Friday, December 5, 2014

I've missed you.

Where have I been?

It has been a very long time since I have posted and for that I am sorry. “Where are the book reviews?” “How is the writing going?” “You’ve done nothing since October 20th!!”

These are just some of the questions or accusations that I have received over the past month. The truth is I am talking a break from reviewing books for the time being. There are three main reasons for this:

  1. I have been doing a second job since the beginning of October. On top of full time job and my family and my writing, the whole reviewing of books thing has been the least of my priorities. It makes me sad but something had to give and unfortunately it was this blog. Hopefully thing will pick up for me soon financially and so I can ditch the second job and afford myself more time to dedicate to hobbies.
  2. This one might sound a little arrogant and it is not meant to be, but now I have three books out there on the market, I don’t feel as comfortable reviewing books as regularly as I do. I know how difficult the process is and although that shouldn’t make me any more or less lenient when it comes to my reviews, I just don’t feel at ease reviewing on the scale I was. You don’t see other authors being so vigorous with their reviews.
  3. After four years of doing this and well over two hundred reviews, I felt my reviews had got a bit stale. I am not enjoying it as much as I used to. Increasingly, I found myself saying the same thing over and over, especially when it came to reviewing the 20th book in a series!  I thought a bit of a break is in order.

That is not to say I have not been reading. I have still read many books in the last month, some I have loved, and others not so much:

Witch Hunt – Syd Moore

Micro Review – Enjoyable novel. The flashback sequences and the real life facts about the past were fascinating. Tried too hard to be eerie in places. My Rating: 8.2

The Ship of Magic – Robin Hobb

Micro Review – Fantastic start to a new series. Reminded me why I love Robin Hobb. Was unsure about the Serpents and the talking ships to begin with but it worked brilliantly. My Rating: 9.2

Duma Key – Stephen King

Micro Review – King doing what King does best. Nothing groundbreaking, but a great yarn. My Rating: 8.7

Cross my Heart – James Patterson

Micro Review – Great addition to the series. James Patterson seems to have made an effort to the multiple cartoonish killer syndrome and is now trying to make things a little more gritty and grounded. My Rating: 8.8

Enchantress – James Maxwell

Good start to a series if a little by the numbers. The battle scenes come across as heavily influenced by a gaming background but this is definitely a promising start to a series. My Rating: 8.4

I will put up another post regarding how the writing is going in the next week or so ago. In brief it is going well, although I did fail miserably and surprisingly at NaNoWriMo this year. I was massively disappointed about that.

Monday, October 20, 2014

On Writing - The Slump

The slump after you have finished a book.

I have read a lot of blogs and books about the process of writing. Mostly out of interest rather than thoughts of educating myself. I say that not because I am arrogant enough to believe I can’t be taught anything, but because I firmly believe writing is a personal process and the only way to learn is to actually write.

All of the books and blogs I have read offer great advice, none more so than Stephen King’s, “On Writing,” but what I have yet to read is someone talk about the experience of finishing a project and starting a new one.

When I finished Ritual of the Stones I was elated. It was surreal to see my book out there on Amazon and garnering favourable reviews. It spurred me on to want to write the sequel and the one after that and the one after that.

I had the bug, I knew what it took now to get published and I had learnt a lot along the way. Even better, I could not wait to get back to the characters I loved and tell their story.

I remember sitting down at my laptop feeling invigorated and ready to take on the world. I sat there and I sat there and yep, you guessed it I sat there. “This is stupid,” I said to myself. I knew what I wanted to say, I knew the voices of my characters but I could not find them in my head.

I ground out a measly 300 words and put it down to a bad day and having a bit of rust. After all, with all the proofreading, formatting and cover designs it had been two months since I had written anything except blog posts.

However, the next day was the same and the one after that. After a month, I had around 10,000 words. They were 10,000 words I knew weren’t very good and knew I would be rewriting at some stage.

I decided to adopt a different approach. Something a reviewer said stuck with me. They had read my work before and liked my humour. They wanted more humour in my books. To be honest after the grim and dark, Ritual of the Stones, I needed it too. I came up with the idea of Pewtory the Lesser Bard, a bard who would travel around Frindoth and sing about the characters in the Ritual of the Stones. It would be a great way to garner interest of my first book and introduce the characters to a wider audience as I could give the book away for free.
Pewtory the Lesser Bard would be delivered in short snappy chapters of around 1,000 words. The formula worked, I committed to writing 1,000 words a week on Pewtory and writing book two for the remainder of week.

Pretty soon, I found my rhythm again and my output was tremendous. Pewtory the Lesser Bard failed in his purpose as a short piece of fiction and morphed into a story of his own. One I am very proud of. The only headache I now had was I wanted to concentrate on just the one story. In February I made the decision to focus on Pewtory and ended up with a novel of 53,000 words. Not too shabby at all, for what was only intended to be a gimmick piece of writing.

Meanwhile book two – The Stones of Sorrow, grew into a monster of a novel. Yes, I was worried at the size but I decided to just go with the flow and maintain the output I was producing.

By the time I had finished the book I had written more words then I had ever written in a single year. I had already sorted out the cover and knew where I was going in terms of the proofreading.

