Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harness

Review by Jacqui Slaney

Have you ever seen a title of a film or TV series and think, ‘I know that story’.
I was like that when I saw ‘Discovery of witches’ advertised, I saw a few trailers and kept saying to myself I must have read the book, this story seems so familiar.

It turned out in the end, that I hadn’t read it at all, it was just one of those books that I had looked into, meant to get it, but never got round to actually buying the thing. After watching the first episode though it gave me the push to buy the book, and then I stopped watching the TV show as I wanted to read the book first before seeing the changes the TV had made.

The Blurb:
A world of witches, daemons and vampires.
A manuscript which holds the secrets of their past and the key to their future.
Diana and Matthew - the forbidden love at the heart of it.
When historian Diana Bishop opens an alchemical manuscript in the Bodleian Library, it's an unwelcome intrusion of magic into her carefully ordered life. Though Diana is a witch of impeccable lineage, the violent death of her parents while she was still a child convinced her that human fear is more potent than any witchcraft. Now Diana has unwittingly exposed herself to a world she's kept at bay for years; one of powerful witches, creative, destructive daemons and long-lived vampires.
Sensing the significance of Diana's discovery, the creatures gather in Oxford, among them the enigmatic Matthew Clairmont, a vampire geneticist.
Diana is inexplicably drawn to Matthew and, in a shadowy world of half-truths and old enmities, ties herself to him without fully understanding the ancient line they are crossing. As they begin to unlock the secrets of the manuscript and their feelings for each other deepen, so the fragile balance of peace unravels...
The story starts with a witch called Diana researching history in the Oxford university library, and who meets a vampire called Matthew who is interested in a book she has called up to read. Interesting you might say, but hardly riveting stuff.

Just to give you a little more detail then, just to see if I can catch your interest- Diana is trying not to use her magic due to things that happened in her family. The vampire is a highly respected doctor, and the Oxford Library is suddenly full of daemons and not so friendly witches and vampires all of whom are interested in the book that Diana had.

As the story rolls on, the relationship between Diana and Matthew grows and develops, don’t worry, this isn’t a grown up version of twilight, there are no sparkly vampires here, far from it.

This relationship is forbidden and breaks all the laws of their world, they are warned and so it ultimately leads to conflict, violence and danger for not only them but their families as well, they realise though that the conflict has been coming and it’s not just about them.

All through the story though, the book that Diana called up for her research is the keystone, the mystery that has to be broken to help save them all.

The writing is good and it is easy to get caught up with the characters, all of them are well described, even the supporting cast.

Reading other reviews, people complain about Diana swooning and fainting all over the place- to be honest- I must have missed that, as it didn’t register as a complaint with me.

If I was going to pick holes I could say that the regular references to cold skin against warm and the continued mention of how things smell- as all vampires have an incredible sense of smell can be a little trying, but when I got caught up in the story even they stopped annoying me. Diana started off annoying me, but as her character develops you understand what drives her.

I liked the book a lot, it was easy to get lost in, certain scenes are well handled- Matthew hunting, the description of Diana’s house in Salem with all her family ghosts,- the scene with the Norwegian witch ( I will not go into detail about this bit, but when you get there, you will understand) Diana’s memories of her mother that helped her fly.

I could go on, even writing about those few scenes I want to mention the yoga class and more but I must leave other readers to make their own mind.

I should warn perhaps there is some violence in places, after all this is a story about witches and vampires and they don’t get on!

I hope I have tweaked your interest, I liked this book so much I went and bought the next two, and in my opinion it’s definitely worth a read.

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

C J Sansom – Revelation

Over the last decade Historical Fiction has rivalled Fantasy and Crime for my favourite genre. Bernard Cornwell has been the primary source of this love but Robert McCammon’s Matthew Corbett series has been the standout. C J Samson is fast joining those ranks however. This is the 4th book in his Matthew Shardlark series set in Tudor times, which has been excellent to date.

The Blurb:

It is spring, 1543 and King Henry VIII is wooing Lady Catherine Parr, whom he wants for his sixth wife — but this time the object of his affections is resisting. Archbishop Cranmer and the embattled Protestant faction at court are watching keenly, for Lady Catherine is known to have reformist sympathies.

Matthew Shardlake, meanwhile, is working on the case of a teenage boy, a religious maniac who has been placed by the King's council in the Bedlam hospital for the insane. Should he be released as his parents want, when his terrifying actions could lead to him being burned as a heretic?

Then, when an old friend is horrifically murdered, Shardlake promises his widow — for whom he has long had complicated feelings — to bring the killer to justice. His search leads him to connections not only with the boy in Bedlam, but with Archbishop Cranmer and Catherine Parr, and with the dark prophecies of the Book of Revelation.

As London's Bishop Bonner prepares a purge of Protestants, Shardlake, together with his assistant Jack Barak and his friend Guy Malton, follow the trail of a series of horrific murders that shake them to the core. Murders which are already bringing about frenzied talk of witchcraft and a demonic possession, for what else would the Tudor mind make of a serial killer?

Days to read: 58

Opening line: The high chandeliers in the Great Hall of Lincoln’s Inn were ablaze with candles, for it was late afternoon when the play began.

