Friday, April 2, 2021

Book Review - Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo

Shadow and Bone - Leigh Bardugo

Very often I find people apologising for the books they read. It seems to become the vogue for people to make excuses as to why the read Harry Potter for example as if reading YA fiction is something to be ashamed of. 

Personally, if the story is good and the characters are enjoyable than that is all that matters. One of my sons has devoured Chris Colfer’s Land of Stories series. Wanting to discuss it with him, I have read the first three as well and have to say I’ve thoroughly enjoyed them. 

I was only vaguely aware of the Shadow and Bone series and it wasn’t until I saw the advert on Netflix for the forthcoming TV series that I got interested. I immediately downloaded the first book:

Here is the blurb:

Soldier. Summoner. Saint. Orphaned and expendable, Alina Starkov is a soldier who knows she may not survive her first trek across the Shadow Fold-a swath of unnatural darkness crawling with monsters. But when her regiment is attacked, Alina unleashes dormant magic not even she knew she possessed.
Now Alina will enter a lavish world of royalty and intrigue as she trains with the Grisha, her country’s magical military elite-and falls under the spell of their notorious leader, the Darkling. He believes Alina can summon a force capable of destroying the Shadow Fold and reuniting their war-ravaged country, but only if she can master her untamed gift.
As the threat to the kingdom mounts and Alina unlocks the secrets of her past, she will make a dangerous discovery that could threaten all she loves and the very future of a nation.
Welcome to Ravka . . . a world of science and superstition where nothing is what it seems.

I enjoyed this novel but wouldn’t say I loved it.  Alina is your classic protagonist that you will find in 90% of young adult fantasy novels (i.e. an orphan who is unaware of her powers) but that doesn’t matter as she is very likeable and it is a trope we all know and love. The problem I have with her is that she was a little passive. Things just seem to happen to Alina and well, she just lets them. She does undergo some personal growth as a character but there is no signs of this developing throughout the novel, it is more when she is forced into a corner that she stands up for herself.

The two other male characters I have mixed feelings about. The Darkling was initially intriguing but suddenly changes mid-way through the novel and then becomes a little too cartoonish as a villain. Mal on the other hand is a great character. The scenes he shares with Alina are well done and the dialogue between them is easy and feels natural. 

The setting is a little under explored but I really like it. The Grisha are intriguing as an elite fighting force and the Shadow Fold dominating the middle of the landscape with its grotesque monsters is a great idea. However, I very much got the sense that we were just given a taster of what is to come in the series, rather than having the world realised in great detail. 

The plot is simple. Alina is identified as having great power (Sun Summoner) and the Darkling wants it for himself whether for good or evil the reader is not sure about in the first half of the novel. Whilst the plot evolves around Alina and her attempts to control her power, I couldn’t help but think Mal’s offscreen journey was more interesting. In truth I would liked to have read about both. 

The majority of the story unfortunately involves the pettiness of other characters. There is the token mean girl in Zoya which really does highlight how this is intended to be a YA novel. I would have much preferred the attention to be on Alina being more proactive in exploring and discovering things for herself.

As I said at the start, overall I enjoyed the novel rather than loved it. There were things I would have liked to have seen expanded on and characters fleshed out, but as an opening novel it is decent and I will be checking out the second novel.

My rating 8.1

Friday, March 19, 2021

Book Review - Target: Alex Cross (RD)

 Target - Alex Cross by James Patterson

Of all the many, many authors I read there's one author I always return to for a nice, quick easy read that brings me comfort. That author is of course, James Patterson. Over the years James Patterson has assembled a stable of authors and has steadily increased the number of books he releases year upon year. He is currently averaging over a book a month. I know many casual readers that read his books exclusively. I am not one of these people obviously as I tend to find the quality of the books he co-authors with others are a bit of a mixed bag. I tend therefore, just a stick to his Alex Cross series which James writes exclusively by himself.

Target: Alex Cross is the 26th novel in a series which has mostly been excellent. The books are very different from when they began with Alex cross as a detective hunting down the likes of Gary Soneji with his partner John Sampson. These changes have been organic but not always for the better.

At one point I thought James Patterson had written himself into a corner as Alex Cross solved more and more cases as a detective and got promotion after promotion. Consequently he was given more high-profile cases until he was dealing with terrorists and presidents. Thankfully, James Patterson readdressed this balance and the last few novels have concentrated on more intimate cases and have been all the better for it.

In this novel however he does indeed deal with an incident involving the President, here is the blurb.


Alex Cross and his family join men and women from across the nation lining the streets of Washington, DC to mourn the unexpected death of the President.


With the country still in shock, the assassination of a prominent Senator strikes another devastating blow to the heart of the nation's capital. As Chief of Detectives, Alex's wife Bree Stone faces an ultimatum: solve the case, or lose her job.


The new President calls on Cross to lead an unparalleled FBI investigation to help capture America's most wanted criminal. But what follows will plunge the country into chaos, and draw Cross into the most important case of his life.

