Monday, 31 December 2007

The ‘Big Fat End of the Year’ Post!

It doesn’t seem like all that long ago that I was thinking to myself, “how’s about doing a book review blog…” All of a sudden it’s the end of the year and loads of cool stuff has happened. Whether you’re a first time viewer or a family member who has been coerced (into reading every single post I’ve ever written) into paying the site a visit I’d like to say thanks for stopping by, it was good to see you ;o) I hope you liked it, the aim for next year is to do the same thing all over again but even better this time!
Without turning this into some weird ‘awards acceptance speech’ (which it isn’t!) I just want to say a quick thanks to Pat and Robert for all the advice they gave me when I was getting started, cheers guys! ;o)


2007 has been a great year for sci-fi and fantasy, hasn’t it? I think it has, I’ve read some real rubbish but I’ve also read some great stuff that has really stayed with me afterwards. What’s that? You want to know what my ten favourite books have been from this year? Well… alright then! There’s a list below but you can also head over to the SFFWorld forums, for their end of year review, where I offered up a similar list. This one will be a bit different, purely because the SFFWorld lists were split up into sci-fi and fantasy so I had to choose from these genres. Fantasy was more my thing this year so you’ll see a bit more of that in this list! Also, this is a list of books I read this year so I’m not being picky about whether or not a book has been published.

Here goes…
Before They are Hanged – Joe Abercrombie (More of the same, but twice as good: just what I wanted and my Fantasy novel of the Year)

Acacia – David Anthony Durham (There was a lot of hype about this and having read the book I’d fully agree with it although I didn’t get on with all of the characters… My pick for Debut of the Year, Patrick Rothfuss may have something to say about that but I never got around to reading ‘The Name of the Wind’)

Dark Hollow – Brian Keene (I can’t say enough good stuff about Brian Keene, quite simply my favourite horror writer right now. I think this is the best book he has written, look out for it in 2008)

Auralia’s Colours– Jeffrey Overstreet (This was a real surprise find and a magical read, keep an eye open for this one as well)

Reaper’s Gale – Steven Erikson (Because I’m a big Malazan fan and this book had almost the level of emotional resonance as Memories of Ice. A book that leaves you gasping at the end.)

Black Man – Richard Morgan (I’d really gone off Richard Morgan’s more recent stuff but this book grabbed me by the throat and pulled me back in. I’m really looking forward to seeing what comes out of Morgan’s foray into fantasy…)

Inside Straight – George RR. Martin (I’d never read any Wild Cards books before and Inside Straight is forcing me to think again about this. Nine authors writing like one ‘uber-author’ is a real treat to read and I don’t think I’ve ever been so engrossed in the outcome of a reality TV show… Recommended reading, it’s that simple)

No Dominion/Half the Blood of Brooklyn - Charlie Huston (I couldn’t pick between these two books so I picked them both! This is how a vampire novel should be…)

The Lees of Laughter’s End – Steven Erikson (Another entry for Mr Erikson. He doesn’t just write epic fantasy, he does comedy too and it’s bloody funny)

The Ivory and the Horn – Charles de Lint (I don’t read a lot of urban fantasy but I will be looking for more books by Charles de Lint. Stunning stuff)

So there you have it, my list for 2007. What will 2008 bring? I’ll be sporting a rather fine hangover and frostbite from standing in Trafalgar Square tonight… Have a good one, whatever you’re doing, and I’ll see you next year!

Sunday, 30 December 2007

‘Half the Blood of Brooklyn’ – Charlie Huston (Del Rey Books)

Like Pat, I’ve read a few books recently that were below par and I decided that I wanted to finish off the year on a high with something that I knew I’d enjoy. I wasn’t up for a ‘re-read’ though so I was a happy chap when Charlie Huston’s latest ‘Joe Pitt’ novel came through the door just after Christmas Day. The ‘Joe Pitt’ books have been a real find for me this year so what better way to round the year off?
The series is set in a Manhattan divided into areas owned by various Vampyre clans. There’s only so much room (and blood) to go round though so when Vampyres from the outer boroughs start arriving on the island there’s a big problem straight away. Enter Joe Pitt, former Vampyre private investigator and now security chief for the Society. A trip into Brooklyn, to meet up with a clan of freak show Vampyres, wouldn’t be such a big deal for Joe if the cause of the troubles weren’t waiting outside the carnival tent in an ambush. Even this kind of development is all in a night’s work for Joe but he has other troubles to take care of. Evie, his girlfriend, is seriously ill and this is forcing him to consider actions that he never wanted to take. Not only this but the clan structure in Manhattan is starting to crumble. It’s going to be another busy night for Joe…
Having read all of that you’d be excused for thinking that ‘Half the Blood of Brooklyn’ is one of those monster reads that weigh you down. Think again, this baby is a mere two hundred and twenty three pages long. Make that two hundred and twenty three pages of gangster Vampyres being very cool (in a New York way) while double crossing and kicking the crap out of each other. No-one can be trusted, even if you known them all your life, and it’s this uncertainty that kept me reading just to see how things panned out in the end. As well as this, the dilemma that Joe faces regarding Evie makes for compelling reading. He could cure her but then she would be a Vampyre too, does he even have the right to do this? This sub-plot does reach a conclusion of sorts but it was definitely anything that I’d seen coming, I really felt for Joe when he saw what went down in the Enclave warehouse…
When I reviewed ‘No Dominion’ (Book Two); I said that Huston didn’t really deliver anything new, not that he needed to… ‘Half the Blood of Brooklyn’ sees Huston shake everything up and take things to a new level, there’s a real sense of progression to the overall story and the final paragraphs suggest that the next instalment could be apocalyptic to say the least… One cautionary note though would be that even though Huston does fill in the gaps you'll get more out of this book if you've already read the first two.
Some people have mentioned excessive swearing in these books. Apart from one exception I never really noticed this as an issue, all part of the atmosphere as far as I was concerned.
Having finished ‘Half the Blood of Brooklyn’ all I can say is that (in my opinion) Charlie Huston has done it again and written a book that kept me hooked right from the opening line. It’s a real close call between Huston and Mike Carey as to who’s writing the best supernatural fiction right now.
I couldn’t fault this book but I have to say that I am a pretty big fan ;o) I will now start waiting for the next instalment…

Ten out of Ten

PS Larry beat me to it with his review, if you fancy another viewpoint then have a click Here

Friday, 28 December 2007

‘Savage’ – Richard Laymon

Everyone likes an unsolved mystery and perhaps one of the most mysterious unsolved mysteries is the case of Jack the Ripper. Everyone knows what Jack got up to (so I’m not going to go into detail here) and the circumstances surrounding his activities have somehow struck a chord in the imagination of many people across the world. This killer is the subject of books, films and various conspiracy theories (he even appears in an episode of ‘Babylon 5’). Was Jack a psychotic member of royalty (hence his murders remaining unsolved)? Was he an alien trying, unsuccessfully, to make contact with humans? (Ok, I made that one up but I bet it had you thinking!) One of the theories as to why the murders suddenly stopped is that Jack left Britain for a new life in America. This is where Richard Laymon steps in and offers the reader a tale of what might have happened…
Fifteen year old Trevor Bentley really should have made his way home when he was told to. Instead, circumstance result in him cowering underneath Mary Kelly’s bed as the Ripper kills her. Instead of counting himself lucky not to have been noticed, Trevor sets out to stop the Ripper once and for all on a journey that will take him out of London and finish in a cave just outside Tombstone Arizona.
‘Savage’ initially began with a lot of promise. With foggy London streets, an evil killer and a plucky young hero the stage seemed set for a real atmospheric tale of horror. I was completely sucked in and ready for more. The journey to America was handled well with lots of tension about the outcome but when the action finally switched to America things started to go downhill rapidly. You see, Jack got such a head start on our hero (can’t really blame Trevor for this, he fell in love…) that it took most of the book to finally catch up with him. When we finally get to the showdown it’s over and done with within a few pages and that left me feeling kinda cheated. The greater part of the story then is a rite of passage tale as Trevor adapts to life in America. It makes for an interesting read although Laymon has a habit of killing anyone who looks like they might be holding back Trevor from his quest, sometimes people just go their separate ways you know…
As good a ‘western’ tale as this was (and it worked pretty well in this vein) I couldn’t escape the feeling that ‘Savage’ was meant to be a tale of horror and it just wasn’t working like this. Maybe this was just me judging the book on the author’s reputation and getting it wrong but I was still left feeling disappointed when I reached the end. A book that oozed potential but failed to deliver.