The whole process was a lot smoother then the first time as I was more familiar with it. Yes there were headaches but the sense of satisfaction was there. I was getting better at this. I was learning all the time and I was sure that the next book was even better.
I sent the Stones of Sorrow off to the proofreader allowed myself two weeks off and then sat down to begin work on book three. The aspiration was to publish it one year after book two.

I sat there, I sat there and I sat there. The same thing happened again. I could not find the words again. These were characters I had spent over 370,000 words with, yet I could not write more than 300 words on them.

No problem I thought. I will just write a short story like before. Only this time the formula hasn’t worked so well. It is not writer’s block as such. It is just that I have lost my rhythm. I know it will come back, I just need to get myself mentally prepared.

As I type this, it has been two months since I penned the last word on The Stones of Sorrow. This morning, I wrote 900 words. Yesterday I managed a 1,000. This afternoon I fancy writing some more. I am not saying I have the rhythm back just yet, but it feels like it is getting there. Do you know what else I realised? The “slump” is not a slump at all. It is my recharging time. Having made the switch from writing to editing it is the time I need to flick the switch back again.

I try not to focus too much on word counts, but I do have rough goals in mind. My aim is to write a decent amount of words on this new novella before November. I will then use NaNoWriMo again to deliver a large chunk of that book and maybe even finish it.. Only time will tell if I can achieve that goal. I think I might.

Saturday, October 18, 2014


The Stones of Sorrow is out!!

The title says it all really. My third book and the second in the Ballad of Frindoth trilogy has been released. I would be honoured if you checked it out.
Here is the blurb:

The whole of Frindoth is in turmoil. After the catastrophic events of the Ritual of the Stones, King Jacquard dispatches a company of his most skilled subjects into the Calipion range to seek out the Kingdom of the Glooms and so put an end to their invasion and destruction of his realm. However, as events spiral out of control King Jacquard's once firm grip on Frindoth weakens as does his grip on reality.

Meanwhile having won a surprise victory against the usurper Vashna, Prince Althalos quickly finds that there is more to leading an army than winning a battle. Outmanoeuvred and outwitted, the prince must quickly learn how to rule if he is to retain the trust and the respect the warlords now have in him.

As war engulfs Frindoth new dangers emerge from an increasingly popular religion, whose followers are fanatical in their belief and devotion to their gods. And then there is perhaps the most serious threat of all - the threat from the sea.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Book Review - Moon Bear

Moon Bear – Gill Lewis
I can’t remember how I came across this book, but I am so pleased I did. Sometimes there is a stigma around young adult novels or even children’s novel. I have never been put off by such a thing. If the story is good and you can root for the characters then sometimes it is exactly what you are after.
The Blurb:
When twelve-year-old Tam is sent to work at a bear farm in the city, he has never felt so alone. He hates seeing the cruel way the bears are treated, but speaking up will mean losing his job. And if he can't send money home, how will his family survive? When a sick cub arrives at the farm, Tam secretly nurses it back to health and they develop an unbreakable bond. Tam swears to return his beloved cub to the wild, but how will they ever find a way to be free? Deeply moving and powerful, Moon Bear is an unforgettable story of compassion, hope, and bravery against overwhelming odds.
I loved this book. I devoured it in less than two days. I just simply could not put it down. At just over 300 pages it is on the shorter side, but it tells the story it needs to tell without drawing out any scenes unnecessarily. Gill Lewis could easily have been tempted to go for maximum empathy in describing in detail some of the horrible things that happen in this book, but she instead opts for the “less if more” mantra and it works a charm.
The book focuses on Tam, a boy who lives with his family in the mountains until they are relocated by the General Chan. Tam is promised a better life, with electricity, a school and even a village TV. The promises are half-truths though and when events go from bad to worse, Tam is forced to leave his family and work at a bear farm in the city.  
Tam is hugely likeable. He is undoubtedly a victim but he does not bemoan his fate. That does not mean he accepts it either. He is sensible enough to keep his mouth shut and head down when needed but also rebels in his own way. His friendship with the bears and the way he cares for them is truly touching.
What I liked most is that Lewis focuses on Tam’s relationship with one of the bears. Tam recognises there is little he can do for the other bears but when a young ill cub (Sook-dli) arrives, he takes it upon himself to nurse the bear back to health.  The bond the two forge is both tender and heart warming. The two souls are linked by the same lot in life in that they have had little choice or say as to what happens to them.
However, to just comment on Tam’s interactions with the bears would do the book a disservice. Everyone Tam converses with is affected by his behaviour in some way, mostly for the better but sometimes not. The only character that is not well-drawn is Tam’s supervisor Assang. He is your typical card board cut out caricature and is not really needed in the story. All the other characters are well portrayed and within a few short pages, Lewis establishes strong links between Tam and other characters such as his Granddad, his Ma and Kham.
In regards to the plot, there is nothing too surprising about it. A lot of what happens to Tam is not very original and nothing you couldn’t predict if you really sat down and thought about it. The beauty of the novel is that whilst reading the novel none of this occurred to me. I was so enthralled by the prose and swept up in Tam’s life that I was too busy enjoying the book.  I had never heard of bear milking though and it has truly opened my eyes to another of mankind’s atrocities inflicted on animals.
I said at the start of this book that this is classed as a children’s book. With all that happens to Tam it certainly does not read like one. With a children’s book (as true with a lot of adult books) the usually all of the plot points are wrapped up or loose ends tied. Gill Lewis does not pander to her audience. Sometimes in life there are loose ends and with one character in particular, she uses their actions to teach Tam this lesson. It is infuriating but realistic at the same time.
The ending is great. Normally I like dark endings, but I also recognise when a book needs to end in a certain way. I will not reveal which was this one goes, but to me it was the perfect ending.
My rating: 9.3