The Review:

I mentioned I wasn’t a fan of the books where they got too high profile because I always thought they were a little outlandish. However, I thoroughly enjoyed this novel. Alex Cross’s children have all grown up and have lives of their own. I find this fascinating because as a loyal reader I have seen them grow up and personally have grown up with them.

The plot focuses on a series of assassinations to high ranking political figures including an attempted assassination of the President of the United States. Alex is drafted in to be a consultant on finding who is responsible for such heinous crimes, whilst his wife Bree is under extreme pressure from her boss as to why she has not done more in solving the murders. Running alongside this is a subplot where Alex has a patient in his role as a psychologist in dealing with a woman who cannot experience love.

The three plot threads are fascinating. Whilst Alex uses his experience and genius to help solve clues, he is far more fallible than normal, he misses things because he tries to juggle too much and he makes mistakes because he's tired and cares too much, basically he is human and that is great to see.

Unfortunately, the plot thread that I found the most interesting i.e. the one involving the patient is the one that is unexplored the most. Going forward, I would like to see Alex involved in a story where one of his patients is a criminal mastermind trying to outwit Alex Cross. I always think that he is at his best when he's up against the workings of a genius.

Bree struggles in her role and it is struggle mainly because she is living in the shadow of her husband and his reputation. This is a fascinating element to their relationship and one I would like to see explored further. Unfortunately, being James Patterson, the resolution is a little trite. There is no resentment on Bree’s part as she struggles to compete with Alex’s legend which is a shame. It would be good to see the strain it puts on their marriage and how much the case affected their relationship.

As usual we are always treated to the minds of the killer in short chapters. Some people love this element to the books whilst other people think that it makes the killers a little too cartoonish. I fall somewhere in between the two. I think sometimes we are shown the killer doing malicious and malevolent things purely to ramp up the tension but after a while I don't think they serve much purpose and it doesn't really add to the growth of the villain or make for an interesting arc. At the same time I see why such chapters are necessary.

At 26 books in, I am more interested in the family life dramas. I liked reading about his eldest new girlfriend or how Jannie is doing in her track career. Little Alex is also progressing from an annoying kid to adding more to the story and then of course there is the evergreen Nana Mama who is the backbone to the Cross family life.

It is difficult to say to much about the antagonists in the story without giving any of the plot away but I found the whole scenario fascinating; especially the repercussions of the crimes. The ending of the novel was also unexpected and refreshing.

Overall, after such a long time out, I loved delving into the Alex Cross series again. It is always the perfect tonic when you finish reading an epic and fancy a quick read.

My rating: 8.3

Friday, March 12, 2021

The Crystal Spear

The Crystal Spear

 It's been a while! To be honest I was going to abandon this site, it is only because I have have recently also set up a sister site about working from home entitled the Working From Home Herald that I returned to this site. I was gobsmacked at the number of views the blog still got. Gobsmacked and completely humbled. 

It also made me realise that I miss reviewing books. I can't promise that I will review as frequently as before but I will definitely be posting again in the future. 

In the meantime what have I been up to?

Well I have started writing a brand new series called the Forbidden Weapon Saga. In October last year (2020) I realised the first novel in the series (The Crystal Spear). The early reviews were very favourable and I am well and truly engaged in drafting the sequel (40,000 words as of the time of writing which equates to roughly 175 pages)

You can check it out in th
e link above:

Here is the blurb:

The Crystal Spear is a weapon so powerful that legends tell of how any warrior that carried it could single-handedly demolish entire armies. It was a story sung by bards across Merindel but nobody truly believed it…until now.

When Klayton is told by a mysterious stranger that the Crystal Spear is real and given instructions how to infiltrate the palace at Erisea to find it, he cannot resist the challenge. Naïve? Sure! Foolish? Completely. But Klayton could not have possibly known that his discovery would have deadly consequences and reveal an inexplicable bond to the weapon even the myths are unclear about.

Prince Horan had given up trying to impress his father. He has been considered a failure and a disappointment from the moment he could walk. But when the King and Queen are on a diplomatic visit to a neighbouring island and Erisea comes under attack, Horan sees an opportunity to alter the perception of his father by saving the city, without a thought of the long-term consequences of his actions.

Finally, there is the Black Shade. The most notorious pirate of the four Isles. The mere mention of his name causes men and women to anxiously glance over their shoulders. The Black Shade has heard rumours that the Crystal Spear is very real and has set his sights on obtaining it.

Merindel is about to discover that not all legends are myths, but sometimes it is better if they were.

New writing software:

I've also switched writing software. I now use Dabble as opposed to Ywriter. I loved Ywriter but Dabble gives me more flexibility and reliabilty. I will happily post about the merits of both in a future post.

What am I reading?

James Patterson's Target Cross - look out for a review soon.

Finally - It's great to be back.