Thursday, March 27, 2014

Book Review - The Wandering Fire

The Wandering Fire - Guy Gavriel Kay

I went into the Summer Tree with high expectations and was unfortunately sorely disappointed. A third of the way through the novel I nearly gave up and although things did improve, I could not understand what all the fuss was about.

I approached the Wandering Fire with slightly more caution then.

The Blurb:

This is the second book in the Fionavar trilogy. It finds the evil Rakoth threatening the existence of Fionavar. To stop him, Kimberly Ford and her companions from Earth must summon the Warrior. But desperate measures can have desperate consequences when curses and prophecies are involved.

Before I begin I will state two things. Firstly, this is a review of the audio book and secondly, this review will be short. The reason I mention this two things as they impact on my review.
I did not enjoy the Wandering fire. I tried, I really did but it did absolutely nothing for me. 
 You know when you find yourself not really concentrating and then having to go back to the start of a paragraph and remind yourself what you have just read – that pretty much summed up my whole experience with the Wandering Fire.

The book features a comprehensive recap of the events that took place in the Summer Tree. Although I remembered parts of the first novel the recap was very much needed and highly useful. So there was no excuse for me not to be immediately engaged with the novel.
As I mentioned I was listening to the unabridged audio version of the book. However, I must stress there was nothing wrong with the narration, it certainly didn’t impede on my enjoyment of the book. I simple struggled to follow what was going on. 100 pages in and I found I was rewinding the audio book and listening to it again and again determined to concentrate and each time failing to do so. I even stopped listening and went back to good old fashioned reading – the book only marginally improved.

This is a difficult review to write, as I can’t really pinpoint what exactly I didn’t like. The characters did not grab me in anyway. I guess it didn’t help that GGK does not linger on any character for too long before drifting off to another character’s PoV.  Even the injection of Arthur as a character did little for me.

As I recall the book now, the only scene that I truly enjoyed was near the beginning at Stonehenge. I apologise for those reading this review and looking for a firm reasoning for my dislike but I cannot give it. GGK’s writing is fine – although not to my tastes. I guess it boils down to the fact that I found the characters bland and the plot rather dull.

Overall then, I will hold my hands up and acknowledge that I am in the minority but GGK it seems is not for me – which I hate as I wanted to love his books so much.

My rating: 4.5

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Book Review - The Final Empire

The Final Empire – Brandon Sanderson
There are three things that I have heard about Brandon Sanderson before reading him: 1) He is a prolific writer, 2) His magic system is excellent and 3) He is actually a very good story teller.
 His books have sat on my side for ages but it is only now that I have read and enjoyed short story by him that I have persuaded to give him a try.
 The Blurb:
For a thousand years the ash fell and no flowers bloomed. For a thousand years the Skaa slaved in misery and lived in fear. For a thousand years the Lord Ruler, the “Sliver of Infinity,” reigned with absolute power and ultimate terror, divinely invincible. Then, when hope was so long lost that not even its memory remained, a terribly scarred, heart-broken half-Skaa rediscovered it in the depths of the Lord Ruler's most hellish prison. Kelsier “snapped” and found in himself the powers of a Mistborn. A brilliant thief and natural leader, he turned his talents to the ultimate caper, with the Lord Ruler himself as the mark.
Kelsier recruited the underworld's elite, the smartest and most trustworthy allomancers, each of whom shares one of his many powers, and all of whom relish a high-stakes challenge. Only then does he reveal his ultimate dream, not just the greatest heist in history, but the downfall of the divine despot.

