Saturday, 31 July 2010

I’ve never read anything by...


Yes, it’s the return of that semi-regular feature where I ‘fess up and tell you guys that I’m not as well read in the genre as I’d like to be... How could I be? The ever growing ‘To Be Read’ pile constantly laughs at my attempts to scale it and that’s not even counting the thousands of sci-fi/fantasy/horror books out there that I haven’t even seen yet. Oh well, half the fun lies in carrying on chipping away and seeing what happens! :o)

This time round it’s Elizabeth Moon in the spotlight. When all that business with Nightshade blew up the other week, Moon’s name was mentioned and it struck me that I’ve got a couple of books of hers on the pile that I haven’t read. Then it struck me that I haven’t read any of her books at all... So, what am I missing? Am I missing anything at all?

The books in question are the ‘Deed of Paksennarrion’ omnibus and the follow up ‘Oath of Fealty’. Mention of Paladins and Orcs put me off (slightly) in the past and it still sounds a little ‘D&D’ to me. These days, size is an issue (Stop sniggering! Oh, that was me...) and any book that weighs in at a mighty twelve hundred pages is going to slip down the list of priority reads. If it’s a good read though then that’s a different deal entirely.

Have any of you guys read the ‘Paksennarrion’ books? What did you think? Were they worth your time or did you find yourself skipping right to the end just to see how it all ended? Elizabeth Moon has written a whole load of sci-fi as well, anyone read any of these books?

Comments please!

Friday, 30 July 2010

Bits and Pieces, Odds and Ends...

Because, despite having nothing but good intentions as far as the blog goes, life gets in the way and books don’t get read as quickly as I would like. The baby was crying and she just wouldn’t stop (wasn’t too impressed at her vaccinations)... Priorities have had to change in the last twelve (and a bit) weeks but not so much that I’ll have to stop reading entirely! There’s far too much good stuff out there for that to happen. Terry DeHart’s ‘The Unit’ was a book that I picked up, the day before yesterday, as it looked like ‘quick read material’ for the daily commute. It’s only two hundred and eighty pages long but it’s not a quick read at all. There’s a lot meat (so far) on this post-apocalyptic tale and it’s all worth chewing over. Look out for a review in the next few days...

After that? Well, there’s a challenge that I’ve got to take up... My copy of ‘Wizard’s First Rule’ arrived in the post yesterday while I was at work and I’m not going to hang around in cracking this one open and seeing what I think. Again, look out for a review in the next few days or so... After that? Anyone’s guess really. I’m not setting myself any reading targets for the rest of the year, just going to pick up stuff from the reading pile that looks like it could be interesting :o)

Anything else? As it happens, yes :o) I was chatting to Mark Newton the other day, in his other guise as Black Library Publicity Guy, and asked him if there was anything he would be happy to share on the blog regarding the follow up to ‘City of Ruin’ (a book that I still need to pick up, hopefully sooner rather than later!) There is a provisional title but that won’t be announced until the cover art is finalised. What Mark did say though is that,

‘...book three goes down another different route. Less overt weirdness this time, and back to Villjamur for a different kind of noir (superheroes featuring a transgendered lead).’

Less ‘overt’ weirdness eh? Sounds like there’s still going to be a fair bit of weirdness to keep fans happy...

There’s loads of other stuff going on at loads of other great blogs right now; here’s a little peek at all my favourite bits...

I can’t believe it’s been four years since David Gemmell passed away; I didn’t even realise so much time had passed until James reminded me in this post. Gemmell’s books are more a ‘Christmas read in front of a roaring fire’ for me these days but James’ post has got me looking ahead and deciding which book(s) it will be this time round...

You’ve got until midnight tonight if you want to enter this contest over at ‘Floor to Ceiling Books’. I haven’t read all of these books (although ten out of thirteen isn’t bad!) but will still thoroughly recommend the ‘Horus Heresy’ series to anyone who wants to listen. Enter this competition and thank me if you win...

Mark gives us the cover art and synopsis for Eric Brown’s ‘Engine Man’ (from Solaris)

Adam Whitehead is the Oracle of the Internet and knows things far in advance of us mortals. Some say that he sold his soul to the gods of the internet for this prescience but that’s a tale for another time... For now, check out some movie news from his blog!

Niall doesn't have Adam’s ‘Internet Powers’ but that’s not going to stop him giving us film news of his own...

I still need to read ‘Return of the Crimson Guard’ (total ‘Malazan burn out’ over here at the moment) but once I do, I will click Here and follow the link to read the prologue for Esslemont’s ‘Stonewielder’. Transworld have got a real thing for putting boats on their covers haven’t they?

And finally, Gav is back from his travels and wanting to know what we think he should read first from a monster list of books. Have a click Here and let him know what you think he should be picking up...

That’s enough links for now, time to be getting on with the business of reading! Stick around and find out how it all goes...

