases that Sam takes on as an investigator, one dealing with a man who is suspected of killing a plane full of witnesses to a murder he committed. And one concerning a man on death row still determined to see his ex wife dead, there is a great scene in the interview room at the prison which definitely shows that you do not want to upset a vampire, even one who doesn’t bite people.

There is also the subplot dealing with Sam and her family, which is well written. The reader can understand why the ex husband has separated the children from Sam, but not agree with his actions- throwing up after your wife has kissed you, is also not the best move to make in a relationship.   

There is real humour in the writing, the dialogue between characters flow and is not stilted and though yes the idea of this woman being turned into a vampire maybe a bit far fetched the excellent writing makes it very believable.

As in Vampire Moon, the story is not long, so it is an easy enjoyable read. Though this is a book two, it would be possible to read it first, but I would recommend that you read in the correct order, just so you don’t miss out on a good series.

10 out of 10