I’ve said it many times before and I never grow tired of saying it. No matter how exciting a book is, no matter how many twists and turns the plot takes, it is always the characters which elevate a novel to greatness. In Matthew Shardlake and his supporting cast, Sansom has created a set of characters which engage the reader and makes you care for them.
Revelation starts a little slowly if I am honest. That is not to say it is not enjoyable, it just takes a little while for the plot to establish itself and its direction. Matthew dallies a little with the Adam, a teenage boy placed in Bedlam for his obsession over praying but at the same time one of his good friends is murder. Neither plot seems to go anyway for a little while before all of a sudden another murder occurs and a connection is made hinting at serial killer.

From this moment the story never looks back and whisks you along in a battle of minds between Matthew and the mysterious killer. I say “whisks” at 623 pages this is a hefty novel but the pace and the enjoyment level of the story means it flies by (yes, I know it took me a long time to read but that is because I now have three kids, a dog and no commute to read on).

Matthew is as righteous as ever, but there is also a steel to him where he is not afraid to speak out against injustice. His authoritative voice when dealing with the guards at Bedlam make it clear he is a respected lawyer that carries some weight to his actions.  The best thing about Matthew is that his main weapon is his brain. Afflicted with a crookback he is severely limited to the more physical exertions of the job. Samson handles this disability expertly, he demonstrates the limitations Matthew has but never describes it as a hindrance.   

Aside from Matthew, the secondary characters all have interesting plots which are intriguing. Jack Barak struggles with his marriage to Tamasin as the pair attempt to overcome the loss of their baby, Barak also struggles with the nature of the killings which is refreshing as normally Matthew’s assistant is unflappable. 

Guy also has a new assistant who Matthew immediately does not trust. This adds a sense of conflict between Matthew and Guy which we haven’t seen before.  Both plots are great and serve to add pressure on Matthew as he is clearly affected by what is going on with both friendships.

It would be remiss not to mention the setting. Tudor London is brought to life complete with all it’s grime, disease and begging. The backdrop of King Henry’s proposal to Catherine Parr along with the conflict with the radicals serve as a fantastic backdrop whilst Bedlam is described as suitably horrific whilst at the same time possessing an element of light and goodness.

The killings are inventive and horrific and although I can’t say I was massively surprised by the reveal of the killer, I can’t say I was 100% confident in my suspicions. Add to that the comic element of Bealknap and the gravitas of Lord Hertford, this is one of the best entries into the series.

My rating: 9.2

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

I’ve read most of Joe Hill’s novels. Like the majority of people, I was intrigued by his full debut novel, Heart Shaped Box and liked it a lot. His follow-up novel Horns had a premise which sounded terrible but was actually really enjoyable. It was NOS4R2 which really made me sit up and take notice though. I thought that was an excellent book. The Fireman promised to be his magnus opus and whilst I enjoyed it, I was a little disappointed if truth be told. 

I have never read his short story collection 20th Century Ghosts but have heard a lot of good things about it. I have however read his collaboration with his father In the tall grass which I loved and I also really enjoyed his comic Locke and Key.

So it was with an open mind that I approached his new collection of novellas:

The Blurb:
One autumnal day in Boulder, Colorado, the clouds open up in a downpour of nails, splinters of bright crystal that tear apart anyone who isn't safely under cover. 'Rain' explores this escalating apocalyptic event, as clouds of nails spread out across the country and the world. Amidst the chaos, a girl studying law enforcement takes it upon herself to resolve a series of almost trivial mysteries . . . apparently harmless puzzles that turn out to have lethal answers.

In 'Loaded' a mall security guard heroically stops a mass shooting and becomes a hero to the modern gun movement. Under the hot glare of the spotlights, though, his story begins to unravel, taking his sanity with it...

'Snapshot, 1988' tells the story of an kid in Silicon Valley who finds himself threatened by The Phoenician, a tattooed thug who possesses a Polaroid that can steal memories...

And in 'Aloft' a young man takes to the skies to experience parachuting for the first time . . . and winds up a castaway on an impossibly solid cloud, a Prospero's island of roiling vapour that seems animated by a mind of its own.
Opening Sentence: N/A

Days to read: 8

The collection opens with Snapshot which is a terrific example of exploring the classic writing trope of “what if there was…” in this case it is a camera which steals people’s memories. I liked this story a lot. The Phoenician is a sinister antagonist who Hill quickly makes the reader hate, but at the same time demonstrates how dangerous he is. It takes place over the course of a single day and has an protagonist to root for in Michael. 8

Loaded is the longest novel and in my opinion by far the best. Hill does a fantastic job of exploring a man under pressure and the lengths he would go to protect his status and secret. It is the least fantastical of the four novels but the characters more than make up for it. 9

Aloft is my least favourite although I can appreciate the idea. It tells the story of a man who parachutes out of a plane and lands on a solid cloud, which appears to manifest objects as he thinks of them. This is not a bad story, but I found it a little boring, despite having a good ending. 6

Rain is a post-apocalyptic novel based on the premise of lethal rain suddenly falling from the sky. It is the most horrific of all the four novels, with gruesome scenes. It loses something in the middle as the protagonist travels about, but the beginning and ending is very strong. 8

Overall, the novels work well as a collection, offering a nice variety both from each other and from what you’d expect to see in a traditional novel. Only Aloft  is a novel I wouldn’t recommend to others.

My rating: 8.4

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

So the wait is finally over.

Only Stones Remain has been released!

Buy, buy, buy and enjoy the explosive conclusion to the Ballard of Frindoth!

