Friday, 31 July 2009

Giveaway! 'The Dwarves' (Marcus Heitz)

Thanks to Orbit, I have three copies of 'The Dwarves' (which I might just be reading by the pool as you're reading this...) to give away to three lucky readers. This competition is only open to people from the UK and Europe though, sorry everyone else!

To be in with a chance of winning all you need to do is drop me an email (address at the top right hand side of the screen) telling me who you are and what your mailing address is. I'll do the rest... :o)

As with all other competitions happening at the moment, this one will be left open until I get back from holiday and close it...

Good Luck!

Thursday, 30 July 2009

‘The Boys Vol.1: The Name of the Game’ – Garth Ennis and Darick Robertson

You know how it is sometimes, you’re in a comic shop and you really want to buy something. You just don’t know what you want...
Isn’t that the most infuriating feeling? Especially when there’s so much to choose from... I encountered this problem, a few weeks ago, and got round it by saying to my friends that what I was after was something completely different that I’d never read before. They gave me the first volume of ‘The Boys’ and once I’d stopped retching at the brutal scenes within that was it, I was hooked.

Not all superheroes are squeaky clean, most of them are out for whatever they can get and hide their dark side behind a veneer of heroism. They don’t care what happens to the little people, especially people like Wee Hughie whose girlfriend died after being caught up in a super powered brawl. He’s not after compensation; all that Wee Hughie wants is justice. Enter ‘The Boys’, a CIA backed team whose job is to make sure that superheroes do not get away with murder. Wee Hughie is about to find out that these guys are not above a little blackmail and intimidation, to keep the superhero community in line, and when the chips are down they can dish out a few beatings of their own...

Garth Ennis’ story and Darick Robertson’s artwork grabbed me by the eyeballs and refused to let go, even after I’d finished the book (I kept going back to re-read little bits here and there). This is a story that redefines the phrase ‘not pulling any punches’, casting it in a cold and bloody new light. ‘The Name of the Game’ isn’t a comic book for children or those who are easily offended. I’m neither of these and I loved it.

‘The Name of the Game’ is real edgy stuff (ably backed up by Robertson’s cool, crisp artwork) that asks the question of what superheroes would really do if they though they could get away with it. The answer is pretty much anything and ‘The Boys’ are the ultimate answer to the ensuing questions that arise. They’re not a lot better than the ‘heroes’ that they’re watching but they do what they do for all the right reasons... right? Once you’ve met Billy Butcher, The Frenchman and The Female you may not be so sure...

While ‘The Name of the Game’ is clearly setting things up for future storylines there’s still plenty of fun to be had with Wee Hughie’s induction into the team and the introductions to the other ‘Boys’. There are also interesting hints of a world that has gone along a slightly different path to ours, I want to find out what happened to the Brooklyn Bridge...
And if all that wasn’t enough for you, the final faceoff between ‘The Boys’ and ‘Teenage Kix’ (a teenage super group) is well worth the price of admission!

My wallet is about to take another battering with yet another series that I’ll be collecting but it will be worth it though... :o)

Wednesday, 29 July 2009

Giveaway! 'Twelve' (Jasper Kent)

What's better than a competition to win copies of Jasper Kent's 'Twelve'? Why, a competition where you can win signed copies of course! :o)
What's even better than that? A competition that anyone can enter. It doesn't matter where you live, this competition is open to all!

Thanks to Transworld Books, I have three signed copies of 'Twelve' to give away to three lucky readers. To enter, all you need to do is drop me an email (address at the top right hand side of the screen) telling me who you are and what your mailing address is. I'll do the rest :o)

How long is this competition open for? I'm on holiday for the next week and a bit so that's how long you've got to enter... (There will be a post, when I get back, that says all competitions are closed...)

Good Luck!

Tuesday, 28 July 2009

From My Bookshelf... ‘Otherland’ – Tad Williams

Tad Williams is one of those authors where I will go out and buy anything that he has written. I’m such a big fan in fact that if he was to release a series of shopping lists and reminder notes that he has written then I would probably already have it on advance order from Amazon... My face has gone red just typing this but it’s true.

It wasn’t always like this though. It was about ten years ago and I had pretty much everything that Tad had written fantasy wise, I wasn’t sure whether to get started on the new ‘Otherland’ series that I had noticed in the bookshop. I was on a real fantasy fix back then and this science fiction series was a little too far outside my zone, it was seven pounds for the first (admittedly very thick) book and my budget couldn’t stretch that far! Thank the Book Gods for birthdays, that’s all I have to say. I ended up with a copy of ‘City of Golden Shadow’ and was too busy getting into a tale of two worlds to have time to wish that I’d picked this book up sooner...

Renie Sulaweyo is drawn into a mystery spanning continents and lands across two worlds when her little brother falls into a coma while online. Rumour of a golden city draws her ever onwards and she comes across several others who have also fallen under the spell of the same vision. Someone wants these people to find ‘Otherland’, a virtual world created by the world’s elite. What will Renie and her friends do though when they realise that they are stuck in Otherland and cannot leave? And who is the mysterious Paul Jonas...?

Whether you’re a fan of Tad Williams, or not, you won’t be able to escape the validity of the accusation that once again he’s written a series that sometimes almost drowns under the weight of excessive padding. Otherland is made up of countless smaller worlds and Williams doesn’t want to leave any of them until he has told you everything he can about them. What you get as a result is a series where the balance shifts away from the plot and towards the world building, almost to the point of no return. If you’re not a fan of the minutiae of world building then you may want to steer clear of these books!

I’m a fan though and I loved it.

Williams really pours himself into each of these worlds and this ‘personal feel’ is evident in both the background and the characters moving through it. Personally, I was sad to leave each world (the world of ‘The Looking Glass’ and the one with the giant insects have always been my favourites, Felix Jongleur’s Egyptian world gave me the shivers...) but this was tempered by the fact that I was about to go somewhere new and discover a whole load of great stuff.

You have to dig for it but there is a story here as well and Williams does very well to keep everything going for as long as he does (considering all the strands he had to weave), I wasn’t too convinced by the ending but the journey there was more than worth it! The ‘Otherland’ series is chock full of ordinary people doing very brave things in a world that’s more dangerous than they first realised. Jongleur is a very dangerous individual but Dread is far worse.
I was gripped, by the story, the whole way through and definitely begrudged the time I had to spend waiting for the next chapter!

I came to the ‘Otherland’ series as I was a fan of Tad Williams; I stayed because of the story itself. If you’re after a series with plenty to chew on then you could do a lot worse than check this out...

The ‘Otherland’ series comprises...

‘City of Golden Shadow’
‘River of Blue Fire’
‘Mountain of Black Glass’
‘Sea of Silver Light’

Monday, 27 July 2009

Author Interview! Tim Lebbon ('Hellboy' this time...)

I enjoyed reading Tim Lebbon's 'Hellboy' novel, 'The Fire Wolves', and thought it would be cool to run a few questions past Tim about the book. Tim's a very busy guy (just finding out all the stuff he has on made me want to have a lie down!) but found the time to answer my questions. Thanks Tim!

Here's what he had to say for himself...

Hi Tim, thanks for agreeing to answer a few questions for the blog...

Thanks for asking them!

How did you come to write a ‘Hellboy’ novel for Dark Horse? Did they come to you about it or did you have to pitch the idea to them? Or was it a mixture of both?

Well, I’ve already written a Hellboy novel a couple of years back for Simon & Schuster – Hellboy: Unnatural selection. And when this new series started up with Dark Horse I was asked to pitch an idea to them. Luckily it was well received!

Were you a Hellboy fan prior to writing ‘The Fire Wolves’?

Yeah, a big fan. Although I have to admit, my first Hellboy writing experience – a short story called The Glass Road for the Dark Horse anthology Odder Jobs – required me reading all the graphic novels to get into the gist of things. … I’d read some of them before, but reading it all in one go made me realise just what a wonderful, rich universe Mignola has created. And that artwork …

How have you found the experience of writing in a universe created by someone else? Did you feel a weight of expectation from fans or were you just too busy writing the story?

I’d done a couple of tie-in books before. The first Hellboy book, and the novelisation of the movie 30 Days of Night. There’s a certain amount of trepidation, but that usually disappears from page one onwards when I get into the story. Obviously with this I couldn’t do anything that would have affected the Hellboy timeline too much, but I had quite a nice amount of freedom to play with. It’s an interesting process, but it still gives me the usual storytelling thrill.

Are you contracted for any more Hellboy novels (or anything else with Dark Horse)?

Not at the moment, but never say never. I’d love to write an Alien novel one day.

What’s the recipe for a good Hellboy story?

Knowledge of the back-story, an appreciation of the way humour and darkness can co-exist, and more than anything the willingness to explore Hellboy’s vulnerabilities and doubts.

Are you a fan of comic books? If so, what do you recommend?

Not as much of a fan as a lot of my friends. I’ve enjoyed Preacher, Y, Hellboy, Sandman, Watchmen and some others, but I don’t have a weekly comic fix.