Four out of Ten

Thursday, 27 December 2007

Movie! ‘Howl’s Moving Castle’

Everyone I’ve spoken to seems to have read Diana Wynne Jones’ ‘Howl’s Moving Castle’ at a very young age. In fact, I suspect that I may be the only person in the world who has never read the book at all (please leave a comment if you haven’t read the book either and ease my feelings of loneliness!) However, thanks to the great present buying skills of my wife I can now move firmly into the camp of ‘people who have seen Hayao Miyazaki’s anime version’. Not to put too fine a point on it, it was great.
For those of you who don’t know the story, Sophie is a hat maker who is transformed into a 90 year old woman after getting involved in an ongoing dispute between the Wizard Howl and the wicked Witch of the Waste. Sophie is not the sort to take this lying down and sets out to have her youth restored to her; she finds refuge in Howl’s moving castle and her journey begins. A tale of warfare, love and redemption awaits the viewer…
The first thing you notice about ‘Howl’s Moving Castle’ is the absolutely stunning artwork that goes into pretty much every frame of the film. There is so much to see I actually got lost in the amount of detail on the screen and every so often had to remind myself that these were only pictures on my TV screen. I don’t know much about animation but it’s really good to see that in the days of CGI animation there’s still someone somewhere who’s really gone for broke using more traditional methods. I loved the steampunk imagery in particular.
Having watched all the pretty pictures for a while I suddenly realised that there was also a story underpinning all this and that was really good as well. Any character of note (and one character that you wouldn’t have expected) appears to have had a curse placed on them and the story follows their efforts to achieve some measure of peace. Howl also has issues of cowardice to deal with and even the wicked Witch of the Waste elicited a measure of sympathy once I got to know her better. In short, I ended up really getting behind everyone and wanting things to end happily (especially when it became apparent that the rulers of the kingdom had ulterior motives that crossed purposes with our heroes). As well as this, some of the imagery from the ongoing war does tug on the heartstrings…
Like I said, I’ve never read the book but there were points in the film where things felt glossed over and not explained fully. The ending was a bit rushed as well and I’m pretty sure that the circumstances behind one ‘revelation’ were not mentioned earlier on. These are really tiny niggles though when set against a film that I fell in love with when I saw it. I’ll be watching ‘Howl’s Moving Castle’ again and I don’t think I’ll ever get bored with it. I may even have to go out and buy the book…

Nine out of Ten

Wednesday, 26 December 2007

‘Doctor Who – The Clockwise Man’ – Justin Richards (BBC Books)

If there’s one thing I’ll always remember about Saturday nights, as a kid, it was getting my regular fix of Dr. Who on BBC1. When the BBC finally took it off the air way back in 1989 (I think) I was sad to see it go but at least I still had all the books and ready access to a friend’s video collection… ;o) Now the BBC have seen the error of the ways and Saturday nights is all about Dr. Who again. This time however I have no access to a television but Father Christmas very kindly dropped off a stack of new Dr. Who books!
‘The Clockwise Man’ sees the Doctor (in his ninth incarnation) travel, with Rose Tyler, to see the Great Exhibition in London 1924. The fallout from the Russian Revolution can still be felt but it is another revolution (a lot further away) that will have the Dr and Rose struggling to solve the mystery of a mysterious painted lady and a cat that cannot be killed. The fate of London itself is at stake…
The original Dr. Who books were aimed at younger readers and ‘The Clockwise Man’ is no different. It is short and sweet as well as being fairly simple to get to grips with. Having said that though, this was just what I was after on Boxing Day! Despite the style that it’s written in I think it has something to offer an older reader, even if it’s just someone looking to rediscover a hint of their childhood (I’ll shamefacedly put my hand up here…). It’s an entertaining read that had enough twists and turns to keep me guessing as the overall plot was gradually revealed. As is the case with pretty much all Dr. Who stories, there’s a truly evil villain and a monstrous scheme to be foiled. The Ninth Doctor was one of my favourites (in the TV) so it’s good to see him portrayed so accurately in the book.
The year is winding down and I’m doing the same with my reading (it will start all over again next year though!). I’m after simple stuff that will keep me entertained and ‘The Clockwise Man’ is a great way to while away a couple of hours. It’s also a nice way to get back in touch with the nine year old part of me that gets bored doing grown up stuff ;o)

Seven out of Ten

Tuesday, 25 December 2007

Happy Christmas Everyone!

Hope you all had a good one, I certainly did ;o) Good food, great company and a veritable stack of DVDs to get through before I go back to work. Life is good right now and I hope you all feel the same.
Happy Holidays everyone!

Monday, 24 December 2007

‘The Devil’s Plague’ – Mark Beynon (Abaddon Books)

Christmas is with us once again and seeing as I have two weeks off work I feel like I’ve drunk far too much already… What I’m after then is a book where it doesn’t matter if I fall asleep halfway through. Something that I don’t have to think about too much, a little bit of fun that I can put down if called upon to do a last minute dash to the supermarket to pick up milk. Step forward Mark Beynon and Abaddon Books’ latest offering in the ‘Tomes of the Dead’ series…
‘The Devil’s Plague’ is an alternate history of the English Civil War but with a supernatural twist. Cromwell’s army is victorious but the devilish Kryfangan cavalry are bought at the cost of Cromwell’s soul. And it doesn’t stop there; every soldier that dies under the hellish onslaught comes back as a ravenous zombie! War is brewing between the two armies of the undead and only a King in exile and a troupe of actors stand any chance of stopping them...
‘The Devil’s Plague’ is another great offering from Abaddon and a good example of how much story you can pack into just over two hundred pages. Although there are some ‘flashbacks’ that repeat stuff the reader has already been told what you mostly get is a liberal dose of action, suspense and gore. The story is mostly linear in plot although there are a couple of twists here and there; certainly enough to keep me interested. There’s also a real ‘gothic’ feel to the horror that seems to be in keeping with that point in history. Talking of the history, it’s mentioned a few too many times that it’s the aftermath of the English Civil War (at least it was for me anyway). We only need telling once…
Despite these minor niggles though, ‘The Devil’s Plague’ is a very entertaining read and would probably do nicely as a stocking filler. It’s not one to generate hours of intense discussion but it is one for whiling away a few hours in between gaps in the Christmas TV schedule ;o) The teaser for ‘I, Zombie’ (due June 2008) look interesting as well…

Seven and a Half out of Ten

Sunday, 23 December 2007

'The Doomsday Machine' - Catherine Webb (Atom Books)

After finishing 'The Metatemporal Detective' I was in the mood for more tales of nefarious goings on in dank alleyways being solved by heroic detectives. I was also in the mood for something that had a little hint of the supernatural and it seemed that Catherine Webb's new book had it all there for me. Unfortunately it wasn't to be...
As fans will already know, Horatio Lyle is a man of science in the London of 1865. He is also an occasional special constable of the sort that is known to save the world from all sorts of menaces and 'The Doomsday Machine' sees him fight to save the magical Tseiqin (a race of people with green eyes) from an act of genocide...
I got this much from the blurb and the first couple of chapters, a crafty look at the last couple of pages shows that everyone appears to live happily ever after. I didn't read the big bit in between though.
Why's this? Well, I never got into Sherlock Holmes and 'The Doomsday Machine' seemed to be turning out to be much the same kind of thing (with added mystical bits). I'm not interested in a detective smugly explaining why he's right all the time and I'm certainly not after a gradual meander through suspects and clues leading up to a final conclusion. I'm after something a bit more (well, much more) snappy than that, especially now it's Christmas and I've got a lot more time to really get into what I'm reading. I want gunfights, car chases and cackling villains but I wasn't interested in seeing if I could get far enough to find any. The last thing I wanted to find was another 'pick pocket with a heart of gold' as Lyle's companion...
Don't get me wrong, I think there's a lot here to recommend this book to anyone who's either a fan of Webb or into this type of book. The subject matter wasn't interesting me so I stopped reading, simple as that ;o)

Friday, 21 December 2007

‘The Metatemporal Detective’ – Michael Moorcock (Pyr Books)

It’s always a big deal when Michael Moorcock has a new book published. I don’t know enough to name all the big hitters who have influenced the development of the fantasy genre but you can bet anything you like that Moorcock’s name will be in there somewhere. His latest offering hearkens back to the labyrinthine ‘moonbeam roads’ of the Multiverse and at the same time is a homage to the pulp fiction he used to read as a child.
Seaton Begg and his assistant ‘Taffy Sinclair’ work for the Metatemporal Investigation Department, a top secret British Home Office section that investigates crime across the dimensions. ‘The Metatemporal Detective’ recounts some of Begg and Sinclair’s exploits across dozens of alternate worlds where they meet people whose names will sound strangely familiar… At the bottom of each case however is the notorious albino Zenith, a master criminal with an ulterior motive behind everything that he does…
‘The Metatemporal Detective’ manages to capture perfectly the ‘pulp feel’ of the authors that Moorcock has affection for. Hard-bitten detectives, beautiful women, gun fights and car chases sit within these pages and some of the double crossing kept me guessing right up until the end of each story. Some of the conclusions that Begg comes to aren’t fully explained but this seems to enhance his character rather than detract from the story. I thought there was also a real sense of the ‘old British colonial supremacy’ running throughout and this made an interesting counterpoint to some of the more hard-bitten elements. It seems that those ‘pesky foreigners’ can’t get anything right without British help, this is in keeping with the tone that Moorcock is aiming for but I think people would have to bear this in mind when reading otherwise it could come across as faintly patronising.
What is also special about ‘The Metatemporal Detective’ is the way that Moorcock interweaves figures from our history into his mythos, grounding the reader in the idea of ‘alternate realities’and also using these names as a means of passing some kind of social commentary or judgement. When this works it works really well, introducing characters such as Einstein (and even Hitler) shows the reader that this is an alternate reality of Earth and gives them something to hold onto. However I found that a couple of the characters Moorcock chose to make ‘comments’ about were a little too ‘recent’, in our history, and the stories almost came across as being merely vehicles for Moorcock to have his say. On the whole the stories were all of a similar quality (good) but personal preference took control and there were some I enjoyed more than others. ‘The Mystery of the Texas Twister’ was perhaps my least favourite but I really enjoyed ‘The Pleasure Garden of Felipe Sagittarius’ and ‘The Girl who killed Sylvia Blade’.
All in all, a very entertaining read that made my daily commute go very quickly. A good one for fans, who are looking for their favourites, as well as the casual reader who may be looking to try Moorcock for the first time.