Purchase by clicking the link below

Only Stones Remain - UK

Only Stones Remain - US

Monday, September 24, 2018

Around 75% of the books I read are down to reviews or recommendations, 20% are because of exciting covers enticing me and the remaining 5% is down to the title and blurb. The last thing she told me is an example of the latter. The title is intriguing enough for me to check out the blurb, it was that line in the blurb though that blew me away and made me download the book.
Moments before she dies, Nicola's grandmother Betty whispers to her that there are babies at the bottom of the garden.
I mean, come on! Who doesn't want to read the book after reading that?
The Blurb:
Even the deepest buried secrets can find their way to the surface....

Moments before she dies, Nicola's grandmother Betty whispers to her that there are babies at the bottom of the garden.

Nicola's mother claims she was talking nonsense. However, when Nicola's daughter finds a bone while playing in Betty's garden, it's clear that something sinister has taken place.

But will unearthing painful family secrets end up tearing Nicola's family apart?
Opening Sentence: The house appeared to know that its owner was about to die, shrouded, as it was, in early-morning mist, the downstairs curtains closed in respect, the gate squeaking mournfully as I opened it.
Days to read: 25

The question you're all wondering now is: Did the book live up to the blurb? The answer is: yes, no, maybe so, but on the whole yes.
Why the confusing answer I hear you ask? Well it's a mixture of a very good story, good characters, a lot of implausibility and some slow places within the novel. For example, given the blurb we know full well there are going to be babies at the bottom of the garden otherwise what would be the point of the novel? However, it takes a little while for this point to be reached. The protagonist is told almost immediately the disturbing confession of her dying Grandmother but it takes quite a long time before she begins to believe her. This is a little frustrating although I can see why the authors done it.
The book focuses on the main protagonist Nicola, who is a reasonable enough character. She's realistic in her actions and behaviour but there is nothing that really makes her stand out. Her husband James is a bit of a non-entity to be honest. He is incredibly supportive and goes along with anything Nicola says and doesn't add any real conflict to the plot.
The best characters are supporting cast. Nicola's eldest daughter Ruby, definitely steals the scenes she is part of. She has had enough angst over her past and wondering who her real father to make her interesting. This conflict carries the novel and propels it into a much more dramatic story, elevating it above your normal mystery. The struggle between mother and daughter and daughter and step-dad is well handled and quite moving in at times.
Linda Green keeps the tension high as she expertly reveals piece by agonizing piece of the puzzle. This is done through clever devices such as a great aunt with amnesia in a mental home and then a mysterious relative who comes in but seems reluctant to reveal the truth of the past. Couple this with a mother who also clams up tighter than a safe when the past is mentioned means the reader is only treated the odd snippet of information every now and then. Whilst a little frustrating, it never gets transforms in to annoyance.
The news of the babies soon becomes widespread, and this adds another dimension in how the community reacts to the shocking news. This results in various unpleasant actions against Nicola and her family, which whilst gruesome never ringed true to me – mainly because there was no reason for the community to behave that way to Nicola who was completely innocent of the events in the past. Her only fault was pursing the truth which suggests she was being warned away from enquiring any further. Nicola however, never makes a big song and dance about her investigation to ruffle any feathers and so this part of the novel didn’t work.
What did and didn't work for me was inclusion to the mystery as a novel unfolds. There are actually three mysteries that run throughout the book: the main one is fantastic and really get me thinking about the past and the way people behaved. It is a satisfying conclusion to a great premise. The other two mysteries, whilst also good is where the aforementioned implausibility comes in to effect. The fact that the three incidents/mysteries happen to the same family I found a little bit hard to believe - and I'm a man that writes fantasy novels!
Having said all that, I thoroughly enjoyed this novel. Linda Green is an author that is very accomplished and I will definitely look out for more of her work in the future.

My rating: 8.8

Monday, September 17, 2018

I have to admit comedy books don’t overly do it for me. I’ve read Pratchett and enjoyed some of them, but I find I have to be in the mood. Other books where reviews have stated that the book is “hilarious” and “laugh out loud” funny, I have found mildly amusing. It is weird as I am a huge fan of comedy as a genre. When my brother-in-law pointed out that he reads all the books he recommends and I don’t reciprocate, I welcomed his endorsements and then groaned when he suggested a couple of Tom Sharpe books. As a man of my word though, I promised to give them ago.  

The Blurb:

With his only friend a computer, Walden Yapp has lived a singular life. Professor of Demotic History at the University of Kloone, Yapp spends his days highlighting the corrupt capitalistic nature of the upper-classes, and his nights feeding Doris his computer the information he has gathered
So when capitalist Lord Petrefact hires him to write a damaging family history, Yapp seizes the chance to chronicle the corrupt life of the Petrefact family. Spurred on by his expectations of dishonesty and depravity Yapp heads of the town of Buscott, where nobody is what they at first appear to be.
Now a pawn in Lord Petrefact’s vindictive family game, Yapp’s presence is as welcome as the plague. From provoking dwarfish marital problems to uncovering an erotic toy factory Yapp’s presence sparks a chain of events that ends in death, destruction and a murder trial.
Going through a car wash will never feel the same again

Opening Sentence: Lord Petrefact pressed the bell on the arm of his wheelchair and smiled

Days to read: 12

I’m just going to come out and say it, I have to put my words on a plate, smother them with humble sauce and devour them because I loved this book. Not only that, there were occasions when I was genuinely laughing out loud.