But even with the best criminal crew ever assembled, Kel's plan looks more like the ultimate long shot, until luck brings a ragged girl named Vin into his life. Like him, she's a half-Skaa orphan, but she's lived a much harsher life. Vin has learned to expect betrayal from everyone she meets, and gotten it. She will have to learn to trust, if Kel is to help her master powers of which she never dreamed.
I love the premise of this series. What if the chosen one had failed? It is such a simple idea but sounds so original.  The story follows two main protagonists: Vin and Kelsier.
We spend more time with Vin, a young orphaned girl who has spent her life amongst thieves doing what she must to stay alive. She is mistrustful and skilled. These attributes mean that she is exploited by her master in order to further his limited fortune.
She is easy to identify with as she constantly finds herself out of her depth in a world she doesn’t truly comprehend. Other less skilful writers could have easily mishandled the character and portrayed her as a naive and whinny, but Sanderson makes Vin likeable and the reader automatically roots for her.
By contrast Kelsier is far more arrogant and assured. Rather than a negative attribute this works in his favour as he is good humoured with it. He has power beyond most humans but these also have their limitations making vulnerable at times. Out of all the characters, Kelsier is perhaps the most complex. Sanderson slowly reveals his past to the reader and provides some insight into his motivation for wishing to overthrow the nobility. This is cleverly done as the reader is never entirely sure if they are being told the truth and are constantly second guessing the character.
There are a host of other characters who all feel more fleshed out then your average secondary roles. Elend for example is great as the unique noble out to displease his father and every turn. Then there is Sazed who is charged with looking out for Vin. He is a Yoda-esque type mentor without possessing neither the lofty position nor the same power.
Another clever facet to the plot is the chief antagonist. Sanderson keeps the identity of the supreme ruler a secret. We see very little of the man that everyone wants to overthrow and the idea is effective. The reader is desperate to know more about him and although we see elements of his power and the dominance of his excellent henchmen in the form of the Inquistors we don’t ever meet him until well into the novel.
I mentioned the magic system as something that received a lot of attention in this book. Generally I dislike magic in fantasy if it is the main focus. I especially hate it when individuals are super powered or it is used as a deus ex machine. The Final Empire is an example of where magic is prevalent but handled well. The rules are clearly defined and the reader is aware of the limitations of the characters.
The idea behind the magic system is imaginative and simple. Power is derived from ingesting different types of metals. These metals provide varying properties that enhance the way the body functions. Use too much metal and when the user runs out, their body will not be able to cope.
It is a great idea and explained well. There are no large passages where information is dumped on the reader. Instead it is all explained organically through dialogue.
Speaking of dialogue, this is another strong point. Conversations feel natural. Banter between Vin and the other members of her team is genuinely funny and it never fills as if Sanderson is trying too hard to get the message across.
The ending of the novel is brilliant. It has a suitably epic feel. This may be the first book in a quadulogy but it easily stands by itself. All the main plot elements are answered or wrapped up nicely with enough left over to make you excited for the second novel.
Overall, it is my own fault but I feel cheated that I left it this long before reading Sanderson. I loved this book and I will definitely be devouring everything he writes from now on.
My rating: 9.3

Monday, March 17, 2014

Book Review - The Explorer (JS)

The Explorer by James Smyth

I found this book, while browsing for something new to read on my Kindle, I read the description, and thought the story sounded a like ‘Alien’ and as the price tag was low, I thought it was worth a look. 

This is the description:

A tense, claustrophobic and gripping science fiction thriller from the author of The Testimony. When journalist Cormac Easton is selected to document the first manned mission into deep space, he dreams of securing his place in history as one of humanity’s great explorers. However, in space, nothing goes according to plan. The crew wake from hyper sleep to discover their captain dead in his allegedly fail-proof safety pod. They mourn, and Cormac sends a beautifully written eulogy back to Earth. The word from ground control is unequivocal: no matter what happens, the mission must continue. However, as the body count begins to rise, Cormac finds himself alone and spiralling towards his own inevitable death … unless he can do something to stop it.

This book showed me the danger of only reading product descriptions. I have done it before many times, and it has always been fine. As I said, with this one, I thought it sounded like ‘Alien’ but soon found out that I could not have been more wrong.

Without giving too much of the plot away, you have a crew of astronauts sent out on a mission to travel into space, to see things that no other human has seen. At a certain point, the ship would turn and the crew would return home.  The non-scientist on board the ship, Cormac the journalist, would send reports back to show people back home how they were all doing.  The journey starts with tragedy as when the crew awaken from their sleep, they find their Captain dead, but they journey on, determined that this will not alter anything. One by one, the rest of the crew die or are incapacitated until only Cormac is left to cope with what happens next.

Therefore, I started with big hopes of the story, but these soon faded and I found myself being bogged down and actually thought of giving up on it.  Cormac tells the story, now if you are going to have one character left in a story like then you really need to make him likeable or at least interesting. I found him annoying and as later on in the book you are told the back-story regarding his relationship with his wife, I found myself disliking him for most of the book 

Though this is a sci-fi book, do not worry about not understanding the science. If anything the science in this tale, is a little bit odd and you find yourself saying, ‘but that doesn’t make any sense at all!’ I mentioned my dislike of Cormac, well unfortunately there is also no real connection made with the rest of the crew. At first, the reader just is told the order in which they die in, then you see them through Cormac’s interviews, it is only later on in the book that they become more real and you understand what is driving Guy to do what he does. By then though I’m afraid to say that you have lost a lot of the interest that you had as a reader.

The writing through out the book is not the best, with a slow pace, and I found it monotonous at times. Once you reach the halfway point however, it does pick up, and it becomes slightly more interesting, so you find yourself going along with it, just to see what happens next so though I did think about giving up, I persevered, and am glad in a way that I did.

