Friday, February 28, 2014

Book Review - Horns

Horns – Joe Hill

It is a testament to how much I rate Joe Hill as an author that I purchased “Horns.” A few years ago I read “the Heart-shaped” box, Joe’s first full length novel and whilst I liked it I did not think it was anything spectacular. When he followed it up with “Horns” despite the positive reviews, I could not bring myself to buy the novel. The premise quite frankly sounded ridiculous. A man wakes up with horns one day! I hated the idea and thought that was that.

Fast forward six months or so and I have read and loved Joe’s third novel “NOS4R2,” and have devoured three volumes of “Locke and Key” – the collected graphic novels of the comic Joe Hill writes. 

The strength of Joe’s work made me reconsider my obstinate stance on “Horns” and take the plunge.

The blurb:

Ignatius Perrish spent the night drunk and doing terrible things. He woke up the next morning with a thunderous hangover, a raging headache . . . and a pair of horns growing from his temples.

At first Ig thought the horns were a hallucination, the product of a mind damaged by rage and grief. He had spent the last year in a lonely, private purgatory, following the death of his beloved, Merrin Williams, who was raped and murdered under inexplicable circumstances. A mental breakdown would have been the most natural thing in the world. But there was nothing natural about the horns, which were all too real.

Once the righteous Ig had enjoyed the life of the blessed: born into privilege, the second son of a renowned musician and younger brother of a rising late-night TV star, he had security, wealth, and a place in his community. Ig had it all, and more - he had Merrin and a love founded on shared daydreams, mutual daring, and unlikely midsummer magic.

But Merrin's death damned all that. The only suspect in the crime, Ig was never charged or tried. And he was never cleared. In the court of public opinion in Gideon, New Hampshire, Ig is and always will be guilty because his rich and connected parents pulled strings to make the investigation go away. Nothing Ig can do, nothing he can say, matters. Everyone, it seems, including God, has abandoned him. Everyone, that is, but the devil inside. . . .

Now Ig is possessed of a terrible new power to go with his terrible new look - a macabre talent he intends to use to find the monster who killed Merrin and destroyed his life. Being good and praying for the best got him nowhere. It's time for a little revenge. . . . It's time the devil had his due. . . .

Can I state immediately that anyone put off by the premise like I was, don’t be. Yes, Ig wakes up one morning to find horns on his head, but they do not feature too heavily in the novel and are explained in a rather interesting way.

The novel focuses on two parts of Ig’s life: Ig before the horns and Ig afterwards. Like his father, Joe Hill has an excellent ability to portray the life of someone growing up. Ig is a great character and one you immediately root for.

He is an outsider, broadly living in his brother’s shadow and the son of a rich family who go to church. In an attempt to prove himself in front of the “cool kids” he ends up befriending a boy called Lee. Befriends is probably a strong word, “hero worships” is more appropriate.

The result is an interesting dynamic between the two friends. Lee is not a nice boy. It is obvious to the reader but not to the other characters in the book. Hill does a great job of hinting at how dangerous Lee is without ever giving his friends cause to doubt him.

Ig after the horns is a different prospect altogether. The horns give Ig the ability to hear other people’s real thoughts and the sins they want to commit. We learn early on that Ig had been accused of murdering his girlfriend but never prosecuted due to lack of evidence. The horns allow him to understand what people truly think of him and Ig struggles to process this.

As a result some of his actions although callous are understandable as the people he loved and trusted are not who he thought they were.

We are not just limited to Ig’s POV. At one point Hill shifts to Lee’s perspective and Hill does an excellent job of demonstrating how warped his mind is. Lee interprets innocent acts of kindness in completely different ways to how they were intended yet it is easy to see how he reaches his conclusions. The result is a far more believable character and one that is a little sympathetic.

If there is a criticism, it is that almost everyone Ig comes into contact with has warped thoughts. I know everyone imagines weird things they would never do in reality, but most of the people Ig meets have such sinister base desires it does become a little hard to suspend your belief.