Eight out of Ten

Thursday, 20 December 2007

Movie! ‘Flight of the Living Dead’ (2007)

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while you’ll know that one of my favourite things is the humble zombie. Generally to be found in many places, it’s not often (if at all) that you come across one, or more, in an aeroplane. Until now that is… Knowing how much I love zombie films my wife bought me this as an early Christmas present (I love early Christmas presents!), she was out last night so I settled down with a big plate of chips for an hour and a half of zombie gore!
The plot is pretty simple; a plane load of passengers must fight for their lives when a zombie (locked up in the cargo hold by a criminal scientist) escapes and starts to eat/infect people. If this wasn’t bad enough, the survivors must somehow stop the plane being shot down (the US government know what’s on board and don’t want it to escape)…
Does this sound more than a little like another film involving people trapped on a plane with scary stuff going on? Funny that… I’m actually having trouble finding out which of these two films came first so it may just be a coincidence…
Having watched ‘Flight of the Living Dead’ it’s plain to see why this went straight to DVD and never made it into the cinemas. Once you get past the gore effects the rest of the special effects are ropey to say the least and I really don’t know why the film makers felt the need to do ‘freeze frame’ shots of the zombie attacks. Onto the story itself… Being a fan of sci-fi, fantasy etc I really appreciate how important it is to be able to suspend disbelief while I’m watching or reading something. However, when a zombie survives being sucked into a jet engine (potentially one of the greatest ‘zombie deaths’ ever) then a little part of me thinks ‘hang on…’ And how is a group of renegade scientists able to evade the CIA while lugging a dirty great ‘crate of zombie’ about? And how did they manage to get it onto the plane? And why did no-one wonder why an armed guard was needed in the cargo hold? Too many loose ends are never good…
But you know what? I ended up really enjoying this film. It was almost as if ‘Flight of the Living Dead’ acknowledged its weaknesses and played to them instead of trying to cover them up. Coupled with lashings of death and gore it becomes surprisingly good. You know what’s going to happen but the fun lies in getting to that point and there are lots of tense moments along the way that made me jump. Plenty of ‘amusing zombie deaths’ are a staple for any zombie film and ‘Flight’ is no exception, look for the ‘death by golf club’ and ‘death by umbrella’ scenes! :o) You also get to find out how one zombie can take out an F-15 jet…
‘Flight of the Living Dead’ makes no apologies for what it is and benefits as a result. Give it a go if you like zombie films…

Eight out of Ten

Wednesday, 19 December 2007

'Twelve Books of Christmas!' - The Final Chapter...

Well, we're getting to that time of December where the mail slows down to an absolute crawl so I reckon it's about time to announce the final four winners in my 'Twelve Books of Christmas' competition...
Without further ado, the lucky folks are...

Neville Thompson, Gauteng, South Africa
James Long, Lancashire, UK
Rachel Dunne, Holmen, US
Mark Chitty, Caernarfon, Wales

Guys, your books are sat in my desk drawer right now and will be on their way this afternoon. Happy reading!
Thanks as well to everyone who took part this time round, I've really enjoyed doing this particular competition and it's safe to say that will be more 'Mystery Book Giveaways' in the future!

Tuesday, 18 December 2007

‘A Sword From Red Ice’ – J.V.Jones (Orbit Books)

It’s been a few years since the last instalment of ‘The Sword of Shadows’ series and it’s felt like it’s taken more than a few years to read ‘A Sword from Red Ice’! There’s a lot of catching up to do which means that there’s a lot of story to be retold and many familiar faces to revisit…
The first two books set up some pretty elaborate plot threads and these are continued with varying degrees of closure. Ash March continues to discover her powers, as the ‘Reach’, but must break free of a trap that is sprung around her. While this is happening, our ‘hero’ Raif Severance fights long and hard to prove to himself that he is capable of keeping true to just oath (having broken all others). His journey will take him in search of a sword that will help protect his people and fight against the menace from the Rift… It’s not just all about Raif and Ash though; we get to meet Vaylo Bludd, Raina BlackHail and Marafice Eye amongst others.
While this book was, on the whole, an enjoyable read it was also hard going and a real chore in places. In fact I almost gave up on it in several places, which was a shame as I’d really been looking forward to it. The ‘Sword of Shadows’ books are one of those series that demands your full attention and does an exceptional job of placing the reader right in the middle of the story. ‘A Sword from Red Ice’ is no exception. I really felt that I was there questing with Raif or sharing Vaylo Bludd’s struggle to protect his grandchildren. Some of the battles are visually stunning (the Siege of Ganmiddich for starters) and it makes for great reading that a skirmish between small groups receives the same level of attention as a fight between thousands. For such a large book there is a strong sense of progression and Jones is not afraid to send her story down dark paths in order to get the results she desires. I’m looking forward to the next chapter on the strength of this book.
So why did I have such trouble finishing this book? Two reasons. As I’ve already said, this is a thick book with plenty to get through and take on board. It felt at times as if Jones felt the need to tell everyone’s story to make up for the time it took to publish this book. There were times when I got lost trying to keep track of everyone, especially when you don’t see them for a couple of hundred pages. One character only appeared in the second and final chapters and I completely forgot about him for the rest of the time. It was almost like he had been placed there just to remind us he was still around. Because of things like this, the story sometimes felt unwieldy and difficult to get into. The other reason is more down to my personal tastes. In a book containing multiple points of view you’re never going to like every single one. I couldn’t stand the chapters about Effie Severance, they didn’t serve any purpose for me and just felt like they were markers so we wouldn’t forget about her. These chapters were the main reason why I kept putting the book down and reading other stuff.
I think ‘A Sword from Red Ice’ is a transitional novel that bridges a lot of gaps and will feel like a more cohesive read when the next book in the series is released. I enjoyed it but there were some particularly frustrating elements that, on occasion, spoilt it for me. Like I said though, I’m still looking forward to the next book in the series.

Seven out of Ten (just that little bit too good to be a ‘Six’)

Monday, 17 December 2007

New 'Wild Cards' Website!

I read 'Inside Straight' a couple of weeks ago and would rank it as one of my favourite books this year (and one to look out for in 2008). I'm completely new to the series and want to find out more, so where do I go? There are loads of 'Wild Cards' sites to be found on the net but only one official one where the series contributors are getting involved.
Want to know more? Have a click Here... Want to know even more? There's a newsletter that you can sign up for as well ;o)

Sunday, 16 December 2007

Just got back from Plymouth and I've been catching up on...

These amazing links from my favourite bloggers...

Pat has given us his top ten speculative fiction reads that were published in 2007. He also shows us the cover art for the PS Publishing edition of 'Return of the Crimson Guard'...

The Book Swede wraps up two of his competitions in a blaze of bribery and pictures of Will Smith...

Fantasy Book Critic is off on his holidays but has left a little message and promises to update when he can...

Adam also has an update but doesn't seem to be going on holiday anytime soon!

The Deckled Edge is in the middle of a house move but still finds time to tell us what's what on the New York Times bestsellers list.

Remy has the trailer for 'Lost' (Season 4). I still need to watch seasons 1-3...

Tia is reading one of my personal favourites from this year...

But what am I doing? Well, I've sworn a mighty oath that I must finish 'A Sword from Red Ice' before I read anything else. I'm just over halfway through at the moment... I've also got a pretty cool looking zombie film that will be blogged about in the next couple of days...
Have a great week guys!

Friday, 14 December 2007

What's your breaking point?

If you've seen me posting in various 'Whats the last book you read' threads then you'll know that I've been reading 'A Sword from Red Ice' (J.V.Jones) for what seems like an interminably long time. It's a book that's infuriating because although it's a good read (and worth the wait) it seems to be designed with the specific intention of sporadically boring me to tears... It's a problem with 'multiple point of view' books that the reader will find at least a couple of characters that they just can't stand, I've found mine and they keep popping up to annoy me. I find these particular chapters pointless, and doing nothing to advance the plot, and I get to the point where I think 'why am I reading this?' Just as I've decided to put the book down though, along comes a chapter about someone I'm interested in reading more on. I'm back into the book but even then part of me is dreading turning over the page for fear that the next chapter will be about someone I hate... I feel like a yo-yo with all this swinging backwards and forwards between good and bad!
This got me thinking about the point where I just snap and put a book down never to be picked up again, I'm talking about books in general not just 'A Sword from Red Ice'. Normally I'll read anything pretty much the whole way through but there are occasions when I decide that life is too short and stop reading something that I just know is never going to get any better. My recent foray into 'The Charon Covenant' is a good example of this, I'm never going to finish a book where it just looks as if the editor never bothered to get involved. Certain of Laurell K. Hamilton's books have also shown me that I'm never going to get far with a book where plot is almost incidental and sex is prominent...
What about you though? Do you always read a book the whole way through or is there a point where you just think, "The hell with this!" and throw it in the bin? What's your breaking point?

