Thursday, May 30, 2013

Book Review - Jack Glass (JS)

Jack Glass by Adam Roberts

Review by Jacqui Slaney

As I have mentioned in previous reviews, I do have a soft spot for Science Fiction, in fact I spent many a happy hour reading Philip, K Dick, James Blish, Asimov and Robert Heinlein over the years so when I saw this book while book browsing I could not resist. This is the description:

Jack Glass is the murderer. That, at least is quite transparent. He has sliced a lethal swathe through known space. He is without pity or scruple. He is a killer. Were the authorities ever to discover that it was Jack Glass that they had captured and detained on a remote prison asteroid they would return and kill him immediately. And they will discover it. The murderer will have to escape. And that is, of course, quite impossible. From a tiny asteroid in the far reaches of pace, to a comfortable country house, to a sealed orbital habitat, Adam Roberts takes us on a spellbinding journey through a future that challenges all our notions of crime, punishment, power and freedom.

We know whodunnit. Now we must learn how and why.

Now I have always liked whodunnit stories, but knowing who the murderer was always put me off things such as Columbo, as half the fun, is seeing if you could work out the solution before the end. So I was a little dubious about this book at the start, but I need not have been concerned, as knowing the murderers name in this book does not distract from your enjoyment.

There are three stories in the book with obviously the same protagonist, though part three is really just a continuation of part two, and the whole tale is told by a narrator who describes themselves as a self appointed Dr Watson who Glass has told his story too.

There is some great writing here and the characters are all quite unique, especially Jack Glass. Its strange to have a murderer as a sympathetic character, but you do end up liking him.

Obviously there is violence in this book, especially the first story set on a small asteroid.This is not crudely done, though I will admit some of it did make me wince a little. Strangely, though this was the most bloody tale, I think it is one of the best parts of the book, it is fast paced and engrossing, the characters involved are not attractive and their ends less so, but it really holds your attention.

Then you get to the second part which is more a whodunnit style tale. The main characters are two teenage girls Eva and Diana, being trained to take over the running of their powerful clan. Then the whole thing slows down and I can understand why some people struggled to finish the book.

The world in which they live is well described, and you get an idea of how the future society works as you learn that servants are dosed with drugs to ensure their complete love and loyalty to the ruling classes who jostle amongst themselves for power. The writing is slower but it is well done there is a good nasty character in that of Ms Joad, an agent for the top ruling class.

The third installment sees the same characters as this is a continuation from part two with Jack Glass here actually being the saviour of one of the girls. In this final part, you get some insight into Jacks character, but to be honest, I would have liked some more detail. Things were left vague and I thought the ending as a whole could have been stronger as in my opinon it was too abrupt. There is talk about a revolution to overthrow the tyranny of the ruling class system and to improve the lives of millions, but a mention is all there is, it feels like there could have been a sequel, but nothing it seems was done about it.

This is the first Adam Roberts book I have read, and despite a little disappointment in this one, I will definitely read more. Please dont let my slightly negative review put you off trying this book though, it’s worth a read just for the great main character.

7out of 10

Monday, May 27, 2013

Book Review - Vampire Games (JS)

Vampire Games by JR Rain

Vampire Games

Review by Jacqui Slaney

This series had slipped my mind until I was browsing through the Kindle books available and found this new installment, as I had enjoyed the others I bought it without hesitation, despite a few slightly negative reviews from other readers.

This is the description:

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 GAMES, Samantha Moon is hired to look into the suspicious death of a popular fighter—and quickly discovers there’s far more to the story than meets the eye. As she uncovers clues into the boxer’s past, she will come face-to-face with something unexpected...and something only whispered about. Additionally, Samantha must confront the growing supernatural powers of those closest to her—and a betrayal that will rock her world.

This is the sixth book in the series, by now with some stories the readers interest would have been lost in the characters, as all aspects of their development would have been dealt with and after all how far could you go with an idea of an woman being bitten by a vampire.

However the author keeps each book short, annoyingly so ( this is the major complaint of most reviewers, these are not novels more novellas) you only get short tastes of Samantha Moon's life, so you cannot get tired or bored with the story just slightly angry that the book has finished so quickly.

For a short story there is a lot going on, the main plot line involves Sam investigating the untimely and unexpected death of a young boxer during a match. Sounds simple on the surface, but once she starts looking into it, Sam soon finds the problem is much more difficult.