Underlying the whole story is the mystery as to what did happen to Ig’s girlfriend Merrin. Like all good mysteries we are drip fed information so that we form our own conclusions based on the evidence until the truth is revealed.

The answer to the mystery will be no shock to anyone. It is the resolution of the novel that is great though. I really expected the novel to end in a particular way, was actually hoping it would in fact, but when it didn’t I was far from disappointed. The conclusion is fitting to the story and wraps things up perfectly.

Overall, although overall I would say I prefer “NOS4R2,” “Horns” runs it close. Joe Hill is definitely my favourite new author and I can’t wait to see what he does with “the Postman” due out in 2015.

My rating: 8.9

Monday, February 24, 2014

Book Review - The Philip K Dick mega pack (JS)

The Philip K. Dick Mega pack by Philip K. Dick

Review by Jacqui Slaney

When I read science fiction exclusively, I found certain authors definitely more readable than others.

I was never fond of cold hard chunks of science loosely wrapped in a story, which when I  tried to read them always gave me a headache and left me scrabbling for the nearest reference book even when I was studying physics. These are the books that do put people off sci-fi, and when you tell them that this is what you read, you can see their eyes almost glaze over with boredom.  Too, be fair though, these books are in the minority and not reading sci-fi, means you are missing some excellent writers, of which Phillip K. Dick was definitely one.

Most people are only aware of his novels, ‘A Scanner Darkly’ and ‘Minority Report’ or the films based on his books: Blade Runner and Total Recall. However, there are a vast number of short stories, of which this collection is just a small sample.

I admit that over the years I have read a lot of PKD  stories, but have over time, mislaid the books,(I harbour dark suspicions of my brother here) so when I saw how cheap this collection I purchased it without even considering that I might have read the whole thing before. I was pleased though when I actually looked at the titles to find that some of the stories were new to me.

As in any omnibus by any author, some stories are better and stronger than others. For example, The Variable Man, The Hanging Stranger and Beyond the Door are some of my personal favourites; I guarantee that after reading Beyond the Door, you will never look at cuckoo clocks quite the same again. These are also not long stories, so happily fit into travelling reading times.

The writing styles shows the concerns of people of the time, (early 1950’s) and illustrates the paranoia and genuine fear that people had  that they would be invaded, blown up etc and though some people complain that this makes the whole writing dated and old, I do not agree.

Though the theme behind the story might be from another era, it does not detract at all from the quality of the writing itself. As a would be writer myself, I would be more than happy to be able to create some of these characters and places that become real to you in just a few pages as some of these do.

Therefore, for those who have you who have been put off science fiction as you think it is dry and dusty stuff to read, or even for those who know this author, definitely give this collection a go, trust me, you will enjoy it.