Are there any plans for your own work to be adapted into graphic novel format? If not, which of your books would you like to see make the transition?

No plans at the moment. I think my fantasy world of Noreela is a rich vein to be mined. We’ll see.

What are you reading and why should we drop whatever we’re reading to read it as well?

I’m reading Captains Outrageous by Joe Lansdale. Joe’s work is always entertaining, reliable, insightful and exciting. As for what’s up next … maybe another John Connolly book. He’s the master.

What does the next month, or two, hold for you?

I’m writing an original novel set in the 30 Days of Night universe, so I’m trying to squeeze in work on that between the kids being off school, the bathroom being refurbished, writing pitches for a new trilogy, and lots of other stuff. Oh, and I turn 40 on July 28th, so there’s lots of celebrating.

Happy Birthday for the 28th! Finally, you’re being haunted but who do you call? The B.P.R.D... or Ghostbusters?

BPRD of course. They all look cool.

Thanks Tim!

Thank you!

Sunday, 26 July 2009

Giveaway! 'The Horus Heresy', Books 1-5

If you're a fan of Warhammer 40,000 then you'll know all about the Horus Heresy. If you haven't heard of it already, it's a pivotal moment when humanity stood on the brink of extinction under the threat of Chaos...

That's all I'm saying right now. Why? Well, thanks to the Black Library, two lucky people are going to get the chance to find out all about the Horus Heresy by winning the first five books in the series! That's...

'Horus Rising' - Dan Abnett
'False Gods' - Graham McNeill
'Galaxy in Flames' - Ben Counter
'The Flight of the Eisenstein' - James Swallow
'Fulgrim' - Graham McNeill

I've read all five books and they're well worth the read if you're a WH40K fan or just a fan of military sci-fi in general.

Do you want in? Simply send me an email (address at the top right hand side of the screen) telling me who you are and what your mailing address is. I'll do the rest. This competition is open to anyone, it doesn't matter where you live!

I really can't be bothered to work out the dates and stuff so this competition will run until a couple of days after I come back from holiday. I'll post to say that all competitions are closed...

Good Luck!

Saturday, 25 July 2009

When is a Hiatus not a Hiatus...?

When it's a holiday! :o)

I'm going to be away for the next two weeks in an attempt to chase the sunshine that's been missing from our holidays for... well... years now! Wish us luck...

That doesn't mean that things are going to stop here though as I've loaded up the blog with some cool looking stuff to tide things over while I'm gone. It's all good so stay tuned...

See you in a fortnight!

Friday, 24 July 2009

‘Lord of Silence’ – Mark Chadbourn (Solaris)

No matter how hard I try, I’m never going to be able to get through everything that I want to read. I’m going to give it a damn good go though! :o) One of the names that keeps popping up, in discussion about what to read next, is one Mark Chadbourn; a guy whom (judging by all the nice things that are said about his books) I really should have checked out by now.
Chadbourn’s ‘Age of Misrule’ omnibus has been sat in the ‘to read pile’ casting reproachful looks in my direction but it’s one of those very hefty looking books that are next to impossible to read on the tube to work. I’m on holiday next week so maybe I’ll get a chance to read it then...
In the meantime, the publication of ‘Lord of Silence’ gave me the ideal opportunity to sample Mark’s work without being weighed down by half a ton of paper (figuratively speaking of course, I have no idea what ‘The Age of Misrule’ actually weighs...) As it turned out, ‘Lord of Silence’ confirmed my suspicions; I really shouldn’t have waited so long before reading Chadbourn’s work...

Murder most foul has been committed in the secretive city of Idriss. The people’s greatest hero lies dead and this means that the perils of the surrounding forest have suddenly become a lot more dangerous. Vidar, the Lord of Silence, must take up the mantle of Defender of Idriss and save the city from dangers both without and within. The vampiric jewel embedded in his chest sets Vidar a deadline that he cannot ignore (it’s a case of eat or be eaten...) and the mysteries of his forgotten past will conspire to present him with an impossible dilemma just when victory is within his grasp. Vidar must decide who he is before he can make any choice at all...

‘Lord of Silence’ is a compelling blend of fantasy, detective fiction (which I seem to finding a lot in the fantasy I’ve been reading recently) and... well, I’m not going to tell you as that will spoil a surprise which Chadbourn puts a lot of effort into building up and pulls off with a great deal of verve. I’ve got a lot of time for authors who are prepared to build something up only to knock it all down and cast everything in a new light and this is exactly what Chadbourn does. Maybe it’s done a little too quickly but I think that depends on whether ‘Lord of Silence’ is the first of a series or not. If it is then I think having a broader picture will make up for the slightly rushed feel to the end of the book. Personally I hope that this will be the start of a series (although Solaris is up for sale so I’m not sure what will happen there...) as there is so much more to see.

‘Lord of Silence’ is a story about the search for identity, both in the main characters and in the city of Idriss itself; a city that must remain behind its walls (if it is to survive) but is bursting at the seams with creativity that it’s rigid structure will not allow to flourish. A mystery that must be solved, along the way, and a succession of explosive confrontations (beyond the wall) combine with the main thrust of the plot to form a story that gives you plenty of spectacle but also plenty to think about at the same time. There’s no doubt at all that I was hooked.

Chadbourn takes his time getting into the heads of each character (apart from the main villain who came across as being a little one dimensional, as a result, when set against the others) and this pays off as we get to see Vidar, Rhiannon and the others grow and develop through harrowing situations. Chadbourn asks his reader whether they think redemption is possible in the most evil of characters; I won’t tell you the answer (and this is a question that has been asked before in other books) but what I will say is that it’s never anything less than interesting watching Vidar and the others reach the end of their own personal odysseys.

The city of Idriss is delightfully dark and labyrinthine; a cowed city that still holds traps for the unwary with surprises that made me jump. Chadbourn is very good at writing scenes where everything is so quiet that you hardly dare breathe... until someone leaps out ready to cut your throat! He’s also more than adept at pacing his tale in such a manner that the reader is drawn along effortlessly through the ins and outs of the plot. I found it to be one hell of a ride!

‘Lord of Silence’ is one of those books where I found that the small faults highlighted how good the rest of the book was rather than detracting from it. Hopefully there will be more stories set in this world...

Nine and a Quarter out of Ten

Thursday, 23 July 2009

‘The King’s Daughters’ – Nathalie Mallet (Nightshade Books)

It doesn’t seem like two years ago that I read Nathalie Mallet’s ‘The Princes in the Golden Cage’, where does the time go...? This is actually a really good thing, in its own way, as Mallet’s debut work stayed in my head for all the right reasons. There were a few too many secret passageways for my liking (I’m surprised that the palace didn’t collapse as it seemed that there were more tunnels than foundations!) but that didn’t stop the book itself holding my attention the whole way through and being thoroughly entertaining at the same time.
The teaser section at the back, for ‘The King’s Daughters’, ended at just the right moment for me to find myself really eager to read the book and find out what happened next. I finally got that chance when my copy of ‘The King’s Daughters’ arrived, a few days ago, and I have to say that I enjoyed it just as much as its predecessor...

Following the events of ‘The Princes in the Golden Cage’, Price Amir has travelled to the kingdom of Sorvinka to ask the King for his beloved Princess Eva’s hand in marriage. Sorvinka is a dangerous place to live however and getting to the King’s castle will prove to be only the least of Amir’s troubles. Infighting, in Amir’s home land, has reached north and conspired to give him the coldest of welcomes from the King. Amir must also find his place in a hostile caught where the slightest faux pas could set his cause back irretrievably. When one of the King’s daughter’s is kidnapped Amir sees solving the mystery as a chance to gain favour with the King as well as protect Eva (who may be next). What can one man, in a foreign land, do though? Will Amir’s efforts be enough?

‘The King’s Daughters’ is one of those books where you find yourself filtering out the noises and distractions of the outside world so you can pay more attention to what is happening on the page. That’s certainly what I found myself doing with an intriguing mystery interspersed with moments of intense swordplay. You’re given plenty of clues to work with but the answer that Mallet gives us, at the end, won’t be what you were thinking. Even though the reader is given an ‘answer’, early on, which is obviously a red herring Mallet keeps her cards well hidden and deals them out in just the right way to cause a few suprises! I never saw the story turning out the way it did but, looking back at the story, it couldn’t have gone in any other direction. All the clues fit together in a way that complements the ‘detective’ element of the plot and the story sets up plenty of developments for the future. I’m certainly interested to see where it all goes next.

Mallet also paints a convincing backdrop for events to play out against. I’m used to bad weather (living in the UK) but that is nothing compared to what someone used to plenty of heat must endure when visiting Sorvinka. I sometimes found myself shivering on Amir’s behalf! Mallet makes Sorvinka suitably dank and forbidding with forests, in particular, that crowd in on characters whilst hiding dangerous secrets at the same time. I’m not sure that I’d want to live there but Sorvinka was definitely an interesting place to visit.

