Thursday, 31 December 2009

The ‘Big Fat End of the Year Post’ – 2009 Edition!

What’s big and fat and appears on the blog at the end of every year? You guessed it. Once more it’s time for me to wax lyrical about 2009 and all the reading that I’ve done... :o)

2009 has been perhaps the best year yet for the blog. Thanks to everyone for stopping by and checking out what’s going on (and that goes double for all the family members who I regularly coerce into multiple clicks on the site...)! Numbers and I don’t tend to get on so well so have a click on the ‘View My Stats’ link at the bottom of the page to get a better idea of what’s been going on over the course of the year.
As always, the plan for next year to give all you guys more of the same but better! An impending house move and a baby due in April are both going to do their level best to put a spanner in the works as far as that goes though. I don’t mind at all :o) Stick around and we’ll all find out what happens together!

Anyway, back to the books...

Despite certain ‘big hitters’ not delivering finished books (naming no names, we all know who they are...), 2009 was a great year for speculative fiction in my house! The year did have its fair share of stinkers as well but I’ve done my best to forget those. Have a click through the blog and see if you can find them...

Perfect reads were few and far between but they were well worth the read when I came across them! Joe Abercrombie’s ‘Best Served Cold' was the stand out fantasy read of the year for me (although there were a few others that could have been contenders which I never got round to...) It delivered on all fronts and just kept delivering, I’ll have more of the same next time round Mr Abercrombie!
I’m a big fan of Brian Keene’s work (so will admit to some bias) but this year he really stepped things up a gear and delivered his best work yet with 'Urban Gothic'. Compelling, scary as hell and a book that not only has plenty of gore but also contrives to rub your face right in the viscera. You won't catch me going into deserted houses now!
I’d never read Robert Holdstock’s ‘Mythago Wood’ and the release of ‘Avillion’ prompted me to go and give it a try. I’m glad I did, it was beautiful and fantasy fiction is very much the poorer for losing Holdstock so soon.

A few books just scraped the edges of brilliance but fell short for one reason or another. ‘The Sad Tale of the Brother’s Grossbart’ almost got there and so did 'Finch'. 'Cadian Blood' and 'Titanicus' did the Black Library proud and have got me looking forward to reading more by these two authors. Mike Carey’s 'The Naming of the Beasts' was his best outing yet for Felix Castor and promises great things for the next instalment.

As with other years, 2009 was about the books where I had no idea I would end up enjoying them so much. Jeremy de Quidt’s 'The Toymaker' was a surprise read that crept in at the end of the year (only a couple of weeks ago) and edged out S.A. Swann’s 'Wolfbreed' my surprise read of the year. Both were very good indeed.

Other notable 2009 reads for me (in no order whatsoever) were...

‘Lord of Silence’ – Mark Chadbourn (I can’t understand why more people aren’t talking about this book, it deserves all the praise it gets)

'Triumff' - Dan Abnett (an example of an author really enjoying telling his story)

'A Madness of Angels' - Kate Griffin (Urban Fantasy how it should be done, I’m looking forward to seeing more from Griffin)

Unseen Academicals - Terry Pratchett (the book that got me liking ‘Discworld’ again)

'Avilion' - Robert Holdstock (sits firmly in the shadow of ‘Mythago Wood’ but is excellent nevertheless)

'The Sword Edged Blonde' & 'Burn Me Deadly' - Alex Bledsoe (Raymond Chandler fantasy style. If you like either genre then you should check these out)

'Nights of Villjamur' - Mark Charan Newton (one of 2009’s most anticipated reads and for very good reason)

'The Cole Protocol' - Tobias Buckell (another example that there’s nothing wrong with tie-in fiction if it’s done well, it’s certainly done well here)

'501st' - Karen Traviss (Star Wars fiction at it's finest, what a shame that the final book has been cancelled)

'Death Troopers' - Joe Schreiber (Star Wars and Zombies, need I say more? Oh yeah, it’s scary too...)

'Blood Pact' - Dan Abnett (this man can’t keep out of my ‘Best of 2009’ post and it’s all well deserved)

'Burning Skies' - David J. Williams (Williams does everything that he did in ‘The Mirrored Heavens’ only this time his foot is firmly on the accelerator)

'Thicker than Water' - Mike Carey (only ‘The Naming of the Beasts’ stopped this one from featuring more prominently...)

As far as comic books go, 2009 was all about ‘The Goon’ but you knew that already... ;o)

That’s me for this year. See you all in 2010 when I do this all over again, but better! Have a good one tonight, whatever you're doing!

Wednesday, 30 December 2009

Giveaway! 'Hidden Empire' (Orson Scott Card)

Thanks to Tor Books (who are just great, thanks guys!) I have three copies of Orson Scott Card's 'Hidden Empire' to give away on the blog. The only catch is that you have to be living in the US or Canada to be able to enter, sorry everyone else...

If you're still with us then you know what to do next. Drop me an email (address at the top right hand of the screen) telling me who you are and what your mailing address is. I'll do everything else ;o)

I'll let this one run until the 10th of January and will announce the winners on the 11th.

Good Luck!

Tuesday, 29 December 2009

One for 2010? 'The Conqueror's Shadow' - Ari Marmell

You never really know what's going to make it big do you? Publishers will say that their book is the next big thing but they wouldn't be doing their job if they didn't would they? Can you imagine a publisher saying, "Well... this book is ok but if I had to choose between this and another book I'd go for the other book personally"? Doesn't quite work...

I thought that a good 'post Christmas' thing to do would be to highlight books that I think sound interesting and that I think might be worth keeping an eye open for. I've actually started on 'The Conqueror's Shadow' and it's a lot of fun so far, I'm getting a definite David Gemmell vibe here!
Here's the blurb from Amazon...

They called him the Terror of the East. His past shrouded in mystery, his identity hidden beneath a suit of enchanted black armor and a skull-like helm, Corvis Rebaine carved a bloody path through Imphallion, aided by Davro, a savage ogre, and Seilloah, a witch with a taste for human flesh. No shield or weapon could stop his demon-forged axe. And no magic could match the spells of his demon slave, Khanda.

Yet just when ultimate victory was in his grasp, Rebaine faltered. His plans of conquest, born from a desire to see Imphallion governed with firmness and honesty, shattered. Amid the chaos of a collapsing army, Rebaine vanished, taking only a single hostage—the young noblewoman Tyannon—to guarantee his escape.

Seventeen years later, Rebaine and Tyannon are married, living in obscurity and raising their children, a daughter and a son. Rebaine has put his past behind him, given up his dreams of conquest. Not even news of Audriss—an upstart warlord following Rebaine’s old path of conquest—can stir the retired warrior to action.

Until his daughter is assaulted by Audriss’s goons.

Now, to rescue the country he once tried to conquer, Rebaine once more dons the armor of the Terror of the East and seeks out his former allies. But Davro has become a peaceful farmer. Seilloah has no wish to leave her haunted forest home. And Khanda . . . well, to describe his feelings for his former master as undying hatred would be an understatement.

But even if Rebaine can convince his onetime comrades to join him, he faces a greater challenge: Does he dare to reawaken the part of him that gloried in cruelty, blood, and destruction? With the safety of his family at stake, can he dare not to?

You're not going to get anything deep and meaningful from 'The Conqueror's Shadow' but like I said, it's a lot of fun so far. Look for it on the shelves around the 23rd of February next year (published by Spectra)

Monday, 28 December 2009

Giveaway! 'Muse and Reverie' (Charles de Lint)

One of the great things about this blog is that it gave me the chance to check out Charles de Lint's work for the first time, I've never looked back since then :o) I'm reading 'Muse and Reverie' right now and wanted to share the love. Tor were happy to help out (thanks guys!) and I've got two copies of the book to give away here. You can only enter if you're living in the US or Canada though...