Don’t get me wrong, I struggled with it at first. The language seemed a little too flowery and pompous for me without seemingly adding anything to the story. However, once the story gets going it, the laughs come thick and fast as the characters meander from one set piece to another. Some of these are brilliant conceived and the best thing about them is they are all weaved together expertly and never feel contrived.

The story is littered with excellent characters, all satirically observed and extreme in their views. Sharpe exploits these but at the same time manages to make them all endearing. My personal favourite was Emmelia who experiences a bit of a journey of self-discovery as she finally wakes up to her archaic and prejudiced ways.

It would be unfair to try and analyze the plot as there is only a very loose one. What I will say is that this is a story of characters finding themselves and loosing themselves in the most farcical way possible.

There are incidents that stand out above all others, the bathroom scene for instance or the visit to the Buscott factory, but I found every scene containing something that amused me.
This is my first Tom Sharpe novel and won’t be my last. It has changed my opinion on comedy books and for that I can’t recommend it enough.

My rating: 9.2

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

John Connolly - The Woman in the Woods

Well I could hardly do a review of all my favourite authors and not include John Connolly could I? John Connolly writes almost the perfect type of novel for me: a gruesome, thriller with an element of the supernatural. The Woman in the woods marks his 16th book in the Charlie Parker series; a series that has not seen a drop off in quality at any point. 

The Woman in the Woods: A Charlie Parker Thriller: 16.  From the No. 1 Bestselling Author of A Game of Ghosts

The Blurb:
It is spring, and the semi-preserved body of a young Jewish woman is discovered buried in the Maine woods. It is clear that she gave birth shortly before her death.

But there is no sign of a baby.

Private detective Charlie Parker is engaged by the lawyer Moxie Castin to shadow the police investigation and find the infant, but Parker is not the only searcher. Someone else is following the trail left by the woman, someone with an interest in more than a missing child, someone prepared to leave bodies in his wake.

And in a house by the woods, a toy telephone begins to ring.
For a young boy is about to receive a call from a dead woman…
Opening Sentence:  The bar was one of the more recent additions to Portland's waterfront, although the term 'recent' was relative given the rapid pace of development in the city.
Days to Read: 27 (😞)
What I like most about this series is Charlie Parker is a feared man but not because of how excellent he is as a detective or how strong, brave and impervious to pain he is (because he is certainly not all of those things). He gains that reputation purely for surviving numerous attempts on his life. It gives him a legendary respect from his enemies, one that he's not even aware of half the time.
In the Woman in the woods Parker is a damaged man he is recovering from his injuries and he is also trying to repair the relationship he has with the police force who no longer trust him and see him as a hindrance rather than a help.
The book introduces Quayle and his mysterious and quite frankly weird female sidekick. Both are in search of the dead woman and missing child as they believe before she died, she had I'm her possession a book of great importance. In terms of plot details it really is that simply, apart from when Louis picks a fight with a local racist Bobby Ocean. Of course with a Connolly novel there are several twists and turns along the way, one of which is Parker trying to tread carefully with the police and thus hindering his usual bullish approach to investigating.
Quayle and his female sidekick are terrific characters they are strange yet at the same time menacingly dangerous; both have the hint of the supernatural about them although it is never explicitly demonstrated. With Quayle you get the sense that he is not just another throw away villain and so it proves. It is inevitable that their paths will cross with Charlie Parker although this does not happen for a long time in the novel and so the tension towards them finally meeting is a terrific undertone running throughout. Quayle is also the only villain I can recall to actually step up and try and make Parker’s life hell. It makes for great reading I can tell you!
Of course it would not be a Charlie Parker novel without his two best friends Angel and Louis. Angel features only fleetingly in this story as he too is seriously ill in hospital. This leads a more fragile and quite frankly lost Louis. He is missed as are the Fulci’s but it does allow Louis to fill more of the stage. We’ve seen glimpses into Louis’ psyche before, but never has he been laid so bare and vulnerable before us. His scenes with Parker are touching and it is refreshing to see this side of the cold blooded killer.
With each novel in the series you get the sense that more and more of the supernatural mystery is being unveiled – most notably who and what is the damn Buried God.
Overall this is a fantastic addition to the series. The ending is a little abrupt and it is clear that this novel more than any other is part of a largely story arc, but don’t let that distract you from the fact that as a standalone this is up there with Connolly’s best.
My rating: 9.3

Thursday, September 6, 2018

Another Introduction from Me. (Jackie Slaney)

Rob, very kindly asked me to contribute again to his blog, which I am more than happy to do.

But in between thinking about what books I have read recently and what one to write about first, I suddenly found myself in a discussion in the office about books people read and explaining why I enjoy fantasy books so much.

It was a very bizarre conversation, as at the start one of the people was quite dismissive, personally its never bothered me what people read, and I would certainly never dream of saying that one genre is better than another.

Nowadays I read nearly anything, from Sci-Fi/fantasy to ancient Rome, from zombie books to murder mysteries, but I will admit that I became quite defensive over the whole “fantasy books are just fancy comics comments.”
I will not go in to detail, but the person concerned quickly regretted his words!

The conversation though, (especially after the doubter was silenced) became quite in depth and when I was asked, ‘well why did you start reading sci-fi/fantasy then?’ has made me think.

Why did I start reading that genre when most of my friends at the time were not reading much or reading very girly books?