9 out of 10

Friday, February 21, 2014

Book Review - Little Girl Lost

Little Girl Lost – Brian McGilloway
This book grabbed my attention from the high praise it had received and the fact that it topped most charts on the Kindle. It always amazes me that despite having over 100 books on my shelf and virtual shelf to read, I still buy new books by authors I have never experienced.
The Blurb:
Midwinter. A child is found wandering in an ancient woodland, her hands covered in blood. But it is not her own. Unwilling - or unable - to speak, the only person she seems to trust is the young officer who rescued her, Detective Sergeant Lucy Black. Soon afterwards, DS Black is baffled to find herself suddenly moved from a high-profile case involving a kidnapping of another girl, a prominent businessman's teenage daughter. At home, Black is struggling with caring for her increasingly unstable father, and trying to avoid conflict with her frosty mother - who also happens to be the Assistant Chief Constable. As she tries to identify the unclaimed child, Black begins to realize that her case and the kidnapping may be linked by events from the grimmest days of the country's recent history, events that also defined her own trouble childhood. Little Girl Lost is a devastating crime thriller about corruption, greed, and vengeance, and a father's love for his daughter.
“Little Girl Lost” follows Lucy Black a Detective Sergeant who struggles to prove herself at work and endures her personal life at home. At work, she has moved to a new department where she is unknown and eager to make an impression. She is stoic about her connection to her mother the Assistant Chief Constable, choosing to be accepted on her own merits rather than be perceived as getting special favours.
The fact of the matter is, Lucy’s relationship with her mother is far from idyllic. It can be described as “terse” at best with Lucy blaming her mother for walking out of their family home when Lucy was younger.  This adds another layer to the uphill battle she endures. None of her co-workers are particularly nice, either being ambitious themselves or simply too laid back.
At home, she struggles to look after the increasingly alarming mental state of her father who is suffering from Alzheimer’s. McGilloway portrays the fragile health of Lucy’s father well. He is fine one minute and the next is confused and sometimes violent. It is sad to read but incredibly realistic. The only downside is that, in his confusion, Lucy’s father’s ramblings, sometime reveal convenient snippets of information that advance the plot nicely.
Lucy herself, is a sympathetic character. The empathy she shows the little girl she finds is nice and brings out her character nicely as she constantly visits the girl to follow through on the case.
When she is suddenly moved off the main investigation (the hunt for another girl) her frustration is evident. She fights against the authority but does not moan and wallow in self-pity. It helps endear the reader to her character which is good as none of the other characters are particularly memorable.
The plot is good, containing some nice twists and turns, but there is an element of having seen this kind of story before. The main revelation will not surprise anyone familiar with this genre and was telegraphed from early on in the story.
McGilloway’s main triumph is the setting. The book recalls some of the horrors that occurred in Northern Island in the 70s and it was interesting to see it through a unique perspective. Mcgilloway’s description of Derry and the surrounding areas is tight but vivid. At the end of the book McGilloway provides photos of some of the settings he based the parts of the book on and it was surprising to see how much they looked like what I had imagined.
The conclusion wraps things up nicely. As I mentioned, the main twist is a little choreographed but it does not spoil the enjoyment of the novel. I raced through this book in two days and would certainly recommend it.
My rating: 8.6

Friday, February 14, 2014

Book Review - A Cast of Stones

A Cast of Stones – Patrick W Carr
This book first came to my attention when I was vainly browsing my own. The cover and premise intrigued me, but I have to admit I was put off by the strong references to being a Christian publication. It is constantly referred to as being a bestseller in the Christian fantasy chart.
I am not sure what put me off about this. Maybe I was expecting a strong moralistic overtone or a preachy message but thankfully I got over myself and tried the book.
The blurb:
In the backwater village of Callowford, Errol Stone's search for a drink is interrupted by a church messenger who arrives with urgent missives for the hermit priest in the hills. Desperate for coin, Errol volunteers to deliver them but soon finds himself hunted by deadly assassins. Forced to flee with the priest and a small band of travellers, Errol soon learns he's joined a quest that could change the fate of his kingdom. Protected for millennia by the heirs of the first king, the kingdom's dynasty is near an end and a new king must be selected. As tension and danger mount, Errol must leave behind his drunkenness and grief, learn to fight, and come to know his God in order to survive a journey to discover his destiny.
Show Less  I find books about drunks okay but annoying. Although it is realistic to explore the floor of the drunk and their constant lapses with their demons, I often find that it is tedious and monotonous when reading it. Thankfully, Patrick W Carr seems to share this opinion too. When we meet Errol he is indeed a drunk but is able to function. He is inherently a good person and despite the desire to drink, the episodes are brushed over to concentrate on the plot.
The local farm boy developing his skills to become a big time player in the world, is certainly nothing new. However, Errol learns and improves his ability in a variety of ways and situations. It is not a case of being mentored by one individual who makes him run up 5,000 hills whilst carrying a sack full of rocks every day but is more subtle than that. Errol learns as he goes along and the people he encounters. At the start of his adventure he is forced to run more than fight.
It is a nice touch as it shows how vulnerable Errol is. Patrick W Carr also does not shy aware from Errol’s flaws. Despite admiring his friend Liam, he is also insanely jealous of him and his near perfect character. Errol is developed well and the growth his character demonstrates is believable.
Errol is joined throughout the story by a host of interesting characters who all hold onto their own secrets and lies. The most memorable of which are the farmer Rale who acts like a temporary father figure to Errol and Luis the enigmatic who is clearly much more than he seems. Both of whom I imagine will feature more in the sequels. Errol is told snippets of information but never really trusted by the others
The plot is a good one. The current King is old and his health is failing. There is no natural succession to the throne and many parties are angling to put their own contender on the throne.  Errol is able to understand casting. I won’t spoil what that is, but it is a brilliant concept and very original. It initially poses lots of continuity and logical questions but Patrick W Carr is able to answer most of them over the course of the novel.
There are some drawbacks. Errol is far from invincible, but I lost count of the amount of times he almost died throughout the novel. There were too many occasions where he work up in a bed having been nursed back from health for my liking.
The ending is not so much a conclusion but the convergence of plot threads before the next book. It is satisfying if not a little predictable.
Overall, I thoroughly recommend this debut novel. The story flows along nicely and is filled with good, likeable characters. I’ve already purchased the sequel and am looking forward to it.
My rating 8.9