Friday, October 3, 2014

Book Review - The Corninsh Coast Murder

The Cornish Coast Murder by John Bude (JS)
Review by Jacqui Slaney
I love murder… let me rephrase that, I love the old fashioned murder mysteries, that you get from Agatha Christie, Dorothy L Sayers etc, so when this title popped up as recommended for me as I like such and such, I could not resist.
This is the description:
Never, even in his most optimistic moments, had he visualised a scene of this nature - himself in one arm-chair, a police officer in another, and between them - a mystery.' The Reverend Dodd, vicar of the quiet Cornish village of Boscawen, spends his evenings reading detective stories by the fireside - but heaven forbid that the shadow of any real crime should ever fall across his seaside parish. However, the vicar's peace is shattered one stormy night when Julius Tregarthan, a secretive and ill-tempered magistrate, is found at his house in Boscawen with a bullet through his head. The local police inspector is baffled by the complete absence of clues. Suspicion seems to fall on Tregarthan's niece, Ruth - but surely, that young woman lacks the motive to shoot her uncle dead in cold blood? Luckily for Inspector Bigswell, the Reverend Dodd is on hand, and ready to put his keen understanding of the criminal mind to the test. 
I must admit I had not heard of this author, but within a few pages, I was hooked by the story.
The writing is descriptive, and sets the scene for the reader so you can visualise the characters in their daily lives and the dramatic Cornish coastline. A storm opens the story and this dominates all events. However, the description is not overdone and unlike in some stories, does not slow the narrative, which is good as the pace is brisk and enjoyable.
There are not loads of murders and action, just a cleverly written tale with loads of twists, turns and false leads that keep you entertained.
The character of the Reverend is excellent, I liked him a lot. I was a bit worried at the start that he might be pompous and overbearing, but he is a joy to read and gently points out to the usual police officers the error of their ways.
I suppose my only slight complaint is that some of the secondary characters are not fleshed out a lot, such as the niece, and the little you read about her, doesn’t make her very sympathetic, so you do not feel for her predicament.
The author cleverly changes the point of view between the Inspector and Reverend as well, so you can see the clues the Inspector finds and so agree that he has seemingly solved the mystery. Then however you jump to Dodd’s chapter and you realise that what you thought is completely wrong.
There are clues that let you solve the mystery, this is not one of those books where a surprise murderer appears with a motive that you had not been told about before. But the clues are cleverly hidden so when you spot them, you feel very pleased with yourself.
Whether you solve the murder yourself or just follow along with the Reverend either way I am sure that this story will be enjoyed, it’s not a long read, but definitely worthwhile.
8 out of 10

Monday, September 29, 2014

Book Review - King of Swords

King of Swords – Nick Stone
It has been over four years since I read and loved Nick Stone’s debut novel Mr. Clarinet. I found the gritty mix of the detective story and the hint of the supernatural in the form of voodoo worship to be right up my street.
Quite why I waited so long to read the next in the series is beyond me.
Here is the blurb:
Miami, 1981. When Detective Max Mingus and his partner Joe are called to the scene of a death at Miami's Primate Park, it looks like another routine - if slightly bizarre - investigation. Until two things turn up: the victim's family, slaughtered; and a partly digested tarot card in the dead man's stomach. "The King of Swords" - an increasingly bloody trail leads Max and Joe first to a sinister fortune-teller and her scheming pimp son, then to the infamous Solomon Boukman. Few have ever met the most feared criminal in Miami, but rumours abound of a forked tongue, voodoo ceremonies and friends in very high places. Against a backdrop of black magic and police corruption, Max and Joe must distinguish the good guys from the bad - and track down some answers. What is the significance of the "King of Swords"? What makes those who have swallowed the card go on a killing spree just before they die? And can Max find out the truth about Solomon Boukman, before death's shadow reaches his own front door ...
As the blurb indicates, this is a prequel to Mr. Clarinet. I am not normally a fan of prequels unless they have relevance to future plot points. When they are just fleshed out stories of past events main characters happen to mention then I am normally disappointed. However, when they have a direct bearing on the way a character views their life and why their motivations are like they are, then I am much more invested in the prequel.
The latter is the case in point with King of Swords. The book focuses on three characters characters: Max Mingus, Joe Liston and Carmine. Max is the main character in Mr.Clarinet but he does not behave the same way. There are similarities of course, but in this story he is a lot more raw and despite having good intentions, he regularly walks the thin line between good and evil.
This is typified by the two people that influence his life the most. The first is his partner Joe and the other is his boss and father-like figure Eldon. Eldon is a complex character. He is as corrupt as they come but he truly believes he is delivering the greater good in his methods. His aim is to increase his empire in the police force and get the bad guys off the street. If this means cutting corners by sending known criminals down for crimes they did not commit, then so be it.
Max is only too aware of Eldon’s methods but is torn between the correct thing to do and achieving results. He can see the reasoning behind Eldon’s motivations but at the same time he recognises that he has lost his way in the implementation of those methods.
By contrast Joe is only too aware of what is going on and is deeply opposed. He has high morals and a belief in the system. He is a policeman and wants to do it the right way. It is only his like and respect for Max that clouds his judgement. The dynamic works, as rather than being a constant source of conflict and bickering, the two behave rationally and try to figure out the correct path.
Intermingled with all these politics of course is the enigmatic Solomon Boukman. A man that has built his criminal faction based on myths and legends. We mostly see Solomon through the point of view of Carmine his childhood friend. Carmine is a fascinating character in his own right. To the public he is a competent and feared pimp, but behind closed doors he is still a scared boy petrified by his despicable mother.
With such rich characters the book was always going to be readable, but the plot is tight, the pace is consistent and the criminals suitably sinister. Stone does a terrific job of portraying Solomon Boukman keeping him mysterious but at the same time believable. I know virtually nothing about the Haitian culture, but Stones description of it comes across as authentic and makes you want to learn more.
The ending is great, wrapping up all loose ends nicely. At times I was worried that it was being dragged out or in places rushed, but I think by the end of the book Stones got the narrative spot on. This was a pleasure to read and reminded me why I loved the first book so much.
My rating: 9.1