I suppose I can say I was lucky in a way being the youngest in a household, which meant there were always books lying around that family members had read and just then left, the majority of which were casts off from my brother.

This meant that I came across Star Trek, Arthur C Clarke and Robert Heinlein at quite a young age, these books along with Tolkien caught my imagination and led me to our local library, where I was extremely lucky as the lady librarian in charge didn’t dismiss a small girls strange book requests, and even used to find books for me and put them to one side.

To this day, Antonia Barber, Susan Cooper and Alan Garner are just a few of the authors whose books I read that I still remember now.

I was also lucky as I grew older with various English teachers at school encouraging my reading and also starting my interest in writing as well.

So why did I start reading these? The honest answer is that they were so well written, and so imaginative how could anyone not like them? They were escapes from the humdrum and boring, and now with various hospital visits, I still find it the same.

Though I read loads more different types of books now, I still find myself looking at the fantasy sections first in any bookshop.

So apologies to all, as this was supposed to be a review about a book that I had read, but turned in to something else all together, but I suppose in a way its a review of the fantasy books I have enjoyed over the years.

That reminds me, I must really find that Antonia Barber book I had, I have a sudden need to reread it again. 

Friday, August 17, 2018

Robert Galbraith – Career of Evil

I have to confess I hadn’t heard about Robert Galbraith until the revelation many years ago that it was a pseudonym for JK Rowling. Having loved the Harry Potter series (yes, I queued up to get the last two books at midnight and yes I was in my mid to late twenties).

Having heard mixed reviews about the Casual Vacancy (still haven’t got round to reading that), I approached the new series with a degree of trepidation. It turns out I had no cause for concern. I loved the Cuckoo’s Calling and enjoyed the Silkworm even more.  I was very much looking forward to this third entry to the series then.

The Blurb:

When a mysterious package is delivered to Robin Ellacott, she is horrified to discover that it contains a woman's severed leg.
Her boss, private detective Cormoran Strike, is less surprised but no less alarmed. There are four people from his past who he thinks could be responsible - and Strike knows that any one of them is capable of sustained and unspeakable brutality.
With the police focusing on the one suspect Strike is increasingly sure is not the perpetrator, he and Robin take matters into their own hands, and delve into the dark and twisted worlds of the other three men. But as more horrendous acts occur, time is running out for the two of them...

Opening Sentence: He had not managed to scrub off all her blood.

Days to read: 16 (Audible)

One of the main things Galbraith excels at is creating excellent characters. In Cormoran Strike and Robin Ellacott he has created one of the best partnerships in fiction today. They get on so well, that I actually can’t stand it when they do argue. I recall in the Harry Potter series anytime Harry and Ron bickered, I couldn’t wait until they reconciled. However, with those two characters, although I could see the reason for their polarised views, I knew it would only be a matter of time before they were on speaking terms again. With Strike and Robin however, when they argue I am genuinely fearful it will be the end of their friendship.

Galbraith has created such a strong and stubborn character in Strike that you know how he is going to react and you also anticipate how difficult it will be for him to change his opinion. With Robin, you have a character desperate to prove herself at all costs, failing to see the wood through the trees.
Both of these character traits come to the fore in Career of Evil as both characters are developed. In both Strike and Robin we learn more about their past which provides plausible explanations for their current situations and decision making.

It makes for tense, fascinating reading and in all honesty, I love both these characters so much I could read a whole book about these two characters making a cup of tea and then staring at a blank wall. We also get more insight into Strike’s love-life and are reminded that he is not the nicest and caring of people. 
The secondary characters are also fleshed out more in this novel. Matthew – Robin’s fiancé appears more than just the caricature of the pompous ass he has seemed previously, whilst Robin’s mum also gets some screen time. The best character is Cormoran’s shady associate Shanker. He displays a dozen shades of grey tinged with a large dose of loyalty which is extremely endearing.

The plot is intriguing; when Robin receives a body part in the mail, Strike identifies a number of potential culprits who could be out to get him. Not only do these suspects add more layers to Strike’s character they are also interesting in their own right. What I liked most about this story, is that it also reveals Strike’s struggle to maintain his business. Despite a couple of high profile cases, the job offers have not exactly come flooding in and his relationship with the police force is tenuous. It all makes for a grounded, realistic story.

The ending is extremely satisfying both in the revelation of the criminal and the conclusion to the personal dramas going on in Strike’s and Robin’s lives. The next book in the series is released in September 2018 and I don’t think I can wait to read it.

My rating: 9.2

Friday, August 10, 2018

James Patterson – Cross the Line

As many of you know I find something inherently comforting about reading James Patterson’s Alex Cross series. Alex Cross was the first series I really invested in many moons ago.
Over the years the series has gone from excellent, to having a major dip as the character of Alex Cross seemed to become too unwieldly for Patterson to handle. As an author Patterson made the smart move of stripping the series down to the basics and letting his protagonist concentrate on more intimate threats. As a result, there has been a considerable increase in quality.

The blurb:

Shots ring out in the early morning hours in the suburbs of Washington, D.C. When the smoke clears, a high-ranking cop lies dead.

Under pressure from the mayor, Alex Cross steps into the leadership vacuum to investigate the audacious killing. But before Cross can make any headway, a wave of murders erupts across the city. The victims have one thing in common – they are all criminals.

And the only thing more dangerous than a murderer without a conscience is a killer who thinks he has justice on his side.