Still here? If you are then you're probably writing me an email (address at the top right hand side of the screen) telling me who you are and what your mailing address is ;o) I'll do all the hard work later on.

I'll let this one run until the 10th of January and will announce the winners on the 11th.

Good Luck!

Sunday, 27 December 2009

Giveaway! 'Halo: Evolutions'

What's better than a book set in the 'Halo' universe? A book full of short stories set in the 'Halo' universe! Is there anything better than that? The chance to win a copy all for yourself...

Thanks to Tor Books, I've got three copies of 'Halo: Evolutions' to give away on the blog. You can only enter if you're living in the US or Canada though, sorry about that...

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)

I'll be letting this one run until the 10th of January and will announce winners on the 11th.

Good Luck!

Saturday, 26 December 2009

One for 2010? 'The Poison Throne' - Celine Kiernan

A quick look at Amazon tells me that this was actually first published back in 2008 but Orbit are giving this series a big push next year (all three books over six months) and a quick glance at my advance copy tells me that they could be onto something. Here's the blurb...

Young Wynter Moorehawke returns to court with her dying father - but she finds her old home shadowed in fear and riddled with dangerous secrets. King Jonathan has become a violent despot, terrorising those he once loved, and his son Alberon has fled into exile to plan a royal coup. Meanwhile, Alberon's half-brother Razi has been elevated to heir, and struggles to meet King Jonathan's increasingly untenable commands and keep his sanity. And at the heart of matters lies a war machine so lethal that no one dares speak of it. The kingdom would belong to the machine's master, yet the consequences of using it are too appalling to consider. But temptation has ever been the enemy of reason.

It may look like you've seen it all before but the first couple of pages have got me interested in reading more. We'll see where it goes from there...

Has anyone else read these books? If you have, what did you think? If you haven't, keep an eye out for the Orbit edition of 'The Poisoned Throne' in April next year...

Friday, 25 December 2009

Happy Christmas Everyone!

Happy Christmas Everyone!

Whatever you're doing today I hope you're all having a good one. I'm looking at a day involving good food, good books, a walk and possibly 'Dr. Who' in the evening.

Have a great one!

Thursday, 24 December 2009

Would my Year End List have looked any different if I'd read these books?

I don't know, erm... maybe? Actually the real answer is 'more than likely' as several of these titles were ones that I was eagerly anticipating but somehow never got round to reading (for a number of reasons). I read as many books as I can but I can't read 'em all. 2009 was definitely a year where the perils of commuting to work meant that some of the larger books were left at home...
Larry did this first, Joe did it a couple of days ago. Now it's my turn... (You may have to click on the pictures to enlarge them)

These are a mixture of books that were either too large to take on the train to work or suffered as a result of the 'reading burn out' that I've been having a good old moan about recently...

These are all books that I started reading but never really got into for one reason or another. There was a lot of online discussion about 'The Magicians' and I thought I'd let that die down before giving it another go (I could see both sides of the argument based on what I'd read so far). 'The Grave Thief' was a book that I always seemed to find myself reading when I was too tired to properly get into it, same deal with 'Canticle'. I'll be giving all of these books another go in the New Year.

These are the books that looked really interesting and ones that I would have to read sooner rather than later... until they got lost in the reading pile and promptly forgotten about. I need to read 'The Red Wolf Conspiracy' before I can get into 'The Rats and the Ruling Sea'... And why has 'Shadow Magic' made its way into another photo? That pesky poltergeist is playing tricks again... ;o) Another book that should be in this picture, but isn't, is M. John Harrison's 'Viriconium', next year will be all about finishing that one off!

And here are more books that suffered from their job of holding up the rest of the reading pile. Has anyone here read 'Warbreaker' or 'Zadayi Red'? Are they worth picking up? I will be giving the former a go but am still pondering over the latter. I'm also pondering over 'Julian Comstock', do I give it a go?

How about all of you? What books were you planning to definitely read this year but never quite managed to? Did you buy them or are they still at the store waiting for you to go in...?

Comments please! :o) (And don't forget to look out for my 'Reads of the Year' list towards the end of next week!)

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

‘Dark Creed’ – Anthony Reynolds (Black Library)

This could well be my last book review before Christmas and the New Year; I'm not ruling out any more but I’ll be taking a little time out to put my feet up and get some quality reading in to kick things off in the New Year. That’s not to say that there won’t still be cool stuff coming up on the blog in the meantime so make sure you stick around and see what there is to see...
Getting ready for Christmas (amongst other things) has really got in the way of my reading and, as a result, I’ve been after books that I can devour in short sharp bursts in between all the things that I should be doing. I had fun reading Anthony Reynold’s ‘Dark Disciple’ (although a quick look at the review shows that I kept forgetting the name of the book...) so when ‘Dark Creed’ arrived I knew that I had a book which would help beat back the trials and tribulations of Christmas!
While it may not be the best book you’ll find in the Black Library, ‘Dark Creed’ has a lot to recommend it to long time fans and those who are just after a dose of bloody warfare in the far future...

When the entire galaxy is ranged against you, the last thing a traitor legion of space marines needs is divisions within it’s own company. That is what Dark Apostle Marduk must face however as he wages war against the White Consuls Space Marine Chapter. Marduk now has the Necron ‘Nexus Arrangement’ in his possession and this can turn the war in favour of the Word Bearers’ traitor legion, perhaps even open the way to Holy Terra itself.
At the height of battle though, an old enemy makes an unwelcome return and throws everything into doubt. Marduk is now fighting a war on three fronts, can even the wiliest of Dark Apostles possibly survive?

For anyone who has ever wondered why the traitor legions never fully capitalised on the weaknesses of the human Imperium it turns out that the answer is simple. Traitor marines are far too busy plotting against each other, for their own gain, to ever be able to mount a concerted attack on Imperial space. ‘Dark Creed’ is full of this plotting and scheming, ranging from the lowliest marine to those who stand just below the Primarch demon prince himself. This strand of the plot is perhaps a little too convoluted for its own good, I got to the end of the book only to realise that I’d forgotten what kicked off all the plotting in the first place!
What it does do well though is to drive the plot along at a furious pace, incorporating an element of unpredictability that has the story begging to be read. How can the Word Bearers ever accomplish their mission if they cannot work together? What will become of the mission that they were sent to achieve? Is this mission even the one that they are meant to accomplish? Games are being played out within other games and this means that anything can happen at any moment. I had to keep reading just to find out how it all came together and concluded. There is absolutely nothing to root for in Marduk but I found myself wanting him to win through anyway. Perhaps this was because he was the only one trying to stick to the original plan while the others were working to their own ends. While there is a feeling that the outcome is never really in doubt, enough spanners are thrown in the works for it to be worth making the journey to the end of the book.

One of my criticisms of ‘Dark Disciple’ was that Space Marines of any kind are too invulnerable to make for interesting reading. You just know that their superior strength will see them through the most demanding situations... Reynolds has taken this into account for ‘Dark Creed’ and tackles the problem in the best possible way. If you have an invulnerable character then the best way to make him interesting is to pit him against an enemy who personifies the true meaning of ‘invulnerable’... There are life forms in the galaxy that can confidently take on a Space Marine without breaking a sweat and Reynolds brings this to the page in the best possible way. If you’re after combat on a titanic scale, that makes your heart pound, then ‘Dark Creed’ is the place to be. Again, there is the feeling that the outcome is never really in doubt (what with this book being part of a series and all) but that’s almost secondary to the real point of sitting down and really enjoying a good old fashioned scrap. Sometimes the fun lies in reaching the destination rather than the journey itself.

‘Dark Creed’ has it’s faults but is a definite improvement on its predecessor. If the next book carries on in this vein then Warhammer 40K fans could be in for a bit of a treat. I’ve got high hopes... Look out for ‘Dark Creed’ in January.