Thursday, 13 December 2007

‘Martin Martin’s on the Other Side’ – Mark Wernham (Random House)

I’ve been manfully struggling to get through ‘A Sword from Red Ice’ these past couple of weeks. Don’t get me wrong, it’s been a good read overall (about halfway through now) but every so often a chapter pops up where I read a couple of pages and suddenly start compiling a list of all the housework that needs doing… To counteract this I’ve been taking a break, from ‘A Sword from Red Ice’, to read other stuff as well and one of these other books was ‘Martin Martin’s on the Other Side’. A sure-fire contender for ‘most cumbersome book title’ it’s also a pretty cumbersome read that poses more questions than it answers but, surprisingly, it’s pretty good fun as well.
Jensen Interceptor, ‘ace government spy’, is tasked with infiltrating the cult of the ‘Martin Martinists’, a group dedicated to exulting the life of a dead twentieth century TV psychic. Through his investigation Jensen will discover that Martin Martins may be dead but he’s still very active... It’s not often that I’m able to paraphrase a novel quite so succinctly. In this case it’s partly because the plot is so convoluted that it’s impossible to say too much without giving the game away. Given how intricate the plot was I was impressed at the way Wernham had tied almost everything together by the end (I say ‘almost’ as there were things were never fully explained). The character of Jensen isn’t particularly bright and is manipulated by all and sundry; by the end he isn’t entirely sure what just happened and (as a result) neither are we. This makes the story infuriating to follow but at the same time intrigued me enough to want to re-read this at some point in the future.
The main reason that the plot can be so easily outlined is that, for most of the book, it takes second place to Wernham’s musings on government and what it must do to stay in control of it’s people. There’s some pretty shrewd comments made in this vein, perhaps nothing that we didn't already know but worthwhile nonetheless. Given how stupid Jensen can be, much has to be explained to him and some people may find that they’re being spoon fed information when they don’t need to be. Other people (and I was one of them) will be grateful that things are made clear. Wernham also has a lot of fun with the language that Jensen uses, a method of speech that anyone from London will recognise although there are a few extras thrown in. Initially it’s hard to follow but it does get easier as the story progresses. It’s a useful way to get inside Jensen’s head but sometimes proves to be a bit of a distraction from the story itself.
The blurb compares ‘Martin Martin’s’ style to that of classics like ‘1984’. I don’t think it’s quite at that stage but the final chapter does have Orwellian overtones…
‘Martin Martin’s on the Other Side’ was a difficult book to stick with but I ended up getting quite a lot out of it. I think this is a promising debut from Wernham and I’d be interested to see what he comes up with next.

Seven out of Ten

Wednesday, 12 December 2007

In the words of the man himself, "An Embuggerance"

Terry Pratchett has left a note on saying that the 'phantom stroke' that he suffered earlier this year was in fact a very rare form of Alzheimers that he has since been diagnosed with.
Blogger is refusing to let me add links today so I'm including the main body of the text below,


I would have liked to keep this one quiet for a little while, but because of upcoming conventions and of course the need to keep my publishers informed, it seems to me unfair to withhold the news. I have been diagnosed with a very rare form of early onset Alzheimer's, which lay behind this year's phantom "stroke".
We are taking it fairly philosophically down here and possibly with a mild optimism. For now work is continuing on the completion of Nation and the basic notes are already being laid down for Unseen Academicals. All other things being equal, I expect to meet most current and, as far as possible, future commitments but will discuss things with the various organisers. Frankly, I would prefer it if people kept things cheerful, because I think there's time for at least a few more books yet :o)

PS I would just like to draw attention to everyone reading the above that this should be interpreted as 'I am not dead'. I will, of course, be dead at some future point, as will everybody else. For me, this maybe further off than you think - it's too soon to tell. I know it's a very human thing to say "Is there anything I can do", but in this case I would only entertain offers from very high-end experts in brain chemistry."

Alzheimers is a horrible thing to happen to anyone so fair play to Terry for keeping a little perspective on it at the moment. Good luck to both him and his family.

The Return of… ‘Mystery Book Giveaway!’

Another week and four more people have books headed their way, these lucky folks are…

Peta Banks, Norwich, UK
Sarah Heacox, Los Angeles, USA
Lindsey DeLallo, Plymouth (MN), USA
Nazma Bhaijee, London, UK

Happy Reading and Happy Christmas you guys! :o)
For those of you who missed out this time, don’t worry. There’s still one more batch of books to be sent out to four lucky winners… That goes for anyone else who’s only just heard of this competition. Want in? Just drop me an email with your mailing address and the sort of stuff that you’re into. I’ll be announcing the final set of winners next Wednesday…

Tuesday, 11 December 2007

‘House Infernal’ – Edward Lee

I always have trouble remembering that the ‘author endorsements’, on other author’s books, are as subjective as what I’m writing here. So when the front cover of ‘House Infernal’ told me that Edward Lee was ‘The living legend of literary mayhem’ and that I should ‘read him if [I] dare’ I was really up for reading this book. After all, if Richard Laymon says Lee is a good author then he must be, surely?
Well, ‘House Infernal’ isn’t a thick book and I finished it over the course of a day, which says good things about the content. However, I was left feeling strangely let down by the end of it…
The old Priory was originally built as a retreat for clergymen but harbours some vile occult secrets in it’s past. Venetia Barlow is about to find all this out for herself over the course of one summer spent renovating the Priory. There are ghosts, there is depravity but there is a lot more going on and not all of it within the Priory. Venetia will gradually learn more from a long dead priest who has made contact with her from the very streets of Hell itself. He has his own part to play and the consequences of this will have a great bearing on the futures of both Hell and Earth…
Like I said, I flew through this book and enjoyed the time that I spent reading it. Lee lets events unfold at a pace slow enough not to give too much away but fast enough (at the same time) to keep the pages turning nicely. As the reader, it was good to see things, and events, click together gradually and the overall picture build up. Although I had a pretty good idea about how this was going to end, the specifics were hidden from me and I was surprised at how this one turned out.
All of the characters were drawn well and were people that I wanted to read more about, either because I liked them or because they were pivotal to the plot. Lee’s greatest achievement in ‘House Infernal’ however is the creation of an intricate and fully functioning society in Hell. The detail is minute and everything consistently works to a set of rules laid out right at the beginning. I was certainly impressed by the thought that had gone into this.
So what went wrong? It’s simple. I enjoyed the book but it didn’t scare me and it wasn’t particularly horrifying. For a work of ‘Horror Fiction’ this is a pretty awkward failing. For all the fact that it was well written I just didn’t feel any tension at all. This may just be me; my expectations may be different to yours and ‘House Infernal’ may give you nightmares. Hopefully it will as it’s not a bad book and I think horror fans will enjoy it, it just didn’t work for me.

Six out of Ten

Monday, 10 December 2007

Monday 'Linky' Extravaganza!

After having vented my spleen at 'The Charon Covenant', yesterday, I find myself with not an awful lot to talk about. However, these people have lots to say (and it's all good)...

Remy's back and has a few things to say about the
Malazan books. Welcome back Remy!

If you head on over to the Wertzone, you will see the first review of Joe Abercrombie's Last Argument of Kings to make it onto the net. Adam loved it, I'm spending a lot of time waiting for a copy to come through the letterbox...

Lawrence has already put 2007 behind him and is looking forward to his 14 most anticipated titles of 2008. I'm looking forward to these as well...

Alice didn't get her review up as fast as Adam but she loved Last Argument of Kings as well.

The Book Swede is giving away some of his favourite books of the last year...

Larry's got a Gene Wolfe thing going on and gives us his thoughts on The Sword of the Lictor

Pat enjoyed 'Acacia' but didn't think it was as good as the hype suggests...

Tia has Janet Lorimer's Master of Shadows as her featured debut.

I reckon that's enough linky goodness for you all to be going on with! ;o) If you still want more then click on the blogs at the side, they're great as well!

Sunday, 9 December 2007

'The Charon Covenant' - Brenda Munday Gifford (PublishAmerica)

The lowly 'spell checker function' only does one thing but it does it really well. I don't really need to tell you do I? Yep, you guessed it! What it doesn't do though is pick up on words that sound the same but are spelt completely differently (and mean different things). At least that's what appears to have happened in 'The Charon Covenant'... I'm not going to go into too much detail here, suffice it to say that 'no' does not mean the same thing as 'know' and if someone dies then they have 'passed' away not 'past' away...
Now, I don't know what happened here but if the publisher doesn't make the effort to come up with a polished product then I'm not sure that I want to make the effort to read it. It's as simple as that (and I'm not even going to go into the way that 'scene changes' were not made clear at all and resulted in a lot of turning back the page). This was a large part of why I put the book down at about page 38. The story itself didn't seem to be moving very fast at all (meandering descriptions of things that didn't seem worth the time) and given that the book is only one hundred and seventy five pages long I thought this was a problem. Having said that though, I was interested enough to want to skip to the end and see if the heroine got her baby back (she did).
I can't tell you much about the story itself as I didn't get that far into it, there's a review on SQT's Book Blog if you fancy a look.
I'm not going to give this one a grade as I haven't finished it. The blurb sounded like a good idea, it's just a shame about the rest of it.

