Thursday, May 29, 2014

Book Review - Valdez is Coming

Valdez is Coming – Elmore Leonard

I love Westerns but usually in film format. I don’t know why, I guess it is because there just not seem to be an abundance of choice in the genre. Lately I have been keen to correct my ignorance on this subject. What better way than to start with Elmore Leonard?

The Blurb:

They laughed at Roberto Valdez and then ignored him. But when a dark-skinned man was holed up in a shack with a gun, they sent the part-time town constable to deal with the problem -- and made sure he had no choice but to gun the fugitive down. Trouble was, Valdez killed an innocent man. And when he asked for justice -- and some money for the dead man's woman -- they beat Valdez and tied him to a cross. They were still laughing when Valdez came back. And then they began to die...

“Valdez is Coming” is a short book with a plot you’ve seen a million times before - A sheriff who is involved in an injustice and then is determined to make things right. On paper it should be bland, in reality though it is a terrific book.

Leonard’s writing is clipped and perfunctory. I happened to read an interview where he said he does not believe in lots of description but believes characters and dialogue are what drive a story. This is certainly evident here.

Valdez is an excellent character. Again he is nothing we haven’t seen before. He is the strong stoic type who has a firm moral compass but oozes a sense of coolness. He appears unflappable when confronted with situations most men would cower at. At the same time he never comes across as impervious. He possesses a certain vulnerability that distinguishes him from most heroes. I am not talking about a weakness in his personality such as a drinking problem or prone to outbursts of violence but just an everyday exposure that we all have. It makes him likeable.

The other characters are also strong. From Tanner the main antagonist who is suitably malicious to Inez his loyal friend. Every character is someone that could easily captivate the reader’s attention for the whole book.

As I mentioned the plot is simple but that does not stop it being effective. There are enough twists and turns to keep you guessing the outcome. Speaking of which the ending is terrific. It is abrupt, which is apparently a trade mark of Lenard’s but it is all the better for it. Some might complain it does not bring complete resolution but to me it does if not explicitly.

Overall, “Valdez is coming,” is a terrific read. It is fun, fast-paced but serious. I will definitely be reading more from Lenard.

My rating: 8.8

Monday, May 26, 2014

Book Review - Ghostwalker (JS)

Ghostwalker by Ben Cassidy

Review by Jacqui Slaney

I was looking for a new book to read and came across this one on the Kindle, the description sounded readable, and it was free, so I thought why not try it.

This is the description:

Kendril is a Ghostwalker, a man who is dead to his former life and bound by a solemn vow to seek penance for some mysterious dark sin in his past. When a chance encounter in the forest leads him to inadvertently rescue a woman named Jade, a woman who claims not to remember anything about who she is or what has happened to her, Kendril becomes her reluctant guardian.

However, after a gang of ruthless bounty hunters comes after Jade, Kendril finds himself thrown into a deadly game of cat and mouse where one wrong step will be his last. Now he must use every ounce of daring and cunning he has to escape with his life and to protect the woman he is growing to love, a woman with no past.

However, can he trust Jade, or will her secrets lead to his undoing?

A mysterious stranger rescues a beautiful damsel in distress, overcoming all obstacles to do so.
Lots of action, so must be great to read, yes? Hooked on every page?

Well, it should be, and at times, I did find myself caught up with the story, but I found myself more than anything critical of the characters.
The character of Jade for instance, she awakes in a forest and has no memory of who she is, where she comes from. A man is with her and a dead body. She immediately trusts this man, Kendril   implicitly. The two then travel through the forest to a town, where she meets another man, Maklavir and immediately trusts him as well with her story. To me this was a touch unbelievable to say the least.

I quite liked Kendril the mysterious Ghostwalker, and you really want to know much more about him, Maklavir seems to have been thrown in for comic value.

The bounty hunters are not really developed, Montrose, is the leader and the best, the rest are quite one dimensional and seem to be just thrown into the fights for Kendril to kill

The story goes on with the two men protecting Jade against the attacks of bounty hunters who want her for a nobleman who hides away in the background. I worked out quite early on who Jade would turn out to be, so the ending of the book was not a surprise although quite nicely done.

