Friday, March 29, 2013

Book Review - The Shining

The Shining – Stephen King  

The Shining

Everyone has seen the Stanley Kubick version of the Shining haven’t they? Over the years I have seen it a few times and seen parts of it far more. I’ve always wanted to read the book but have been turned off by knowing the film. However, I read that Stephen King never really liked Stanley Kubick’s version of the film and preferred the original series made for TV. I happened to catch the last episode of this once and it intrigued me enough to want to read the book. When Stephen King announced that Doctor Sleep – a sort of sequel to the Shining would be his next book, I realised the time had come to finally read one of his most famous creations.

The Blurb:

The Overlook Hotel is more than just a home-away-from-home for the Torrance family. For Jack, Wendy, and their young son, Danny, it is a place where past horrors come to life. And where those gifted with the shining do battle with the darkest evils. Stephen King's classic thriller is one of the most powerfully imagined novels of our time.
The thing I love about Stephen King’s books is his ability to write characters. There are numerous characters in the Shining but for the vast majority of it, there are only three. Jack Torrance, his wife Wendy and their son Danny.

By all intents and purposes the reader should hate Jack Torrence. He is a lousy father, a past drunk and all in all, not a very nice guy. Stephen King never really tries to justify Jack’s behaviour yet still he somehow makes you root for him and feel empathy when events start to descend into chaos.

You know that by accepting the job to mind the Overlook hotel in its off season it is all going to end badly, yet still you admire Jack for wishing to better his life and mend his relationship. The man is unhinged yet he is always trying to be the better person, striving to be the type of husband and father he should be.

Wendy his long suffering wife, is a little weak as a character. She displays signs of strength but mostly she is passive to the events that unfold. She attempts to reason with Jack every now and then but never takes any initiative in bettering there lives. At times she even defers to her five year old son, relying on his perceived “gift” to help her make decisions.

It is Danny who is the really interesting one. He possesses a gift called “the Shining.” He does not really understand the gift but it allows him to have vague premonitions and also hear people’s thoughts on occasions. Sometimes it is hard to imagine Danny is only five years old, as his thought process is often quite grown up, however, as he becomes more and more afraid of his premonitions the tension in the story escalates as well.

Stephen King does an excellent job of drip feeding the horror. We only really get insight into what is going on through Danny, but in between these interludes, King does a terrific job of portraying the unravelling of Jack and Wendy’s minds and their relationship.

It would be remiss of me to fail to mention the Overlook hotel itself. We are all familiar of the creepy goings on within its walls but it is not until I read the book that you really appreciate it. The hotel is a character in itself. Its past horrors ooze through the pages and create a sense of unease. It is a malevolent entity that demands attention from those that stay within its rooms and let’s not forget room 217.

To mention the film, Stanley Kubrick’s version has so many iconic scenes. Jack Nicholson captures Jack Torrance well when he is unhinged, but I think the book provides so much more background to the character. Where as the film perhaps relies on these elements in the book they are seamlessly woven into the plot so that they do not stand out. I was surprised at how different in places the film and book were in fact. Instead what you get is a more rounded descent into madness.

The ending is far better in the book. The story makes sense and events reach a crescendo that the book deserves.

All in all, I really enjoyed the Shining. I have read around 20 of King’s novels but have always steered clear of reading the ones where I have seen the film. I think I need to revisit that philosophy.

My rating: 8.9

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Book Review - Days of Blood and Starlight (JS)

Days of Blood and Starlight by Laini Taylor
Days of Blood and Starlight
Review by Jacqui Slaney
This is the second in this series, and I have had to hold back from jumping straight into read it, as I knew that once read, there is the inevitable delay to read the next in the series. But having enjoyed ‘Daughter of Smoke and Bone’ so much, I could not hold out any longer.
This is the description:
Once upon a time, an angel and a devil fell in love and dared to imagine a new way of living - one without massacres and torn throats and bonfires of the fallen, without revenants or bastard armies or children ripped from their mothers' arms to take their turn in the killing and dying.

Once, the lovers lay entwined in the moon's secret temple and dreamed of a world that was a like a jewel-box without a jewel - a paradise waiting for them to find it and fill it with their happiness.