Saturday, 8 December 2007

‘Mystery Book Winners!’ – The First Batch…

Thanks to everyone who has entered so far. If you haven’t entered yet, there’s still time as the competition will be running for another couple of weeks yet. Just drop me an email (address at the top right hand corner) and tell me you want in! No multiple entries though, any of these will result in a reproachful look from me that will make you feel incredibly guilty (and wondering why you tried to enter more than once)…
Anyway, where was I? Oh yes, the winners…
The first four winners are as follows…

David Turner, Peterborough, UK
Gerard Drijhout, Netherlands
Cindi Hoppes, Edwardsville, Illinois
John Burdis, Maidstone, Kent

Guys, your books are getting closer to you even as we speak!
Everyone else, you’re still in with a chance. I’ll announce the next set of winners around the middle of next week (I’d completely forgotten how slow the Christmas post is so I want to make sure books get to people as soon as possible).
In the meantime, it's getting to that time of year where I have to visit relatives if I want my Christmas presents (I'm greedy but honest!). Things are starting to get busy but I'm still making time to read ;o)

Have a great weekend!

Friday, 7 December 2007

‘Inside Straight’ – George RR. Martin (Tor Books)

With only a few days left in 2007, I think I can safely say that I’ve found my favourite book this year… I never really knew much about the ‘Wild Cards’ universe (the books don’t seem to be so readily available over here) but it was a testament to the skill of the authors involved that I felt completely at home in this book and am eager to read more now that I’ve finished…
For those of you who don’t know (which was me until not so long ago) the ‘Wild Cards’ universe (longest running ‘shared universe’) is set on a parallel earth where an alien virus that rewrites human DNA was released in 1946. Ninety percent of those infected died, nine percent mutated into deformed ‘Jokers’ while the remaining one percent gained superpowers and were known as ‘Aces’. ‘Inside Straight’ brings the ‘Wild Cards’ universe firmly up to date by concentrating on events in 2008. The Jokers and Aces of yesteryear are a lot older now; either drawing a pension or, in some cases, dead. It’s time for a new generation of Wild Cards to step up and make their mark on a world already shaped by their illustrious forebears. In 2008 is there any better way to do this than compete in TV reality show ‘American Hero’? The genocide of Jokers, in Egypt, is certainly a more worthwhile cause but the stakes will be much higher…
After finishing ‘Inside Straight’ I was in awe at how nine (yes, nine!) authors could get together and write a book that was so cohesive the whole way through. If I hadn’t seen the names, on the inside, I’d have thought the whole thing was written by one person. For a book that’s based around a TV Reality Show, there’s a lot more to ‘American Hero’ than you will ever find in any real life equivalent. There’s a real ‘no holds barred’ thing going on in the way that the reader is allowed access into the head of each character, how they interact with each other and how they play the game. (I can only imagine how much real life ‘Reality TV’ was watched, as research, to truly capture all the Machiavellian scheming that goes on). In an America where money and fame are prime motivators it is interesting to see what being a hero actually means to the larger number of contestants but some form of redemption is offered in the form of events happening elsewhere. This also serves to ground the reader in a universe much larger than an LA studio; bringing new readers up to speed and introducing regular readers to old friends. The nature of heroism is explored in many ways, not least in the journey many of the Aces take from LA to the battlegrounds of Egypt. Hive’s story in particular makes compelling reading. Through his blog (which runs throughout the book, tying things together) the reader sees him go from a journalist, trying to get his foot in the door, to a reluctant hero who’s loyal to his friends. Compare that to Stuntman’s journey and you get a pretty good idea about what side of the fence the Wild Cards team are on regarding what makes a true hero. Nothing is clear cut though and I ended up having some degree of sympathy for everyone (apart from the nasty TV executive but that’s to be expected!)
I could go on all day about how great this book is but I really should get some work done. Suffice it to say that Tor is releasing ‘Inside Straight’ as a ‘Sci-Fi Essential’ and I think this is a title that’s well deserved. If you want a read that will entertain you, and have you thinking about it long after you’re finished, then ‘Inside Straight’ is the book for you.

Ten out of Ten

Thursday, 6 December 2007

'National Novel Writing Month' - The Aftermath

November was 'National Novel Writing Month' (or 'NaNoWriMo'), a month where if you listen really hard you can hear the feverish tapping of keyboards and people cursing when they see their wordcount... The deal was to forget things like editing and just get your ideas onto paper in around 50,000 words. You'd then have a draft novel that you could edit at your leisure (instead of getting stuck on the first page).
Unfortunately for me, I fell short of this target by around, oh... 50,000 words (oh dear...) November went something like this,

November 1st: Come up with a great idea for my novel, take the rest of the day off to celebrate.
November 2nd - 10th: There's a nagging feeling that there's something I should be doing...
November 11th: Remember about 'NaNoWriMo'. Unfortunately it's in the middle of a meeting at work and I've forgotten again by the time I get home.
November 20th: The Blog isn't doing too badly but isn't there something else I'm supposed to be writing?
November 26th: Suddenly realise that I'm faced with writing 10,000 words a day if I'm going to do this thing.
November 29th: Actually, make that 25,000 words a day (eek!)
December 1st: So, when's the next 'NaNoWriMo'?

It looks like 'Bartholemow Cain and the attack of the Spider Vixens from Neptune' is going to remain little more than a made up book title, in my head, for a little longer at least...
That's enough about me, how did you do? Did you finish your novel? Did you get into it so much that you're still writing it? Has your book been snapped up by a publisher in the last six days? Or did you do a 'Graeme' and are sat there gazing jealously at all the people who finished?
Tell me! ;O)

Wednesday, 5 December 2007

'Monster Island' - David Wellington (Snow Books)

Every so often I get a hankering to sit down and scare myself stupid with a book about zombies… There's something about these walking corpses (and the bleak apocalyptic world that they inhabit) that works for me on a level those mere vampires and werewolves will never reach. I'd heard a lot of good things about 'Monster Island' but had been put off by the price on copies from the US. All that changed however when I saw a cheap copy in the charity shop round the corner from my work. It was paid for and in my bag faster than, er… one of those fast moving zombies from the new(er) 'Dawn of the Dead' remake! But then I kept picking it up, reading a few pages and then putting it down again. It wasn't quite working for me and there were loads more cool books that were. I picked it up again, a couple of days ago, and this time something changed. I really got into it this time and will be searching out the other two books in the series, ‘Monster Nation’ and ‘Monster Planet’.
As is usual in a book of this kind, the dead have risen and eaten their way through the larger part of the planet. Countries of the developed world have fallen quickly but it’s in the warzones of countries like Somalia where the daily fight for survival has equipped people to deal with the new threat. However, supplies are running low and an army of schoolgirls (yes, really) led by a former UN weapons inspector must travel by boat to New York to find the medicine they need. This does actually make sense when you read it. They’re about to throw themselves into a city teeming with the undead and there’s something far more dangerous that’s also waiting for them. One of the zombies can think…
‘Monster Island’ took a while to get going but when it did I found it was worth carrying on for. It was actually like a horror film where the viewer is lulled into a false sense of security and then hit with something big and scary. This tactic almost backfired though as I found (at first) that the book was easy to put down for other reads. What you eventually get though is an unrelenting attack on that little gland in your body that makes you want to look nervously over your shoulder. Noises downstairs actually made me jump. Come to think of it, what were those noises anyway…? I found the characters engaging as well and it’s clear that Wellington has spent a great deal of time thinking about the aftermath of a zombie infestation with the situations that he puts people through and how they feel about it. I really liked the introduction of the riot police zombies who were wearing bulletproof helmets and couldn’t be shot.
These days zombies are getting loads of ‘upgrades’ in order to be more interesting and ‘Monster Island’ is no exception. I liked the idea behind Gary retaining his faculties, even when he was dead, and I also liked the way that the origins of the epidemic borrowed heavily from the ‘Zombieworld’ series (Dark Horse Comics) without actually confirming that this was the reason certain things were happening. Without giving too much away, Wellington comes up with many ways of keeping things fresh and new throughout the whole book.
If you fancy reading a zombie book then ‘Monster Island’ is a pretty good place to start. However, be prepared to give the book a chance to warm up a little before it really gets going. It’s worth it.

Eight out of Ten

Tuesday, 4 December 2007

Author Interview! Brian Keene...

Over the last couple of years Brian Keene has become one of my favourite authors of horror fiction. This is a guy who doesn't just have zombies invade your hometown, he gives them the ability to drive tanks at the same time! There's a lot more to him than just that though. I've described him elsewhere as a heady mix of fear and gore and I reckon that's the best way to describe his work. You can tell I'm a real fan (I've reviewed Dark Hollow and Dead Sea on the blog) so I jumped at the chance to ask Brian a few questions. Without further ado, here they are...

Graeme: Hi Brian, thanks for agreeing to do this interview!

Brian: My pleasure. Thanks for having me.

G: Your latest book ‘Dark Hollow’ has also been published as ‘The Rutting Season’. It’s a great book but why the re-release? Are there any differences between the two novels?