The book is not long and is not a bad read if you are looking for something to fill the time, this is the first in the series and I may look at the next one, to see if there is more to this story, as for me, this one needs more meat on its bones.

6 out of 10

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Book Review: S. - Doug Dorst & J J Abrams

S – Doug Dorst & J J Abrams

It wasn’t everyone’s cup of tea but I loved Lost. Sometimes it made no sense and often you wondered if there was a destination for the convoluted plot but I loved the characters and loved the surprising “cool” moments such as the sudden glimpse of Jacob, the random black smoke or the awesome statue that the survivors come across.

The premise to this book sounded great and original. What is not exiting about a mystery within a mystery? A story that has other people trying to solve the conspiracy held within the words sounded amazing.

The blurb:

One book. Two readers. A world of mystery, menace and desire
A young woman picks up a book left behind by a stranger. Inside it are his margin notes, which reveal a reader entranced by the story and by its mysterious author. She responds with notes of her own, leaving the book for the stranger, and so begins an unlikely conversation that plunges them both into the unknown.

THE BOOK: Ship of Theseus, the final novel by a prolific but enigmatic writer named V. M. Straka, in which a man with no past is shanghaied onto a strange ship with a monstrous crew and launched on a disorienting and perilous journey.

THE WRITER: Straka, the incendiary and secretive subject of one of the world's greatest mysteries, a revolutionary about whom the world knows nothing apart from the words he wrote and the rumours that swirl around him.

THE READERS: Jennifer and Eric, a college senior and a disgraced grad student, both facing crucial decisions about who they are, who they might become, and how much they're willing to trust another person with their passions, hurts and fears.

S., conceived by filmmaker J.J. Abrams and written by award-winning novelist Doug Dorst, is the chronicle of two readers finding each other in the margins of a book and enmeshing themselves in a deadly struggle between forces they don't understand. It is also Abrams and Dorst's love letter to the written word.

Before I get into any kind of review, this was a difficult book to know how to read. There is the main story, the footnotes and then the notes scribbled in the margin. Generally I hate footnotes in stories unless they are comical. I can never resist reading them and they automatically disrupt the flow of the story.

With S. I tried several different ways of reading the book but by the end I did not find one that made me feel comfortable. For example, I tried just reading a chapter first and then going back and reading the notes in the margin. This is probably the best method but I still struggled with it. The chapters are long and so by the time you read what Jen and Eric (the two people discussing the book’s content) are referring to, you have forgotten it and have to reread the paragraph it relates it. I therefore tried to wait for a natural break within the chapter and then go back and read the notes. This helped with remembering the text but affected the flow of the story.

Everyone will have their own preference I just hope you have more success than me. So let’s start with the story. The plot focuses on the character of S. He awakes and has no idea who he is or what his past is like. He meets a girl briefly who seems to know him before he is shanghaied. He is then determined to locate said girl for answers.

The opening chapters are great. As the plot unfolds, it is clear that there is more to the world that S. Inhabits that meets the eye. Strange things happen that verge on the Supernatural and a larger conspiracy slowly unfolds. What is also intriguing is because S does not remember anything we also do not know what side he should be on.

As a starting point then the premise is fantastic. Unfortunately the story never reaches its potential. Each chapter brings a new event in S’s life. He is dropped into a situation and has a mission to accomplish. The mission’s objective is not always clear and half the time S does not seem too bothered to find out. Characters drop in and out of the book with no real consistency and so it is very difficult to grow attached to them. Even S remains so vague that he becomes frustrating. At some point he accepts his role but there is never a point that explains why he does or why he is no longer bothered about finding out whom he is or who the girl was at the start of the novel.

There are constants for example S always returns to the ship he was abducted on and there is also his nemesis Vevoda but again there are more mysteries than answers. Unlike “Lost” I found this frustrating as the characters were not good enough to sustain my interest. I understand why the characters are deliberately kept vague but sometimes I wish that the overall concept did not impact on what could have been a terrific book.