Opening Sentence: He change identity like many warriors do before battle.

Days to read: 13

I really enjoyed this latest entry in the series. I prefer the Alex Cross novels when the antagonists are less cartoonish and the threats are more personal. In Cross the Line however, the villains are neither. They are criminals with a conscience believing they are ridding the world of a nasty presence and thus making the world a better place. For once they don’t have a personal vendetta against Alex Cross and could not care less who he is. As a result, it reminded me of the earlier novels where Alex had to solve the crime like a normal detective without worrying about his family.

 Why is this so refreshing I hear you ask? For the simple reason that it allowed the other members of his family to breathe and have their own story arcs: Janine continues to pursue her running career and faces more hurdles (excuse the pun), Little Alex has a bit more substance to him whilst Bree struggles in her new promotion. It serves to provide a more rounded picture of the Cross family and makes you more invested in the characters.

 The pace of the novel is as fast paced as usual. Cross and Sampson work well together but they appear more vulnerable in this novel. Their age is catching up with them a little and they survive encounters more by luck than ability. Again, this is nice to see.

 The end is extremely satisfying as we get a good old fashion chase and slugfest. I always say with James Patterson you know what you are getting. A nice, comfort read that ticks enough of the boxes for you to enjoy yourself a lot and come back for more.

My rating: 8.6

Friday, August 3, 2018

Cover reveal

A few weeks ago I promised a cover reveal. Well today is the day I make good on that promise. Normally this is the point I would do a bit of a blurb, talk about the writing process and then post a picture of the cover. I always find that interesting when other authors do it, however, having discovered I can design pretty good maps with a little bit of effort (more on that in future – see I am such a tease), I decided to experiment with making a video reveal.

It is by no means a professional video, but it was quite fun making it. Apart from scaring myself witless filming in the woods at night, it was also interesting editing the video and learning about commercial licensing for the music etc. When I said interesting, you know I meant “frustrating” right?

So here it is, the cover of my final book in the Ballard of Frindoth series: Only Stones Remain.  

Friday, July 27, 2018

This title popped up on my audible app and I was immediately intrigued. It just goes to show what a good title and cover can do. It also helped that the book was endorsed by Stephen King apparently.

The blurb:

In 1986, Eddie and his friend are just kids on the verge of adolescence. They spend their days biking around their sleepy little English village and looking for any taste of excitement they can get. The chalk men are their secret code: little chalk stick figures they leave for each other as messages only they can understand. But then a mysterious chalk man leads them right to a dismembered body, and nothing will ever be the same.

In 2016, Eddie is fully grown, and thinks he's put his past behind him. But then he gets a letter in the mail containing a single chalk stick figure. When it turns out his other friends got the same messages, they think it could be a prank...until one of them turns up dead. That's when Eddie realizes that saving himself means finally figuring out what really happened all those years ago.

Expertly alternating between flashbacks and the present day, The Chalk Man is the very best kind of suspense novel, one where every character is wonderfully fleshed out and compelling, where every mystery has a satisfying payoff, and where the twists will shock even the savviest listener.

Opening Sentence: The girl’s head rested on a small pile of orange-and-brown leaves.

Days to read: 11 (Audible)

After being intrigued by the cover and title, the blurb well and truly sucked me in. This is a debut novel but you would not know it. Having said that the blurb highlights how Tudor expertly alternates between flashbacks and the present day – I would not necessarily agree with this. 

For the first third of the novel at least, the strength of the story in the flashbacks is far superior to the lack of action in the present day. Tudor captures the language, the feel and the wonderment of a child hood which, being a similar age, I could really enjoy and be nostalgic with. The banter between the gang of five children is great as are their fears and excitement. They might start off as caricatures as Tudor rushes a little to get their traits across rather than showing us their personalities naturally, but overall, despite the impending sense of doom which hangs over the gang, I couldn’t help but enjoy their escapades with a smile on my lips.

Eddie the POV character, is the most level headed of the five and through him we experience his anxieties and insecurities of being a teenager and his little secret of stealing objects. I especially liked the group dynamic. Not everyone gets on with each other but there is an acceptance that their group is their group and they would stick up for each other regardless. Their reactions to events are consistent with their characters and the supporting characters are both mysterious and likeable.  

The present day narrative is slow to begin with and the characters we see are more cynical, jaded and generally not as fun. There is nothing wrong with this realistic approach, it is just that Eddie has disappointedly drifted through his life and not amounted to much. However, when a certain event occurs, the tension is really ratchetted up a notch. From then the pace of the narrative increases and there are twists and turns galore. Every time you think you have the plot figured out, Tudor pulls the rug out from under your feet. In the final third, when the prose switched between the two time periods I generally groaned as I wanted the plot to continue, so I guess I don’t entirely disagree with the blurb.

Overall then, the Chalk man is an accomplished and impressive debut. The ending was more than satisfactory with a great twist I never saw coming. I will not hesitate to purchase the next book from Tudor.

My rating: 8.7

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Friday, July 20, 2018

Can you believe it has been over 7 years since I read my last Sharpe novel? 7 years! I’ve published 4 more books since then!! During that time, I’ve read several of Cornwell’s Last Kingdom series (excellent) and the first three of his Grail Quest (very good) but some time spent with everyone’s favourite lovable rogue was long overdue.