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Book Review - Thud! (JS)

Thud! by Terry Pratchett
By Jacqui Slaney
Anyone who reads my reviews knows that I reread Terry Pratchett regularly especially when faced with lots of sitting round hospital waiting rooms. I always worry that I will take a new book on such a visit and not enjoy it, and then will be stuck there with nothing to read, so I tend to fall back on a tried and loved book such as a Discworld book and especially a commander Vimes story..
This is the description:
'Some people would be asking: whose side are you on? If you are not for us, you are against us. Huh. If you're not an apple, you're a banana'
Koom Valley, the ancient battle where the trolls ambushed the dwarfs, or the dwarfs ambushed the trolls, was a long time ago. But if he doesn't solve the murder of just one dwarf, Commander Sam Vimes of Ankh-Morpork City Watch is going to see it fought again, right outside his office. With his beloved Watch crumbling around him and war-drums sounding, he must unravel every clue, outwit every assassin and brave any darkness to find the solution. And darkness is following him.
Oh . . . and at six o'clock every day, without fail, with no excuses, he must go home to read 'where’s My Cow?’ with all the right farmyard noises, to his little boy. There are some things you have to do.
The story line is the bubbling feud between the Dwarfs and the Trolls that is about to erupt again in a second Koom valley, which as described in other books is the only battle in history where both sides tried to ambush the other. Here trouble is stirred by a murder of a dwarf and everyone knows that a troll did it as one of their clubs was found next to the body, so how much more proof do you need?
But Sam Vimes refuses to accept such clues, even as his dwarf and Troll officers resign from the Watch and pressure is mounting on the streets, he wants the Truth no matter what. There is also fearsome talk of an ancient entity, shown by a sign written in the dark of the mines, a sign that once found must be surrounded by light to keep the fear away.
I like all Sam Vimes novels, but this is one of my favourites. There are so many elements here of a great read, not least amongst them is the idea of Nobby Nobbs, the only man who has to carry a certificate to proof his is human, going out with a pole dancer called Tawny. There is also the tension between Angua the werewolf and Sally the new recruit who just happens to be a vampire, and I am sure that everyone will love Mr A.E Pessimal the government inspector.
  Most of all you have Sam Vimes, and in this book you see more of the conflict within him. The darkness that is touched upon in other stories and you see the meaning of ‘Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?’ You also get to read about his story telling skills to his young son, as no matter at 6’oclock that is where he will be. The one time he is late is quite impressive.
As always I recommend this book to anyone, you need to have a little back ground knowledge of the series to properly enjoy, otherwise you might not understand why a man over 6 foot considers himself a dwarf, but there is still a lot that any reader will like.
10 out of 10


Friday, September 19, 2014

Book Review - The Son

The Son – Philipp Meyer

I was looking for a Western and happened to spot this novel on the Audible recommendations list. The fact that it was narrated by Will Patton as well as two other actors furthered my interest. I had never listened to an audible book by more than one narrator before.

The Blurb:

Philipp Meyer, the acclaimed author of American Rust, returns with The Son: an epic of the American West and a multigenerational saga of power, blood, land, and oil that follows the rise of one unforgettable Texas family, from the Comanche raids of the 1800s to the to the oil booms of the 20th century.

Harrowing, panoramic, and deeply evocative, The Son is a fully realized masterwork in the greatest tradition of the American canon - an unforgettable novel that combines the narrative prowess of Larry McMurtry with the knife-edge sharpness of Cormac McCarthy.
The Son is divided up into three points of view (each actor logically reading from one character). What disappointed me was that the three characters all took place in slightly different time periods. I think I was expecting an audible book/play hybrid where the characters would be voiced by different actors but interact.

However, I will not mark the book down due to my expectations. What I will mark it down for is the quality of the points of view. The main point of view is from the Eli the Colonel and tells of his capture by Indians and his subsequent survival. For a long period of the book this is by far and away the superior narrative when compared to the other sections.