This is the first book I have read of this author, and I must say that after this book, I’m not inclined to read much more of his, it’s also given me a warning about just relying on product reviews.

6 out of 10

Friday, March 14, 2014

Book Review - Rats

Rats – James Herbert   

Anyone my age would know that growing up horror books were the cool thing to read. In particular there were two novels that everyone seemed to read, Stephen King’s “IT” and James Herbert’s “Rats.”

I’ve read a few novels by James Herbert and always enjoyed them with the exception of one. He is best known for his “Rats” trilogy though and so I thought it was about time I honoured his memory by reading his most famous work.

The Blurb:

It was only when the bones of the first devoured victims were discovered that the true nature and power of these swarming black creatures with their razor sharp teeth and the taste for human blood began to be realised by a panic-stricken city. For millions of years man and rats had been natural enemies. But now for the first time – suddenly, shockingly, horribly – the balance of power had shifted…

First of all this book is short. At 208 pages it positively flies by. It is also unusual in that although there is a main character in Harris, the majority of the book is comprised of introducing a character, providing a little insight into their background and then having the rats attack.

This formula shouldn’t work. I expected the novel to become very monotonous and tedious very quickly. However, the opposite happens in fact. Each attack feels different. Some are gruesome, some are almost comical but all the time the attacks advance the plot along at a frantic pace. Through the attacks we learn more and more about the rats and their sinister behaviour.

A lot of the characters Herbert introduces are very good. In a short space he makes the reader care for them. Some of them I did not want to leave and knowing this is the first book in a trilogy, I hope they will make an appearance again.

Harris is a good protagonist. As a teacher he becomes embroiled with the rats when one of his pupils is bitten. At first he is a reluctant hero, but gradually he develops over the course of the novel. He is a realist and offers a more holistic overview of the situation as opposed to the narrowed view of the government who try to address the problem without fully understanding it.

As I have already mentioned, Herbert does not hold back on his descriptions. The rats are extremely creepy and the images of gore are quite vivid. Herbert shows no prejudice over who he kills off, nor does he shy away from the description. At times I winced at the page which does not happen a lot to me.

The ending of the novel is wrapped up quite quickly. It is satisfying but not epic. I got the impression that this was more of a stopping point that a conclusion to the story and the sequel is hinted at nicely.

Overall, “Rats” is a perfect example of how a short novel can work well. It is genuinely scary in places and well written.

My rating: 9.0

Monday, March 10, 2014

Book Review - Grave Peril (JS)

Grave Peril – The Dresden Files Book 3 by Jim Butcher

Review by Jacqui Slaney

Having read and enjoyed the first two books in this series, I was pleased when this book came to the top of my too read pile and I soon found my self caught up in a tale of monsters, vampires and many ghosts.

This is the description:

Meet Harry Dresden, Chicago's first (and only) Wizard P.I. Turns out the 'everyday' world is full of strange and magical things - and most of them do not play well with humans. That is where Harry comes in. Harry has faced some terrifying foes during his career. Giant scorpions. Oversexed vampires. Psychotic werewolves. It comes with the territory when you're the only wizard in town. But in all Harry's years of supernatural sleuthing, he's never faced anything like this: the spirit world's gone loco. All over town, ghosts are causing trouble - and not the door-slamming, boo-shouting variety. These ghosts are tormented, violent, and deadly. Someone is stirring them up to wreak havoc. But why? And why do so many of the victims have ties to Harry? If Harry doesn't figure it out soon, he might just wind up a ghost himself.

Magic - it can get a guy killed.

You definitely need to have read the first two books to enjoy this story properly, as there are quite a few references to what has gone on before, especially about the incident with the werewolves. However, for those who know Harry, you will find him as good a character as ever. His relationship with the reporter Susan has become more romantic, with Harry trying to say a certain three words, but failing miserably. To be fail to him though he is slightly busy working with his friend Michael, a sword wielding Knight of God, trying to stop a ghost from killing a hospital nursery full of newborns.

In this story, you see a small glimpse into Harry’s younger life and his relationship with his Godmother, who as you would expect is a genuine fairy and not someone who you would really want to mess with. You also read about the other creatures that seem to live in this world, if live is the right word. Again I seem to have found a book stuffed full of vampires, (everything I read lately seems to have a link to them, and I keep finding films about them on the TV!) here you read about the different types- who knew there were more than one!
However, you will love to hate Marva from the black court and will like Thomas from the white court I think, whist Bianca from the Red court who the reader has met before from Book 1 is definitely to be avoided

I want to be careful not to give away any of the plot, I know how annoying reviews are that spoil what is going to happen in the book, so  just let me say that the plot line is clever, and the description of what is torturing Ghosts and humans alike is quite gruesome.