This was not that world.
This story starts from just after the events of the end of book 1, Karou has remembered her past life, has realised what Akiva has caused to happen and so has left her life as a human and has gone to see if she can help what is left of the Chimaera.
The light hearted tone of the start of the first book is gone, this one is much darker with pain and death everywhere and atrocities now being committed by both sides of this war. Where also book 1 was more about sketching the outlines of these different worlds and characters, with book 2 she is able to start filling in the details.
Akiva’s world is more developed, you find out that there are different races and the reader understands what the Misbegotten are, and see that even amongst the Angels there is division and hatred.
You can see that the authors skills have developed with this book, the writing is more skilful and there is much more depth. The characters are more rounded and you feel for Karou as she is forced to work with Thiago. This is quite hard to imagine as his character is repellent, but you understand Karou’s behaviour as the story goes on.
There are lighter moments given by Karou’s friends: Zuzana and Mik, which is a good thing as without them, the whole story could have become a little too depressing. These two are great characters though, and the scene with them at the start with Karou’s ex boyfriend is excellent.
Other characters from the first book are also developed more such as Akiva’s brother and sister Hazael and Liraz, but instead of just using the familiar, the author also creates a sprinkling of new characters as well.
This story is believable and has some well crafted twists and turns in the different sub plots, which keeps your interest throughout the book. This is not a standalone book so you need to read book 1 before you indulge in this series, but trust me, it’s really worth it.
9 out of 10

Monday, March 25, 2013

Book Review - The Painted Man

The Painted Man – Peter V Brett

This is another book that has been on my radar for some time. It has received many positive reviews and going in I literally knew nothing about the story. I am not really a fan of the generic hooded man that haunts front covers on every other book these days but something about this one caught my eye.

The blurb:

Sometimes there is very good reason to be afraid of the dark...

Eleven-year-old Arlen lives with his parents on their small farmstead, half a day's ride away from the isolated hamlet of Tibbet's Brook.

As dusk falls upon Arlan's world, a strange mist rises from the ground, a mist carrying nightmares to the surface. A mist that promises a violent death to any foolish enough to brave the coming darkness, for hungry corelings - demons that cannot be harmed by mortal weapons - materialize from the vapours to feed on the living. As the sun sets, people have no choice but to take shelter behind magical wards and pray that their protection holds until the creatures dissolve with the first signs of dawn.

When Arlen's life is shattered by the demon plague, he is forced to see that it is fear, rather than the demons, which truly cripples humanity. Believing that there is more to his world than to live in constant fear, he must risk leaving the safety of his wards to discover a different path.

In the small town of Cutter's Hollow, Leesha's perfect future is destroyed by betrayal and a simple lie. Publicly shamed, she is reduced to gathering herbs and tending an old woman more fearsome than the corelings. Yet in her disgrace, she becomes the guardian of dangerous ancient knowledge.

Orphaned and crippled in a demon attack, young Rojer takes solace in mastering the musical arts of a Jongleur, only to learn that his unique talent gives him unexpected power over the night.

Together, these three young people will offer humanity a last, fleeting chance of survival.

This book took me completely by surprise. I loved the concept of demons rising of a night and leaving the local folk in fear of their lives. Being dependant on wards that could easily be eroded by the weather was fascinating.

The story focuses on the lives of three individuals. Arlen, Leesha and Rojer. Arlen and Leesha are youngsters who want more from their lives then the mundane existence of living in a hamlet and fending for themselves. Whilst Rojer’s path is chosen for him at an early age.

Each character is interesting. Arlen’s quiet determination is based on logical grounding. Events that happen early on in the novel shape his existence and mind set. His journey through the book is epic as he travels all over and encounters many different obstacles and characters. The most intriguing are the warriors at Desert Spear. His dynamic with his family is well handled and Peter V Brett allows you to care for Arlen in a very short period of time.

Leesha is in a similar position to Arlen but does not possess his determination. She grows in confidence as the novel progresses, taking steps to control her own destiny when presented with the choice. Her interaction with Bruna, the herb gatherer who serves as her mentor is excellent and definitely one of the highlights of the novel.

It is Rojer though that really experiences a true coming of age. Forced into a partnership with the very man he should despise, Peter V Brett handles the relationship perfectly and does well not to proceed down the inevitable path. This adds to the character building of Rojer and his growth from a boy to a teenager.

The are other characters of note. I have mentioned Bruna, but Ragan and his wife are also worthy of mention. Ragan, a messenger for the Prince could easily have his own standalone novel.

The plot is tight and well articulated. Inevitably the path of the three protagonist intertwine but this feels natural rather than forced. The pace never wanes despite a number of years passing which again is a credit to Peter V Brett. The world he creates is vivid from the hamlets to the cities. Each is given a unique feel and it would have been easy for him to get bogged down in the various locations with the characters.

There are some minor niggles. Every character seems to cry a lot. I don’t mean out and out sob all the time, but whenever something bad happens they always seem on the verge of tears or choking back sobs.

It is a little unrealistic in places too. I found it hard to believe that no one other than the Desert Spear people took the fight to the demons. Everyone seemed to have accepted their lot in life and that’s that.