B: There are no differences other than the title change, which was done from a marketing standpoint—the general thinking is that ‘Dark Hollow’ will appeal to mass market consumers more than ‘The Rutting Season’ would. Same thing happened with The Conqueror Worms. The original title, in hardcover, was Earthworm Gods.

G: Without going into too much detail the ending is a bit of a cliffhanger. Are you going to leave the ending open or can you see yourself referring to it in a future book?

B: I don’t know if it’s really a cliff-hanger. If you read the last entry in the character’s diary (which occurs earlier in the book) then the ending sort of dovetails into that. But just in case readers don’t figure it out, yes, there is a sequel of sorts coming out in August. That’s called Ghost Walk, and it basically picks up a few years after the events in Dark Hollow.

G: Anyone who has been following your work will have seen the gradual revealing of your ‘Labyrinth’ mythos and ‘Dark Hollow’ is no exception. How would you describe it to someone who hasn’t read your books? Any new teasers for those of us who have?

B: The Labyrinth is the overall mythos connecting all of my books and stories. Many readers probably didn't even realize that they are connected, and that's good. This was done on purpose. New readers should not have to read Ghoul to understand Dead Sea, or The Rising to understand The Conqueror Worms. The inherent danger in a mythos is that you risk turning off new readers who would otherwise try your work. Therefore, knowledge of one of my books is not required to enjoy another. And yet, the connections are there—I just keep them subtle.

In a nutshell, the Labyrinth is an other-dimensional space used by many of the supernatural beings in my books. The Labyrinth is a way of travelling through time and space, between worlds, and between those world's alternate realities. Humans view it as a maze, because that is the only way they can comprehend it, but it is really much more than that. Think of it as a series of back alley short cuts through the universe.

G: Is ‘Dark Hollow’ a good place for a new reader to get started with your books or would you recommend another one?

B: It’s the perfect jumping on book. No knowledge of previous titles are required, and in truth, I’m really proud of the writing in it. When I go back and re-read the book, it doesn’t make me cringe. (laughs)

G: There’s a lot of apocalyptic stuff happening in your books, how does it feel going to a place (in real life) that you’ve had torn to pieces by zombies or overrun by giant worms in one of your books? Have you ever looked at a building and thought, “I had the Leviathan destroy that”?

B: (Laughs) I have! You know the disaster-proof skyscraper in City of the Dead? In real life, that’s the offices of my publisher, Leisure Books. So every time I visit there, I picture an army of zombie encircling the building. And the destruction of downtown Baltimore in Dead Sea is another fun one—I visit Baltimore quite often. Now, every time I’m at the Inner Harbor, I picture it in flames.

G: I was first introduced to your books when I picked up a copy of ‘The Rising’. What made you decide to write a book about zombies that could make wisecracks, operate heavy machinery and use machineguns?

B: Well, at the time, it had been about ten years since the genre had seen a zombie book. The last two really good ones were Phil Nutman’s Wetwork and Skipp and Spector’s Book of the Dead 1 and 2. So I thought it might be time for a zombie resurgence (boy, was I right about that!) I wanted to do something a little different, rather than just repeating what had been done before.

‘The Rising’ was originally going to be a standalone book but fan feedback led to you writing ‘City of the Dead’. Looking back, are you glad you did this or do you think it would have been better left alone?

B: I am glad I did it. I didn’t want to, at first, but in hindsight, it was a fun book to write, and I think it gave both readers and myself a sense of closure.

G: Are we ever going to see anything more of Ob or is that one part of the Labyrinth that is now closed?

B: I’m sure you’ll see him again. He popped up in two recent short stories, “The Resurrection and the Life” and “The Siqqusim Who Stole Christmas”. He’s inarguably one of my most popular monsters, and I still find him fun to write about, so I’m sure I’ll use him on occasion.

G: What’s it like hanging out with other horror writers? Do you have competitions to see who can scare the others the most?

B: Not really. I’m lucky enough to live near several other horror writers—J.F. Gonzalez, Geoff Cooper, Robert Ford, Thomas Montelone, Chet Williamson, Richard Chizmar, James Kidman, and several others. That’s nice, because many authors only get to stay in contact with their peers through the internet or at conventions. I have the luxury of seeing my friends more often than that. But I guess we’re just like anyone else. Maybe we get a few beers, go target shooting, or just hang out and talk shop.

There’s a lot of genres for a writer to work in, what made you decide to go with horror?

I’ve been a fan of the genre since I was a kid, so I guess it was natural that I gravitated towards it in my professional life. I’m still a fan. I consider myself a fan before I consider myself a practitioner. Hopefully, I never lose that sense.

A number of your books have been optioned for film and video game treatment. Are there any developments in this area that you can tell us? I would love to see ‘The Rising’ on the big screen…

B: The Rising is slated for an October 2009 release, although with the current WGA strike, I’m sure that will change. City of the Dead, Ghoul, and Terminal have also all been optioned, and are in various stages of development.

G: I want to buy a horror book by someone who isn’t Stephen King etc. Recommend me someone good!

B: To avoid leaving somebody out, I’ll limit myself to ten suggested authors, all of whom are newer and definitely worth checking out: Sarah Langan, Greg Gifune, Bryan Smith, Mary SanGiovanni, Nate Southard, Wrath James White, Nate Kenyon, Brian Knight, Mehitobel Wilson, and Brett McBean.

G: Finally, this isn’t a question it’s your chance to introduce your work to people who may not have heard of it. Go for it! (Sorry, I forgot to mention that you’re only allowed twenty words tops…)

I can do it in less than twenty... (clears throat)

G: Thanks again Brian, it’s been great talking to you.

B: The pleasure was all mine! Thanks.

Monday, 3 December 2007

‘Beowulf’ – Caitlin R. Kiernan (Bantam Books)

Although Angelina Jolie is looking as nice as ever, the trailer for ‘Beowulf’ didn’t really inspire me to go and see the film. The fact that it’s being touted as being ‘amazing in 3D’ made me wonder if it was so bad that it needed the 3D thing as a gimmick to pull the crowds in. I’ve just finished reading Caitlin Kiernan’s ‘book of the film’ and I think I may have had my mind changed for me. The wife is away on a course, next week, and I might just go to the cinema and see this on the big screen…
I never read ‘Beowulf’ as a kid, although I was probably meant to for English A-Level, but it’s one of those tales where everyone knows the story. What’s that? You’ve never heard of Beowulf? Ok, here’s the potted version. Monster hates noisy neighbours, eats most of them, Beowulf turns up with his men (kinda like the A-Team) and takes care of business. At least that’s what he thinks…
Having been driven to distraction by anti-social neighbours, in the past, I was rooting for Grendel (the monster) right from the start. Unfortunately for me, Caitlin Kiernan decided to stay true to the story, which was to be expected I guess! And what a story it was. This isn’t a book that will have you thinking about it long after you have finished; it’s a book that will grab you by the throat and then throw swordfights, monsters and fair maidens at you all in one big rush. There is always something happening and some of the ‘fight set pieces’ had me holding my breath (even though I knew how it had to end). As a result ‘Beowulf’ is certainly an entertaining read and a review copy that will find a permanent place on my bookshelf.
‘Beowulf’ isn’t just a hack n’ slash tale though, Kiernan has done her research and delivers a tale that does the tricky job of grounding the reader in a defined historical period while, at the same time, placing said reader firmly in a age of myth and legend.
I’d never come across Kiernan’s work before now but apparently she’s a well known author of ‘Dark Fantasy’ and this shows in her descriptions of bleak moorland, crashing surf on deserted coastline and dank tunnels. Her characters are pretty much spot on as well, walking a fine line between being the heroes of ‘Asgard’ and people that twenty first century readers can identify with. I say ‘pretty much’ spot on as certain twenty first century colloquialisms creep in at strange moments and interrupt the flow. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Viking (in a book) say “Damn straight”…
Chris (of the ‘Book Swede’ fame) has also Reviewed ‘Beowulf’ and mentioned a perceived anti-Christian sentiment. I didn’t see any of that but what I did see was quite a thoughtful portrayal of a culture slowly being superceded by a new religion.
‘Beowulf’ (the book) probably won’t win any awards in the genre but is a fast paced, action packed book that won’t fail to entertain.

Eight out of Ten

Sunday, 2 December 2007

Manga Sunday! ‘Alice on Deadlines’ – Shiro Ihara (Yen Press)

When I reviewed ‘With the Light’, a few weeks ago, I made a passing comment about how not all Manga is about young girls with really long legs and large breasts. I still think this is true but (in what looks like an attempt to redress this balance) I’ve since been sent a Manga book that is entirely about young ‘over-endowed’ ladies and what they get up to…
As a punishment for reading ‘naughty magazines’ on the job, the shinagami (sort of like a grim reaper) Lapan is ordered to go to the Human Realm (in the body of a skeleton) to retrieve a wandering spirit. However; there’s a slip up and he ends up in the body of Alice, a student at an all girls school (she ends up trapped in the body of a skeleton). Lapan has a job to do but the lecherous shinagami also finds himself being able to act out some particularly lewd fantasies while Alice tries to limit the damage…
‘Alice on Deadlines’ is very much a cross between the ‘Carry On’ films and Benny Hill. There’s a lot of smutty situational comedy and sequences where Alice and Lapan are chased by buxom schoolgirls. This could get boring very quickly so luckily there’s also the story of the ‘wandering cannibal spirit’ to get into plus some events which are clearly there to have something ready for book two.
This is a strange one to call, there was enough there to make me read the whole way through but not enough there to keep me hooked as it were. The concept behind Alice and Lapin swapping bodies was good but the ramifications were perhaps a little too lightweight to last a whole book. Hopefully the supernatural element will take precedence as the series progresses, which could be interesting. I think there’s probably enough there to make me give it one more chance and see where it goes.