The blurb:

The year is 1805, and the Calliope, with Richard Sharpe aboard, is captured by a formidable French warship, the Revenant, which has been terrorizing British nautical traffic in the Indian Ocean. The French warship races toward the safety of its own fleet, carrying a stolen treaty that could provoke India into a new war against the British -- and render for naught all that Sharpe has bravely fought for till now. But help comes from an unexpected quarter. An old friend, a captain in the Royal Navy, is on the trail of the Revenant, and Sharpe comes aboard a 74-gun man-of-war called Pucelle in hot pursuit. What results is a breathtaking retelling of one of the most ferocious and one-sided sea battles in European history, in which Nelson -- and Sharpe -- vanquish the combined naval might of France and Spain at Trafalgar.

Opening Sentence: “A hundred and fifteen rupees,” Ensign Richard Sharpe said, counting the money onto the table.

Days to read: 23

If there was one criticism I could level at the Sharpe novels it would be that the books are a little similar regarding the plot and the villains. The plot usually involves Sharpe performing some extraordinary exploits whilst the villains are cartoonish in their petty and malicious behaviour. Neither of these points bother me too much though as you go into the novel knowing exactly what you are getting and sometimes you just want your bad guys to be bad. Not every character has to have “grey areas” or be identifiable on some level. Life is not like that and I like my novels to not be like that as well.

Sharpe’s Trafalgar as the title suggests, places Sharpe in a completely new environment, onboard a ship in the middle of the ocean. Sharpe is firmly a soldier and so it is nice to see him out of his comfort zone. It adds a new dimension to his character and limits his skills drastically.

I mentioned the above formula being prevalent in the preceding novels, but in Sharpe’s Trafalgar the formula is well and truly ripped up. Sharpe is more of a bystander in this novel and his actions are defined only by the superior officers and captains around him. He does influence events but not to a significant degree.

Instead, Sharpe’s Trafalgar is more of a love story as Sharpe becomes fixated on lady Grace Hale. Grace is of course out of Sharpe’s class and therefore out of his league.  Sharpe is content to admire her from afar for this very reason but inevitably, we soon learn that his lust is not as unrequited as she thinks.

At first Grace seems a one-dimensional character. She is trapped by her marriage and longing to be rescued by an exciting, scoundrel. There was a danger that she would not develop beyond this and just become another damsel, fawning over the irresistible Sharpe. Cornwall avoids this trap by slowly unveiling a tragic backstory. It is not the most in depth past you will ever read, but at least it gives Grace a little more substance.

As for the villains, they are much more of a variety. Yes, there is the snide, jealous Braithwaite but the main villains are a trickster we have met in previous novels and Grace’s husband who is far savvier then we are led to believe.

As I mentioned above, Sharpe does not have much influence over the events that unfold. Instead, this novel is more of an account of what it was like to be onboard a ship at sea. Details of the tedious lifestyle are superbly told as is the very real dangers of lack of supplies. Sharpe does demonstrate his dark side in this novel which proves he is less than perfect and is an interesting development in his character. 

The real crux of the story is the battle of Trafalgar itself. Cornwall has always been accurate and has always had a knack of recounting battles. I got the impression the whole reason for this novel was for Cornwall to have the opportunity to retell this historic battle with Nelson’s novel strategy. That is fine by me as Cornwall once again does a superb job. I confess I only vaguely knew the detail of the battle prior to reading this novel, but reading about the atrocities first hand and then sacrifices made by the British to implement their plan are both mind blowing and fascinating. 

Overall if you are expecting a traditional Sharpe novel you may be a little disappointed. After 7 years, I went in expecting one thing but was pleasantly surprised with what I got. Sharpe is still Sharpe, a character you just can’t help but love. Put him in space and I would still read the story.

My rating: 8.6

Friday, July 13, 2018

Stephen King - The Outsider

Stephen King – The Outsider

I couldn’t have revisited my favourite authors without taking in a Stephen King novel. Over the last couple of years, King has moved away from the supernatural horror mould and gone for more crime related books with science fiction based elements. This has led to the excellent Jonas Hodges trilogy and the good but somewhat sluggish in parts, Sleeping Beauties. His latest novel sounded it like it would be pure crime and I for one couldn’t wait for its release. 

The blurb:

When an eleven-year-old boy is found murdered in a town park, reliable eyewitnesses undeniably point to the town's popular Little League coach, Terry Maitland, as the culprit. DNA evidence and fingerprints confirm the crime was committed by this well-loved family man.

Horrified by the brutal killing, Detective Ralph Anderson, whose own son was once coached by Maitland, orders the suspect to be arrested in a public spectacle. But Maitland has an alibi. And further research confirms he was indeed out of town that day.

As Anderson and the District Attorney trace the clues, the investigation expands from Ohio to Texas. And as horrifying answers begin to emerge, so King's propulsive story of almost unbearable suspense kicks into high gear.

Terry Maitland seems like a nice guy but there is one rock-hard fact, as unassailable as gravity: a man cannot be in two places at the same time. Can he?

Opening Sentence: It was an unmarked car, just some nondescript American sedan a few years old, but the blackwall tires and the three men inside gave it away for what it was.

Days to read: 28 (audible)

The premise in the blurb supplies the mystery for the first third of the novel. King does a great job of investigating the gruesome death of a local boy through supplying manuscripts of witness interviews and good old fashion police detective work. One second you are convinced Terry Maitland is guilty and then next you can’t see how he possibly could have done the crime. I loved this element of the story, as a reader you obviously want to root for Terry and hope there has been a terrible mistake, but this being a King novel, you get the sense of dread that maybe, Terry really is the vile man everyone thinks he is.