Eight and a Half out of Ten

Tor signs Bill Willingham to Starscape Imprint

I am way behind on my 'Fables' reading but I like what I've read so far! With that in mind, Bill Willingham's signing up to 'Starscape' is good news as far as I'm concerned!
Here's the press release from Tor...

Tor Books is pleased to add Bill Willingham, New York Times bestselling author of the international Vertigo hit series, Fables, to their roster of award winning authors. Willingham makes his debut in Starscape, an imprint of Tor, with a new original fantasy novel for young readers.

“We are thrilled to be publishing the very talented Bill Willingham in our Starscape imprint. Bill’s first middle grade prose novel, Down the Mysterly River, is a spirited, by turns harrowing, occasionally laugh-out-loud, highly original fantasy that we are confident will enjoy every bit of success as his hugely popular Fables series,” says Kathleen Doherty, Publisher of Starscape/Tor Teen/Tor Kids.

In 2009, the Fables franchise vaulted Willingham into top position as the comics industry’s best selling international writer. Fables: War and Pieces was nominated for the first Hugo Award for Best Graphic Story and Willingham was awarded the prestigious Best Writer Eisner for his writing on both Fables and the DC Comics House of Mystery series. His first adult prose novel Peter & Max was recently included in School Library Journal’s “Best Adult Books for High School Students” and various Fables collections have been included on YALSA annual recommended lists in 2004 (YALSA: Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Adult Readers) and 2007 (YALSA: Great Graphic Novels for Teens).

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Mini Reviews?

Earlier this year I found myself in the enviable position of having a little stockpile of books that I could review while I was reading the thicker stuff. Me being me though, I ended up reading a whole load of other stuff and leaving the stockpile to gather dust in the corner... The way it stands now, you’re not going to get full on reviews of these books as I’d have to read them all over again and I don’t have the time. What you will get though are the impressions that have stayed with me since I read them. The people at ‘Fantasy Book Critic’ have already coined the ‘capsule review’ phrase so I can’t really use that which is a shame as it’s a great phrase. Call this post what you want really but here’s what I thought of the following books...

‘Necrophenia’ – Robert Rankin (Gollancz)
This one took a while to get going but once it did Mr Rankin was on top form. I got the impression that the story suffered slightly this time round by his tendency to go off on an epic tangent whenever it suited him... ‘Necrophenia’ is brimming over with irreverent humour though and it’s chock full of zombies as well so I was happy.

‘Quarantined’ – Joe McKinney (Lachesis Publishing)
I loved ‘Dead City’ so jumped at the chance to read ‘Quarantined’, things weren’t as good this time round. For me, McKInney’s strengths lie in his ability to portray the meltdown of a city the way he did in ‘Dead City’. This wasn’t the approach he took in ‘Quarantined’ though (with San Antonio being locked down after an attack of bird flu) and his tale of a city going through the aftermath of a crisis lacked the punch of his former work. It was a case of comparing ‘something waiting to happen’ with ‘things that are happening in your face right now’... The ‘murder mystery’ element of the plot was fun to follow though.

‘Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’ & ‘Restaurant at the End of the Universe’ – Douglas Adams (Pan MacMillan)
You know how it is, you meet a friend that you haven’t seen in years only to find that you have nothing in common and getting back in touch was a mistake. That was me and these two books. I hadn’t read either of these books in a long time (years) and despite them still being as well written as I remember, they just weren’t funny anymore. Had I read them too often as a kid and killed the jokes? Maybe, maybe not. I wasn’t laughing though and haven’t bothered to pick up the others.

‘Broken Arrow’ – Paul Kane (Abaddon Books)
I love reading Abaddon’s ‘Afterblight Chronicles’ and ‘Broken Arrow’ was no exception. It’s lightweight but fun and a very accessible retelling of the ‘Robin Hood’ story. Maybe not the best book in the ‘Chronicles’ but still worth a read if you’re a fan.

‘Winter Duty’ – E.E. Knight (Roc)
If there was ever a reason for not starting a series at the eighth book then this book is it. I thought I’d give it a go and see what happened. What I got was a confusing mish mash of names and references to past events that I had no idea about. If that wasn’t bad enough, the tone was so dry as to leave me dehydrated and the constant recounting of troop deployments did nothing for me at all. Not a great reading experience...

Book Trailer for 'A Thousand Sons' and 'Prospero Burns'

There hasn't been a single 'Horus Heresy' novel that I haven't enjoyed (although there's a couple that I haven't read...) and 2010 looks to continue that tradition if this trailer is anything to go by...

I've got 'A Thousand Sons' to read and I'm very much looking forward to 'Prospero Burns'; I think that 2010 is going to be a good year indeed!

Monday, 21 December 2009

Comic Book Reading...

As far as my reading goes, I have to say that I’m slowing down for Christmas and going for stuff that I know I’ll enjoy rather than books that will challenge me in any way (although I’ve still got a couple more reviews to post before the year is up...) What? It’s Christmas, I deserve a break! ;o) The same goes for comics although I’m little more up for trying out stuff that I wouldn’t normally read. Today’s post then is a mixture of ‘nostalgia buzz’ and ‘never read it until the last couple of days’. See if you can work out which is which, it’s quite easy to tell...

‘Star Wars: Resurrection of Evil’ (Dark Horse Comics)

When I was at primary school, the sure fire route to having loads of friends was to have a Star Wars annual full of all the stuff that Marvel were putting out after ‘The Empire Strikes Back’ came out in the cinema. You could literally re-arrange an entire classroom to suit your whim as everyone vied to sit next to you! When I saw Dark Horse’s collection of all the old Marvel Stories, I actually had to buy myself a copy. I had no choice in the matter...
Well, I didn’t have people wanting to sit next to me while I read it but ‘Resurrection of Evil’ was a real buzz to read. We’re talking about a far more innocent time where ‘canon’ was something that fired laser blasts and writers were free to get on with the serious business of writing entertaining stories that are nothing but fun to read.
Things kick off with the ‘Empire Strikes Back’ being retold in comic book format. I liked the way that the writers add little extra bits into the story to flesh things out but I’m pretty sure that Darth Vader never once called Luke Skywalker ‘youngster’, he just didn’t. Where things really got going for me though was after this story finished and writers were free to get on with the business of recounting what happened during the search for Han Solo. Archie Goodwin’s ‘Death Probe’, ‘Droid World’ and ‘The Crimson Forever’ were the highlights for me but it was all good really. Al Williamson and Carlos Garzon do sterling work on the art. As a big Star Wars fan, ‘Resurrection of Evil’ will now be sitting very happily on my bookshelf, I just need to find the others...

‘Dusk’ – David Doub

I don’t know what it is with me, I’m getting tired of seeing constant ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’ clones but I keep picking them up anyway... David Doub’s ‘Dusk’ looked like it had potential but fell short for me.
The initial concept looked like it could be an original take on an established trope with abused wife Eve seeking solace in the vampire underworld and one vampire in particular. As I went through each story in the book though I felt like I’d seen it all before. I never watched a lot of ‘Buffy’ but I’d seen enough to see it all here. Woman in love with a vampire? Check. Troubled teen calls up powers that he cannot control? Check. Vampire hierarchy metes out justice on one of it’s own? Check. The one bit I really wanted to read fizzled out when one of the pivotal characters was found to be asleep! I wouldn’t mind hanging around though, just to see how that one pans out...

The stories are too short to sufficiently expand upon the characters and I found that the artwork (although admittedly impressive) seemed to be at odds with the story instead of working with it. Maybe it was just me but it was a little too cute for a story that was supposed to be pretty dark...

Like I said, the potential in one of the ongoing storylines looks like it could be interesting. Whether it’s enough to carry the book as a whole? I don’t know...

The 'First day back is always the worst...' Competition Winners Post!