Six out of Ten

Saturday, 1 December 2007

The Twelve Books of Christmas!

Where has this year gone? It only seems like yesterday that I was looking out of the study window on a cold grey July day. While the weather hasn't changed all of a sudden it's December! I've read some great books this year and, looking at my bookshelf, I've still got some great books to read before the year is out! Patrick Rothfuss' 'The Name of the Wind' is one that springs to mind and I've also got a copy of the new 'Wild Cards' collection to have a look at as well.
Seeing as it's now the festive season I thought I'd get in on the act and do my own impersonation of Father Christmas :o) Like I said, I've read some great books this year and I'm going to give some of them away (and some that look good but I didn't get time to read) to readers of this blog. Twelve days of Christmas, twelve books to give away. How does that grab you? Here's the thing though; when you were little you never knew what Father Christmas was going to bring did you? Well, it's the same deal here, you're not going to know what you've got until it comes through your front door...
Still fancy a go? Just drop me an email (address in the top right hand corner) telling me who you are and where you live, it's as simple as that. Comments next to the post are always great but won't count as an entry this time (makes it easier for me to keep track of things). Also, let me know what kind of stuff you're into (sci-fi, fantasy etc). I'll be announcing four winners a week, over the next three weeks, so if you don't make it into the first lot then you still have a chance!
Good Luck!

Friday, 30 November 2007

‘The World of Quest (Part One)’ – Jason Kruse (Yen Press)

It turns out that Yen Press aren’t just doing Manga, they’re also releasing comic book adaptations of cartoon shows. ‘The World of Quest’ is one of these and while it hasn’t quite made me want to go out and get a TV licence (so I can watch the show) it did make me chuckle on the tube to work.
What do you do if you’re a Prince whose father has gone missing and whose kingdom is in danger? It’s simple; you go and find the hero with the biggest jaw in the kingdom and get him to help you. What if he doesn’t want to help you though? That’s where the fun begins…
‘The World of Quest’ is a quick read, a little too quick in fact. Although there was plenty going on it ended rather suddenly and left me thinking, ‘oh… was that it?’ I enjoyed the artwork, nice and bright with plenty to look at. Ideal for a guy who’s trying to wake up on the way to work! There are also plenty of original ideas that mark ‘The World of Quest’ out from other fantasy comics in a light hearted way. I particularly liked the walking prisons and Quests innovative way of escaping one of these! There’s plenty of humour evident but it’s very much aimed at the 8-10 year old audience that would be watching the cartoon on TV. It made me laugh (I really should try growing up one day…) but it may not be to your taste.
The relationship between Nestor (the Prince) and Quest has been likened to Calvin and Hobbes. To be honest I didn’t see this at all but it may become more apparent in later books. Their interaction is full of quips and a mutual dislike based on each other’s perceived superiority to the other, should be fun to see how this one develops.
‘The World of Quest’ is a quick fun read but at a first glance feels like it probably worked better as a twenty minute cartoon rather than a 140 page comic book. Maybe this will change as the series grows. In the meantime though, it’s definitely one for the kids or maybe for you if you fancy something light and not taxing…

Six out of Ten

Thursday, 29 November 2007

‘The Awakened Mage’ – Karen Miller (Orbit Books)

Karen Miller’s ‘The Innocent Mage’ has been touted as one of Orbit’s big successes, this year, and having read the book it’s not hard to see why. Although it didn’t do anything particularly original what made it stand out for me was the depth of characterisation that made me want to spend six hundred odd pages with these people. By the time it came round to the cliff-hanger ending I really felt that I had invested a lot of time in Asher, and Gar, and was looking forward to seeing how the sequel tied things up. I took ‘The Awakened Mage’ to Vienna with me and although the pages flew by it was too often for the wrong reasons and I finished the book feeling a little disappointed at how things had turned out.
Following the climax of ‘The Innocent Mage’, Prince Gar now finds himself King and entrusted with the weather magic that protects the kingdom of Lur. Faithful Asher is always at hand to help his friend but will eventually be called upon to help in a way that will reveal his powers to all and will hasten the ascendancy of an ancient evil. The fate of the kingdom will depend on Asher being able to accept his part in an ancient prophecy…
‘The Awakened Mage’ has much to offer in the same way that it’s predecessor did, if you’re already a fan then I think you’ll get something positive out of it. Miller really excels in showing her characters as real people that the reader can identify with and places them in situations that almost had me holding my breath while waiting for resolution. Some particularly intense moments really held my attention and had me right there in the book living it out.
It’s a real shame then that these moments felt few and far between, stuck in the middle of endless conversations (and character descriptions) that showed how people were feeling but did little to advance the plot. There were times when I felt like saying, “I know how such and such a character is feeling but can we please get on with the story?” I even ended up skim reading large chunks of conversation which I meant I ended up missing important bits and having to go back. Because of this padding, it felt like the ending was rushed when perhaps more time could have been taken over it. Out of a six hundred and eighty-page book, only twenty or so pages dealt with the climax and maybe it’s just me but I don’t think it was enough.
The other problem I had was the use of prophecy to advance the story. I think ‘prophecy’ is a hard subject to tackle in any book, rely on it too much and it just looks like you’re using it as a way to get your characters out of trouble (I’m looking at you Mr Eddings!). Without giving away too much, Asher is rescued from quite a sticky situation by a prophecy that seems to have every base covered. Maybe that’s the whole point of prophecy (that it will happen) but it just felt contrived to me, almost like a cop-out. I would rather have seen Asher use his magic to escape instead of being rescued by prophecy, it almost rendered the scene in question pointless as you knew that it would work out fine.
As I said earlier, if you enjoyed ‘The Innocent Mage’ then I think there will be plenty here that you’ll like. For me though, I was left with the impression of a good series that could have been great. Apparently Karen Miller will be revisiting the world of Lur in the future, it will still be interesting to see what happens next.

Six out of Ten

Wednesday, 28 November 2007

‘Another One Bites The Dust’ – Jennifer Rardin (Orbit Books)

Last month I read ‘Once Bitten, Twice Shy’, a fast paced and fun book about a vampire assassin (and his feisty assistant) working for the US government. It reminded me of a more light-hearted (yet more hard hitting at the same time) version of ‘Blade’ and it made a nice change to the ‘urban fantasy’ that I’ve read so far this year. When its sequel, ‘Another One Bites The Dust’, came through the door I was looking forward to some more of what I’d read before. I didn’t quite get what I was after but I had fun anyway.
After some time off (following the events of ‘Once Bitten’) Jaz and Vayl are hot on the trail of Chien-Lung, a dragon obsessed vampire clothed in invulnerable armour and looking to start a war with America. How do you kill a vampire whose armour makes him impervious to assault? Jaz and Vayl are about to find out and along the way will also get to grips with a new breed of monster and dreams that can kill…
Although ‘Another One Bites The Dust’ builds on some of what is learnt in ‘Once Bitten’ it doesn’t do a lot that is new. It’s very formulaic and I’m not sure if that’s such a good thing in a series that is only two books old. Having said that though this series is shaping up to be very much like a supernatural James Bond and ‘formula’ seems to work just fine there…. I think the best way to put it would be that Rardin’s books are very unpretentious and ‘up front’ about what they offer the reader. You definitely know what you’re getting for your money but, at the same time, you also know what you won’t be getting as well. I’m still up for reading more but these are very much a ‘commuter’ read rather than a ‘curl up in front of the fireplace for several hours’ read.
The story itself is just as entertaining as the last but there was a lack of intrigue (no treacherous moles here!) which made it feel as if there wasn’t that much actually happening. Don’t get me wrong, there were fights, car chases and plenty of explosions but very no moments where I thought, ‘oh, so that’s what’s going on!’ Sometimes I like to be told stuff and sometimes I like to puzzle things out for myself, maybe I was just in the wrong mood to read this book.
While some things about Jaz are made clearer, it felt that not enough was said. This meant that when she got ‘supernatural help’ from Raoul it just felt like Rardin was bailing Jaz out rather than things happening for a reason. However, enough hints are dropped to suggest that we’re going to get proper answers soon; hopefully things will make sense when placed in a wider context.
One thing that I’m still enjoying though is the gradual development of relationships between the people in Jaz’ new ‘crew’. Jaz’ character in particular shows depth in her struggle to accept new friends so soon after losing old ones. However, I’m a little bit wary of the ‘little bit more than just friends’ thing that is growing between Jaz and Vayl and I’m hoping this one doesn’t go down certain paths…
If you liked ‘Once Bitten’ then I reckon you’ll have just as much fun with ‘Another One Bites The Dust’ but it didn’t quite work for me this time round. Maybe I was after a little more this time, I don’t know. There’s still enough here to make me want to try the next book though so we’ll see how that goes…

Six and a Half out of Ten

Tuesday, 27 November 2007

Mystery Book Giveaway - The Winner!