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Book Review - The Vampire with the Dragon Tattoo

The Vampire with the Dragon Tattoo by J R Rain (JS)

Review by Jacqui Slaney

For a person who was never that been bothered about reading about vampires, I seemed to have read quite a few recently and though few if any of them sparkle in sunlight, I have found the majority a good read.

This is the book one in the series of the private detective Spinoza. I had previously heard about him in the Samantha Moon vampire stories, the character  needed some extra help, and the writer cleverly wrote in some of his private detectives from other stories to assist. I was intrigued by how the Spinoza character was described and so finally got round to reading this book.

This is the description:

Three years ago, high school student Veronica Fortune witnessed the brutal murder of her parents. Now armed and dangerous, she sets out to hunt down the very thing that destroyed her life.
That is, until she disappears.
Spinoza is a private investigator who specializes in finding the missing. He is good at what he does. Damn good. However, he is also a recovering alcoholic and a royal mess. Hired to find Veronica, Spinoza will not let his personal demons—or demons of any kind—get in the way of finding the truth about the missing girl.
Now following a bizarre set of clues that leads him into stranger and stranger territory, Spinoza is about to come face-to-face with something legendary...and something hungry for blood

This is a short story, which as all the ingredients were there for an intriguing book could have been much longer, and it does actually start with the feel of such, but then speeds up and suddenly you are at the end. A nicely wound up ending I will admit, but you are still left with a vague disappointment.

Spinoza is a great character; and as you read the story, you get glimpses of his past. His child dead because of his actions, a time spent in prison all of which leads him to specialise in lost children cases. 

This is such a case, although this child is nearly an adult, who is reported missing by her adoptive grandparents. I say adoptive as Veronica, the missing girl turned up at their door in rather strange circumstances. As Veronica is described to him, and as he meets the people she knows, Spinoza forms an impression that the girl is deranged due to her beliefs that she is a vampire slayer, yes I did say slayer just like Buffy, except with more blood.

The people he meets in the course of his investigation, even Spinoza’s own friends are not developed as much as you would like. I like real characters in story not just names on a page, and unfortunately many of the people mentioned in this story are just that.
Even so, to my surprise, I enjoyed this story, as I do like this author’s writing style, I would just have liked more description and detail.