The worst thing about having a really nice week off work is that the first day back will always be even more of a pain to endure. It could be worse though, actually... no it couldn't... :o(

This morning may be hell on earth for me but hopefully it won't be so bad for the following people. Yep, we've got a lot of competition winners to get through...

'Zombies: A Record of the Year of Infection'

Gavin Staniforth, Scunthorpe, UK
Christopher Bell, Telford, UK
Alison Serdet, Chichester, UK

'Imager's Challenge' - L.E. Modesitt jr

Kermit Crissey, Buffalo, USA

'Black Blood' - John Meaney

Pat Connors, New Hampshire, US

'Titanicus' - Dan Abnett

Esther Shchory, Israel
David Vickerstaff, Plymouth, UK
Francesca Prosser, Stowmarket, UK
Ryan Chow, Singapore
Antonis Matakos, Greece

Well done guys! Your books are on their way although you might need to give them a little while longer to reach you (Christmas mail and all that...)

Better luck next time everyone else, I've got a couple of giveaways lined up for just after Christmas so keep an eye open for those...

Sunday, 20 December 2009

‘The Gathering Storm’ Audiobook – The First Two Discs…

As you all know, I’m really having difficulties getting into books at the moment. It’s just an ‘End of the Year and Tired’ thing, hopefully things will pick up soon. I hope so as I have some great looking stuff on the pile waiting to be read! :o)

One of the things I’m doing to get round this is to try listening to audiobooks instead. I’ve had mixed results so far but at least I’m keeping the momentum going and that’s a good thing!
‘The Gathering Storm’ weighs in at a bulky twenty six CDs in audiobook format, a quite incredible thirty four and a half hours worth of listening all in all. Just so you don’t all end up waiting forever for a full review I’m going to be giving you lucky people occasional updates of where I am with this monstrous undertaking…

The first two discs are mainly about telling us where all the main players are and what they’re doing. I’m not as big a fan of the ‘Wheel of Time’ as certain others but even I can see that there are two people writing this book now. The good news is that Brandon Sanderson is very much after letting telling Jordan’s story and keeping himself out of the picture as much as possible. There are two names on the book but it’s all about the name that counts. I’m looking forward to getting into this some more, we find out what the storm means and I want to know what happens next!

I’m having trouble with one of the narrators though and that’s not such a good thing seeing as I still have a long way to go. Kate Reading is ok but Michael Kramer’s voice and tone follows a set pattern that you can almost set your watch by. This has meant that I’ve found myself listening to his voice more than what he is actually saying resulting in multiple rewinding of the CD…

It’s not looking good so far but I’ll definitely stick it out for a bit longer and see where it takes me. If I get my reading mojo back then I’ll probably put the CDs down and pick up the book. Wish me luck!

Saturday, 19 December 2009

The 'Beowulf really wasn't that good was it?' Link Up Spectacular!

In case you've been wondering where all the reviews have gone, I've actually been on holiday all of last week and very nice it was too. We're talking a luxurious lodge in the middle of the woods (and it was snowing!) where all you could hear were birds and my swearing at the Playstation as the cops busted me (again...) on 'Grand Theft Auto' ;o)
We finally got round to watching 'Beowulf' and all I can say is that I'm glad I didn't pay to see it at the cinema. Now there's a film that's all about the creators saying 'look at what we can do with animation'... shame they didn't pay as much attention to the rest of it.

While I was away, loads of cool stuff has been happening around the blogosphere. Here are some links to the best bits...

Neth has his Best of 2009 list up and it's looking pretty good. I need to get round to doing mine...

Adam reviews Carrie Ryan's 'The Dead Tossed Waves' and says it's 'enjoyable and disturbing by turns'. There are zombies to be found here so you can expect to see a review here very soon :o)

James has Assorted Author News for us. All I'm saying is 'The Scarab Path' is a great name for a book!

Harry shows us what's been coming through his letter box. It's Books, don't worry!

I love Rob's 'Books in the Mail' posts and here's his Latest One...

Is This the winner of the 'Ugliest Dog in the World' competition?

I'm not going to link to a specific post here because the whole damn thing is just great! Check out Smugglivus! (I really wanted to be a part of it this year but... no time unfortunately)

Mark wasn't too impressed with War of the Soulites. With a title like that I'm not surprised...

Last but not least... Pat is a big fan of 'The Windup Girl.

What am I doing? Trying to read but just cannot get into anything. I do have some reviews lined up though so stick around :o)

Friday, 18 December 2009

From My Bookshelf… ‘The Winter of the World’ (Part 2) – Michael Scott Rohan

It was way back in November 2007 that I gave a quick plug to one of my favourite fantasy series, the initial trilogy in Michael Scott Rohan’s ‘Winter of the World’ series. I said that I’d write more about the somewhat looser trilogy that followed it another time and then promptly forgot about it. Until now…

I was already reading a lot of fantasy and sci-fi back in the nineteen eighties but Michael Scott Rohan’s ‘The Anvil of Ice’ was once of the very few books that really got it’s claws into me and had me looking for more books like it. It’s worth mentioning that you can pick up ‘The Anvil of Ice’ for 1p (second hand) on Amazon and I’d recommend that you give it a go. You can’t really go wrong spending 1p can you? :o)
I got to the end of the trilogy and it was very clear that there was no way Elof’s story could go any further (read ‘The Hammer of the Sun’, you’ll see what I mean); I was sad to see it end but knew that it couldn’t go on so kept the completed trilogy on my shelf and moved on to other things.

Fast forward fifteen years…

The last thing I was thinking of was ‘The Winter of the World’ trilogy, I was escorting a psychiatric patient into town for some shopping and was more concerned with making sure that he didn’t do a runner! We stopped off for a quick browse in Waterstones and there was ‘The Castle of the Winds’… A new Michael Scott Rohan book. The story couldn’t possibly continue… could it? At that point I didn’t really care; I grabbed myself a copy ready to read when I got home. For anyone who’s interested, I did make sure that the psychiatric patient made it back to the hospital first…

Knowing that he couldn’t go any further forwards with his series, Rohan decided to take things right back into the past; a thousand years into the past. There would be no Elof, Kermorvan, Roc or Ils but there were new characters to meet and follow on new adventures. ‘The Castle of the Winds’ saw the mastersmith Kunrad undertake an epic journey to recover his stolen work. Everything was there that made the original trilogy a standout piece of writing; a richly drawn world with characters you wanted to give up your time for and battle sequences that gripped me right when it counted. Something wasn’t quite right though and it took me another two books to work out what it was…

I found myself a copy of ‘The Singer and the Sea’ about a year later followed swiftly by ‘Shadow of the Seer’. ‘Singer’ followed on from ‘’The Castle of the Winds’ with Kunrad’s apprentices making a name for themselves on the high seas. ‘Shadow of the Seer’ went in a completely different direction with a story of love that takes place on another continent entirely (and perhaps even further back in time, I’m not sure…) Again, all the ingredients were there for typically excellent stories from Rohan but something was still missing for me.

It took me a while to figure it out but I got there in the end. The original trilogy was so complete in itself that any following books really needed to be prequels, and feed into the overall arc a lot more closely if the whole thing was to feel a lot more cohesive as a sequence. Good as they were (and they are!) the new books had nothing to really connect them to the first trilogy, only the world in which it was all taking place. These books stand well on their own but there was a real sense of ‘disconnection’ (with the first three books) that I found myself trying to resolve while I was reading them. I never really resolved it, at least not to my liking…

While the books will always have a place on my bookshelf (not only am I a completist but they are good reads) I’ll always wonder what could have been if Rohan had decided to tie them in with the main trilogy a little more closely. What I wanted was the story of Vayde and the fate that befell him, that would have been brilliant…

Thursday, 17 December 2009

Your Favourite Reads of the Year...

This is a bit of a 'cheat's post' really, life has got in the way of a proper review being posted but normal service will resume soon!