It’s ironic that a book I enjoyed so much was slightly marred by the main character himself and the issues I had with him. If you read ‘The King’s Daughters’, you will see Amir as either a man out in the wide world (for the first time ever) dealing with what life throws at him or you will see him as a whiny brat too dependant on others to be able to make a decision for himself. I could see how he might be the former but I ended up seeing him as the latter.
Here’s a guy who has plenty going for him, enough to make him worth following, but cannot escape his dependency on Eva to do anything worthwhile for himself. Everything he does is motivated by her and if she cannot see him then Amir finds himself fighting debilitating panic attacks. More than once I found myself wanting Amir to give himself a slap round the face and just get on with it!
Luckily though, Mallet supplies us with a cast of supporting characters worth sticking around for and uses Amir’s fears to send the story off in an interesting new direction...

Even though I found myself sometimes wanting to throttle Amir I still had a great deal of fun reading ‘The King’s Daughters’. Amir will return in ‘Death in the Travelling City’ and I’ll be there when he does.

Eight and a Half out of Ten

Wednesday, 22 July 2009

‘Evolution Expects’ – Jonathan Green (Abaddon)

For me, reading can sometimes be as much about the gap in between books as it is about reading the books themselves. You know what I mean, either choosing what to read next (sometimes trickier than you would think...) or that moment when you finish a book and realise that it will be anything up to a couple of years before the story will start again. It restores my faith in humanity (just a little bit) that in a world where everything is instantaneous there are people who are still prepared to wait for authors to release instalments in their favourite series.

I’m guilty of waiting for all the usual suspects to release books according to whatever schedule they keep. I’ve also got my own personal favourites where I finish up their latest offering and immediately start thinking about what the next book might hold. Brian Keene is one such favourite and Jonathan Green is another. I’ve been enjoying Green’s ‘Pax Britannia’ books (to varying degrees) for almost as long as I’ve been writing this blog. They may be lightweight pulp but they’re never anything less than damn good fun to read. The cover for ‘Evolution Expects’ has intrigued me for a while now and I finally got the chance to find out what it was all about...

When an empire has reigned supreme for over one hundred and fifty years, sometimes a breath of fresh air is needed to shake things up and maintain the forward momentum. This is particularly apt in Prime Minister Devlin Valentine’s case as his new ‘Jupiter Station’ weather machine is set to blow away the smog that covers the corrupt heart of the British Empire. Other parties have plans for the Jupiter Station, however, and these plans will not come to light until it is far too late. And what is the connection between these shadowy plans, a monster from Jewish myth that stalks the streets of Limehouse and the masked vigilante that is sworn to stop it? Only a fine mind like Ulysses Quicksilver stands any chance of unlocking the mystery and dragging London back from the brink of catastrophe...

As I said earlier, I never have anything less than a great time reading the adventures of Ulysses Quicksilver and this was still very much the case in ‘Evolution Expects’. You may have walked these foggy, dank streets of London Town (and met the villainous characters plying their trade there, the only thing that Ulysses’ foe is missing is a moustache to twirl) before, in other books or films, but the energy in the writing powers things along at such a pace that you won’t care, I didn’t.
Characters are larger than life; they need to be when facing perils such as Quicksilver must face here. Confrontations with evil leap off the page in a shower of spectacle and grip the reader’s attention; I could feel myself tensing up at all the appropriate moments (I hate mechanical spiders!) in anticipation of what was going to happen next. If a writer can get me to do this then he’s obviously doing something right! All credit to Green for completely involving me with what was happening on the page. A heady combination of mystery and action set against a gloomy and forbidding backdrop (along with just enough Batman references to make me chuckle, hopefully we’ll be seeing more of Spring Heeled Jack!)...


As much as I enjoyed the book I was left with the feeling that Green wanted it to do a number of things that were at odds with each other and with the fact that it was a very short read. The accompanying short story, ‘Conqueror Worm’, was very good but I was left wishing that it had been left out in favour of giving the main story more of a sense of direction. ‘Evolution Expects’ is very much a ‘transitional novel’ where events are clearly designed to be ‘set up pieces’ for the next few books to work from. The thing is though; there isn’t enough room for the reader to get a sense of where things might proceed. I say ‘might’ because no-one wants the story laid on a plate for them but it would be good to have ideas and theories to chew over. An old enemy returns but we don’t really know why other than that he is there to be ‘The Evil Villain’. Another ‘Evil Villain’ lurks in the background but there isn’t enough time for us to really get a sense of what he’s about. It’s all stuff that we’ll find out in time but I didn’t feel that they were handled very well here...

Green also tries to use ‘Evolution Expects’ as a vehicle for new readers to jump on board with plenty of nods to past events. The problem is that the story isn’t large enough to accommodate these and get on with the plot at the same time. I was also left thinking that although a period of transition is a great time to take stock of past events, there wasn’t enough room here to do it effectively. Maybe Green should have stuck to one approach or the other...

I had a great time with ‘Evolution Expects’ but was left with the feeling that it could have been a lot more if it had been given room to breathe a little more. I’m looking forward to ‘Blood Royal’ (the next book) all the same and hope that this won’t be an issue by then...

Eight out of Ten

Tuesday, 21 July 2009

‘Cadian Blood’ – Aaron Dembski-Bowden (Black Library)

Without any warning, an Imperial Shrine World is blighted by Chaos and falls victim to the Curse of Unbelief; a plague that kills it’s victims but will not allow them to truly die. The massed ranks of the Imperial Guard are charged with reclaiming the Shrine World (Kathur) and scourging Chaos from its streets and temples but this campaign is set to become much more than a pitched battle against the undead. Captain Parmenion Thade is a veteran of many wars, in the Emperor’s name, but even his tactical knowledge won’t pinpoint the reason for Kathur’s fall until it is far too late. Understandable really, when it has been hidden out of site and mind for the last ten thousand years...

I’ve mentioned before that, when reading Warhammer 40,000 fiction, that I’ll take an Imperial Guard book over a Space Marine novel every time. Not that there’s anything wrong with the Space Marine books that I’ve read (I’m reading Nick Kyme’s ‘Salamander’ right now and it’s shaping up to be very good indeed) but the more vulnerable Imperial Guard make for more interesting reading than their practically invincible counterparts. War in the fortieth millennium gets a lot more up close and personal when you’re wearing a simple flak jacket instead of power armour!
Add zombies to the mix (courtesy of the Plague God Nurgle) and you’ve got a book that I was literally champing at the bit to read when I first heard about it. As it turned out, there weren’t as many zombies as I would like to have seen (there were a couple of billion of them on the planet and we got to meet maybe a few hundred of those, bring on all the zombies I say!) but I can’t hold this against ‘Cadian Blood’ as it turned out to be an amazing read...

Right from the very start, I was sucked into the graphic descriptions of a world in its death throes and the valiant efforts of the Imperial Guard to reclaim it. Dembski-Bowden keeps things tense by isolating the reader from the wider picture and focussing on either what’s right in front of a character or garbled bursts of static filled communication over the vox network. You don’t know what is round the corner until you make that step yourself.

Once you’ve made that step, Dembski-Bowden isn’t stingy in his descriptions of just what fighting your way through a plague racked city actually means. At the same time, he doesn’t stint on the amount of firepower that is brought to bear on the ranks of the undead and the end results are some truly epic battles where the courageous qualities of the Imperial Guard are in no doubt as they constantly fight against the odds. All of this isn’t just happening on the ground either; it’s also taking place on a far greater scale in space where Dembski-Bowden scatters individual tales of heroism amongst a conflict between two mighty fleets. It’s really stirring stuff!

On top of all this; the plot for ‘Cadian Blood’ is one that kept me hooked with its daring strikes, harrowing reverses and last ditch stands. The underlying mystery of the plague is also played out very well, especially when the stakes suddenly get a lot higher without any explanation. The uncertainty around this combines well with the hard reality of constantly fighting off zombies to drive the plot along at a decent rate.

I found some of the characters a little too one dimensional to be completely engaging (the Lord General who’s there to be ‘the guy who directs the war without getting his hands dirty’, he doesn’t understand his men and he doesn’t do a lot else) but Dembski-Bowden gets it spot on with the men who are right in the front line. They may be scared, they may well be borderline insane, but this is balanced out with the desire to get the job done and get back to where they feel they should be fighting. These are guys that I really found myself caring about and genuinely felt a little sad when the worst happened to them.

You’ve probably guessed by now that I really enjoyed ‘Cadian Blood’. If you’re a fan of military sci-fi or Warhammer 40K in general then I think you’ll enjoy this too. Check it out!

Nine and Three Quarters out of Ten

'Light of Burning Shadows' Competition - The Winners!

Thanks to everyone who entered this competition, it was a lot of fun to do :o)
I had ten copies to give away and the ten quickest emailers were...