Moving on to Jen and Eric - the characters in the margins. Both Jen and Eric are consumed with finding out the identity of the author of the book. The name of the author is Straka and the book in question is the “Ship of Theseus” but that is all that is known. Straka has remained a mystery to scholars all around the world and has led to much speculation.

Eric is a disgraced teacher and Jen is a student about to graduate providing she obtains the grades she requires. Both of them have a clear affection for Straka and are very knowledgeable. The distinction between the two characters is clear. Eric writes in capitals whilst Jen writes in cursive handwriting. Although this is sometimes hard to interpret the attention to detail in the book is phenomenal. Besides their notes, the book also contains several attachments: photos, letters, maps and newspapers clippings. All are all found hidden within the pages. If I am honest, most of these add little to the plot, but it all adds to the mystery element of the novel.

A lot of the notes refer to other texts that the reader is not supposed to know about. Although this too can be frustrating it all adds to the world building. Where the book does excel is when Jen and Eric banter between themselves. It is fascinating to watch their relationship develop amongst their musings. Eric is the more cynical of the two whilst Jen swings from carefree to a little whiney.

As the two uncover more information more of their past is revealed. On top of this both are paranoid that there is a large conspiracy at foot and are in fear for their lives. Whilst the sense of danger they try to convey never really comes of, they are both well rounded and interesting characters and Dorst does a good job of making you despise the other characters they discuss even though we never meet them.

There is also F X Caldeira who claims to translate for Straka and it is her footnotes that occupy the book. I found these largely redundant and only served to muddy the plot although each is said to contain a clue.

After pages of speculation the book comes to a close. In terms of the story the conclusion is rather Luke warm.  The showdown with Vevoda is particularly disappointing made worse by the fact that you never really get a sense of who he is.

In regard to the mystery, well I was none the wiser by the end of the book. The conversation between Jen and Eric petered out and there was no real lack of urgency. A lot of the conversations were colour coded to denote different times they had written them but if I’m honest, I do not feel the urge to figure it all out. I cheated and went on the internet.

Overall, I would not say S is a joy to read but it is a brave and wholly original concept that almost succeeds. Whilst I might not have been totally immersed in the book, I was intrigued and enjoyed my time reading the novel which is a thing of beauty.

My rating: 7.1

Monday, May 19, 2014

Book Review - Summer Knight (JS)

Summer Knight by Jim Butcher Book 4 Dresden Files

Review by Jacqui Slaney

If you have read my previous reviews on this writer, you will know how much
I have enjoyed his previous novels. So with yet more time on my hands sitting round hospitals, it was no hardship to know what the next book I was going to add to my Kindle.

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. Since his girlfriend left town to deal with her newly acquired taste for blood, Harry has been down and out. He cannot pay his rent. He is alienating his friends. He cannot recall his last shower. Then when things are at their worst, the Winter Queen of Faerie saunters in with an offer Harry cannot refuse. All he has to do is find out who murdered the Summer Knight, the Summer Queen's right-hand man, and clear the Winter Queen's name. It seems simple, but Faerie politics seldom work out that way. Then Harry discovers the fate of the entire world rests on this case. So no pressure . ..  Magic - it can get a guy killed
In this book, Harry is forced into investigating a murder, in fact the murder of the Summer Knight of the book title. To human authorities it looks like an accidental fall down the stairs, but apparently it is murder and the accused is none other than the faerie Winter Queen. She is supposed to have also taken the Knights power, which has led to an imbalance and if the accusation if not disproved will cause a war between the two Faerie Courts – summer and winter. The fallout from that could destroy at the very least Chicago. That is enough for anyone, but then you have the added problem of the war with the Red Court and the White Council who seem to want to throw Harry to the vampires to try to stop the war. On top of all that you have a ghoul, a plant monster and an ogre out for his blood, so busy times would seem are ahead for Harry.

These books have been good right from the start, but some rough edges have been smoothed out as the series has gone on, and now in this fourth book, I can honestly say that Harry Dresden is one of my all time favourite characters ( apart from his use of his favourite curse- ‘Hells Bell’ which does grate). Even when things are looking at the worst for him, and you are at a serious point of the story, you can still laugh at something that he does or says. His use of Latin at the White Council meeting is just excellent for example.

