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.