There is also a very good sub plot involving her children who have their own secrets and their awareness of how their mother has changed. In this book as well there is a change with Sam’s relationship with her two closest friends Fang and Kingsley. Fang becomes involved with another vampire and events occur with Kingsley that jeopardises their relationship as lovers.

As always the writing is good, fast paced with some humour, the reader grows to like Sam and her family, and though the idea of all these vampires out there working in various jobs and feeding on willing victims maybe a bit far fetched, (though have you actually looked at the people travelling with you on the underground?) well it makes entertaining reading, and I will be definitely reading the next one, and would encourage anyone to give the series a go.

8 out of 10

Friday, May 24, 2013

Book Review - The Name of the Wind

Patrick Rothfuss – The Name of the Wind

Patrick Rothfuss burst on to the fantasy scene a number of years ago. He was one of a triumvirate of authors (Joe Abercrombie and Scott Lynch being the others) that received universal praise for their debut efforts and garnered a lot of excitement amongst fans.

Of the three he was the only one I had still not read. I thought it was now long overdue to dive into the world of this Kvothe character I had heard so much about.

The blurb:

'I have stolen princesses back from sleeping barrow kings. I burned down the town of Trebon. I have spent the night with Felurian and left with both my sanity and my life. I was expelled from the University at a younger age than most people are allowed in. I tread paths by moonlight that others fear to speak of during day. I have talked to Gods, loved women, and written songs that make the minstrels weep.

My name is Kvothe.

You may have heard of me'

So begins the tale of Kvothe - currently known as Kote, the unassuming innkeepter - from his childhood in a troupe of traveling players, through his years spent as a near-feral orphan in a crime-riddled city, to his daringly brazen yet successful bid to enter a difficult and dangerous school of magic. In these pages you will come to know Kvothe the notorious magician, the accomplished thief, the masterful musician, the dragon-slayer, the legend-hunter, the lover, the thief and the infamous assassin.

If there was a negative I have heard about this book, it is that it starts slowly. I can see immediately what people mean by this. It is not as if the beginning of the “Name of the Wind,” is not interesting. Rothfuss drip feeds us information as he slowly builds background to his world. I think the issue lies in the fact that it feels disjointed. You are not quite sure who you are supposed to be rooting for or who the main character actually is.

However, around 70 pages in the book starts to take shape and the flow of the story becomes more coherent. Kvothe is an excellent character, the style of the story reminded me of an adult Harry Potter. Kvothe is arrogant in his abilities but at the same time likeable. He over achieves often, he reaches too high and he is suitably slapped down as a result. This allows the reader to empathise with him.

What is especially good about Kvothe is that in a small amount of time, Rothfuss makes the reader identify with him. Every action he takes is logical given the hardship he has endured and what he has been taught.

The book follows Kvothe’s childhood. It is a coming of age story with a difference. Although the book follows the familiar fantasy tropes of young boy learning his craft and becoming powerful it does not progress too far into Kvothe’s life. The tale is told in the form of the Kvothe recalling his life to the Chronicler and feels epic without having any reason too.

This is where the strength of the narrative lies. Rothfuss takes his time with each scene. Every event that happens in Kvothe’s life, be it an evening spent in a tavern with his friends or an exchange with another student, appears important. It feels like it is all molding Kvothe in to the man he will become.

The supporting cast is also good. Denna is perhaps the strongest of these. She is a character that Kvothe can’t quite figure out and this carries over to confusing the reader in a good way. Every day spent with her is another day Kvothe is left scratching his head over who she actually is.

Ambrose who becomes Kvothe’s enemy is far more than a card board cut out. Malicious but insecure, his actions are rational and his hatred is justifiable from his point of view.

Abenthy too is a character that I was left wanting far more of. Stoic but supportive of Kvothe, he teaches Kvothe all he knows without ever overloading or patronising him.

The only characters that really suffer are the masters at the university. There are many of them and apart from a few, most merge personalities with the next after a while. This is a minor point and the positives in this book are too numerous to be tarnished by that.

The plot is a difficult one to analyse. As I mentioned earlier, “The Name of the Wind” is a huge book and yet not an awful lot happens. Despite spending an awful lot of time with Kvothe, it is difficult to point to any massive events that take place. What I could do on the other hand is list a multitude of scenes I loved and at the end of the day that is all the matters. Patrick Rothfuss could have Kvothe read the phone book and I would be entertained.

