Tuesday, 4 September 2012

City of Bones by Cassandra Clare.

I'm a bit older than the target market for this (read, a lot older) so I didn't have high expectations. It started with a good scene of Clary meeting the shadowhunters. However, that served up my first niggle. Simon (Clary's awkward, nerdy best friend who is in love with her, but of course she doesn't realise that as it would spoil the plot) can't see the shadowhunters, but for the whole rest of the book he can. OK, so she lampshades it by having them able to cast a "glamour" so he can see them or not as they prefer. But given how much they seem to dislike Simon (Jace in particular), I'd have thought they'd have used the glamour more often than they do, if only to bug him. But I digress...

As others have said, the plot reminded me a lot of Harry Potter to begin with, and it didn't surprise me to learn that the author cut her teeth on Harry Potter fanfic. We have Valentine/Voldemort with his circle of followers, some of whom defect on him when his dark intentions become clear and some of whom stay with him and are punished accordingly. The parallels do become less noticeable the further in you get, although I did facepalm at the flying motorbike!

Characterwise, the author clearly likes to write Jace and Simon. They are both well-developed and get most of the best dialogue. Clary is fine too, although I did find her apparent lack of concern for her mother (the occasional mention and vague hints that she's worried about her) a little unbelievable. She also turns against Luke pretty quickly. One minute he is the closest thing to a father she has known and the next she has totally turned her back on him, despite the fact that what he says to turn her against him is said while being leaned on by two of the other side's heavies.

I was cautiously optimistic when it turned out that one of the young characters is gay, as I was interested to see how YA fiction is portraying gay characters, but it was scarcely alluded to again. Maybe it becomes a bigger deal in the later books?

The adult characters are weaker than the teens. Clary's mum spends most of the book captured and/or unconscious and Luke appears near the beginning only to be rejected and then shows up for a lot of the end. Trouble is, Luke's dialogue struck me as poor where the teen dialogue had been snappy, and he gets a whole chapter's worth of backstory infodump, poor guy.

The story is clearly designed around a series arc, so to get any sort of satisfying conclusion you need to read on. I know it's to get you to read the rest, but I always have a cheated feeling when I get to the end of the first book in the series and it's 1-0 to the bad guy. Harry Potter actually handled this much better. Voldemort hadn't gone away and we knew that in subsequent books he'd be back to bother Harry and co, but Harry had *stopped* him getting the Philosopher's Stone. It was 1-0 to Harry at that point. This series leaves you 1-0 to Valentine and it just leaves me with an uncomfortable feeling of being manipulated to read on.

Oh, and the big reveal? Telegraphed a few chapters out. Shame.

I would read on, but I'll be borrowing the next one from the library, rather than buying it. 4 stars because it's a decent example of young adult literature and the kids obviously love it, but it's not without its flaws.

Monday, 27 August 2012

The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch


This doesn't seem to be the current cover - current cover art here http://www.amazon.co.uk/Lies-Locke-Lamora-Scott-Lynch/dp/0575079754/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1346062711&sr=8-1 - but I prefer this one with Locke perched by the river as it conveys the faded Venetian air of the book a lot better IMO. And it's the cover that I have, so it goes on my blog.

I'd heard great things about this book but somehow never got around to reading it. Finally the urgings wore me down and I downloaded the sample to my Kindle. I will often enjoy samples and add books to my wishlist to be bought when I have a spare few quid, but when I reached the end of this sample I had the proverbial "shut up and take my money" reaction.

Sometimes laugh out loud funny, often unexpectedly, I enjoyed the banter between Locke and his friends very much. The author indulges in a good deal of character torturing - poor Locke is beaten multiple times, tortured with magic, poisoned and other creative abuses heaped upon him - and with each setback the ante is satisfyingly raised. I also enjoyed seeing Locke-the-child receiving his instruction in thieving; he appeared to be a very bright but seriously aggravating child! The author stays well away from the traditional hero. For one thing, Locke is morally suspect - he's a thief, after all, and thinks nothing of taking vast fortunes from people... and keeping them for himself. Robin Hood he ain't; he will injure, even kill people to get what he wants. And he doesn't always get it right. People die in this book. People who shouldn't, and who die because Locke Messed Up. I love that the author has made Locke just a guy who is obviously very clever and comes up with some staggeringly inventive plans, but when it comes to it is just human, and isn't always as smart as he thinks he is.