All of you guys who wondered if this was a copy of Kate Elliott's 'Spirit Gate'... you were bang on the money, it is indeed that book. Unfortunately for you though (unless you already have a copy that is) that wasn't what you had to do in order to win... ;o)
Without further ado, the winner is...

Karl Wehage, British Columbia, Canada

Nice one Karl, your book will be in the post very soon. Happy reading!
If you didn't win this time, thanks for entering and there will be more chances to get your hands on free stuff in the very near future...

Monday, 26 November 2007

The Return of... Holidaywatch!

Did you guys all have a good weekend? I did, although the weather was a little chilly, I was in Vienna! Despite one of the engines failing on the runway, on Friday afternoon, we finally made it into Vienna airport several hours late and with no idea what we were supposed to be doing (or where we were supposed to be staying). A good friend of ours had arranged everything but couldn't make it so all we had to go on were the bits of paper he was able to give us. Luckily some fellow travelers and a nice taxi driver took pity on us and we made it to our hotel.
I'm not going to bore you with the 'blog equivalent' of me showing you a bunch of holiday pictures (although I did look good), I'm just going to give you a quick list of reasons why you should visit Vienna if you haven't already...

The Food! I don't think we ate a single bad meal while we were there, we certainly ate several good ones that left us just wanting to curl up somewhere and get some sleep. If you go; be sure to try the roast goose, schnitzel and langos. My not so little stomach is getting nostalgic right now :o)

The Culture! I'm not really into history and all of that but some of the sights we saw took my breath away. The Freud museum wasn't so great but we did get to hang out in his waiting room which isn't something a lot of people can say ;O) If you're a fan of cathedrals and stuff then you should spend time in Vienna, the Cathedral in the Stephansplatz is amazing and another good thing to do is jump on a tram and just spend your time looking out of the window...

Now, I'm one of those people who get all hot under the collar when the Christmas stuff goes in the shop window as soon as Halloween is over. Not any more though, a weekend spent going round the Christmas Fayre (in Rathaus) means that I am more excited than ever about the festive season! Hot punch, good food along with lots of Christmas decorations everywhere. And I mean everywhere, not just on the market stalls but all over the trees and church as well. I'm feeling pretty darn festive now :o)

I'm a little bit sad to be back (it was great) but I only have a four day working week and a fair bit of stuff to blog about before the month is up. I've just finished Jennifer Rardin's 'Another One bites the Dust' and am getting to the closing stages of Karen Miller's 'The Awakened Mage'. I've also got a winner for my mystery competition to announce tomorrow...

Friday, 23 November 2007

‘In the Eye of Heaven’ – David Keck (Tor Books)

La Gringa (aka 'The Swivet') sent this book my way and, after coming off the back of what feels like a lot of sci-fi reading, I was looking forward to getting back into some epic sounding fantasy. I stayed up late last night to finish this one but this wasn’t always the case. In fact, there were a couple of times when I almost put the book down and didn’t bother picking it back up again.
Durand is a squire halfway through his life’s plan of becoming a knight and settling down to run a fiefdom on his father’s land. This backfires in the most dramatic way and Durand is left to fend for himself. Falling in with a band of mercenary knights forces Durand to witness the worst excesses of the Duke who pays them, his next job is working for a Lord who is no less obsessed with a mission to restore his honour. And all the while, Durand is steadily becoming a focus for the wild magic that is slowly creeping back into the kingdom…
‘In the Eye of Heaven’ is (for me) a book of three parts, two extremely good bits with a period in the middle where things felt slack. Get past that bit in the middle and you’ll be rewarded with a very good read that promises good things for ‘In a Time of Treason’ (the sequel). Keck’s world is suffused with myth, legend and a liberal dose of old English culture. It’s a world that you can become totally immersed in but this sometimes happens at the expense of the story you’re supposed to be reading. There were a couple of times, in the middle part of the book, where the telling of ancient legends completely took over the plot and I was left thinking ‘but what about the story?’ Another thing that got me was that a long journey, through a forest, seemed to be punctuated with confrontations and fights that did little to advance the plot. It felt to me that Keck had realised long forest journeys can be tedious and felt like he should throw some stuff into spice things up.
This all sounds like I hated ‘In the Eye of Heaven’ but the feeling I came away with was one of enjoyment. Without giving too much away the various plot elements sat together very well and combined to keep my attention throughout. The politics (of which there were a lot) were not overdone, focussing more on the politics of the tourney field rather than those of state. Durand’s character is very well drawn and you actually get to see him develop, over the course of the book, into a completely different person than when he started out. Some of what he has to go through will really have you feeling for him, ‘In the Eye of Heaven’ is described as ‘gritty fantasy’ and this is certainly true! Durand’s ordeals are no different than any other knight-errant, that you will encounter in other books, but Keck’s skill makes these ordeals fresh and engaging.
‘In the Eye of Heaven’ is a difficult read but one that is ultimately rewarding and promises a lot for its sequel. I’m looking forward to reading more from David Keck, if you’re a fantasy fan then I reckon you should give him a go.

Seven and a Half out of Ten

Thursday, 22 November 2007

New Amazon e-book reader the future of reading?

Just before I got yelled at for peering over someone's shoulder to read their paper (on the tube) I noticed an article about how Amazon have come up with an e-book reader (the 'Kindle') that "may signal the death of the humble paperback". Without stopping to think how hardback sales may be affected (get it?) I immediately jumped off at the next stop, went home and burnt every single one of my books in a massive bonfire of literary distruction. There's no way I'm going to be seen with books when the Kindle is the way forward, right?
Actually what I really did was think, "nope, not for me" and carry on reading my humble paperback (after apologising for my anti-social newspaper reading behaviour). I'm not denying that it looks pretty cool (if you want something that looks like it could also double as a geiger counter) but I'm pretty old fashioned in a lot of ways and will stick with reading books just as they are.
For me the act of reading a book means that I actually have a book in my hands, not an electronic gadget where book storage (and display) is almost peripheral to all the other great stuff that it can do. A book is representational of all the work put in by the author, cover artist, editorial staff and many others. To me, an e-book reader is only representational of some amazing technical work (nothing to do with books at all).
The somewhat prohibitive price is also offputting, $400 is a lot of money even if the US Dollar/Stirling exchange rate is working in my favour right now ;o) What really swung it for me though is that I'm less likely to be mugged for a paperback than I am for a cool looking electronic gadget that I'm reading on the train. Think about it...
Having said all of that though, am I missing out on a great e-reading experience? Let me know if you have an e-book reader and can't be parted from it...

Wednesday, 21 November 2007

‘The Stupidest Angel’ – Christopher Moore (Orbit Books)

It’s not often that I get to sit at my desk and read a book when I should be working. In fact I never get to do this at all! However, a power cut that has lasted most of the day meant that I could take it easy and finish off ‘The Stupidest Angel’ (a book that I started on the train last night).
I’ve read a few books by Christopher Moore and have to say that I never really got the joke, until now that is. I’ve just spent the last few hours, at my desk, trying not to laugh out loud at brain eating zombies, a psychotic ex-film star and a seven year old child with an interesting way of describing wine. This is a book that I’ll be reading every Christmas!
The yuletide season has arrived in the sleepy town of Pine Cove but a little boy (who thinks he has just seen Santa being killed) is about to inadvertently condemn the town to a night of terror. His wish, for Santa to come back to life, is picked up by the Archangel Raziel who (not being the brightest Angel in the heavenly choir) completely misunderstands what is being asked for. Cue the zombies…
‘The Stupidest Angel’ is only a couple of hundred pages long so this isn’t going to be a particularly long review! Suffice it to say that there weren’t very many pages where I didn’t find something that made me chuckle at least. The surreal humour is very much along the lines of Robert Rankin and the situational ‘comedy of errors’ reminded me (a little bit) of P.G Wodehouse. The ‘seasonal relationship breakup syndrome’, which was prevalent throughout, also lent the proceedings a touch of pathos which offset the comedy nicely but also made me want to invest a little more time getting to know the characters (rather than just reading a story). The characters themselves can be found in many of Moore’s other works, making ‘The Stupidest Angel’ either a great place to get reacquainted with old friends or a good point to start reading these books. I mentioned before that some of the situational stuff was sublime, I particularly enjoyed the meeting between Theo and Tuck (cannabis growing policeman and accessory to murder) while the drug induced demons that Molly and Theo faced (just to buy each other the perfect Christmas present) were funny yet strangely touching at the same time.
There were moments where the jokes didn’t quite work but I’d say that was more down to my taste in humour than any failing on Moore’s part.
On the whole, I really enjoyed ‘The Stupidest Angel’. Any book that can carry off the line “No-one knows why, but second only to eating the brains of the living, the dead love affordable prefab furniture” (and this book does) will sit comfortably on my bookshelf!
’The Stupidest Angel’ is a fun, fast read that pretty much hot the spot for me laughter wise, a nice little stocking filler for any fan of the genre.

Eight and a Half out of Ten