As usual King’s characterization is superb. You side with the protagonists and loathe the despicable characters. King does a great job of making you feel empathy towards Terry and his family, whilst also sowing enough seeds of doubt to make you question the character.

With Ralph Anderson we have a protagonist who has strong morals but is not above admitting when he makes mistakes. His conviction in his actions is admirable, but I loved how he was humble enough to question his methods.

One of my favourite films growing up was From Dusk Til Dawn. The twist in it blew my mind and although I loved it, I couldn’t help mourning the first half of the film and wished it had continued in the same direction prior to the twist. Whilst the Outsider doesn’t possess a twist quite so extreme, as soon as the supernatural element is introduced, I found myself experiencing the same feeling as when I was young. 

The direction the novel heads in is not bad by any stretch of the imagination. It is very good in fact, but the first half was so finely poised and set up I couldn’t help but wish the supernatural element had not occurred. Any long-term readers of my reviews will know how hypocritical that sounds as I normally love a supernatural element.  

Incidentally, the supernatural element in this novel is fantastic. It draws upon a myth I knew nothing about and have looked into a lot since. I won’t say anymore as I don’t want to spoil anything.

The second half of the novel also sees the return of one of my favourite characters in a King novel. Again, I won’t say who they are, but they take a prominent role and it is nice to see them interact with a different set of characters this time around. I listened to the audio narration of the book by Will Patton (who as usual does a fantastic job). I will confess that initially I hated his interpretation of the returning character but by the end came to love it.

I’ve seen reviews where people have called the ending anti-climatic. I can see what they are saying but for me it was one of the more satisfying endings and liked that King did not drag the conclusion out unnecessarily. I thought it was also consistent with the villain’s character.

Overall, the Outsider is a terrific book. I think it is a testament to King’s writing that I wanted the novel to be something a little different due to how well it began but have no complaints as to how it turned out. Gruesome with great characters and a cool villain, what more could you ask for?

My rating: 9.0

Friday, July 6, 2018

The Executioner – Chris Carter

Chris Carter is an author I discovered by chance. I saw the name and thought it was the guy that created the X-Files TV series so I brought the short story called “the Hunter”. I loved that story and then discovered the two Carters were not the same men. Since then I have read the first book in Carter’s Robert Hunter series and loved it. As part of my favourite author’s campaign, I squeezed this second book in, confident I would enjoy it.

The Blurb:

Inside a Los Angeles church, on the altar steps, lies the blood-soaked, decapitated body of a priest. Carefully positioned, legs stretched out, arms crossed over the chest, the most horrifying thing of all is that the priest's head has been replaced by that of a dog. Later, the forensic team discover that, on the victim's chest, the figure 3 has been scrawled in blood. At first, Detective Robert Hunter believes that this is a ritualistic killing. But as more bodies surface, he is forced to reassess. All the victims died in the way they feared the most. Their worst nightmares have literally come true. But how could the killer have known? And what links these apparently random victims? Hunter finds himself on the trail of an elusive and sadistic killer, someone who apparently has the power to read his victims' minds. Someone who can sense what scares his victims the most. Someone who will stop at nothing to achieve his twisted aim.

Opening Sentence: “Ironic how the certainty in life is death, don’t you think?” The man’s voice was calm.

Days to read: 12 (fast for me these days)

As far as blurbs go, that one is pretty awesome right? Gruesome, intriguing and just so damn readable. If I had read this blurb a year ago I would have read this book sooner.

Carter has such an easy writing style. He writes in a clear, simple way that automatically engages the reader. He almost has the conversational tone which Stephen King and Robert Crais has, but without having it – if that makes sense?

I love his main character Robert Hunter. These days it is the fashion to deplore perfect characters with superior intellect and who are better than anyone else. Robert Hunter certainly falls into that category, but whilst Chris Carter has built his protagonist up and placed him onto a pedestal, he is now in a position to tear him down and examine his flaws. In two and a half books, I became so accustomed to Hunter being right that when he does make a wrong move it is a shock.

His partner Carlos Garcia is also well drawn. Loyal but with his own story arc he acts as a nice foil to Hunter’s incessant devotion to solving the crimes. Hunter is fully aware of the impact of his actions has on others, and his consideration to Garcia’s wellbeing is a nice obstacle to his cavalier attitude.
This novel also introduces Captain Barbara Blake, a hard-nosed, no nonsense voice of authority. Barbara is another nice foil to Hunter. Impressed with Hunter’s and Garcia’s results but far from enamoured with their methods, Barbara is the type of character that crops up in countless novels. However, Carter makes her believable rather than a stereotype.

As the blurb itself suggests, the plot centres around a series of despicable murders which focus on the victim’s worst nightmares. Carter does not shy away from the brutality of the murders and spares little in the way of detail. The deaths are vile, the imagination of the author disturbing and I for one loved it!

Finding the link between the murders is cleverly unveiled. Carter deftly peels away layer upon layer of the mystery introducing enough twists and turns to throw you off the scent.

The ending and resolution of the mystery is extremely satisfying. The reveal didn’t blow me away, but I can’t say for certainty that I expected it. 2.5 books in and the Hunter series is one I will be reading with far more frequency.

My rating: 9.2