“The name of the wind” is a book worthy of the accolades that others have heaped upon it. It effortlessly tells the story it wants to tell and in it’s on time. As a result, it feels real and authentic. A great read.

My rating 9.4

Monday, May 20, 2013

Book Review - The Leopard Sword (JS)

The Leopard Sword - Empire by Anthony Riches
 The Leopard Sword
Review by Jacqui Slaney
I had promised myself that I would take a break from reading Roman books, especially this series, as I lately seemed to finish one and then dive in to the next.I should not make promises that I cant keep to my self, as having this series sitting on the shelf half read was too much of a temptation for me.
This is the description:
Britannia has been subdued - and an epic new chapter in Marcus Valerius Aquila's life begins.
The murderous Roman agents who nearly captured Marcus have been defeated by his friends. But in order to protect those very friends from the wrath of the emperor, he must leave the province which has been giving him shelter. As Marcus Tribulus Corvus, centurion of the second Tungrian auxiliary cohort, he leads his men from Hadrian's Wall to the Tungrians' original home in Germania Inferior.
There he finds a very different world from the turbulent British frontier - but one with its own dangers. Tungrorum, the center of a once-prosperous farming province, a city already brought low by the ravages of the eastern plague that has swept through the empire, is now threatened by an outbreak of brutally violent robbery. A bandit chieftain called Obduro, his identity always hidden behind an iron cavalry helmet, is robbing and killing with impunity.
His sword - sharper, stronger and more deadly than any known to the Roman army - is the lethal symbol of his unstoppable power. And now he has moved beyond mere theft and threatens to destabilize the whole northern frontier of the empire . . .
The writing in this instalment as in all the others is fast paced and bloody. You get a real taste of the brutality of this world that the Romans are trying to civilise.
Although the setting has moved from Briton all the familiar characters  are here, although in this one, focus slips slightly from Marcus and highlights Julius his friend and senior centurion as he returns to his home of his youth.
The book starts slow as the reader is introduced to some new characters one of which is Belletor a legion tribune who thinks he can command both his legion and the Tungrians. He is soon corrected on this idea with some great dialogue by Scaurus- Marcus's Tribune. In Tungrorum, it soon become apparent that there is a spy for the bandits in the Roman camp, as Obduro's seems aware of all their plans and the Romans know that they must enter his home grounds of the dark woods to defeat him.
Why do I like these books? It’s the ability of the writer to not only show you the history of the time, but to do it in a way that it is enjoyable to read. I have read some books that are supposed to be fiction, but feel like a history professor has written it and is expecting you to write a paper on it, as it is factually brilliant but the characters in it are wooden with stilted dialogue.
In the Empire books, the characters all seem real, the way the men talk, gamble, their religion, the way that they look after each other, an example of which is Scarface and Marcus, a soldier looking out for a liked young officer. You also get the different prejudices, legion against auxiliary and the different ranks in the officers etc.  There are decent storyline too, in this one there is intrigue and mystery as to who the bandit leader is, how is he spying and why, not to mention the amount of action and the great descriptions of the different scenes.
I would recommend this one, I would say though to read these in order, as they are not really stand alone novels and lots of enjoyment could be lost just by missing the earlier books.
10 out of 10