I am looking forward to reading the second one and hope it will keep me as entertained as the first one. My only quibble would be the swears. I am happy for books to contain swearing where appropriate, and given the occupation and social class of these characters, one would hardly expect Queen's (or Duke's) English from them, but I did get a bit tired of the constant effing this or effing that. Used more judiciously it would have had more impact; as it was it just got rather tedious. Hopefully in the subsequent books Locke's potty mouth won't be quite as jarring.

Still, a cracking good romp of a book. Five triumphant stars.

Sunday, 5 August 2012

In my list of books I'd read during my hiatus I forgot one: Enigma by Robert Harris. I'll review that in a couple of days, but in the meantime here's one I just finished. Whisper Cape by Regan Walsh.

I'm not usually a romance/paranormal romance reader, but gave this a crack since it was on free download at the time. The novel's true target market might very well have a different perception of the novel.

My first main grouse was the manner in which the main characters came into their powers. With the heroine it was "You might be able to do such-and-such." "Let me try. Oh, so I can." Straight away. No practise required. With the hero it was "I can't do such-and-such. Oh hey, yes I can after all." There was no cost to using the powers either, beyond a little dizziness after teleporting. In my opinion, they need to have costs and consequences of magic-using, not just an unlimited vat of power.

The characters themselves were standard romance fare. Both impossibly beautiful and both spending a lot of their point of view scenes thinking about how sexy the other is. Trouble was, I didn't believe them. I had no real feeling of Cael's irresistable nature. Dare I say, he was obviously a man written by a woman for women?

The other thing that was missing in this novel was the concept of "in late, out early" for the scenes. Almost invariably, the scenes went on that little bit too long and ended with a bit of a whimper, where if they had finished 100-200 words earlier there would have been a nice punchy end line. But this is the author's first novel (and as such, she has written one more than me!) so maybe that will come with experience.

Along with "in late, out early" the author could do with googling "deus ex machina" since the ending definitely smacked of it to me.

I've given it 3 stars as it entertained me for a few hours and I finished it. I will abandon books if they really aren't worth finishing, so at least I got to the end. I won't be reading the follow-up though, free download or not.

Saturday, 4 August 2012

Flash!!! (Ah ah....)

OK, so I'm tinkering with flash fiction, which is a new thing for me. The prompt for this was 'balance' and it had to be a maximum of 350 words. This is what I came up with. It's 343 plus title, according to Word. Hope you like it.

Starts with a Single Step

You can do it, baby. Come on.

Sandra smiled her encouragement as her daughter hauled herself to her feet. Clinging to the bars Terri put one tentative leg in front of the other. Her confidence had grown over the past few weeks until it seemed inevitable that she would finally strike out by herself. So convinced was Sandra that today was to be the day that she had persuaded her husband to take a day's leave to be there. She had to do it today; she had to. They had been waiting months for this.

Her daughter glanced across at her, blue eyes doubtful. She had never been the adventurous type and letting go of that support was going to be a big adventure.

David squeezed Sandra's hand. "You can do it, Terri.  Let go."

Their daughter released the bar, standing alone: scared yet triumphant. She wobbled, regaining her balance, the pink tip of her tongue sticking out as she concentrated.

"Come to me, baby," said Sandra. "Mum's here. I'll catch you if you need me." I'll always catch you.

Terri watched her legs as they moved. One hesitant step. Then another. Terri looked up at her parents, tears glittering in her eyes. Sandra could feel her own tears begin to fall; she was so proud of her daughter. Others had learned to do this – many others – but it felt as though Terri was the very first. She raised her phone in trembling hands, capturing the moment to share with family and friends who would miss this momentous occasion.

"Wave to grandma, honey."

Terri waved cautiously, the slight movement threatening to bring her crashing down in a tangle of arms and legs. The nurse was at her side right away and Terri clung to her arm, confidence shaken.

"I think that's enough for one day, don't you? These legs are going to take you time to get used to and we don't want to overtire you."

Sandra nodded, relieved. The bastards that had detonated the bomb in the shopping centre would not win.

Friday, 3 August 2012

OK, so as is usual with me, I started off well and then lost interest. I haven't stopped reading since February, honest. In fact I've read quite a bit.