You can emphasise with him as well, he such a well written character you can feel the pain that he is going through with the situation with his girl friend Susan, which happened in the last book and he is still blaming himself for.

Murphy as well has developed as the story has gone on; she has changed from a side character that just uses Harry as an aide to her investigations to the one person that Harry can rely on no matter what.
In the last book, she was hurt, and this frailty is continued in this story, but to me this makes her a more rounded, more interesting character, I really like her and the banter between them comes across as natural.

There are other good characters, the werewolf pack from an earlier book are here, older and trying to help Harry, and Meryl the Changeling, who gives the reader a great insight into how Harry is viewed by outsiders, such as the faeries, vampires and the other wizards themselves.

There is lots going on in this book, so there is enough action for anyone and the ending is well written and neatly done.
I would thoroughly recommend this book and series but do read them in order, as otherwise you will get confused at references to earlier occurrences, I myself have the satisfaction that there are quite a few books to go and am looking forward to reading them all.

9 out of 10

Saturday, May 17, 2014

I have a new book out

Pewtory the Lesser Bard now on sale (link below)

Hello out there? Can anyone here me? It is Rob Donovan here. No, not the Rob Donovan that posts hundreds of reviews but the Rob Donovan that also started this blog to talk about his writing. Remember him? Well his back.

Okay so that was a convoluted way to say I am sorry for not posting an update for a while. So what have I been doing these past few months? The usual things most of us call life. The dog has been ill, both kids had the chicken pox, I had an operation and I was also promised a promotion that didn’t quite work out. Alongside birthdays for most of the family, first days at nursery and starting a new job I have been a tad busy.

But that does not mean I have not been productive. As you can see from the picture below, today sees the launch of Pewtory the Lesser Bard.

Remember last year when I started posting a chapter at a time on this blog with the intention of producing a serialised short story? Well that short story grew into a novella and that novella morphed into a novel. At 53,000 words it is far bigger than I had anticipated.
Having said that, I loved every minute spent with Pewtory the Lesser Bard. I found him a great character and one I might revisit one day.

What about book 2 I hear you cry?

I am still working on the first draft of the second book and it is going well. In fact I am close to finishing it. I have five chapters left to write. Normally I average about a chapter a week at the moment but with Pewtory now out of the way, this should increase. I have also spent quite a lot of time clearing up plot holes so that the book makes sense. It is far from done but I love what I have written so far. I also finally have a title for the book:

The Stones of Sorrow

I will post more updates on the Stones of Sorrow in the coming months but at over 200,000 words it is by far the biggest book I have written.

I hope you enjoy Pewtory the Lesser Bard.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Book Review - Wolf

Wolf – Mo Hayder

Mo Hayder is one of my all time favourites. As much as I enjoy the Jack Caffrey series, I have to admit that it sometimes lacks direction. He started off at a standard detective who was haunted by an incident in his past. He then moved out of London and the series became known as the “Travelling Man.” This involved Caffrey conversing regularly with a vagrant who seemed to have a lot of answers. The series also introduced Flea Marley who was a welcome addition. Over the last few novels, the series dropped the “Travelling man” moniker and the vagrant featured less prominently. Rather than this all be a natural evolution in the series, it seemed like the series had several new starts.

The Blurb:

I believe, from what I can hear, that either my daughter or my wife has just been attacked. I don't know the outcome. The house is silent.

Fourteen years ago two teenage lovers were brutally murdered in a patch of remote woodland. The prime suspect confessed to the crimes and was imprisoned.

Now, one family is still trying to put the memory of the killings behind them. But at their isolated hilltop house . . . the nightmare is about to return.
My reviews all follow the same format for a reason. The opening paragraph gives you an insight as to how I am feeling towards the book I am about to read. This is to help you understand my state of mind as I read the book. I am pleased I highlighted this above because it seemed Mo Hayder felt the same. Where I thought the Jack Caffrey series lacked direction “Wolf” refocuses the series whilst acknowledging all that had come before.