As I say, only minor niggles though. The ending wraps things up nicely returning to the roots of the start of the novel. It also sets things up for a second book.

All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed the Painted Man. It may not have been an original concept but it still comes across that way. Well written, dark and tightly plotted, it is an accomplished debut novel.

My rating 8.8

Friday, March 22, 2013

Update - General

Good morning loyal readers,

It has been 11 days since I last posted an update / review on the blog which I think is the longest stretch in years. This is primarily because there has been an issue with the website and I have not been able to post anything. The break has also been needed for a plethora of reasons.

First and most importantly - I want to say get well soon to Jacqui. She is currently laid up in hospital with a very serious illness. I know she will not want me to go into specifics but she has already undergone several operations with more tough therapy to follow. She is being very brave (and still insisting she will send in reviews) but I am sure you will all join me in wishing her a speedy recovery.

Secondly - I too have been in hospital and had an operation on a lifelong issue with my right hand. Although this pales into insignicance next to what Jacqui is going through, but it has put my arm in a sling and meant typing has been a bitch (ctrl, alt and del has never been so hard).

Lastly - I have been a tad stressed lately. Work has been manic which I don't mind as we are coming to a crucial stage on the project we are delivering (long hours and no lunch breaks are a regular occurence). But what has happened is my manager who was a contractor has left the project and moved on to a new role. This has been a major downer as I admired and respected her so much. Her parting gift was to give me a massive dilemma and one I just don't know how to answer.

Currently I am in a relatively secure job within the public sector. I have worked there for 13 years and up until recently have been unfulfilled in the various roles I’ve had. This all changed when I began working on a project that was run mostly by contractors. The change of pace was remarkable and exciting. The manager I mentioned above has now asked me to come and join her and establish myself as a contractor.

I  my current role I am regarded as Senior Management and receive a fairly decent wage. I have a young family and a high mortgage. Whilst we are surviving on my wage each month, we are far from comfortable and like everyone have to watch the pennies. Having said that we are not really struggling either. My current job allows me lots of perks such as flexi time, seeing the family each day etc.

The wage the contractors are offering me is ludicrous compared to my current salary. 2.5 times more a year. However, being a contractor, there is neither the security nor longevity that the public sector offers me. It does however, provide an opportunity for me to see what I can actually do rather than plod along in the “safe job” I have now. It is a massive risk, especially when I consider the uncertainty over what comes after the contract runs out.

Another thing to consider is my how this will affect my real dream of being a writer. Becoming a contractor will mean I have even less time than I do now to write.

All this has been weighing on my mind on top of everything else. However, now the blog is back up and running, the reviews will start again on Monday. I have four already prepared so we are good to go for the time being.

As they say, normal service as now been resumed.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Book Review - The Darkest Road (JS)

The Darkest Road by Guy Gavriel Kay
The Darkest Road

Review by Jacqui Slaney

As I mentioned previously I have a second home at the hospital so am finding I am rereading many of my old favourite books. With this in mind, I grabbed this one off the shelf the other day knowing that I would be hours and that I could rely on forgetting a lot of what was going on around me with this story.

The young heroes from our own world have gained power and maturity from their sufferings and adventures in Fionavar. Now they must bring all the strength and wisdom they possess to the aid of the armies of Light in the ultimate battle against the evil of Rakoth Maugrim and the hordes of the Dark.

On a ghost-ship the legendary Warrior, Arthur Pendragon, and Pwyll Twiceborn, Lord of the Summer Tree, sail to confront the Unraveller at last. Meanwhile, Darien, the child within whom light and dark vie for supremacy, must walk the darkest road of any child of earth or stars.

Guy Gavriel Kay’s classic epic fantasy plays out on a truly grand scale, and has already been delighting fans of imaginative fiction for twenty years.

This is the third in the series of the Fionavar Tapestry and is my favourite. It sees the coming together of all the different story lines to what I think is a great finale.

The Arthurian theme, which built up gradually through the different books comes to a head with the three characters of Arthur Genevieve and Lancelot all coming together at the end.

It is hard talking about a book at the end of a series without putting in spoilers for those yet to read. I will therefore just say there are great characters: Darien for one and his search to find his own path, Diarmuid as always and his growth, the changes in Jaelle and Dave, and Pauls new found power and his ability to finally deal with his past.

There is a great deal of criticism of the series, some of which is unfair as people compare it to Tolkien and say that it is not as good. I would say that I agree with them yes it is not The Lord of the Rings, but then again I was not reading this series expecting it to be.

This is a good series, yes; it could have been done slightly better with the characters reactions to their transportation to another world being better handled.