Books that I can remember reading since then are :

Nightchild by J.A. Cummings
A Game of Thrones by G. R. R. Martin (reread)
A Clash of Kings by G. R. R. Martin (reread)
Hollowland by Amanda Hocking
The Alchemist of Souls by Anne Lyle
Hunting the Corrigan's Blood by Holly Lisle
Talyn by Holly Lisle

and then 2 failures that I gave up on without finishing (but may try again)
American Gods by Neil Gaiman
Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke

I may well come back and do short reviews on these; I don't think I could do really detailed ones without revisiting them and I'd sooner keep reading!

I've also listened to audio books of Elantris, The Final Empire, The Well of Ascension and The Hero of Ages, all by Brandon Sanderson, and I'm listening to Alloy of Law on audio book now, so I'm turning into a bit of a Brandon Sanderson fangirl!

Currently I'm "proper" reading A Storm of Swords (GRRM) on Kindle and rereading (after a gap of 30 years) Shardik by Richard Adams.

Saturday, 18 February 2012

How to Talk to a Widower

"When Doug married Hailey - beautiful, smart and ten years older - he left his carefree Manhattan life to live in the suburbs with Hailey and her teenage son, Russ. Three years later, at 29, Doug has been a widower for twelve months and just wants to drown himself in self-pity and Jack Daniels. But his family has other ideas... Russ is furious with Doug for not adopting him, and has fallen in with a bad crowd. Claire, Doug's irrepressible, pregnant twin sister, has left her husband and, uninvited, moved in with Doug. And their sister Debbie is determined to have the perfect wedding, at any cost. Soon, Doug finds himself trying to forge a relationship with Russ, reconnect with his own eccentric family, and reluctantly edges back into the complicated world of dating... "

I'd say this was chick-lit, if it had been written by a woman. As it was, it was written by a man and has an edginess to it that you don't find in typical chick-lit. It is sharply observed and darkly funny. There are some real laugh out loud moments, but underneath it all is Doug's deep despair at the loss of Hailey and his unwillingness and inability to reengage with the world in any meaningful fashion.

I found Debbie's wedding to be a bit of an unnecessary distraction, although I could see why it was there (Debbie "met" her future husband while Doug was sitting Shiva for Hailey). Claire was delightfully bonkers, trying to encourage her grieving brother to get back on the market. The relationship I liked best though was the one between Doug and Russ. For a 29 year old to take on a 17 year old stepson would be daunting enough, without the pair of them having the emotional baggage of a lost wife and mother, respectively. Doug has to tread a fine line between being a father or big brother figure or Russ's mate.

There's another victim in this story. Doug's father is a stroke victim with intermittent memory loss. Sometimes he forgets Hailey is dead and sometimes he is totally clued up. The book very touchingly shows his relationship with Doug (which has actually improved a lot since the stroke) and his wife, who is struggling herself to come to terms with the loss of the man she married, although he is still there physically.

I'd give this a strong 4. Light enough to be a holiday read, yet way too deeply emotional to be trivial.

Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Broken Music by Sting

I don't read a lot of nonfiction. No particular reason, I just don't. But I was in a hurry to read this book, not so much because Sting was a serious crush of mine when I was 16 and Roxanne was on my turntable for hours at a time, but because it was a Christmas present from my brother. Well, in theory it was from my Secret Santa, but my brother is about as much use at keeping a secret as The Sun. And I know next time I see him he will ask if I've read it yet and he will keep on asking, and asking, and asking...because that's what he's like.

So I have discharged my duty and promoted it to the top of my TBR pile.

If you come into this expecting to find a lot about The Police, you will be disappointed. The band that made his name is relegated to 100 pages (if that) at the end of the book. The majority of it covers his teenage years as a milkman's son in Wallsend, his teacher training and short teaching career and his strained relationship with his parents, particularly his mother Audrey. But running through it is the story of his musical career, from playing the piano at his grandmother's to saving up for his first guitar, his conversion to bass guitar and gigging with various jazz and swing ensembles before he moved to London to be with his first wife Frances Tomelty.

I'd have liked more about his transfer of allegiance from jazz to punk (a bit of a leap, on the face of it) which arose through his meeting with Stewart Copeland, the drummer with The Police. I was amused that the first Police sets contained 10 songs but still only lasted 10 minutes, so determined was Copeland to drum as fast and as furiously as he possibly could, leaving Sting and the then-guitarist, Henry, to try to keep up as best they might.