“Wolf” sees Jack Caffrey disillusioned with his life and assessing his priorities. He is haunted still by the unsolved disappearance of his brother Ewan and is determined to remedy the gaping void this leaves in his life. This decision sees him evaluate his life and revisit past evidence. It is the perfect solution to what the series needed.

However despite this much needed injection of impetus for a long period Jack does not feature in this novel. After an excellent opening chapter, the book focussed on a rich family who are held hostage in their home. The book is unique in that it is told from the point of view of all five individuals involved in the situation.

The two aggressors are portrayed in a realistic manner and come across as fallible. It is nice to see as normally the antagonists are quite cartoonish. Whilst they appear efficient to the family they are terrorising when we are shown what is going on in their own heads, we get to see how insecure and uneasy they are of the situation and of each other.

Oliver the father is perhaps the best portrayed of the victims. He has a heart problem and not only has to contend with the fear of his family’s safety but also worry about his own body betraying him. He decides to concentrate his time on imagining the detective that will find him and how he can help him solve the crime.

Jack’s inevitable involvement in the plot is compelling and it is good to see him with a strong purpose for a change. He has always been tenacious and determined but now he has a focus in his personal life that makes him easier to like.

Inevitably the two plots meet but Mo Hayder does an excellent job of letting keeping the threads apart. It works well as we experience Caffrey’s frustration at following a tenuous lead based on the limited information the Walking Man provides him. This spills over and we get to witness Jack experience a different emotion towards the Walking Man other than respect. It also allows the hostage thread to breathe and develop organically which it definitely benefits from.

The ending is fantastic. Mo Hayder’s novels are always engrossing but the twists and turns in this one are superb. I always mention Hayder’s ability to leave her novels on a chilling note. Two of the previous books in the series have endings that have stayed with me for a long time. This one rivals both of them.

All in all, “Wolf” is a fantastic novel and sees Hayder at the very top of her game. The series is pulled together nicely and is concluded in a satisfying way so the next one can start a fresh.

My rating: 9.3

Monday, May 12, 2014

Book Review: The Lies of Locke Lamora (Re-read JS)

The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch (reread)

Review by Jacqui Slaney

With the recent publication of book 3 of this series, I thought I would refresh my memory of the characters and revisit the first two books before starting on the new one.

It had been a while since I had read about Locke and his friends, so hoped that my reread would not disappoint.

This is the description:

They say that the Thorn of Camorr can beat anyone in a fight. They say he steals from the rich and gives to the poor. They say he is part man, part myth, and mostly street-corner rumour. And they are wrong on every count. Only averagely tall, slender, and god-awful with a sword, Locke Lamora is the fabled Thorn, and the greatest weapons at his disposal are his wit and cunning. He steals from the rich - they are the only ones worth stealing from - but the poor can go steal for themselves. What Locke cons, wheedles and tricks into his possession is strictly for him and his band of fellow con artists and thieves: the Gentleman Bastards. Together their domain is the city of Camorr. Built of Elderglass by a race no-one remembers, it's a city of shifting revels, filthy canals, baroque palaces and crowded cemeteries. Home to Dons, merchants, soldiers, beggars, cripples, and feral children. And to Capa Barsavi, the criminal mastermind who runs the city. But there are whispers of a challenge to the Capa's power. A challenge from a man no one has ever seen, a man no blade can touch. The Grey King is coming. A man would be well advised not to be caught between Capa Barsavi and the Grey King. Even such a master of the sword as the Thorn of Camorr. As for Locke Lamora . . .

Within a few pages into my reread, I soon remembered why I had liked this book so much. This is a debut novel which could have been a creation of a writer with years of experience, as the world that the reader is taken too is so complete and the characters so real.

This is a medieval world spiced with alchemy and bonds mage magic, but all cleverly handled and not overly done at all. The way everything is described, makes the world more real, as I have said in the past, passage on passage of descriptive writing can be detrimental to the plot with the reader crying out for some action. Here though there is no such problem, the world is built layer by skilful layer with no indigestible clumps of description and there is action enough for the most avid fan.  The Camorr criminal underworld is described well and the Capa who is the head of it all, has a method of seeking information not for the faint hearted.