Lee Hunter, East Lansing, Michigan
Frank Jarome, Niles, Ohio
Kendall Bullen, Silver Spring, Maryland
Donna Locklin, Belton, Texas
Rich Fiege, Fishkill, New York State
Philippe Sylvain, Levis, Qc, Canada
Kim Papke, McKinney, Texas
Charles Fraker, Richmond, Virginia
Shane O'Neil, Lewisville, Texas
Renee S Grandinetti, Valleyford, Washington

Well done guys! Your books should be with you very soon...
I've got some more competitions lined up for when I'm away on holiday (next week and the week after) so if you missed out this time then be sure to stop back and check them out... ;o)

Monday, 20 July 2009

‘Speak of the Devil’ – Jenna Black (Dell/Piatkus)

There’s no cover image today for the simple reason that I posted images of both the UK and US covers on Saturday. Scroll down a little bit and leave a comment if you haven’t already! There’s also no review for ‘Speak of the Devil’ because... I got up to page sixteen and couldn’t force myself to read any further. The weekend isn’t for work and this felt far too much like work to me...

Here’s the blurb,

Morgan Kingsley, America’s most successful exorcist, is paying the price for an exorcism gone wrong. The victim’s family is suing the daylights out of her, the Exorcism Board has suspended her, and now she’s living on a diet of ramen noodles and bad coffee. But Morgan has a few good men at her side. One is her current boyfriend, nice-guy legal eagle Brian, who’s suddenly starting to reveal his inner bad boy. The other is Philly cop Adam White, who’s trying to help Morgan find out who sent her a little present—a severed human hand—and why someone seems determined to destroy her.

As her stalker turns more violent, leaving dead bodies in his wake, Morgan turns to the dark side of her life: a group of demons steeped in secrets, sinful eroticism, and otherworldly family feuds, including one sexy beast who shares Morgan’s body—and some X-rated fantasies. Soon Morgan must choose between her friends, her enemies, and her libido: to escape a mad demon determined to destroy her completely.

I should have guessed, from the blurb, what I’d be getting into but I gave it a go anyway... :o)

I’ll usually give a book a bit more of a chance (than sixteen pages) before putting it down in favour of something else; ‘Speak of the Devil’ didn’t deserve that chance though. I didn’t mind the introductory piece where we find out about Morgan’s court case but meeting the men in Morgan’s life (amongst others) came across, to me, like a whole load of sexual encounters were being set up to play out over the course of the book. ‘Feisty yet vulnerable heroine dabbles in otherworldly sex’... Excuse me for being cynical but I really feel like I’ve heard that once too many times. From what I read, ‘Speak of the Devil’ wasn’t badly written but it wasn’t exactly imaginative (not for me anyway). On to something else then!

Should I have given it more of a chance? Are you a Jenna Black fan who is thinking that I should keep going in order to truly ‘get’ it? Leave a comment and if your argument is particularly persuasive then I’ll give it another shot...

'Salamander' Competition - Winners!

Hope you all had a great weekend everyone!

Thanks to everyone who entered this competition, the winners were...

David Burdett, Tennessee, US
Barry Forshaw, Newcastle, UK
Josephine Marie, San Francisco, US
Vasil Toskov, Bulgaria
Pawel Martin, Poland

Well done guys! Your books will be on their way very soon... :o)
Talking of which, I posted the wrong cover for 'Salamander' when I announced the competition (d'oh!). Here's what it really looks like...

Great isn't it?

Sunday, 19 July 2009

Giveaway! 'The Light of Burning Shadows' (Chris Evans)

I'm going to do things a little differently with this one... :o)

I heard good things about Chris Evans' 'A Darkness Forged in Fire' when it first came out. I haven't read it yet but I really want to get back into reading a lot more fantasy so look for a review sooner rather than later.

In the meantime, I have copies of the sequel 'The Light of Burning Shadows' to give away to readers from the US and Canada (it's a 'US and Canada' only competition, sorry!) The slight twist here is that I'm not telling you how many copies I've got to give away... This is more of a 'first come, first served' giveaway where the quickest off the mark will get the prize! Once I've got enough emails for books... the competition closes.

To be in with a chance of winning you should have emailed me five minutes ago! Only kidding :o) Just send me an email (address at the top right hand side of the screen) telling me who you are and what your mailing address is. You'll find out if you won when I announce it here in the next few days...

Good Luck!

Edited To Add: I've now got more than enough emails for the number of books that I have to give away, the competition is now closed. Thanks to everyone who entered! Tune in on Tuesday when the first X number of people, who got their email in first, will find out that they won the book...

Saturday, 18 July 2009

Which cover would you go for?

I had a copy of Jenna Black's 'Speak of the Devil' sent to me, a couple of days ago, from Dell in the US. Here's the cover...

I was reading the blurb on the back and finding it strange that even though I hadn't read the book the blurb sounded very familiar. Then it struck me, Piatkus (in the UK) had sent me their edition of the book a couple of weeks earlier! Here's the cover for the UK edition...

I will be reading this tale of exorcism very soon (maybe next week) but, in the meantime, I thought it would be fun to run the two covers past you guys and see what you thought of them both. Which one do you find easiest on the eye? If you were going to order this book online, which cover would you go for? Or are you just thinking, "Meh, typical Urban Fantasy cover..."

Comments please! :o)

Friday, 17 July 2009

‘The Sword Edged Blonde’ – Alex Bledsoe (Tor)

I started this week off by looking at a crime and detective stories and I thought that it would cool to round the week off in the same manner! There’s a slight difference here though. While the streets, in ‘The Sword Edged Blonde’ are just as mean as those of New York etc you’d be hard pressed to walk them in real life. Yep, we’re straying into fantasy fiction territory here...
‘The Sword Edged Blonde’ was a book that came along just after I started running the blog. Nightshade Books published it originally (I think) but when I picked the book up, last week, it was to find that it had made the journey over to Tor. It’s another relatively short read (weighing in at a slender two hundred and ninety six pages long) but don’t let that fool you as there is more to this book than you think. Even if the thunderstorm (sat right over the top of our house) hadn’t kept me awake last night I would have still stayed up to finish this one off...

Eddie LaCrosse is a private investigator who solves other people’s problems so he can get on with the business of ignoring his own; this is a man with a very painful past... As is the case with most detective fiction (that I’ve read), the case where we first meet him isn’t the one that forms the bulk of the plot. This new case involves a queen accused of killing her son and is set to plunge Eddie back into the past that he swore he’d leave behind. If that wasn’t bad enough, Eddie is about to find himself in the middle of a revenge plot stretching back centuries...

While there is more often than not a mystery to be solved, in fantasy fiction, I haven’t really read much fantasy where the emphasis is on a private investigator as the main character. In fact, the only other ‘detective fantasy’ I’ve read was Glen Cook’s ‘Whispering Nickel Idols’ (part of his ‘Garrett P.I’ series) and I wasn’t so keen on this. ‘The Sword Edged Blonde’ was a whole different deal though; I’m already looking forward to the next book!

Before I go any further I should note that I did find this a hard book to get into. The use of present day names, in a fantasy setting, was a bit jarring to start off with but the ebb and flow of the story soon got me past that. What I did find difficult though was that the balance between ‘fantasy’ and ‘hard boiled American detective novel’ occasionally swung too far towards the ‘hard boiled’ end of the spectrum. When this happened I lost the sense that this was essentially a fantasy novel and when that happened I was left wondering why a whole bunch of New York cops and private eyes were running around waving swords at each other...

Despite all this though, ‘The Sword Edged Blonde’ was a still a hugely enjoyable book that I got a lot out of. The book is full of clich├ęs from fantasy and detective fiction but I got the feeling that Bledsoe was playing to these deliberately, with tongue firmly in his cheek, rather than using them to churn out something that was ‘by the numbers’. The end result is a fast paced ride of a mystery that unfolds at just the right tempo, raising even more questions as it does so. Bledsoe presents us with an intriguing mystery that kept my attention but isn’t afraid to up the tempo with fight scenes that are real page turners!

Eddie has to go up against some real nasty villains but it’s his character that I found the most interesting. LaCrosse is a typical down on his luck private eye (familiar enough to make it easy for you to get to know him straight away) with a lot more to him than you would think. This is a guy whose past is so painful that he has done a great job of hiding it, even from himself. The moment where I found out the real truth, of his past, made me blink and do a double take! Eddie’s not a nice guy but this somehow makes him more vulnerable when you see that he is trying to do the right thing. I’m looking forward to getting to know him more as the series progresses.

I’m a little shamefaced that I didn’t get to ‘The Sword Edged Blonde’ a lot sooner. Very enjoyable stuff indeed, I’m hoping the next book is just as good...

Nine out of Ten

Thursday, 16 July 2009

Some 'Consolation Good News' for those who couldn't get tickets for Comic-Con

If you missed out on a ticket for the San Diego Comic Con then this news from Penguin might be just what you're after...

With Comic Con tickets totally sold out, we here at Penguin, thought it would be great for fans to have the chance to meet their favorite authors and have their books signed. We, therefore, have arranged for 7 of our fan-favorite authors to appear at an Off-Site Event at BORDERS (Gaslamp District) in San Diego on Saturday at 8pm. Fans will get the chance to listen to a fantastic panel and discussion with some of the biggest names in SF and Fantasy.