I say for long periods of the book because when Eli leaves the Indians his story loses its momentum. It is still interesting but not as intense.

The Colonel is a rigid character. He sees things from a black and white viewpoint and is uncompromising in his beliefs. Inevitably, he comes to acknowledge the Indian way of life and even respect them. The transition is superbly handled to the point neither Eli nor the reader knows it is happening.

The second character is his son Peter, who could not be more different from his father. Peter’s narration is told in the form of diary entries which could not be more tepid. He is an insular man not cut out for the bold and aggressive role that is required to him. Instead, what the reader gets is a depressive, limp specimen with nothing to endear the reader to.

His narration is a little repetitive and at times I just wished he would grow a backbone. Instead, his story seems to just peter out.

Finally there is Eli’s Great Granddaughter Jeannie, who through luck rather than tenacity becomes an oil tycoon. Again, there is nothing endearing about her character and at times I had to really force myself to concentrate on her sections.

Towards the very end, Philipp Meyer adds another POV character. This felt unnecessary and did not add much to the plot.

It is a shame as I really wanted to like this book. I kept hoping the stories would come together somehow but they never did. The ending was very disappointing with the chapters becoming increasingly shorter as if Phillip Meyer himself wanted the book to end and wanted to tie everything up.

Overall, I am a little bit mystified by the many 5* reviews the book has received. The 3* reviews sum up my feelings fairly accurately.  I could have done with a lot more of Eli with the Comanche Indians and with the stories of Peter and Jeannie cut out all together.

My rating 6.5

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Book Review - American Elsewhere

American Elsewhere – Robert Jackson Bennett

I love discovering new authors. Even more so when I discover their debut novels before they become mainstream. Robert Jackson Bennet’s first two novels, Mr Shivers and The Company Man were well regarded but broadly flew under the radar. His excellent third novel, The Troupe, garnered a bit more attention. With his newly released 5th novel City of Stairs, receiving a lot of buzz, it appears RJB is about to deservedly hit the big time.

I thought it was about time I read his 4th novel!!

The blurb:

Ex-cop Mona Bright has been living a hard couple of years on the road, but when her estranged father dies, she finds she's had a home all along: a little house her deceased mother once owned in Wink, New Mexico.

And though every map denies Wink exists, Mona finds they're wrong: not only is Wink real, it is the perfect American small town, somehow retaining all the Atomic Age optimism the rest of world has abandoned.

But the closer Mona gets to her mother's past, the more she understands that the people in Wink are very, very different - and what's more, Mona begins to recognize her own bond to this strange place, which feels more like home every day.

RJB writes stories with big ideas. Mr Shivers was a great read until the ending got a bit confusing. With The Troupe I was in love with the writing and the intimate relationships until it suddenly explored fantastical concepts that are almost too difficult to comprehend. That is not to say they are not written well or difficult to understand, it is just RJB takes conventional thinking and stretches it so it is hard to imagine.

You know those videos you see on YouTube where they show our planets and then they show how much bigger the sun is in comparison. Then the screen slides along and there is an even bigger star that makes the sun look tiny and so on and so forth. Every time I read an RJB book I feel like that. With American Elsewhere he amplifies that feeling.

Now before I put any of you off by saying that, let me stress this is a brilliant novel.  Yes the ideas might require blue sky thinking but the writing is top notch. The science never blinds you and I always felt I had a good grasp of what is going on.

The novel focuses on Mona who inherits a house from her mother’s will. Mona has grown up believing her mum is crazy but is intrigued by the house and seeks to discover a more about her mother’s life before she had Mona.

Enter the secret town of Wink – the true star of the novel. Its inhabitants are odd to say the least. Everyone in the town are a little too perfect and a little too content to live the great American dream.

When Mona arrives she interrupts a funeral, an odd occurrence in Wink. As a result some of the neighbourhood are bitter towards her, whilst others avoid her altogether. Whatever the behaviour it is obvious they are all keeping one big secret.

Mona is a likeable character. As a former police officer, she can handle herself well and although inquisitive, she strikes the correct balance between arrogant and respectful to make you want to root for her.

The other characters are not as well fleshed out but with good reason. RJB keeps them deliberatively mysterious without ever infuriating the reader. The plot is revealed piece by careful piece and unfolds naturally. There is no big revelation but rather information is gleamed by events that occur the more Mona probes into the town’s history and secret.

The narrative is excellent. RJB has such an easy going writing style. There were times I had to remind myself that I was not reading a Stephen King book, as RJB effortlessly introduced characters and makes you interested in them.

The end of the book is about as hard science fiction as you can get. Normally this would be a massive turn off for me, but I loved it.

All in all, RJB hits another winner and I for one can’t wait to read City of Stairs.

My rating: 9.2

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Book Review - The 5th Wave (JS)

The 5TH Wave (Book 1) by Rick Yancey

Review by Jacqui Slaney

I suddenly realized after looking at my reading list that lately I had not read anything with aliens. I had read some good books but Sci-fi seemed to be sadly lacking, luckily as I was bemoaning this fact, I came across this book.