It's the time of year when I start thinking about all the books that have really stood out for me this year in readiness for the 'Big Fat End of the Year Post' (for 'thinking', read 'scrolling back through the blog to see which books scored highly, I really am too busy to think hard at the moment!) This time round though, I thought I'd throw that question out to you while I'm putting my list together. What are the books that really hit the spot for you in 2009? It doesn't matter if it's just the one book or a whole list, bundle your thoughts into a comment and leave it beneath the post!

Thinking about it, I'd also be interested to hear from anyone who feels that they haven't read a decent book in 2009 (just to balance things out a bit)...

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

‘Thunder from Fenris’ – Nick Kyme (Black Library)

I had a couple of issues with ‘Heart of Rage’ (the last audiobook that I listened to from the Black Library) but overall it was a lot of fun to get stuck into and a great way to spend those early hours when you just know you’re not going to go back to sleep any time soon. With this in mind, when ‘Thunder from Fenris’ came through the door I was definitely looking forward to more of the same. I got what I was hoping for but at the same time, it wasn’t quite the same this time round…

Of all the Space Marine chapters, the Space Wolves are the most feral of all. Hailing from the planet Fenris, these proud warriors carry the wulfen curse into battle with them; the lupine spirit that can burst forth at any time…
The ice planet Skorbad has come under attack from the forces of Chaos and a squad of Space Wolves is assigned to the war effort there. In the aftermath of battle, one of their number suddenly goes wulfen and leaves a trail of destruction in his wake. His remaining brothers must rescue him before he can do any more damage but is he really the warrior behind the death of his Space Marine brother? The wulfen warrior’s rampage must be stopped but the Space Wolves will find that the war for Skorbad is not yet over…

Since I listened to ‘Heart of Rage’ I’ve had a go at a few more audiobooks so found this one easier to follow. That’s not to say that I didn’t hit the rewind button a few times but this was more to do with being stuck on the tube (and not being able to hear what I was listening to) than anything else!

Toby Longworth takes on the narrative duties once more and does a sterling job much like the last time. You wouldn’t believe that he’s providing a different voice for each and every character but he is. Every character is distinctive from the rest (although one of them sounded very much like Arnold Schwarznegger…) and I never got confused about who was talking at any one time.
I wasn’t too convinced by the accompanying sound effects though… You never really got much of a sense of where it was all taking place. I know the characters needed to be heard above the background but… this was an ice planet! Where were the howling winds? Where was the crunching of footsteps in the snow? I wasn’t too impressed by the fight sequences either, it sounded like they were playing the same ‘grunting track’ on a constant loop. In ‘Heart of Rage’ you actually felt like it were the characters who were fighting, not this time…

On the plus side, Nick Kyme does give Longworth a tale worth telling. I could tell what was coming but the journey to get there was what it was all about. Kyme gives the listener plenty of moments where you think it’s all going to happen. You get worked up for the finale… and then it keeps going. The tension is skilfully racked up to a suitably impressive finale that I was glad to be around for. It didn’t end there though; the Space Wolve’s original mission was still to be completed and although you never see it through to the end you are left in no doubt as to what must happen. Here’s an ending that smacks you in the chest like a bolt round and leaves you quiet for a long time afterwards…

I felt that ‘Thunder from Fenris’ suffered from a lack of the care and attention that made ‘Heart of Rage’ such an atmospheric experience. The story itself saved things though, here’s a tale that will be on my iPod for a while to come…

Eight and a Quarter out of Ten

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Didn't Finish the Book...

As much as I’d like to, I don’t finish everything that I read. This can be for a number of reasons ranging from ‘I couldn’t get into it’ to ‘the author obviously didn’t check the spelling before self publishing...’ Despite not finishing them I still like to mention these books on the blog. After all, people were kind enough to send them my way so the least I can do is say why they didn’t work for me!
So, here goes...

‘Chapterhouse: Dune’ – Frank Herbert (Ace)

How long have you left it, between books, when reading a series? You’re normally looking at a couple of years between books being published (with some notable exceptions) and that’s not too much of a gap really. Twenty years though...? I was about fourteen (maybe a bit younger) when I read Frank Herbert’s ‘Heretics of Dune’ and never got round to picking up ‘Chapterhouse: Dune’... until now.
Here’s a book where you really need to have recently read the rest of the series if it’s to make any sense at all. I had no idea what was going on! This is a book that I will no doubt re-read once I’ve been back over the rest of the series but when will I have the time to do that...? I don’t know. In the meantime, ‘Chapterhouse: Dune’ has gone back on the pile.

‘The Templar’ – Paul Doherty (Headline)

Here’s the Amazon blurb...

1095 and crusading fervour has swept Europe. Christ’s fief of Jerusalem has been seized by the Infidels. The Frankish Knights of the West are to march east to liberate the Holy City. Hugh de Payens and Godefroi of St Omer, the soon-to-be founders of the Templar Order, and Hugh’s younger sister, Eleanor, leave the security of their homes in Burgundy, France, with a plan to join Count Raymond of Toulouse's army, and march across the known world to Jerusalem.

Follow the crusaders as they march through Europe into the glories of Byzantium and onto Syria and witness the hardships, bloodshed and trickery they encounter on their treacherous travels to the Holy Land.

I was after something a little different and ‘The Templar’ sounded like it could fit the bill nicely. It’s a real shame then that the book was so dry, in tone, that I ran out of steam trying to read it. While there was a real sense of history to the work I didn’t get the feeling that the same level of attention was being paid to the characters. The pace was a little too slow for my liking as well although I did expect it seeing as the author is dealing with the mass migration of thousands of people!
I know someone who will like ‘The Templar’, and its sequel, but it wasn’t for me...

Monday, 14 December 2009

Another Dip into the Comic Pile...

Would you believe that I’m still trying to catch up with reading stuff that I got for my birthday? It’s obvious that there is far too much going on for me to able to enjoy the simple things in life like comic books and... erm... fine chocolate (actually, I’ve always been able to make time for that) Things are set to get even busier next year so we shall see what happens to my comic book reading then. In the meantime, a slightly shorter ‘comics post’ than normal but one that’s full of goodness nevertheless...

‘The Goon #33’ – Eric Powell

It’s finally reached that point where I have to choose between sticking with the trades or collecting individual issues of ‘The Goon’. In typical fashion, I put off the decision for a little longer and got myself a copy of #33. It’s a one shot, it’s allowed!
‘The Goon’ never ceases to touch a soft spot in my hard old heart and this time was no exception. Powell’s art is as spot on as ever but what really got me this time was his ability to tell a story with no dialogue whatsoever. It’s all in the artwork and I was surprised (in a good way) as to how much of the meaning came across. You can really tell what’s going on with these guys. Hopefully things are gearing up for the next big story arc and I’ll be back in the action very soon.

‘Conan the Cimmerian #16, Free Companions (Part 1 of 3)’

Despite the fact that I’m really erratic at picking this one up regularly, ‘Conan the Cimmerian’ is a real favourite of mine with artist and writer combining almost perfectly to give the reader the definitive picture of the barbarian himself. Issue 16 sees our free spirited hero starting to really chafe under the restrictions of life in Khoraja and the Princess Yasmela start to tire of his excesses. Things are about to explode and the very beginning of the story tells us how it all ends up...
I haven’t read a bad issue of ‘Conan’ yet and it looks like I’ll have to wait another month to see of the trend of goodness continues. As I’ve said before, Truman and Giorello complement each other perfectly (although I’m really looking forward to seeing Darrick Robertson’s one off issue next month) and combine here to tell another great story. I wasn’t so sure about telling it in a series of flashbacks though...
This is only the first part of three so I’ll be making sure that I’m back next month to see how it continues...