Saturday July 25th:

Off-Site Comic Con Author Event: Science Fiction & Fantasy Panel Discussion and Signing

BORDERS at 8:00 pm
668 6th Avenue
San Diego, CA 92101

Come and have your books signed by your favorite Ace, Roc, & DAW authors:

Patrick Rothfuss
Kat Richardson
Rob Thurman
Thomas Sniegoski
Amber Benson
Seanan McGuire
Jeanne Stein!

Sounds good doesn't it? Having been to a Patrick Rothfuss signing I can confidently say that it's worth going along just to see him, Patrick puts on a darn good show! :o)

‘Snakeskin Road’ – James Braziel (Bantam Books)

I don’t read a lot of post apocalyptic fiction which is really odd as I inevitably enjoy reading the stuff when I pick it up. Not only do you get to see how the world might end (which is always good) but you also get to see how the survivors might cope in the aftermath. This in particular is what draws me in, the exploration and development of a character fighting to make their way (and find their place) in a world that will never be the same again.
‘Snakeskin Road’ looked like it ticked all those boxes, as far as post-apocalyptic fiction goes, and as it was a relatively short read (three hundred and twenty three pages) I thought I’d give it a go...

In the near future, a widening hole in the ozone layer has turned much of South Eastern America into a desert scoured by biting winds. When a beleaguered government cancels all exit visas (out of affected areas) the only way into the Midwestern ‘Free Zones’ is via indentured servitude in the farms, casinos and brothels but there will always be those who seek to make a quick dollar by chasing down these ‘deserters’ and taking them back where they came from.
Jennifer, and her young ward, must travel the ‘Snakeskin Road’ (a network of forgotten highways used by those who traffic human cargo) if they are to have any chance of working for the money they need to get to Chicago and a new life with Jennifer’s mother. However, it’s a race against time that they don’t even realise they’re racing as a bounty hunter is hot on their trail...

Braziel paints a grim and compelling picture of an America reeling under the effects of a major environmental disaster and nowhere is this more evident than on the faces of the people who are bearing the brunt of it. Descriptions of life in the border town of Birmingham make it clear that the government has lost control of the situation and is left with no other option than to shut down the border and try to contain the situation. As a result of this, the reader is taken on a journey through a range of human emotion that starts with optimism, continues through outright denial and settles with grim acceptance and the knowledge that there is nowhere else to go but forwards.

The scene set is so grim that I found myself wanting to get away to safety as much as the main players did. At the same time though it’s all credit to Braziel that I couldn’t stop reading, no matter how low humanity sank throughout the disaster.

There’s a real sense of stagnancy about the book, both in a good way and a way that’s perhaps not so good... The horror of the disaster is unrelenting and there is never any indication that it will change. This reinforcement constantly drives home how hopeless things are and that there is nothing better to come. Maybe ‘stagnant’ isn’t such a good word to describe an approach that has such positive results, for the book, but in light of the landscape things are set against it seemed apt.

What isn’t so good though is the way that the stagnancy of the setting seems to also find its way into the characters as well. While there is definite movement towards a goal, I never got the sense that Jennifer and Mazy were changing as a result. Maybe this is to be expected in a scenario that demands single-mindedness and fixing all your attention on one thing; maybe there just isn’t the time to grow in other directions. It did leave me feeling a little non-plussed though that everything facing Jennifer and Mazy didn’t force them outside their very narrow viewpoints.
As was the case with ‘Twelve’ (reviewed yesterday) I also found that Jennifer’s recollections didn’t add a lot to the plot at hand although they did serve to flesh her character out in a good way, adding a more personal element to life under the hole in the ozone layer.

‘Snakeskin Road’ is an occasionally frustrating yet ultimately compelling read of a post-apocalyptic America and the people who must struggle to live in it. I suspect that it’s also a story that will stay in my head for a long time to come and that’s the mark of a tale well told...

Eight and a Half out of Ten

Wednesday, 15 July 2009

‘Twelve’ – Jasper Kent (Bantam Press)

For the past couple of years my resolution has been to work my way through all the books, on the pile, that have sat there unread. I think we all know how that one has worked out! I’m a like a magpie who’s continually attracted to the shiny books on the doorstep instead of the ones I should be reading... A lot of potentially very good books have fallen by the wayside in the meantime...
But no more! The plan is to now read the shiny new books and the older (but just as shiny) books on the pile at the same time. We’ll see how that one goes (‘Toll the Hounds’ is going to be my holiday book and I’m not going back to work until I’ve finished it)...
First up then is a book that has been sat on the pile since October last year; it’s one that I’ve been meaning to read and various glowing reports around the internet finally encouraged me to pick it up and give it a go. I had a couple of reservations but, on the whole, it was certainly a very good read indeed...

It’s 1812 and Captain Aleksei Ivanovich Danilov and his men are on the receiving end of Napoleon’s march into Russia. City after city has fallen and it looks like Moscow will be next... However, hope has taken new form in the shape of the Oprichniki; mercenaries from the Turkish border who claim that the twelve of them can turn the tide of the war. Their shows of extreme violence do the job but unnerve Danilov to the point where he feels that further investigation into the Oprichniki is needed. What Danilov is about to find will have him wondering if winning a war is worth the risks of introducing certain things onto the battle field...

‘Twelve’ has been on the shelves for a while now (and has been reviewed extensively elsewhere) so it’s not a huge spoiler to say that vampires make an appearance as the main villains in the book. Having felt like I’d overdosed on ‘urban fantasy style’ vampires it was certainly refreshing to see them in a Napoleonic War setting. I also loved the way that Kent deliberately understates their presence on the page, placing greater emphasis on their capabilities by keeping their more violent tendencies ‘off screen’ (for the most part) and only giving us the dying screams of French soldiers... Not only did this make for scenes that stayed with me for a long time afterwards (because I wasn’t entirely sure what had happened) but when we’re finally allowed to see the vampires in action it’s all the more hard hitting. The scene at the crossroads really made me jump!

The story itself is an intriguing blend of mystery, horror and historical fact. My history isn’t up to much these days, so I can’t really vouch for how well it is done here, but the horror and mystery elements were spot on as far as I was concerned. As I said, there were bits that made me jump and the mystery of the Oprichniki (and the mystery within the mystery) was paced in such a way that there was plenty to mull over without everything being revealed at once.

With all this good stuff going on it was a shame then that the book itself was so hard to get into. My perseverance paid off but it felt like a shame that I had to make that effort. Sometimes I feel that if a book is good then it shouldn’t be an effort to read...

It was the way in which Danilov’s character was handled that slowed the book down, considering that he is the main character perhaps a little more attention could have been paid to how he was used... Danilov is a character given to much introspection and this can work for the reader in that his introspection can flesh out both his background and that of the book itself. However, I was sometimes left wondering if certain introspective thoughts really hit the mark here. People’s thought’s can sometimes meander, and have nothing to do with the matters at hand, but I’m not sure if this is the right approach for a book where things need to be a lot tighter if they are to keep the reader’s interest. The concept underpinning the book kept me going but Danilov’s flights of fancy did their level best to derail me...

‘Twelve’ was a gripping read that could have been a lot more Kent didn’t come across as being prone to letting his characters go off on tangents and not stick to the matters at hand. There are more books to come in this series and I’m interested to see what happens next...

Eight and a Quarter out of Ten.

Alan Campbell - Signing and Q&A

I very much enjoyed Alan Campbell's 'Scar Night' and 'Iron Angel', 'God of Clocks' could very well be coming on holiday with me to either be read by the pool somewhere hot or read in a tent while the rain comes through the roof (our holidays are all about extremes!)

In the meantime, if you're in Edinburgh on the 23rd of July (and you're a fan of the Deepgate Codex!) then you might want to pop along to Waterstones West End, 128 Princes Street, where Alan will be reading from 'God of Clocks' and answering questions. You'll need a ticket though (which are free!) so either give the store a call on 01312 262666 or pop in and speak to a member of staff.

I won't be able to make it up there on the 23rd so leave a comment here, telling me what is was like, if you make it yourself ;o)

Tuesday, 14 July 2009

‘The Light of Heaven’ – David A. McIntee (Abaddon Books)

While I try and cover plenty of science fiction and horror on the blog, fantasy fiction is my main love and that’s what I always come back to. As well as being my main love, fantasy fiction is also my big weakness in that once I’ve started a series I have to keep going with it, no matter how bad it is. This will explain why I haven’t even tried reading certain fantasy series that are roundly slated by the internet community (especially that fantasy series that apparently isn’t fantasy at all...); I know that I’ll get sucked into finishing the whole series no matter how bad it is and life really is too short for that kind of nonsense! Having said that though, maybe I should stop listening to other people and give the books a try anyway. We shall see...
Abaddon’s ‘Twilight of Kerberos’ books haven’t really been doing anything new, so far, but there’s just enough there to keep me coming back for a light enjoyable read. The ‘not quite up to scratch’ cover for ‘The Light of Heaven’ was a bit off-putting but not bad enough to stop me picking up the book and giving it a go. What did I get? Well, more of the same...