This is the description:

THE 1st WAVE Took out half a million people.
THE 2nd WAVE Put that number to shame.
THE 3rd WAVE Lasted a little longer. Twelve weeks . . . Four billion dead.
IN THE 4th WAVE, You cannot trust that people are still people.
AND THE 5th WAVE? No one knows. But it's coming.
On a lonely stretch of highway, Cassie runs. Runs from the beings that only look human, who have scattered Earth's last survivors. To stay alone is to stay alive, until she meets Evan Walker. Beguiling and mysterious, Evan may be her only hope. Now Cassie must choose: between trust and despair, between defiance and surrender, between life and death. To give up or to get up.

This book has interest for the young adult market but do not let you put this off, as it is still more than suitable for the adult reader. Yes, ok there is a bit of a connection between Cassie and the mysterious Evan, which some reviewers seemed to view this as the dreaded teenage romance, but truly, this sub plot does not detract at all from the rest of the story line.

The story is told from a few different POV’s, the main being Cassie a teenage girl. I really liked Cassie, she is tough, vulnerable and a believable character in her actions and speech. She survives the first four waves and finds herself alone but determined to find her younger brother, who had been supposedly taken to a safe haven. She travels with guns and a stuffed bear that she has promised to return to him. She knows she is being hunted and when she finds the freshly killed family, she knows that the silencer as she calls him is close by.

The pace of the story is good, and the characters are so well described you are gripped by their plight and you want to know what happens to them.  

Some readers complain about the change in POV’s and say this slows the story down, but to me if anything it makes it more intense. For example, something happens to Cassie, and the next chapter you find yourself with the character Zombie, who is being trained along with other children to be soldiers, to kill the enemy.

This could be quite a grim tale with the description of the different waves especially the third one, the child soldiers, the massacres that happen.   However, these dark parts of the story make it a powerful one, and I was hooked from the first chapter. It is not long to read, and I must admit that as soon as I finished I wanted to jump straight into the next, it’s that sort of writing.

I am glad that I had not read a book about aliens for a while, as otherwise I would not have found this one and would have missed out on a very good book.

8 out of 10

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Book Review - UR

UR – Stephen King

I did not know much about UR until recently. I knew that it was a short story and something I would get round to reading eventually but beyond that I was in the dark. Someone happened to mention the premise the other day and I liked the idea so much that I downloaded the book immediately.

The blurb:

Reeling from a painful break-up, English instructor and avid book lover Wesley Smith is haunted by his ex-girlfriend's parting shot: "Why can't you just read off the computer like everyone else?" He buys an e-book reader out of spite, but soon finds he can use the device to glimpse realities he had never before imagined, discovering literary riches beyond his wildest dreams...and all-too-human tragedies that surpass his most terrible nightmares.

A kindle that not only contains books from alternate dimensions but also contains newspaper clippings from the future – count me in. What a cool premise!

As I mentioned this is only a short story of around 66 pages. It focuses on Wesley Smith, an English professor who has recently found and lost love in the form of a colleague. In a bid to appear more daring and modern, he purchases a Kindle.

In Wesley’s reluctance to buy the Kindle, King captures everything I felt towards the fantastic gadget I can now not live without. From Wesley unwrapping the Kindle to his first foray into the menu screen, King could have been writing about me. It is for this reason alone, I found myself immediately immersed into the story.

Wesley is a likeable character: the self-doubts, the pining over a girl following a recent break-up and the determination to better yourself are all something we can identify with.  King makes you care for the relationship even though we never see any real evidence of it.
It is the concept of the Kindle being more than a reading device that really captures the imagination. Long term fans of King will rejoice in the nods to his other works. The Dark Tower is mentioned here and one has to wonder if this novella was a precursor to King’s excellent time travelling novel, 11/22/63.

As Wesley delves more into the machinations of the Kindle he uncovers more and more shocking events. He confides in a fellow teacher and a student and together they debate what to do with the supernatural gadget.

The plot works well as a novella, with the Kindle revealing an event that will affect Wesley in a big way. As such this forms the focus of the story and resolving it is the only goal. It makes for a tidy conclusion where all threads are nicely wrapped up, however I couldn’t help but think that King could have done more with the concept. Having read the Dark Tower series it was pretty easy to figure out what happened at the end, but I imagine people that have not read that particular series will have quite a few answered questions.
All in all, this is a great little novella, that raises an idea which will stick with you long after you have finished reading it.

My rating: 8.2

Friday, September 5, 2014

Book Review - Divergent

Divergent – Veronica Roth

Recently I bought a Kindle Paperwhite as I wanted to get back to just reading and not be distracted by every other gadget on the Kindle Fire. On the screensaver there is a quote from Haruki Murakami:

“If you only read the books that everyone else is reading, you only can think what everyone else is thinking.”

It is a philosophy I happen to prescribe to but it also works both ways. Books like Fifty Shades of Grey, Hunger games, Twilight are wildly popular but generally shunned by the fantasy community as poorly written drivel. I prefer to form my own opinion.
I picked this novel up for that very reason.