Friday, May 17, 2013

Big Update

First of all I want to apologise for the length of time that has elapsed since I last posted a review or update. Two weeks might not seem like long on some blogs but I try to update at least two times a week. I have been on holiday and when not working been busy working on other things which I shall come on to below.
First of all an update on Jacqui –
Jacqui is doing o.k. She has had a few further operations with more to come. She is having good days and bad days as can be expected. The strain of dealing with such a serious illness takes its toll and she is being incredibly brave.
I miss her assistance massively as you can see from the longer breaks between posts but more importantly, I wish her a speedy and healthy recovery.
Writing update:
Book 2 is progressing reasonably well. I have completed another couple of chapters since I last updated and am well into the middle of a third. The book length is now touching the 80,000 word mark which means I am on course for the self imposed deadline I have set myself.
Book 1 update:
This is what has been consuming the majority of my spare time lately. I have now received ten rejection letters, the majority of which have been your standard, polite, generic response. If you read any author interview on how they first got published, they will tell you how they were rejected over and over, at least a couple of dozen times before someone took a chance on them.
My aim has always been to be rejected at least 20 times before exploring the self-publishing route. Actually, I will re-phrase that, my aim wasn’t to get rejected, but if agents felt my work was not for them then I would explore the self-publishing route.
Due to a variety of reasons I have now decided to self-publish and have made several positive steps in that direction.
1)    I have researched and agreed a start date for a proof-reading editor (17th June). There is no way I want my book going out for public consumption with any mistakes in the text. I have read it and re-read it more times than I care to recall but I want a professional to look at it.  I briefly contemplated using a copy editor but the fees they charge are hefty. I’m not saying they are not worth it, I am just saying as highly as a value my novel, I can’t afford it. Having said that, I did send off for a free trial from a copy editor and was chuffed to pieces with the feedback I got.
2)    I have also hired a graphic designer for the cover. Earlier this week we held our second meeting where he showed me the early version of a concept we came up with. Although it was only the start of the process to say I was as giddy as a kid before Christmas was an understatement. We are looking at producing a final version of the cover around the end of June. This will nicely tie in with the proof-reading editor’s work.
What does all this mean? It means that I am aiming to self-publish my book sometime towards the end July/beginning of August. HOO HAH!!
Over the next few days I will upload some reviews I have started on but please bare with me at the moment as my focus is on producing the best book I can and getting it out there for you all.
The Ritual of the Stones will soon be upon us...

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Book Review - Ozma of Oz

Ozma of Oz – Frank L Baum         
Ozma of Oz marks the third entry in the Frank L Baum’s Oz series. The first book “The Wonderful wizard of Oz” pleasantly surprised me in how different it was to the well known film. It featured a number of great scenes but the writing was brief and was almost a list of events rather than a story (albeit a children’s story). The second entry, “the marvellous land of Oz,” was much more of a story. Focusing on characters and events and allowing them time to develop. I expected the third entry to improve on both.
The blurb:
When a storm blows Dorothy to the land of Ev where lunches grow on trees, she meets the Scarecrow, the Tin Woodman, the Cowardly Lion, and Princess Ozma, and together they set out to free the Queen of Ev and her ten children.
Despite the title, this is really a story about Dorothy. It is told from her perspective as we catch up with her after her time spent in Oz. This time it is a storm whilst at sea not a tornado that transports her to the faraway magical land of Ev.
Dorothy is far more assured in this book. She is not afraid by storms and she is not surprised by anything she encounters. When the hen that travels with her in the storm begins speaking, she hardly reacts. This is both a good and bad thing. On one hand, it eliminates the need for Frank L Baum to repeat how strange and wonderful things are, but on the other when treated so matter of fact, it does reduce the impact.
The story of this book largely conforms to the “return to Oz” film that was made. I remember watching this film in the cinema with my Mum as a youngster (my sister went to see Licence to Kill and I was upset that I couldn’t join her) Still I recall being scared out of my wits by the Wheelers and Mombi.
Like the Wicked Witch of the West in the “Wonderful wizard of Oz” compared to the film both the Wheelers and Mombi have greatly reduced roles. They are also not nearly as intimidating.
That does not mean they are not enjoyable, it is just the focus of the plot is on the Nome King. Although the story is short, it is nice to see an Oz story centre around one specific event, namely the rescue of the queen and her children of Ev. The Nome king is arrogant, bullish and altogether not very pleasant. What’s more he does not think he is doing anything wrong by capturing people and transforming them into ornaments.  It makes him a good character as his reasoning is solid.
Frank L Baum brings back a host of familiar faces from the first two books (which includes the cowardly lion who was strangely omitted from the second book). He also introduces a host of new characters such as Tik-tok the first ever man-made army and the hungry tiger. Both are great additions and realised in a whimsical fashion that seems to be so effortless from Mr Baum. Special mention must be made to the Tin-mans army of Oz. Who do everything possible not to actually get involved in any conflict! They offer an understated comic outlet producing a wry smile whenever they are on the page.
There are some weaknesses. I am not so sure why the Scarecrow and Tin-man are written with such fondness and have progressed since their first adventure whilst the cowardly lion is mostly in the background and reverts back to his original scared form. I know these are children stories, but it did bother me.
Also Ozma is not very distinctive. Apart from her impressive entrance and handling of Mombi she is rather ineffective for a queen.
Those are just nit-picks though. I love reading these books - they offer a light hearted tale in between the dark, gritty books I normally read. This one matched my expectations.
My rating: 8.0