‘The Silver Surfer: Origins’

This is the book that I haven’t got round to reading since my birthday in September. I always thought the Silver Surfer looked really cool (he does, look at him!) but it was only recently that I realised I hadn’t read a single one of his stories. That had to change! Marvel Pocket books are a great way for people like me to catch up with early stories without having to resort to ebay... ‘The Silver Surfer: Origins’ gives us some of the Surfer’s earliest tales of a life on Earth amongst people who fear him as an alien. If it wasn’t bad enough already, our hero has to cope with the attentions of Loki, The Stranger, Mephisto and the alien Badoon. Who’d be a superhero?

I wasn’t too hot on John Buscema’s artwork which seemed to swing between being really intense, vibrant or just dated. It did the job though.
Stan Lee’s stories are full of honour misunderstood (on the part of the Surfer) and I ended up feeling more than a little sorry for a man who only wants to do the right thing. It’s also interesting to see our world through the eyes of a newcomer and Stan Lee seems to enjoy showing us just how petty, and quick to judge, we can be.
I’m not sure that I’d pick up more ‘Silver Surfer’ stuff (the guy is practically invincible, where’s the fun in reading about that) but ‘Origins’ is a great place to dip in and find out what the Surfer is all about.

Sunday, 13 December 2009

Giveaway! 'Black Blood' (John Meaney)

Thanks to the good folks at Spectra I have one copy of John Meaney's 'Black Blood' to give away on the blog (only for people from the US or Canada though I'm afraid, sorry everyone else...)

Here's the blurb for those who don't want to scroll down a bit and read my review... ;o)

In John Meaney’s follow-up to the much-acclaimed Bone Song, a cop in a morbidly lush necropolis crosses the barrier between life and death to avenge the murder of his lover—a woman whose heart now beats in his chest.…

Tristopolitan police lieutenant Donal Riordan returned from the dead for one purpose: to stop the killer who took not only his life but his reason for living it. But first he must penetrate a secret cabal known as the Black Circle, whose stranglehold on the city’s elite is preparation for a magical coup d’├ętat fueled by a sacrifice of unprecedented bloodshed. At the center of this ring of evil is the man responsible for his lover’s murder—a man Donal has already had to kill once before.

Do you want in? Entering is simple. 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 everything else.

I'm letting this one run until the 20th of December and will announce the winners on the 21st...

Good Luck!

Saturday, 12 December 2009

Giveaway! 'Titanicus' (Dan Abnett)

If you were around last week then you'll already know how great I thought Dan Abnett's 'Titanicus' was. If you weren't around then scroll down a bit, keep scrolling, keep scrolling... there it is! Have a read :o)

Are we all set? Cool. Thanks to the Black Library, I have five copies of 'Titanicus' to give away. This competition is open to everyone by the way, it doesn't matter where you live! 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 everything else ;o)
There are a few competitions going on right now so be sure to make it very clear that this is the one that you're entering...

I'll be letting this one run until the 20th of December and will announce the winners on the 21st.

Good Luck!

Friday, 11 December 2009

‘Black Blood’ – John Meaney (Spectra)

I love dark cityscapes that are full of shadows and danger. I love a ‘police procedural’ plot in a speculative fiction setting and, most of all, I love zombies. If a book has just one of these things then you can bet that I’ll be reading about it. If a book has all three... well, you’ll have to fight to hold me back from it!
When I started the blog (what seems like a lifetime ago now) I kept hearing things about John Meaney’s ‘Bone Song’; I meant to pick this one up but never quite managed to find the time. I wasn’t going to be thrown off the scent quite so easily this time round though; when ‘Black Blood’ came through the door I made sure it was right near the top of the pile!
It’s taken me a while to get through this one, for reasons that I’ve mentioned before (the dreaded ‘Book Burn Out’) as well as reasons that I will go into later on. I’m glad I made the effort though, ‘Black Blood’ is a read that really pays off if you give it a chance...

Not even death was enough to stop Tristopolitan lieutenant Donal Riordan coming back to avenge the death of his lover. After all, it’s her heart that’s keeping him going. Riordan is now a zombie in a city where resurrected citizens are about to lose their rights in a big way. People in high office are bending the rules to suit their own ends and it’s up to Riordan to get to the bottom of things before a city full of zombies and other ‘non-humans’ find themselves in a lot of trouble.
At the heart of things is the man responsible for the death of Riordan’s lover; a man that Riordan has already killed once before...

Before I go any further, it’s worth pointing out that if you want to get the most out of ‘Black Blood’ then you really need to read ‘Bone Song’ (its predecessor) first. ‘Black Blood’ is very much a book where events from the previous book feed straight into it. While an effort is made to accommodate new readers this is in the form of asides that only really make a lot of sense if you already know the people being discussed. What I also found is that a lot of the mechanics of Tristopolis have already been discussed in ‘Bone Song’ so while the atmosphere is gorgeous (more on that in a bit) you don’t get much of an idea of how things actually work... ‘Black Blood’ can be read on it’s own but if you’re anything like me then you’re looking at a long hard slog to get into the swing of things.

The good news though is that once you get into that groove then you’re pretty much guaranteed a riveting read. That’s what I got and once I finished reading I went straight online and bagged myself a cheap copy of ‘Bone Song’, that’s how good the plot and world building was.

Even though I wasn’t sure of its mechanics, the city of Tristopolis was a great place to be taken on a tour round.. Every shadow hides something dark yet strangely compelling, every street is walk through a world that is utterly alien but full of people who are just like us. Appropriately enough, it’s the little touches that show us just how much care and attention Meaney has paid to making his work such a fully immersive experience. The wraiths that guard City Hall, the variety of ways that circumvent death and allow a citizen to still be of use in the city. All of these little touches combine to give the reader a trip through a world that is dark beyond compare yet very human at the same time.

I don’t know if it was just me being very tired but the plot itself offers the reader an awful lot to get their teeth into. It felt like perhaps a little too much at times, trying to keep track of several strands at once, and not all of the strands had an equal amount of attention paid to them... This meant that I found myself following Donal for a couple of chapters and then having to spend time trying to remember what a minor character had been up to several chapters ago. This wasn’t an ideal approach for me but the underlying concepts in the story, and the questions that they threw up, kept me reading. Bursts of action are few and far between but do propel the plot forward in the best possible way when they do occur.

Donal Riordan was an interesting character to spend time with, one that I certainly look forward to going back and filling in the gaps in his history. You don’t often get to meet a ‘sentient zombie’ and the issues that he faces in his new ‘life’ make for a fascinating counterpoint to the main body of the plot.

I’m not giving this one a mark purely because it very much feels like the concluding half to a story and I haven’t read the first half yet. Hopefully you won’t need a mark at the bottom of this to see what I thought (and there’s the fact that I’m buying the first book, that should tell you something as well!)

A Very Abaddon Xmas...

If you're after some free reading, over the next couple of weeks, then you could do a lot worse than head over to the 'Abaddon Books' blog and check out what they've got on offer...

In keeping with the Christmas spirit, Abaddon authors will be posting about what their favourite characters are doing, saying and/or thinking as they sit down to their turkey-and-trimmings, brains, canned SPAM, or what-have-you this festive season. There will be several quick vignettes, a short story, a retelling of "The Night Before Christmas" and a PDF edition of Jonathan Green's "Christmas Past," a seasonal Ulysses Quicksilver short previously published in Pax Britannia: Human Nature.

They'll all be on the Abaddon blog over the next couple of week. Have a click Here and get started. Gary McMahon's 'Hungry Christmas' has just gone up...