The blurb:

In sixteen-year-old Beatrice Prior's world, society is divided into five factions -- Abnegation (the selfless), Candor (the honest), Dauntless (the brave), Amity (the peaceful), and Erudite (the intelligent) -- each dedicated to the cultivation of a particular virtue, in the attempt to form a "perfect society." At the age of sixteen, teens must choose the faction to which they will devote their lives. On her Choosing Day, Beatrice renames herself Tris, rejects her family's group, and chooses another faction. After surviving a brutal initiation, Tris finds romance with a super-hot boy, but also discovers unrest and growing conflict in their seemingly "perfect society." To survive and save those they love, they must use their strengths to uncover the truths about their identities, their families, and the order of their society itself.

First of all, do me a favour and ignore the second part of the blurb above. The “super-hot boy” made me cringe. All I can say is thank goodness I read the book before reading that blurb otherwise I would never have downloaded it. It is entirely misleading and gives the impression the book is entirely a sappy romance.

Secondly, I love it when I am pleasantly surprised by a book. Yes, it could be argued that parts of Divergent are reminiscent of the Hunger Games, but they are very different in tone and style. Divergent handles them with more adult themes in the form of independence, bullying and physical and mental endurance in an accomplished manner. There are no life or death tournaments found in this novel yet the danger still feels very well.

The novel focuses on Tris who was born into the Abnegation faction. I loved the concept behind Veronica Roth’s world. The world has been divided into five factions based on human characteristics. It is believed that selecting the faction that closely resembles your personality will place you with like minded people and reduce crime.

Ludicrous of course, but an interesting idea and the five factions are well selected. Veronica Roth also avoids the inevitable trap of making the factions too stereotypical. Within each, people still retain individual personalities and the factions themselves all display their own merits and flaws so there is not one particular bad one and not one that is overtly good.

Tris is a good character. She discovers early on that she is different from others and we get to see her as an underdog and as a favoured one. Her trials are well thought out and unique. What I like most about her is that she is not your typical young adult heroine where she has no idea just how strong she is. She is perfectly aware of her abilities and her limitations and knows where she can push herself harder and do better.

Unfortunately she does possess the typical teenage romance angst. For once it would be nice to read about a character that is aware of other’s feelings towards them. Why do the teenagers always have to assume the one they are attracted to immediately hates them or are intentionally mean to them?

The other main character is Four. There is nothing surprising about his character but he is still likeable nevertheless. The only real negative I can say about him is that over the course of the novel Veronica Roth changes him from being a mature, mysterious character to just another teenage boy. It is a shame because the Four at the start of the novel is eminently more readable.

The rest of the cast is solid. Tris’ fellow competitors are diverse and the dialogue they share feels natural. Their allegiances also switch in places which makes them more interesting than your average secondary characters.

The plot is good. Tris’ initiation exam makes up the majority of the novel but at the same time a mystery begins to unravel that inevitably comes to the foreground as the novel progresses.

This plot development opens up the world and we begin to see the other factions. It is exciting and lays the ground work for the future novels. The only drawback is that despite some rather harrowing events happening to Tris, she remains relatively unaffected by them. It is unrealistic and spoilt my enjoyment somewhat.
The conclusion is good, if not predictable. There is never a point where I had any doubt as to how the book would end. Overall though, I think it is easy to see why Divergent is as popular as it is and I am looking forward to reading the next instalment in the series.

My rating: 8.4

Monday, September 1, 2014

Book Review - The girl with all the gifts

The girl with all the gifts - M.R. Carey

This book was another impulse buy. The premise sounds good and any zombie movie that gets good reviews is a positive for me.

The blurb:

Melanie is a very special girl. Dr Caldwell calls her 'our little genius'.

Every morning, Melanie waits in her cell to be collected for class. When they come for her, Sergeant keeps his gun pointing at her while two of his people strap her into the wheelchair. She thinks they don't like her. She jokes that she won't bite, but they don't laugh.

Melanie loves school. She loves learning about spelling and sums and the world outside the classroom and the children's cells. She tells her favourite teacher all the things she'll do when she grows up. Melanie doesn't know why this makes Miss Justineau look sad.

Very minor and bloody obvious  spoilers below.

It is rare that a zombie novel can offer anything new. M.R. Carey's book does just that. It is told from a combination of viewpoints but probably most uniquely the main character, Melanie, is a zombie herself. Admittedly this is not an original idea but I've never seen it executed with such care.

Melanie does not know she is a "Hungry," she has spent her whole life chained up. Every day she is taken to lessons tied up and placed with others during the same plight. She does not know any different and has never seen the outside world. As such the only tenderness Melanie experiences are the dispositions of her teachers. Some are strict and perfunctory others her kind and motherly.

Despite her younger years ironically it is Melanie that does the most maturity. She quickly grasps the situation and is the most level headed or of the group. It is this affable behaviour that endears her to the more sceptical characters. The great thing about her though is that she recognises their hostility and never overly strives to challenge it.

It is one of the more motherly teachers who is the other main character. Miss Justineau refuses to see Melanie as a “Hungry” and sees beyond her nature. In a novel filled with characters that distrust Melanie and her ilk Miss Justineau is traditionally the easiest one to like. She is compassionate and trusts her instincts rather than what she is told. This also makes her naive, which adds more dimension to her character.

The other characters are strong if not as well fleshed out. The doctor Caroline is perhaps the strongest, serving as a protagonist with very compelling motives. The plot is serviceable for this type of novel. There is nothing wrong with it but you pretty much know what you are getting in this genre. If I'm honest the paced lagged a little in the centre but it soon picked up again.