Gabriella DeZantez, Enlightened Sister of the Swords of Dawn (I would say ‘trying saying all that when drunk’ but these guys never get drunk...), is in the right place at the right time to stop an assassin escaping after he has made an attempt on the life of a high ranking member of the Final Faith. Who is behind this vicious act? The Final Faith has many enemies... DeZantez finds herself part of an investigation that is digging up more schemes than a simple assassination attempt would suggest. And how does it all link to a mass migration of refugees and a legend of an island made entirely of diamond? Gabriella is about to find out...

‘The Light of Heaven’ is one of those books that will make a lot more sense in a few books time when the ‘Twilight of Kerberos’ series have become a little more established. While the most pressing mysteries are solved there are other mysteries that have clearly been planted there so they can be solved in another book. Nothing is really given away here, only that something foreboding is on the horizon... Although this approach has piqued my interest for what it is to come it also made reading ‘The Light of Heaven’ a strangely hollow experience at times. Series spanning mysteries are all well and good but the seeds planted in this book didn’t feel like they had much to do with the story at hand and this made things feel more than a little disjointed at times...

The promise of an eventual payoff, to come in another book, also leaves us with little more than another ‘medieval fantasy world’ that promises something new but has little to mark itself out in the meantime. Don’t get me wrong, I like goblins but I was left feeling that I’d seen it all before...

To be fair though, it was interesting to see the change in perspective from ‘The Clockwork King of Orl’ where the Final Faith was portrayed in a far more threatening light. What we get here is a look at the life of lower ranking members whose faith is more important to them than material gain. Unfortunately, although Gabriella is very good with a sword her limited viewpoint on the world doesn’t make her a particularly interesting character to hang around with for too long. Crowe is much better in this respect and I hope that we see more of him in the future.

The story itself can be a ‘stop start’ affair at times with the amount of travelling, that characters have to go to, making the pace rather choppy. It is worth sticking with though as the fight scenes and moments of spectacle are very well handled indeed. McIntee has an eye for a good scene and shows this off to good effect in ‘The Light of Heaven’.

‘The Light of Heaven’ wasn’t a great read but there was enough there for me to be willing to read the whole thing through. There’s also enough there for me to want to give the next book a try and see how that goes...

Seven and a Quarter out of Ten

Monday, 13 July 2009

‘The Mammoth Book of Best Crime Comics’ – Edited by Paul Gravett (Constable & Robinson)

Crime doesn’t pay but it certainly pays to have a little crime in your reading! I’m talking gangsters who have mouths that are as sharp as their suits and scruffy looking private eyes whose moral compass is having trouble finding its way out of that bottle of cheap whiskey. I’m talking dames as well, the more the merrier! I’m not just talking about dames who need help finding their long lost brother or that hidden fortune (before the mob does); I’m also talking about dames who are just as handy with a machine gun as their male counterparts!

Despite issues over the how the books were put together, I found the ‘Mammoth’ books of Horror and Zombie comics to be great places to start for people who want to get into these comics but don’t know where to start. I was hoping for more of the same from ‘The Mammoth Book of Best Crime Comics’ and I certainly got what I was looking for! Unfortunately I encountered the same kind of publishing issue that had marred the last two collections that I read...

I’m going to get this moan out of the way now as, on the whole, this collection was very good and I don’t want to tar the whole book with a mistake made in just one story. The ‘Horror’ and ‘Zombie’ collections were marred by text that went missing as well as a couple of stories where pages went missing in the middle. Not the story’s fault, just something that went wrong at the printing press... ‘The Mammoth Book of Best Crime Comics’ has a similar problem in ‘Secret Agent X-9’ where a couple of pages have accidentally been swapped round. You don’t notice it at first and by the time you do it’s far too late. I ended up having to re-read that section a couple of times and then re-read it once more when I realised what order the pages should have run in... This was a real shame as Dashiell Hammett’s script and Alex Raymond’s artwork had this story shaping up to be my favourite in the book. ‘Secret Agent X-9’ built up a real head of steam and then came grinding to a halt over something that wasn’t its fault at all...

Apart from this one small (but telling) mistake, ‘The Mammoth Book of Best Crime Comics’ ended up being a great read that kept me busy for pretty much the whole weekend, reading a selection of crime comics ranging from the nineteen forties to the present day. It looks like most of them will only be found in this book as far as I’m concerned (I haven’t got the money for the kind of collecting that finding these comics would involve) but there are a couple of the more recent ones that I wouldn’t mind picking up. Paul Grist’s multi-layered ‘Kane’ series looks like one that I might keep an eye open for the next time I’m in somewhere like Forbidden Planet. Likewise Sampayo and Munoz’ ‘Sinner’ series although that might take some finding...

As I find with most collections, I found ‘The Mammoth Book of best Crime Comics’ to be hit and miss in terms of what grabbed my eye. This was more a question of the artwork or story not grabbing my eye right away and reeling into the plot itself. While I can generally give a book a few pages to get going I tend to be a little more demanding with comics. If the artwork isn’t up to snuff at the start then it’s very likely that it won’t be for the rest of the story...

For every ‘El Borbah: Love in Vein’ (Charles Burns), which was catchy and quirky in equal measure, I found there were stories like Fred Guardineer’s ‘Who Dunnit?’ (I liked the concept but found the pace excessively slow) and Neil Gaiman and Warren Pleece’s ‘The Court’, a story with underworld connections but so lacking in crime that I wondered why it was in the book at all...

The stories I liked the best were the ones from the forties and fifties; stories full of hot lead, sharp suits and double crossing dames that were totally at odds with the morality that publishers felt had to be ever present. There seemed to be a really fine line between going for the sensationalism needed to sell comics and not pushing it too far. Not knowing much about what to look for, it was hard for me to get a feel for how hard hitting these comics must have been back in the day but in terms of storylines and dramatic endings they all did their job in keeping me hooked throughout. Standout stories for me included ‘Mary Spratchet’, Bernie Kriegstein’s ‘Lily-white Joe’ and Will Eisner’s ‘The Spirit: The Portier Fortune’.

When a book has as much packed into it as ‘The Mammoth Book of Best Crime Comics’ it’s hard to go into real detail about what’s inside (I don’t have the time!) Suffice it to say that I found some real eye catching stuff inside and I reckon there will be something for you as well...

'Claudius' Giveaway - The Winners!

Thanks to everyone who entered this competition, the winners were...

Sean McAllister, Iowa
Mike Conley, Kidlington, UK
Bryan Winzer, Japan

Well done guys! Your books should be on their way to you real soon... :o)

Better luck next time everyone else!

'Sullivan's Sluggers' - Artwork

I was having a lazy Sunday afternoon mooch around Facebook (one of the best ways to spend a Sunday afternoon, especially if you have beer!) and came across some rather gorgeous artwork from the forthcoming 'Sullivan's Sluggers' comic by Mark Smith and James Stokoe. Check it out...

What do you think? Reading The Mammoth Book of Best Horror Comics, earlier this year has got me eager to check out more horror comics and this one looks like it might just be worth picking up...

Sunday, 12 July 2009

Tim Powers - Where do I start reading?

I get through a lot of books, on a regular basis, but the one thing I'll always be sure of is that there will always be more to read! I'm never going to read everything but I'm going to give it one hell of a go! :o)

Every so often, when I'm browsing forums, I'll hear an author's name mentioned and realise that I've never read any of their work. Tim Powers is one of these authors and, considering I've heard nothing but good about his books, I figured it was time I checked him out.

Where do I start though? Hopefully, this is where you guys come in... Have you got a favourite book, by Tim Powers, that you think I should read? Leave a comment telling me what it is and why you think I should give it a go. Finances permitting (because there's no way on earth I'm buying the £55 second hand copy of 'On Stranger Tides'...!) I may end up picking that very book up and telling you all what I think of it right here :o)

Comments please!

Saturday, 11 July 2009

Giveaway! 'Salamander' - Nick Kyme

To mark the latest Space Marine series, from the Black Library, I have five copies of Nick Kyme's 'Salamander' to give away to five lucky readers. By the way, this competition is open to everyone. It doesnt matter where you live!

If you fancy reading an extract from 'Salamander' before you enter then click right Here...

Did you like it? Or are you going to enter this competition without reading the extract first? Either's good! Entering is simple. All you need to do is drop me an email telling me who you are and what your mailing address is. I'll do everything else ;o)

I'll leave this one open until the 19th of July and announce the winners on the 20th.

Good Luck!

Friday, 10 July 2009

‘The Goon #32, Tenth Anniversary Issue!’ – Eric Powell (Dark Horse Comics)

Jasper Kent’s ‘Twelve’ is starting to get really good but it’s such a heavy going read (more on that next week when I post my review) that there was no way I was going to finish it in time to get a review up today. I think what I’d say right now is that ‘Twelve’ is a good read but I haven’t found it as enjoyable as everyone else...