Thursday, 10 December 2009

‘Dead until Dark’ – Charlaine Harris (Gollancz)

When I read Charlaine Harris’ ‘A Touch of Dead’ short story collection I had a couple of comments saying that if you liked cheesy or ‘camp’ stuff then ‘True Blood’ wasn’t a bad show to watch (the flip side being that if you didn’t like cheesy shows then...) I still haven’t seen the show but have read ‘Dead until Dark’, just haven’t got round to reviewing it here. (What? Other books got in the way...) Just over a month on and I’ve finally got round to writing something up, better late than never right? :o)
From what I’ve read so far, Charlaine Harris’ ‘Sookie Stackhouse’ books have got a lot going for them (in terms of what I like) but I wouldn’t be too bothered if I never picked another one up ever again. Weird isn’t it? Let me explain...

Sookie Stackhouse is a cocktail waitress in small town Louisiana. She’s not just any old cocktail waitress though; what marks Sookie out from the rest of the pack is her ability to hear what people are thinking. This ability does have it uses but the one thing it has done is make Sookie undateable. Until Bill comes along. Not only is Bill a good looking guy but Sookie cannot hear a word he’s thinking; this is because Bill is a vampire...
Bill is a laid back kind of vampire but his friends aren’t and Sookie’s home town is about to find this out. And when people start dying... that’s when things get really interesting.

What really got me into this book was the character of Sookie herself; I don’t think that I’ve ever met a more down to earth character in the whole urban fantasy sub-genre! There’s no mucking around here, Sookie just gets on with her life and this is really refreshing to see. While there is some agonising over her ‘power’, Sookie doesn’t let it get in the way of what she needs to get done, living her life and just getting on with things. When she finally meets Bill, you actually get a real sense of what it must be like for a regular human to hang out with a vampire for the first time. No mucking around with ‘sparkling’ or long discussions over the perils of dating an immortal, just the beginnings of a relationship between two people with slightly stranger issues than normal.

This ‘earthiness’ made it a lot easier for me to get into the mystery that forms the main part of the plot. Harris spins a interesting tale here, full of paths to follow that may or may not lead anywhere. It kept me thinking about how the conclusion would pan out and threw up as many questions as it answered. The finale isn’t exactly explosive but it still managed to throw a couple of surprises my way.

However, while the earthy tone kept my interest it also contrived to throw me out of the story entirely. I think there can be a real danger of losing the spark that lights up a piece of fiction if you try to keep things too real and this is what happened for me in ‘Dead until Dark’. Harris gives us a world where vampires are slowly integrating into modern society but the ‘vampire spark’ was lost under just how plausible it all was. This is where it got a little confusing for me. The down to earth style made a real change from ‘sinister yet alluring vampires’ but I found it hard to get a sense of the ‘Other World’ that sets off the spark in other Urban Fantasy books. You can’t have it all I guess...

So there you have it, a book that kept me reading and yet also managed to make me think meh’ at the same time... I would read more of these books (to see where the story goes, although ‘A Touch of Dead’ dropped a pretty big hint) but what you won’t see is me running out to find them. You may see more ‘Sookie Stackhouse’ reviews here, you may not...

Seven out of Ten

New Pictures from 'Tron Legacy'

I'm so excited about this that I've just had to look in the bathroom mirror just to double check that I'm not seven years old all over again! The SFX Site has some new pics from next year's 'Tron Legacy'. Check these out while I have my little fanboy moment... :o)

Just as long as the 'Bit' makes an appearance again I'll be happy...

'Tron' was actually the first 'Retro Classic' post I ever made (back when I was doing them...) Check it out Here.

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

‘Forged by Chaos’ – C.L. Werner (Black Library)

It’s getting closer and closer to Christmas (and I’ve still got so much to do...) and I’m finding myself winding down in preparation for the holidays and New Year. I think this is why I’m feeling a little burnt out on the reading front... Yesterday I went for something I wouldn’t normally read, in order to combat this, and once I finished ‘The Toymaker’ I figured that another way to beat the slump would be to have a crack at something I knew that I’d enjoy; something a little lighter that perhaps wouldn’t require too much effort to really get into it.
The last book I read by C.L. Werner, ‘Blood for the Blood God’, wasn’t without its faults but was still very much a fun read that wasn’t too demanding. With this in mind I figured that I couldn’t go too far wrong with Werner’s latest, ‘Forged by Chaos’. As it turned out, I pretty much got what I was expecting...

When they’re not fighting amongst themselves, the forces of the Ruinous Powers seek to spread their influence out of the Chaos Wastes and into the lands of the Old World. The Raven Host is poised to march on the Empire but needs to unleash the power of the Winds of Chaos if victory is to be certain. This means defying the malignant might of the Bastion Stair, portal to the realm of the Blood God Khorne, as well as fighting off the attentions of treacherous Dark Elves, Black Orcs and an Imperial Army desperate to deny Chaos Cultists any more power than they already have. With so many people after the same thing only one thing is certain, The Blood God will have blood in abundance...

As with ‘Blood for the Blood God’, ‘Forged in Chaos’ is a blood fuelled orgy of death and destruction that rages across the Chaos Wastes to a suitably apocalyptic conclusion that promises good things for a sequel if one was to come. Character development is light to the point of non-existence though. In a way, I’d say that this is fair enough. Threats to life and limb are pretty much constant and demand a more physical response than mere introspection! It also keeps the plot barrelling along at a pace that demands you keep following it. You’ll pretty much feel every sword stroke while you’re reading as well. Werner knows that his readers are after liberal doses of gore and is only too willing to oblige...

It would have been nice though to find out a little bit more about the characters that we are journeying with (other than their single minded obsession with the prize to be gained). While there is intrigue between, and within, each of the rival groups it all seems a little one dimensional. There is nothing else to these people other than their mission or quest and you just know that there is more to them than that; it’s frustrating then when you don’t see it...

I can’t remember who said it originally but I’ll say it here, the more things change the more they stay the same... This was a feeling that I definitely got from reading ‘Forged in Chaos’. The Chaos Wastes are in a constant state of flux but I couldn’t help feeling that I’d seen it all before. The landscape changes and is full of lethal new dangers.... Then the landscape changes and is full of lethal new dangers... The background may change but it’s the same thing underneath.
Now I could be charitable and suggest that this a wry commentary on the contradictory nature of Chaos but I don’t think it is. If you’re going to bring the action to the forefront then it will be at the expense of other elements of the book...

What can’t be denied though is the power behind Werner’s writing and this is what kept me reading. I’ve already said that you can feel every sword stroke and axe bite; while the setting might be repetitive it’s also vividly drawn in such a way that you can almost feel it. This is a book where, despite some misgivings, I really found myself getting engrossed in the story. There may not have been much doubt over the ending but it was getting there that was the fun part!

As was the case with its predecessor. ‘Forged in Chaos’ is by no means a challenging read but is very much a book that you’ll have a lot of fun with if you’re looking for a knockabout ‘hack and slash’ read for a lazy afternoon...

Seven and a Half out of Ten

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

‘The Toymaker’ - Jeremy De Quidt (David Fickling Books)

I know it’s hard to believe but every so often I get ‘book burn out’ and just recently it’s been a real pain in the... you know. I pick up a book with every intention of finishing it, get about fifty pages in and end up putting it down. It’s not the book’s fault (they all have the potential to be really good), more a case of my having read so much recently that not only am I tired but all the books seem to be merging into one ‘uber-book’...
What do you do when you find yourself in a similar situation? I wanted to keep the run going (I’m not doing too badly compared to previous years) so wondered if the best way round the slump was to pick up something completely different and see if that kick started things. I don’t normally read a lot of Young Adult stuff and Jeremy De Quidt’s ‘The Toymaker’ was waiting for me when I got home last night. Sometimes things just fall into place and you have to go with the flow.... I started on ‘The Toymaker’ and it was midnight before I knew it.

The death of your only relative is bad enough but when Mathias becomes the owner of a mysterious piece of paper his life becomes even worse. The sinister Doctor Leiter appears on the scene with a doll that can tell if Mathias is lying and a coachman who’s not afraid to use torture to ensure that Mathias reveals a secret that he knows nothing about. Mathis must uncover this secret if he is to stand any chance of survival but where is he to start? He can’t hang around either, time is running out...