In this book Sting shows himself to be a natural wordsmith (which once again begs the question "why?" about that crime against music, "De Doo Doo Doo De Dah Dah Dah") and I was drawn into his book almost despite myself. He portrays his passion, sadness and love with the same delicate brush strokes with which his lyrics observe the world.

Not one that I will read again, nor even keep on my bookshelf, but worthy of its 4/5 nonetheless.

Sunday, 22 January 2012

Cradle Song by Robert Edric

First off let me state for the record that I'm not a crime novel fan. I know it's a hugely popular genre and I used to read my fair share when Grisham and Sandford were churning them out like battery hens, but I guess after a few variants on the same story I wandered off to pastures new. (Or in my case, old, since I wandered back to fantasy which is a prime culprit in the variants on the same story thing. But I digress.) 

As a novice writer, I am trying to read out of my comfort zone a little, to see how the plots are constructed, how the pacing is used, and so on, so that I can learn to do it too.  Hence my brief foray into the world of the private detective.

Here we have a private detective (Leo Rivers) hired by a man whose daughter was named as part of a paedophile ring five years before. The only man convicted is about to launch an appeal, and the father wants the case on the several girls who were linked to the ring but who Roper, the photographer convicted, was not tried for to be reinvestigated. The father believes there was malpractice on the part of the man leading the investigation and he wants his daughter's body to be found.

There are more sides to the story than that, of course. As well as the father, we have bent cops, apparently-good-but-we're-never-entirely-sure cops, bent prison officers, friendly-but-are-they-really journalists and a love interest who can't seem to make up her mind whether she's after the 'tec or the journalist.

All this is set around Hull, which is something of a novelty. I'm used to crime novels being set in San Francisco or Los Angeles - London at a pinch - but certainly not Hull. You certainly get a feel of the grey, grimyness that the author sets out to convey, and it gives a good backdrop to the tale of exploitation and murder that unfolds. But much as I imagine nothing much happening in Hull, unfortunately that feeling continued as I read.

Oh things *happen* all right. We have the interweaving threads of the girls who were involved with the ring and the policemen who were investigating it and that's all fine and dandy. The plot, in essence, works.  The twist is telegraphed a mile out, but that's another matter. What I struggled with was pacing.

Love them or hate them, Sandford and Grisham know about pacing. They will pull you along, making you turn the pages faster and faster and then they will give you that "phew" couple of chapters where your heart rate comes back down, your fingers get a chance to recover from the paper cuts and you finally feel able to go and make that cup of tea you've been craving for the past hour. Edric's book pretty much chugs along at a single pace. The only moments of tension I remember were a beating up scene (a couple of paragraphs, and wasted really - I got no real sense of menace from it) and a section where the computer experts (two wisecracking women, how very modern of him) are trying to break into the hidden files on a computer that the head cop has conveniently kept in his house all this time. They try and...they manage it. OK, so not much tension there then, ho hum.

I'm probably being a little unfair here, after all this isn't my genre and crime lovers would probably feel the same faced with a fantasy novel. The writing is sound, the characterisation is OK and as I've said the plot works.  This guy has been touted as the British Stieg Larsson and this book is the first of a trilogy (well, whaddyaknow?).  I quite liked the first Stieg Larsson book, disliked the second and gave up on the third in disgust as I just plain didn't care. On that basis, I shan't risk the second and third of this series - better cut while I'm (more or less) in front.

Would have been a 2/5 but I'm giving it a 3, just in case I'm being unduly unfair since it's not a genre I'd normally read. It has a fistful of 5 star reviews on Amazon, though, so maybe crime afficionados like it.

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

Angelfall (Penryn and the End of Days, Book 1)

I started reading this one just before Christmas, when I saw it highly recommended on a couple of blogs.  It appears at present only to be available in ebook format, so I downloaded it to my Kindle for PC for the princely sum of 77p.  Let it be known now that was a good buy!

First off, I adore that cover.  Many self-published books have poor covers (I am assuming it is self-published, apologies to Ms Ee if not) but this one is right up my street.  Gold angel wings and inky, painty, splodgy goodness appeals to the altered artist in me.  So I went into this one with a good feeling.