I was at a bit of a loss for what to post today until I popped into Forbidden Planet last night (for the Mark Chadbourn and James Lovegrove signing) and saw a copy of ‘The Goon #32’ lurking on the shelves. It really was lurking as well, peering out between ‘G.I Jo’e and ‘Green Lantern’... I’ve only been reading the series for a year so can’t get my head round the fact that it’s been running, in one form or another, since 1999. I’m always up for a new ‘Goon’ story though so wasted no time in taking this one home for a read.

If you’ve been following ‘The Goon’ then you’ll know that he’s got good reason to be in such a deep depression that not even birthday cake and Milwaukee beer will cheer him up. How will the Goon get his zombie kicking mojo back? The aforementioned birthday cake and the God of Hobos play their part and while all this is happening the Zombie Priest is making moves to get back in the game (poor Cat)...

I wasn’t too keen on the tangent that the story took midway through. I’ve never been too keen on comics where you cut back from the story to see the writer working on what’s happening, it takes me right out of the story and that was a shame seeing as I’d really got into this one. Some of the humour (one bit in particular) really didn’t work for me this time round either. Some things are just not funny... Having said that though, Powell seemed to get this and moved on from it pretty quickly.

The story itself though was good fun, a mixture of laughs and foreboding. Nothing keeps the Goon down for long and it was good to see him back on top of his game again. ‘Rat Alley’ was one of my favourite locations in ‘Rough Stuff’ and it was good to see it make an appearance here.

As normal, I loved the muted colours and art that give the world of the Goon that dreamlike (almost nightmarish) quality. What was interesting, this time round, though was the sketchbook section (after the story) where other artists show us their impressions of the Goon. Mike Mignola and Jeff Smith’s renditions were the standout moments for me but Eric Powell still does it best! :o)

If you’re a fan of ‘The Goon’ then the 10th Anniversary issue will be one that you’ll enjoy. If you’re not a fan, check ‘The Goon’ out. I think you’ll like it...

Thursday, 9 July 2009

‘The Hunger Games’ – Suzanne Collins (Scholastic)

If you’re looking for a decent read (or to find out which books to stay well away from) then this blog, amongst many others, is a good place to start looking :o) One of the other places where I go to pick up tips is the Westeros forum where people are incredibly well read and really know what they are talking about. If they like a book then you can bet it will be a good one!
It was this that made my decision, whether to read ‘The Hunger Games’ or not, a lot easier. I’m trying to include more YA fiction here but am really picky about what I read. After all, there’s a whole load of adult genre fiction that I want to get to first! I saw the recommendation on Westeros and decided to give it a try. I’m glad that I did!

In an America of the future, the downtrodden districts are kept in line (by the affluent Capitol) by having to send their children to compete in ‘The Hunger Games’; a reality TV event where the only rule is kill or be killed. When sixteen year old Katniss Everdeen steps forward, to take her sister’s place, she has no idea what the Games will hold other than that her death in the arena is a near certainty. However, Katniss has a few tricks up her sleeve that even she is unaware of. Living in one of the most impoverished districts can set someone up to be a real competitor in the Hunger Games. Game on...

‘The Hunger Games’ is one of those books where I ended up staying awake long into the night to finish it and find out what happened to Katniss. I felt like death warmed up the next day but it was worth it. Once it hit its stride (the build up to the Games themselves is a bit slow) ‘The Hunger Games’ was in no mood to let me go and I was in no mood to put it down.

The first part of the book sets the scene for this America of the future and there’s not really a lot to set it apart from any other post apocalyptic vision you might come across. The masses are downtrodden while the elite live it up without a care in the world. Collins makes up for this by laying it on thick with her portrayal of this world, I was left in no doubt as to what it meant to be oppressed and live on that fine line where one mistake could lead to starvation. Hunger is what this book is all about and the contrast between the Districts and the Capitol is made through the food that people can lay their hands on and how easy it is (or isn’t) to do this. Collins makes this difference very clear although (going off on a slight tangent) I was left wondering why food seems to be such a big deal in the YA fiction that I’ve read. Seriously, think about the YA books that you’ve read and how much the authors make of the food on offer at tea parties, banquets etc.

Anyway, back on topic...

The opening chapters are slow going but necessarily so in terms of setting things up and setting them against a well painted backdrop. Once the games begin, the pace ramps up a gear and stays there... Collins is very good at laying things on the line and showing the reader just how important they are. The arena is all about survival, even if you’re not fighting another contestant. You’re not just at the mercy of capricious games masters either, if you can’t find anything to eat or drink then you’re in real trouble... Katniss goes through this ordeal and her character shines through as she negotiates the pitfalls. Here is a person with huge reservoirs of mental strength that propel her through the physical and mental challenges. Collins does a fine job of maintaining the tension throughout the book. Not only does Katniss not know what is round the next corner but she also doesn’t know who she can trust; winning is the most important thing and people will do anything to be the last one standing...

It’s kill or be killed in the arena and it was here that I thought Collins dropped the ball a little, at least as far as I was concerned. Although Collins isn’t afraid to have death make an appearance, she isolates Katniss from this reality by having her either hide from the other contestants (a lot of the deaths take place off the page) or have other people do the job for her. Katniss is witness to death, and kills one person, but I ended up feeling that Collins didn’t want to take the risk and explore the notion of killing to survive any further. This robbed Katniss’ progression of any sense that it had been earned. To be fair though, ‘The Hunger Games’ is a book for people who are eleven years old (plus) so I can’t really blame Collins for wanting to tone things down a bit! As far as my reading went though, it felt like a trick was missed to make the book a lot more than it ended up being...

Despite this though, I enjoyed ‘The Hunger Games’ immensely and am looking forward to seeing what happens next. The Games may be over but the story definitely isn’t...

Eight and Three Quarters out of Ten

Robert Dunbar - Featured Author on 'Horror Bound Online'

Ok, I caught this a couple of days late but it's still cool :o) Having really enjoyed Robert Dunbar's 'The Shore' it was very interesting to see what Robert had to say about the book itself as well as the Jersey Devil, folklore in general and the horror genre itself. Check it out!

Wednesday, 8 July 2009

‘G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra’ – Max Allan Collins (Del Rey)

As a kid I used to love movie novelizations, I couldn’t get to the cinema that much and ‘the book of the film’ was a great way to make up for what I was missing out on. In some ways, reading the book was even better than seeing the film; especially during the long wait for the film to show up on TV so you could videotape it for future viewing. In the hands of a decent writer the movie tie-in could become so much more than what you saw on the big screen, giving you a better look at the world in question and the characters in it (I’m thinking ‘Return of the Jedi’ here, I’d include ‘Ladyhawke’ as well but I’m not sure of the book or the film came first...)
I’ve got a real soft spot for movie novelizations but have refrained from including them here simply because I didn’t want to give too much away for people who were planning on seeing the film. ‘The Rise of Cobra’ proved to be the exception though. We didn’t have G.I Joe over here in the UK (we got ‘Action Force’ instead which doesn’t sound quite as good...) but I’d read a couple of the comics which was enough to intrigue me. It’s a shame that the book didn’t live up to that promise...

I’m not going to give too much away; suffice it to say that ‘The Rise of Cobra’ deals with Duke’s induction into the G.I Joe team and their ongoing struggle against the plans of a ruthless arms dealer who is unaware that a nascent terrorist organisation is growing right before his eyes. Cue lots of gunfights, high speed pursuit and last minute confrontations where nothing less than the fate of the world is at stake...

There is plenty going on in ‘The Rise of Cobra’ and the constant action moves things forwards at a very fast pace. The resulting confrontations are full of spectacle and promise good things for the film if you like explosions, gunfights, high speed pursuit and so on.

The only problem was that there wasn’t anything more to the book than that, not that I could see anyway...

This is going to sound odd (seeing as I haven’t seen the film) but here goes...
To me, ‘The Rise of Cobra’ reads like a straight retelling of the events on film. On one level this is a good thing as it’s doing its job. That’s all it does though. I got the impression that if it wasn’t in the screenplay then it wasn’t going in the book. This is all well and good but it felt to me that there was a lot of room for expanding the story that was never exploited. The relationships between G.I Joe members (who weren’t main characters) were glossed over and you never really got a sense of why McCullen was doing what he was doing (other than being a stereotypical villain). When Collins decided that things did need explaining I was left wondering why he had felt the need...

‘In days to come, the craft would be known as a Typhoon gunship...’

Was there any need to tell the reader what the craft would be known as in ‘days to come’? Surely all that mattered was what it was doing right now? This wasn’t the only time Collins’ pulled this trick and it really jarred the flow of the story for me...

I could really see this working on screen but explosions and spectacle in a book just aren’t enough to cover up what is essentially half a story. I haven’t read the prequel yet so I’m open to the fact that it may provide more background detail to the story as a whole. ‘The Rise of Cobra’ doesn’t do it though and I was left wondering why Collins didn’t bother... Surely he had the scope to do that?