‘Even little dolls with sparrows’ hearts sometimes remember they were sparrows once...’

‘The Toymaker’ is one of those books that had me wondering why I don’t give Young Adult books more of a chance (to be fair, there are a lot of adult books that I want to read first!); very much a book that I would have loved when I was a lot younger and one that I am glad to have discovered now.

I did have initial misgivings though. A boy with a mysterious past on a quest to find out a secret that he doesn’t know? Call me cynical but I’m pretty sure that I’ve heard that one before. That’s what I thought anyway but De Quidt had other plans in mind. Here’s an author who’s not afraid to string his readers along and then cut that string just when people are starting to get comfortable. De Quidt is good at it as well; in the space of a few pages everything suddenly changes and you find yourself reading a different story to the one that you thought. This new tack works as well, while there’s no denying that element of the fantastic the way it all plays out (especially the incredibly bleak ending!) just seems so much more likely. Things may work out in the end but when you’re up against the forces of evil you’re always going to be messed up by the time you cross the line... De Quidt really puts his characters through the wringer and seems to know not only what young readers can take but also what they want to hear about. If you’re reading this to a very young child though then you might want to think twice as the ending is harrowing for one character in particular...

The backdrop to ‘The Toymaker’ is a deliciously brooding gothic affair, full of dark forests and grimy back streets where evil lurks. Our heroes not only have to find their way through this maze of darkness but must also negotiate the boundaries of their tenuous alliance. Everyone is out for their own interests and the outcomes of this can (and do) send the plot in interesting new directions.
Killer dolls are always welcome in my reading and De Quidt comes up trumps on this score. His creations blend seamlessly into the dark background and De Quidt is equally adept at using these automatons in scenes of violent action as he is at using them to rack up the tension and horror. When I do my Christmas shopping, there’s one toymaker that I definitely won’t be visiting!

If I had one complaint it’s that slow journeys through woodland always slow plots right down; especially when none of the characters are in the mood to talk to each other. This is very much the case in ‘The Toymaker’ and there were points when I wanted things to move a little faster. This is a very small complaint though. I was enthralled by ‘The Toymaker’ and the blurb certainly wasn’t exaggerating when it said the story would ‘haunt you’. I don’t know if ‘The Toymaker’ has given me back my ‘reading mojo’ but I had a great time reading it anyway. Very much a contender for surprise find of the year.

Nine and a Half out of Ten's Month of Cthulu...

If you're the kind of person who likes to holiday in Innsmouth (like me!) then you're the kind of person who'd get loads out of 'Cthulu-Mas' on, a whole month dedicated to H.P. Lovecraft's most tentacled creation...

I'm definitely going to be hanging around to see what gets posted. Apparently, there are posts from 'Weird Tales' editorial director Stephen Segal and a comic, from Teetering Bulb, to look forward to amongst other things.
Here's a couple of links, to prior posts, to get you started...

For Lovecraftian monster drawings from Mike Mignola, Michael Whelan, John Jude Palencar, and Bob Eggleton just click Here.

Click Here for Patrick Nielsen Hayden's post on “H.P. Lovecraft, Founding Father of SF Fandom”.

Happy Reading...

Monday, 7 December 2009

‘Sinister Dexter: Money Shots’ – Dan Abnett, Simon Davis, Andy Clarke, Steve Roberts (Rebellion Books)

Just recently, it’s felt that whatever I pick up seems to have Dan Abnett’s name on it in one shape or another. That’s cool as far as I’m concerned because, as I’ve said elsewhere, I’ve yet to read a bad book by him. Despite this strange pattern of mine, I was still surprised to pick up ‘Money Shots’ and find that Abnett was the creator of ‘Sinister Dexter’, I didn’t know that he wrote comics as well! ‘Sinister Dexter’ is a series that has always managed to escape my notice when I’ve picked up 2000AD (there’s only so much time to read the comic before the newsagent notices that I’m not buying it!) so I was interested to see what it was all about. Having finished the book, I’m adding ‘Sinister Dexter’ to that list of works entitled ‘Why didn’t I read this sooner...?’

Finnigan R. Sinister and Ramone A. W. Dexter are the premier contract killers in the urban sprawl of Downlode; if something needs a bullet putting in it then these guys are the people you should be calling! ‘Money Shots’ collects some of the tales of Sinister & Dexter; where they came from, where they’re heading to and how many corpses they’ve left behind them on the way...

I had a great time reading ‘Money Shots’, one of those books where you feel like you’ve only been reading it for a few minutes until you realise that a couple of hours have passed and your stomach is wondering why you’re not feeding it.
The emphasis is very much on the ‘Killer’ in ‘Contract Killer’ and that’s how it should be. That’s the job and that’s the way that the job goes! Abnett chooses to inject his own brand of humour into the proceedings however and this was the bit that really hooked me. What does a hitman do to chill out when he’s not on a job? Have you ever wondered what it’s like for a hitman having a bad day on the job? Read ‘Money Shots’ and you’ll have answers to both of these questions (check out ‘Scene of the Crime’ and ‘Quality Time’); if you’re anything like me then the thought of these stories will still have you chuckling when you remember them...

There weren’t really any low points for me in this book; at least not as far as the plots go (I’ll mention the artwork in a bit). The highlights were ‘Gun Play’ (internet gaming taken to the next level), ‘Shrink Wrap’ (like ‘Analyse This’ but with more guns, also sheds light on how Sinister and Dexter teamed up) and ‘Bullet Time’ (easily the best story in the collection, looking at the true unsung heroes in a contract killer’s work). Like I said though, there isn’t really a bad story in the book. If you like hit men, explosions and fast dialogue then this is a comic book you really should be picking up.

The artwork isn’t bad, on the whole, but I found myself veering away from the art of Simon Davis (apparently the definitive artist for this series) and towards that of Andy Clarke instead. Davis’ work is cool but a little too messy for my tastes; Clarke is a lot tidier and more expressive. Again though, it’s all good!

Rebellion Books keep throwing out little surprises like ‘Money Shots’, books that I’ve never thought to pick up but am glad I did. If they can keep doing this then I’ll be sticking around for the ride...

Nine and a Half out of Ten

The Monday Morning 'I won the Lottery!' Competition Winner's Post.

Okay, it was only £20 (actually it £19.50...) but it all counts! :o) Still have to go into work though...

The following people will hopefully be just as happy as me as they won last week's competitions (they'll still have to go to work though...)

'My Dead Body' (Charlie Huston)

Asma Shafi, London, UK
Deborah Gandley, Solihull, UK
Matthew Popplewell, Hampshire, UK

'Small Miracles' (Edward Lerner)

Matt Paddock, Virginia, USA

Well done guys, your books will be on their way real soon! Better luck next time everyone else, there will be more chances to win stuff shortly (in fact there already are, scroll down a bit...)

What's that? What have I got coming up this week? I'm on a bit of a 'Black Library Binge' at the moment so it's fairly certain that you'll see some Warhammer or Warhammer 40K books getting a look in here. I still need to finish off 'Canticle' as well, hopefully that'll happen this week.

Stick around! ;o)

Sunday, 6 December 2009

Giveaway! 'Imager's Challenge' (L.E. Modesitt jr)

Here's a series that I've been meaning to get into for a while, I'm not sure if this is the best place to jump in but I'm going for it anyway! In the meantime, how do you fancy winning a copy for yourself...? (This one is only open to people in the US and Canada though...)

Thanks to Tor Books, I have one copy of 'Imager's Challenge' to give away to one lucky winner. To be that lucky winner, all you have 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 everything else.

You get a little longer to enter this one too. I'm leaving it open until the 20th of December and will announce the winner on the 21st.

Good Luck!