The same dry humour runs through the book, and the interaction between Harry and his ultra good friend Michael is well written.

If I have a complaint, it is because for a while at the start of the book, I thought I had somehow missed a book out. There is talk of an event that happened between the characters, which involved the police, Harry and Michael and has a direct link to this book. It is something quite major but it is just mentioned in passing so for a little while I was a bit lost and actually went back to check that this was actually book 3.

This is a small complaint, and as the story goes on, you do find out a bit more about it, the other small annoyance is Harry’s use of the phrase ‘ Hells Bell’s’ , which after a while grated slightly on me. 

These are just minor things, and do not detract from the overall enjoyment of the book at all.

8 out of 10

Friday, March 7, 2014

Book Review - Last to die

Last to Die – Tess Gerritsen

Ten books in and despite reading scores of books every year, I still am first in line to purchase a new Rizzoli and Isles book. Of course, the fact that I never get round to reading the book until much later when it is greatly reduced in price is rather stupid in terms of my financial situation. Still, I believe in supporting my favourite authors.

The Blurb:

For the second time in his short life, Teddy Clock has survived a massacre. Two years ago, he barely escaped when his entire family was slaughtered. Now, at fourteen, in a hideous echo of the past, Teddy is the lone survivor of his foster family's mass murder. Orphaned once more, the traumatized teenager has nowhere to turn - until the Boston PD puts detective Jane Rizzoli on the case. But no sooner does her investigation begin than Teddy's life almost ends . . . again. Suddenly, what seemed like a grisly coincidence is unmasked as the mission of a relentless killer.

Jane spirits Teddy to the exclusive Evensong boarding school, a sanctuary where young victims of violent crime learn the secrets and skills of survival in a dangerous world. But even behind locked gates, and surrounded by acres of sheltering Maine wilderness, Jane fears that Evensong's mysterious benefactors aren't the only ones watching. When strange blood-splattered dolls are found dangling from a tree, Jane knows that her instincts are dead on. And when she meets Will Kennedy and Claire Ward, students whose tragic pasts bear a shocking resemblance to Teddy's, it becomes chillingly clear that a circling predator has more than one victim in mind.

Joining forces with her trusted partner, medical examiner Maura Isles, Jane is determined to keep these orphans safe from harm. But an unspeakable secret dooms the children's fate - unless Jane and Maura can finally put an end to an obsessed killer's twisted quest.
“Last to Die” sees the return of one of my favourite factions in the series in the Mephisto Club. It is a society that believes evil as an entity exists and they are out to thwart it.
The plot focuses on the lives of three children who have all lost their parents whilst surviving the incidents themselves. Two years later they also survive successful attacks on their guardians.

Jane Rizzoli and Maura Isles are determined to find the link between the three cases despite the geographical spread of the incidents.

This novel sees a slightly more gentle Maura Isles. Having adopted a boy who she survived an ordeal herself with, she is far more compassionate towards the fate of the three children. The “Ice Queen” is replaced by a more caring woman who is tired of Boston and how others regard her. The Police force still hold her in contempt for the fact that she testified against one of her own and Maura is determined not to put up with the turmoil in her life any longer.

Jane Rizzoli is as tenacious as ever. She knows there is a link in the cases and even when others are happy to close down the investigation she cannot let it go. Her determination sees Jane go behind her bosses back and incur his wrath. It is an interesting situation as she is placed under pressure not just to solve the case before the killer can strike again but also has a time constraint to get a result before her boss discovers what she is doing.
We also see a more remorseful Jane. She is guilty of blaming Maura for doing the right thing and it is quite touching to see how upset she becomes at the thought of losing her friend.

The points of view of the children who are the victims are all well portrayed. Each has their own angst and insecurities and you are never quite sure if they are reliable narrators or not.
As with all stories in this series the plot weaves and bobs throwing in red herring after red herring. I will say one thing for Tess Gerritsen, if any other author tried to implement a plot element so outlandish that it verged on ridiculous then I would be angry. With Tess though, the idea just made me excited.

If there is a weakness, it is that throughout the novel, Tess provides a random point of view from a character reliving the past. These snippets of information are okay, but they clearly sign post what is behind all the killings. There is a little twist at the end, but I feel the novel would have been stronger without these passages.

The end of the novel is filled with the tension you come to expect from Tess. In some books the conclusion is wrapped up in a page or two, in this novel the tension mounts nicely and the end sequence is well handled, drawn out and exciting.

Overall, this is a great entry into the series. Tess Gerritsen is one author that has not suffered a dip in my opinion. Roll on the next entry.

My rating: 8.9