Five out of Ten

Tuesday, 7 July 2009

‘Through Violet Eyes’ – Stephen Woodworth (Piatkus)

Something I’ve realised recently, after reading Diana Rowland’s ‘Mark of the Demon’, is that I’m a bit of a fan of urban fantasy with a police procedural edge to it. This is quite strange as I’ve never felt the urge to pick up a straight police procedural novel (the closest I’ve come is Raymond Chandler’s ‘Phillip Marlowe’ books) but found myself wanting ‘Mark of the Demons’ to downplay its urban fantasy element and concentrate on the detective work. Is this a sign of a new direction that the blog will be taking? Erm... no :o) It’s more of a sign of how I like urban fantasy to read, an emphasis on the ordinary but with just enough ‘other worldliness’ to provide the spark. Anyway...
The blurb for ‘Through Violet Eyes’ sounded like it could be just my thing so I bumped it up the reading list accordingly. It wasn’t a bad read; not amazingly great either but certainly one that kept me reading all the way through to the end.

If you’re born with violet coloured eyes then you are lucky (or unlucky) enough to be able to channel the dead and have them speak through you. The flip side is that your life can never truly be your own in a world where violet eyes are a rare commodity and those people with them are destined to be strictly controlled by a society that wants to communicate with the dead.
But now the ‘Violets’ themselves are being targeted by a serial killer who has learned how to keep his identity a secret (this is a world where the dead can testify in court). FBI agent Dan Atwater is on the case with the aid of ‘Violet’ Natalie Lindstrom but can they track the killer down before he strikes again?

The thing that I love about this book, before I even got to the ins and outs of the plot, is that although ‘Through Violet Eyes’ is a police procedural it doesn’t limit itself to that in terms of describing the world in which the ‘Violet’ phenomena occurs. Violets’ aren’t just there to help in police cases; they also perform a range of other tasks as well as allowing the dead to carry on doing what they were doing when they were alive (in certain cases). Certain composers are still writing music two hundred years after they died... The afterlife is also intriguing to read about with its hints (of more to follow) that are never expanded upon which give the reader tantalising glimpses of a strange New World. The net result is a world that’s familiar but, at the same time, has enough of the strange going on to keep people reading. It certainly kept me reading!
I found this world to be the ideal backdrop for the plot and characters to hang off. It was a shame then that they didn’t hang quite as well as they could have...

I as engrossed by the plot but although I had fun with it I couldn’t help feeling that I’d read it before. The concept of a killer who can hide from the dead is a good one and the resulting twists and turns of the plot kept me guessing although I found that the ‘red herring’ sub plot was sign posted a little too obviously to fool me. I was interested to see what it was all about but at no point was I left thinking that this guy was the killer. Because it was sign posted so clearly I was left watching Atwater and Lindstrom work towards an obvious conclusion rather than getting in there with them. The issue of ‘sign posting’ sums up the problem I had reading ‘Through Violet Eyes’. Although the flesh of the story was tasty enough, there was a very rhythmic feel to the plot that robbed certain climatic scenes of their potential to truly stir the blood. After a couple of chapters I could see the red herrings and blind alleys coming a mile off…

While I had fun getting to know the characters, in terms of how they reacted to what the plot threw up, I was again left feeling that I’d come across them far too many times before. Atwater is a typical FBI agent with a tortured past while Lindstrom is the gifted psychic who cannot afford to let people get too close to her. When a book features two main characters like this… well… you know what’s going to happen next. And it does. This isn’t a bad thing in itself but I found that time spent waiting for this to happen was time not spent wondering how their relationship would work out. Sometimes I want to find out what happens next, not have it made so clear…

Despite all this though, ‘Through Violet Eyes’ was one of those books where I found myself skipping to the end to find out what happened. When I find myself doing this then it’s clear that the book has got me hooked in the right way. ‘Through Violet Eyes’ certainly did this. It may be lightweight and predictable but it was one hell of a lot of fun to read.

Seven and a Half out of Ten

Monday, 6 July 2009

‘Complete Zombies vs. Robots’ – Chris Ryall & Ashley Wood (IDW)

Sometimes a comic book comes along that I just have to get my hands on. Anything with zombies in it will at least be picked up, off the shelf, for a read but this book pretty much got my cash card out of my pocket and bought itself! Why? Just read the title... Are you done? Read it again. Cool isn’t it? Zombies are cool enough on their own but facing them off against robots... Can it get any better than this? Yes, yes it can...

At some point in the near future, government research into dimensional technology has the unwelcome result of flooding the earth with the living dead. If this wasn’t bad enough for humanity, government research into robotics is also having some unwelcome side effects... The upshot is a planet inhabited by zombies, robots... and one human baby. Can the robots help the human race begin again or will the zombies get to eat the last human on the planet? All this is before the Amazons appear with a zombie Minotaur in hot pursuit...

Now you might think that a fight between a zombie and a robot would be fairly short and fairly one sided. You’d be right but, in the case of ‘Zombies vs. Robots’, only to a certain extent. Not only do the zombies far outnumber the robots but their infected blood is just as dangerous to robots as it is to humans. If that wasn’t bad enough, robots are slaves to their programming and liable to really screw things up as a result (with no humans to look out for them). All this opens the book up to be a lot more interesting than you would think. Anything can happen and it will always happen at the most inopportune moment! This never failed to make me laugh out loud but there was always an underlying pathos to the story. There’s something about these robots trying to reboot humanity (as they don’t know what else to do) that made me feel really sad. There’s only one way out of this mess and it’s a surprise that anything is left standing afterwards! This is where the Amazons come in...

You never really find out how a tribe of Amazons managed to survive the nuclear apocalypse so don’t bother thinking about it, just go along for the ride! Some people might see this as an enormous plot hole, I prefer to see it as the writer not taking things too seriously and going for a ‘throw everything at the zombies’ pulp style affair. It works for me and if you’re after something light hearted and irreverent then I reckon that this will be for you too.

The only problem I really had with the book was the artwork, not good when you’re reading a comic book! Ashley Wood’s art is all over the place, only stopping before it falls off the page. Also, on some pages it was very much a case of lightly coloured characters on a lightly coloured background which made it really difficult, sometimes, to work out what was going on. To be fair though, once I got used to it I found that the ‘mad artwork’ really complemented the writing itself.

Despite some misgivings about the art I ended up having a lot of fun with ‘Zombies vs. Robots’. The ending hints at more to come (mermaids!) and I’m definitely going to have to check it out...

Competition Winners! 'Midnight Never Come' and 'In Ashes Lie'

Thanks to everyone who entered this competition, there could only be two winners though and these lucky folks were...

Erin Hartshorn, Pennsylvania, US
Joakim Elovsson, Sweden

Well done guys, your copies of 'Midnight Never Come' and 'In Ashes Lie' will be heading your way very soon! :o)

Better luck next time everyone else...

Sunday, 5 July 2009

July Reading...

Here's a quick look at some of the books that I hope to get round to reading this month (courtesy of the Mos Eisley Cantina Band!) Notice that I said 'hope', there's a few books here that have been waiting to be read for a long time now... (apologies for the slightly dodgy photo, my camera phone isn't great...)

'Viriconium' and 'The Best of Michael Moorcock' are books that I've been dipping in and out of for a few weeks now, they may not be finished this month. I could say the same about 'Toll the Hounds' and 'Return of the Crimson Guard', the plan is to read at least one (hopefully both) of these when I go on holiday in a couple of week's time...

Are there any books on the July pile (which may be added to depending on what else arrives) that you'd like to see me bump up for an early read? I've never read anything by Storm Constantine so 'The Ghosts of Blood and Innocence' could be read sooner rather than later... Or are you just appalled that I still haven't managed to catch up with Erikson (especially as Pat is working his way through the page proofs for 'Dust of Dreams'...) Comments please! :o)

Saturday, 4 July 2009

Giveaway! 'Claudius' (Douglas Jackson)

Although Douglas Jackson's 'Caligula' was sometimes a 'stop/start' affair I still had a good time reading it and will be looking to read the follow up, 'Claudius', sooner rather than later. Do you guys fancy reading 'Claudius' too? Here's the blurb from Amazon...

The year is 43AD ...In Southern England, Caratacus, war chief of the Britons, watches from a hilltop as the scarlet cloaks of the Roman legions spread across his lands like blood. In Rome, Emperor Claudius, newly risen to the imperial throne, dreams of taking his place in history alongside his illustrious forebears Caesar and Augustus. Among the legions marches Rufus, keeper of the Emperor's elephant. War is coming and the united tribes of Britain will make a desperate stand against the might of Rome. The Emperor has a very special place for Rufus and his elephant in the midst of the battle - as a secret weapon to cow the Britons with the visible manifestation of Rome's power...

Sound good to you? Thanks to Transworld Books I have three copies of 'Claudius' to give away to three lucky winners. Anyone can enter this competition, it doesn't matter where you live!

Entering is as easy as ever. Simply drop me an email telling me who you are and what your mailing address is, I'll do the rest :o)

I'll let this one run until the 12th of July and announce the winners on the 13th.

Good Luck!