7 out of 10


Friday, February 7, 2014

Book Review - Locke and Key vol 3: Crown of Shadows

Locke and Key Vol 3: Crown of Shadows– Joe Hill
I used to be a huge fan of comics. I still am, I guess but financially there was no way I can sustain the hobby. I have found that I am making the exception for Locke and Key though
The blurb:
Sam Lesser may be dead and gone, but Dodge still has uses for him, and in the first chill days of October, will make contact with him again. The dead know things the living may not, and Sam's restless spirit has had time to discover the thing Dodge wants to know most of all... where to find the key to the black door.
The third volume in the series continues to impress. It is clear the Hill is far more comfortable and confident this time round. He concentrates one character arc per comic and as a result the characterisation (which was already excellent) benefits from the slow build.
Special mention has to be made for Gabriel Rodriguez’s artwork which is exemplary and captures the mood of the writing perfectly.
Mrs Locke continues to spiral out of control as her depression begins to take over her life. Her drinking worsens and Hill is successful in transforming her from a reasonably sympathetic character to one that you start to loathe.
This feeling is also shared by her children who begin to step up and take control of their own lives more upon their realisation that their mother is not going to support them.  The way the children respond to this is fascinating.
Kinsey openly begins to despise her mother whilst Tyler the eldest sibling is a bit more pragmatic towards the situation. Hill performs a nice job of having this shift in dynamic at home impact on the kids school lives. The result is a realistic portrayal of the human psyche and makes you really care for the children. There are several tender moments included in this volume as well.
The plot itself continues to move along at a frantic pace, with more and more of the mystery behind the keys being revealed. Just when you think Hill can’t come up with anything else new and exciting, he does exactly that.
Overall, this is comic writing at its best. I can’t wait to read vol 4.
My rating 8.8

Monday, February 3, 2014

Book Review - Dark Horse (JS)

Dark Horse by JR Rain
Review by Jacqui Slaney
If you have read my previous reviews, you will know the name JR Rain from the Samantha Moon novels that I have read. They are short enjoyable books with a great central character, I had known that the writer had written many other books, but never moved beyond the Moon books, I had so many other things to read, that there never seemed to be an opportunity. Then I saw an offer of three books in one, each one the first in each of his different series and thought why not give it a go.
This is the description:
When high school student Derrick Booker, the only black student at a posh Orange County high school, is accused of killing his white girlfriend, ex-college football hero and detective Jim Knighthorse is hired to dig a little deeper into the murder. It does not take long for Knighthorse to realize that not all is as it seems at tranquil Huntington High, from a band director who preys on the innocent to a vice-principal with a secret agenda of her own. Not to mention someone has hired a professional killer to keep Knighthorse permanently off the case.
As the investigation continues, Knighthorse's personal life is shattered by the discovery of new evidence relating to his mother's unsolved murder, a murder dating back twenty years. Reeling from the discovery, a determined Jim Knighthorse sets out to bring two killers to justice

When I first started the book, I was slightly unsure as to whether I would actually like it. The main character Jim Knighthorse tells the story, and he did not seem like my cup of tea at the start. He talks a lot about his looks and how he wants to play professional football (American), a career choice that was stopped when he was younger due to a badly broken leg. However, within a page and a bit, I realised that he was funny and clever and a character that the reader can relate to.
Jim has been forced by injury to follow in his fathers footsteps despite his dislike of him to become a private detective. His father runs a large agency, whilst Jim works by himself just with the assistance of a homicide detective now and then, but has started to make a name for himself, hence why he is given the task of trying to prove the innocence of a student accused of murder. There are potential suspects galore when the investigation starts, and he soon knows he is on the right track when a hired gun, takes a pot shot at his ear, and threats are made against himself and his girlfriend. The final solution is a surprise and I must admit that I did not see it coming to close to the end of the story, so that made the whole thing very pleasing, as it is always good to be kept guessing by a murder mystery.
Jim in the course of his investigation shows that he will do what he thinks is right, and will dispense rough justice to people. One of the sub plots in the story is quite distressing and you are wholly on Jim’s side when he does what he does.
There are not many side characters in the story, but they are developed enough to give depth to the tale, the most interesting of whom is Jack, the person Jim speaks to in a burger bar. I do not want to give too much away about him, as I think it would spoil the book, just let me say it is a different idea to have him in the book. I might have liked to see some more development of the side characters like his friend Sanchez, but this is only book one, so that might come later on in the series.
This is not a very long story, the chapters are quite short which is a good trick, as it makes the reader say to them selves, well I will just read one more and then I will put the book down, and it makes you wish your journey home were longer. There are not long descriptive paragraphs to slow the plot down and the writing is entertaining and fast paced, and there are a few sub plots, not least of which is the murder of Jim’s mother when he was a child.
Therefore, despite a doubtful start, the book definitely got better, and I will definitely be looking to read more of this character.
7 out of 10