I wasn't sure what I was expecting of the novel itself, to be honest.  It soon became clear it is one of those books like Hunger Games and Twilight that are pitched firmly at the teen market but can successfully cross over into the adult one too. It's written in simple sentences, but the joy of the novel is in the pacing. Where Twilight disappears off into morose teenage navel-gazing, Angelfall rattles along like a car with the accelerator stuck down.  It really is one of those novels where you get to bedtime and promise yourself you will stop at the end of the chapter, but end up carrying on, bleary-eyed because you just plain have to find out what happens next.

The premise is an interesting one.  War has broken out between angels and mankind, the Archangel Gabriel has been killed in one of the attacks and it has become apocalyptic. The story is set in a California destroyed in the war, where the remaining humans hide from the angels, venturing out only to search for whatever food is left in shops and offices, and subsisting on cat kibble where necessary.  Inexplicably, there is still running water even after this carnage, but given the teen obsession with personal hygiene I'll let the teenage protagonist have her occasional shower!

Penryn, our protagonist, has a young wheelchair-bound sister, Paige, and a mentally unstable mother who is off her medication since the war and progressively more doolally as the book continues.  Right at the start, the three venture out and step into the middle of an angel-on-angel fight.  One angel is being beaten to within an inch of his life by the others and has his wings cut off by his assailants.  Penryn uses his sword to fight the others off and they leave, but not before plucking Paige from her wheelchair and carrying her off.  Seeing the critically injured angel as the only way she is likely to save her sister, Penryn helps him and they become uneasy allies : Penryn using him to get to the Eyrie where the angels may have her sister, while also getting him back to the angels and the possibility of having his wings restored.

The angel goes by the name of Raffe.  Now I'm quite well up on archangels from one of my fandoms, so it wasn't too much of a stretch to work out that he is the Archangel Raphael.  Of the others, Michael gets a mention later and Uriel appears for the climactic scenes.  Chuck a human resistance movement and the sort of anarchic breakdown familiar from most post-apocalyptic scenarios into the mix, add a dash of angel politics and a ballsy protagonist who doesn't know when to lie down, and you have a cracking good read.

Literature it ain't, but if you want a page turner and like novels with a supernatural element then you could do much worse.  I'm off to nag my 14 year old daughter into reading it and am awarding it my first five stars of the year.  I'll be reading the other books as they come out too.

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

Portrait of an Unknown Woman, Vanora Bennett

The first of this year's book reviews - yay!

So let me admit that I started this on a plane flight back in October and I've just finished it today, which maybe shows you how gripped by it I was(n't).  If aeroplanes had opening windows and if it wouldn't have caused us all to be sucked out to our deaths, I'd have thrown this book out before reaching the end of the first chapter.  I was annoyed with the poor grammar and poor punctuation within a few paragraphs, particularly since I'm consciously deconstructing things I read these days to help me with my own writing.  It was doubly frustrating in that if I could pick up the problems then so should an editor. Slapped wrists to Harper there.

In the first part, I couldn't decide which point of view the author was narrating from. She uses both Meg Giggs and Hans Holbein as point of view characters, which is fine, but in some of the Meg chapters she seemed to head-hop to Clement. Just when I'd accepted an omniscient POV (even though I didn't like it much) she swapped in the second half to Meg/Hans again but threw in a few passages in first person. Just choose your viewpoint and stick with it, please!

There was a scene early on which didn't work for me in which the characters raise the fate of the Princes in the Tower. I couldn't see why that scene was even there as it was clumsily worked in.  It turned out to be foreshadowing, but it would have been nice if that could have been done with more delicacy and finesse.

The other thing that didn't convince me was the development of the Thomas More character. We are told repeatedly that things are getting worse for the More family: they have fallen out of favour with the king; they are tense and the family becomes hated; they are scared for their futures.  Telling me that over and over doesn't work, I'm afraid.  You have to show me the situation worsening and the author simply didn't.

The other thing that really annoyed me was John Clement being described as having "electric blue" eyes. Really? In 1527? I know the language used in the book for dialogue and so on was modern, but obvious anachronisms just jar me out of the story.

On the plus side, this made me go and Google the historical basis behind it and I am intrigued by the central premise regarding John Clement and the supposed cover-up of his identity by the Tudor monarchs and Thomas More. I shall also probably read some non-fiction about Hans Holbein, who was the most interesting figure in the book by some considerable margin.

Jack Leslau's theory about John Clement is fascinating and I'd have loved this book to be better.  Ultimately though, I just found it frustrating, so an average three stars from me.