This series is early on in Kays work though; there are others of his writings, which are far superior. I however have remained fond of the series and this book in particular for years, there is still enough skilful writing to keep your attention, in this book as well, the characters have grown and developed more depth to make the story seem more polished and satisfying to read.

For all its faults I would say read the series and do not give up with book one, I think you will be rewarded with the conclusion.

8 out of 10

Friday, March 8, 2013

Book Review - The Crown Conspiracy

Michael J Sullivan – The Crown Conspiracy
Michael is a name anyone with a passing interest on fantasy forums will have heard of. He is one of the success stories of self-publishing. I first stumbled upon him when he released a short story on the Kindle involving the two protagonists from his main series. I was suitably impressed and have finally got round to giving the series a whirl.
The blurb;
The Crown Conspiracy is book one of the multi-book saga: The Riyria Revelations. The series is told through six novels conceived as a single epic tale. Across the entire chronicle, mysteries build, characters evolve and plots thicken, but each is self-contained and can be read independent of one another.

In the first episode, the reader is introduced to Royce Melborn, a skilled thief, and his mercenary partner, Hadrian Blackwater, who make a profit able living carrying out dangerous assignments for conspiring nobles until they become the unwitting scapegoats in the murder of the king. Sentenced to death, they have only one way out...and so begins this epic tale of treachery and adventure, sword fighting and magic, myth and legend.
Royce and Hadrian are great characters. They are also fairly unique. I love reading about two mates who share witty banter back and forth but are also good at what they do. Royce and Hadrian fit this description but only to a degree and in a good way. Yes they share witty quips but it is used sparingly. It never feels forced and as a result feels more natural.
The heists they pull off are clever and they always seem one step ahead of their victims until they break their code and take a job at short notice and find themselves framed for murder. What follows is an exciting tale as the duo struggle to keep their heads above water and wrestle with their sense of honour.
By default they accumulate other characters, all interesting and all with their own mysteries and arcs. Whether it be the Prince-come-King who has to adjust his perspective from his sense of entitlement to realising he is not owed anything or Myron the monk, who offers comic relief as well as much needed background to the world.
The plot flows nicely and whilst there are no real surprises there are more than enough elements touched upon to hint at wider issues and further secrets to be unveiled. Sullivan does action scenes well and the thought he has put into his set pieces is rewarded. For example, tower rescues open up to be far more complicated than you would normally find. Hidden doors reveal unsuspected treasures. All of this adds to a story and a formula that could have been “samey” becomes more distinguishable from your average novel.
The ending is very good. The main arc is wrapped up well but there are several plot threads left tangling tantalisingly. I was very tempted to go straight on to the second book but forced myself to stop. Always a good sign I find.
My rating: 8.8

Monday, March 4, 2013

Graphic Novel review - Locke and Key Vol 1 - Joe Hill

Locke and Key – Joe Hill
It has been ages since I’ve read a comic. I’ve heard a lot about Locke and Key and after seeing the first 6 issues on the KF for only £2.99 I could not resist finding out what all the fuss was about.
Locke & Key
The Blurb:
Locke & Key tells of Keyhouse, an unlikely New England mansion, with fantastic doors that transform all who dare to walk through them.... and home to a hate-filled and relentless creature that will not rest until it forces open the most terrible door of them all...!
I knew nothing about this series going in. I had not even read the blurb. So I was pleasantly surprised with what I found. The premise is intriguing, a family is relocated to their summer home following the brutal murder of their family at the hands of one of his students. The remaining members of the family were present that day and only just survived.
What follows then, is the story of how each family member (wife and three children) deal with this loss. The mother is an alcoholic, the elder son experiences a profound guilt, the daughter tries to fit in with her new classmates and avoid being centre of attention and lastly there is the youngest son who discovers a secret that could explain the motivation behind the murder.
The characterisation of the three children is excellent, especially of the daughter, whilst the mother so far is a bit two-dimensional. However, running alongside these character studies, there is the ongoing mystery of what is really going on. Who is the hideous entity in the well? Why can Bode do what he can do? All of it adds to a terrific plot that really adds tension to the story.
Joe Hill also places regular flashbacks throughout the story to help explain what has gone on before and elaborate on the relationship between the father and the pupil that slayed him.
Gabriel Rodriguez’s art is fantastic. The action scenes are gory without being way over the top.  The use of colour is effective and works especially well on the Kindle Fire.
Occasionally, a character is introduced that left me confused as they looked very similar to another one, but this is a minor grumble.
Overall, I really enjoyed this first introduction to Locke and Key and have immediately purchased the second collection.
My rating: 8.5