Locke himself is a great creation, he is brilliant, cunning and arrogant, sure of his own abilities. You are shown his childhood and his growth into the Thief of Camorr by clever flashbacks. Sometimes these are used in books and are distracting to the main story, here though they add another layer to the characters as they flesh them out and make them more real.  I thoroughly enjoyed reading about Jean’s training and the start of his friendship with Locke, who suddenly found out to his surprise that he was not quite as smart as he thought he was, and the formation of the Gentleman Bastards by Chains.

There of two main plot lines to this story, there is an extremely elaborate scam that Locke and his band are running which will bring them in a large haul of money. The other is about a power struggle that starts between the Capa and a mysterious figure called the Grey King; this turns very bloody and threatens not only the Gentleman Bastards swindle but their lives as well.

As you can probably tell, I really enjoyed everything about this book, I did think that my memory had played tricks and that maybe my rereading of the tale would show the faults that I had missed the first time round, but no, this is a polished article that I would recommend.

Though there is darkness in the story, with a fair amount of blood and death, there is humour too that makes the story fun to read, and I cannot wait now to re read the next.

10 out of 10

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Book Review - The Truth About Pretty Girls

The Truth About Pretty Girls - Karin Slaughter

Karin Slaughter's crime novels are easily amongst my favourites, however with the exception of one Will Trent novella her short stories are not on the same level. That is not to say I haven't enjoyed them though.

The blurb:

43-year-old Jude Hanson returns home to Poulet and her mother - the Georgia mountain town she grew up in and the woman she hoped never to see again.

This novel focuses on the character of Jude as she recalls her life whilst driving to an unknown destination.

There is no plot so to speak but instead we are briefly treated to the workings of a woman's mind as she reviews her life choices and regards them.

Jude is a compelling character. Whilst it is clear from her actions that she is not an overly nice individual, she is compelling. It is also hard not to sympathise with her given her past and the decisions she has made as a result.

Unfortunately although this snapshot is interesting, there is nothing really to this story and so there is not too much that can be said about it.

The whole story is devised to set up to a rather like warm ending. It is touching but far from satisfying.

Overall, good enough as a short story but certainly nothing to rave about.

My rating: 6.7

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Book Review - The Hitch-Hikers guide to the galaxy

The Hitch-Hikers guide to the galaxy - Douglas Adams

Regular viewers of this blog will know that whilst I enjoy the likes of Terry Pratchett it is only in limited doses and I have to be in the mood for the genre.

Despite being hugely popular, I was never that interested in giving this book a try but my brother in law went on about it so much this at I relented to shut him up more than anything.

The blurb:

When Earth is destroyed to make way for a Hyperspatial express route, Arthur Dent discovers that space is big, as he is taken on a hair-raising tour of the Galaxy and its very strange inhabitants, by his friend Ford Perfect.

This book can be summed up using two words: short and daft. I say that with a lot of affection though. It is never too daft and the length is perfect. Anything longer and the plot would have become a little too silly (if that is possible).

The book focuses on Adam. A man that does not lead a particularly editing life but is content nonetheless. That is until a) he learns that his house is to be demolished and b) the earth is about to be destroyed.

It may sound tedious but Arthur's realistic outlook and ability to question the absurdity of each situation is brilliant provides an affable charm that is endearing.

What follows is a series of increasingly outlandish events that become more and more ludicrous. The one constant? They are also damn funny.

Douglas Adams takes familiar issues that many a serious sci-fi novel has tackled and flips them on their head. Cynical hero not that interested in anything? Check. Megalomaniac who is slightly confused? Check. Sulky and paranoid android? Check.

There is little point in taking about the plot as although there is one, the novel is really a series of events that Arthur is thrown into and somehow must survive.

The ending does establish an opening for a sequel but there is no real resolution (nor is there one required). As much as I enjoyed this novel for what it was, I do not feel any need to read the sequel in a hurry. Besides now I already know the answer to the ultimate question in the universe!

Overall, the Hitchhiker guide to the galaxy is silly, lacking in any depth but also extremely charming and very funny.

My rating: 8.5