The ending is very good. It juggles the balance between tension and realism correctly to not over play the final scenes. All in all, this is a strong post apocalyptic novel with a little more intelligence to it than others in the genre. I'd recommend it.

My rating: 7.9

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Book Review - The Picture of Dorian Gray

The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

(Review by Jacqui Slaney)

Having recently watched a programme, where the character of Dorian Gray appeared, I realised that I could not remember the full story of the book. It had been years since I had first read it, and my lack of memory niggled away at me, so I decided to give in and buy it.

This is the description:

The novel tells of a young man named Dorian Gray, the subject of a painting by artist Basil Hallward. Basil is impressed by Dorian's beauty and becomes infatuated with him, believing his beauty is responsible for a new mode in his art. Dorian meets Lord Henry Wotton, a friend of Basil's, and becomes enthralled by Lord Henry's worldview. Espousing a new hedonism, Lord Henry suggests the only things worth pursuing in life are beauty and fulfilment of the senses. Realizing that one day his beauty will fade, Dorian (whimsically) expresses a desire to sell his soul to ensure the portrait Basil has painted would age rather than him. Dorian's wish is fulfilled, and when he subsequently pursues a life of debauchery, the portrait serves as a reminder of the effect each act has upon his soul, with each sin displayed as a disfigurement of his form, or through a sign of aging.

Within a few pages, I was caught up in the story, and remembered what I had enjoyed about it.

The root of the story is an old one, an attractive person worries about losing their youth and good looks.

The only difference is in this story they make a wish that they will always look as good as they do now, and all the changes instead will affect the portrait in front of them, a portrait by a painter  who has become completely infatuated with his subject and so the power of this goes into the piece of art.

Dorian is at first shocked by the change that comes over the painting when his first love dies, and hides the picture away from public viewing. Then he revels in what happens as it is corrupted and aged whilst he himself looks as untouched as ever.

The writing is flowing and descriptive, overly so in a few places, but the words paint a vivid picture and the characters are so good; they do make up for some flowery passages.

Henry Wotton is a one of these characters, he corrupts Dorian mainly because he can, and enjoys seeing the creature he creates. There are no strong voices against him, no one to speak up for anything good, so Dorian follows the path that Henry sets up for him to its inevitable conclusion.
There are some quite dark places in the book, a certain act of Dorian of instance, but that is what keeps your attention.

The pace is fast and does not allow the story to become bogged down, so you will find yourself reading it quickly.
There are lessons to be learned, but the author does not moralise at the reader so you can take the story on a surface level or look at the deeper message that is there.

I really liked it, and am glad that I revisited this old story. The story does not feel dated at all, and I think most readers will appreciate the quality of the writing.

7 out of 10 

Friday, August 22, 2014

Book Review - A Gathering Light

A Gathering Light - Jennifer Donnelly

After reading a review of the secret life of bees (which I thoroughly enjoyed) that recommended this book I immediately purchased it. The premise sounded as if it contained everything I enjoyed in the secret life of bees with a bit of an edge to boot.

The blurb:

When Mattie Gokey is given a bundle of letters to burn she fully intends to execute the wishes of the giver, Grace Brown. When Grace Brown is found drowned the next day in Big Moose Lake, Mattie finds that it is not as easy to burn those letters as she had thought. And, as she reads, a riveting story emerges - not only Grace Brown's story but also Mattie's hopes and ambitions for the future and her relationships with her friends and family. Published to widespread acclaim this wonderful novel, part murder mystery and part coming-of-age story, is an astounding and accomplished piece of literature.

I will start of the bat by declaring that I did not enjoy the book as much as I thought I would. That is not to say I did not think it was good but I wanted it to be so much more and left me frustrated in places.

The problem was with the structure. The majority of the book takes place in the past with the odd chapter taking place in the present. It is the present storyline that is lacking in my opinion, when it really should be the most gripping. After all a mysterious murder and a missing suspect should have far more tension then we are treated to here.

Instead, what we experience is a rather tedious and lacklustre situation where Mattie holds on to potential evidence in the form of a series of letters belonging to the murder victim. When Mattie does get around to reading them, the victim who wrote them is so irritating and childish it is quite hard to read. I must stress here that the author's note at the end of the book provides a very good reason for this but unfortunately it did spoil my reading. In the present, Mattie herself is a rather mundane protagonist. She is very subservient (as is the nature of her job), but there is not much in the way to counter this. In places she is almost unrecognisable to the character we read about in her past.

In her younger years, Mattie is more rebellious. She has dreams and aspirations. More importantly, she has interesting characters to interact with. Her father is a tragic and imposing figure who is totally reliant on her as the eldest remaining daughter at home, whilst her teacher is an inspiration. It is the juxtaposition of everybody’s influence on Mattie that conjures an interesting tale. It is all told through an excellent narrative as a child uncovers the realities of the world and discovers love, betrayal and disappointment.

Donnelly has a wonderful ability to portray characters and make you care for them. In the space of some small chapters she introduces characters (such as Mattie’s uncle) who stay with you long after you have finished the book.

Overall, A Gathering Light is a very good book which would have benefitted in my opinion without the murder/mystery plot line.

My rating: 8.3