Thursday, 29 July 2010

‘Johannes Cabal the Detective’ – Jonathan L. Howard (Doubleday/Headline)


Jonathan L. Howard’s ‘Johannes Cabal the Necromancer’ was one of those books that sounded intriguing but I somehow never got round to reading. ‘So many books, so little time to read them all’ and other excuses... ;o) It didn’t so much fly under my radar, more a case of being pushed. In one of those strange quirks of fate, ‘Johannes Cabal the Necromancer’ ended up being one of those books that everyone else seemed to like (seriously, check out Here and Here for starters) but I still never seemed to get round to picking up. My ongoing resolution to be in at the start of potentially great series took a bit of a knock here but I resolved not to be beaten (at least, not too badly). When I was asked if I would like to see a copy of the sequel I jumped at the chance, both to see if all the good words were justified and also to see if I could jump on here without having read the first book (as I like to give this a try every now and then)...

Fresh from the events of the first book (which I won’t go into for fear of spoilers for those who haven’t read it) Johannes Cabal is about to face an enemy far worse than those who lurk in the lowest pits of Hell... human politics.
An attempt to steal a rare book leads Johannes Cabal to a voyage on board the airship ‘Princess Hortense’ (under an assumed identity) via the resurrection of a dead emperor and the subsequent breakdown of law and order in a small country. A voyage should be the ideal way to relax, after such exertions, but life is never so easy for our necromancer hero. A death on board the ‘Princess Hortense’ provides an intriguing mystery for Cabal to chew on; an attempt on Cabal’s life makes solving the mystery a little more urgent... Things aren’t quite as they seem on board the ‘Princess Hortense’, Cabal must get to the bottom of things before he becomes just another body falling from the decks of the airship...

Going with the second reason (for picking this book up) first... I found ‘Johannes Cabal the Detective’ to be a book that was very accessible despite not having read the first book. What we’re looking at here is a book with a self contained plot where a thorough examination of the main character means that you don’t have to have read the first book in order to enjoy this one. And you will enjoy it, more of that in a little bit though...
Having said all that though, Howard appreciates that there are those among us who will want to know at least some of the events that led up to Johannes Cabal being in the situation that he is. For these people, Howard populates his text with little snippets of background history to flesh things out and fill us in. I particularly liked the way that this was done, I came away knowing a lot more about the character (than I did previously) but never felt that this information had got in the way of the story at hand. If only more books could be like this...

I said that you’ll enjoy ‘Johannes Cabal the Detective’ and I wasn’t lying. You’ll have to work for it though... Johannes Cabal himself gradually becomes an absorbing character who carries the plot beautifully but he’s not someone whom it’s easy to get to know and that can make the plot drag a little at the same time. Cabal is a man of science, as well as a criminal mastermind, and his resulting detachment from the rest of humanity seems to be the only part of him that we really get to see much of. While this approach makes for some deliciously devious and funny moments at times it can also feel a little overplayed (over the course of an almost three hundred page novel) and the joke does wear a little thin as a result. Hints of other facets of Cabal’s personality promise good things for future books but he’s more than a little one dimensional at the moment. We’re lucky in that the one dimension comprises witty sarcasm, a sharp mind and a capacity to surprise his enemies; I wouldn’t have minded seeing a little more though...

Once you get past this, the rest of the story is a joy to read; a gripping detective tale with answers that are hidden in plain sight but hidden so well that you won’t notice them until Howard wants you to. When you are shown the answers, it all makes perfect sense and you’ll wonder why you didn’t see it right from the start.
The reason is that Howard proves to be more than adept at carefully planting the seeds of questions (along with innumerable red herrings) throughout the book. Readers are led up blind alleys only to find that their questions still haven’t been answered, they’ve got to keep reading to have any hope of that. This is what kept me reading; Howard delivers a mystery that you just have to get to the bottom of and the payoff more than matches the build up. The revelation is all the more effective for its sheer simplicity.

Not only does Howard deliver a devilish mystery but he also wraps it all up in a gorgeous ‘steampunk noir’ atmosphere that had me slowing down, every now and then, to enjoy either skulking in various European alleyways or flying high above them in the ‘latest flying machine’. The character Leonie Barrow also makes for a fine partner for Cabal’s crime solving exploits as her ‘up front’ approach forces Cabal to come out of himself as the book progresses. Add in Howard’s tendency to go off on comedic tangents (comes close to being overdone but isn’t ) and I was pretty much onto a winner the second I started reading.

‘Johannes Cabal the Detective’ initially has its problems but overcomes these and proves to be nothing less than a thoroughly entertaining read. I still may not find the time to read ‘Johannes Cabal the Necromancer’ (too many other books to read first) but you can count on my being there when the next book is published. I’m looking forward to it already... 'Johannes Cabal' is published by Doubleday in the US and Headline over here in the UK.

Wednesday, 28 July 2010

‘Hunt for Voldorius’ – Andy Hoare (Black Library)


Reading wise, if I remember 2010 for anything it’ll be the year when ‘the comfort read’ took precedence over all else. You can’t blame me really, there has been an awful lot going on what with one thing and another! ;o)
I’ll be totally honest and say that, as good as they are, Black Library books have become a bit of a comfort read for me (the 40K stuff that is, I really need to crack on and read the fantasy stuff as well). You always know what you’re going to get (full on tales of humanity’s never ending war against everything else in the galaxy) and, with very few exceptions, it’s generally very well written.
I’ve had mixed results with the ‘Space Marine Battles’ series so far (‘Helsreach’ was excellent, ‘Rynn’s World’ not so...) so the arrival of ‘Hunt for Voldorius’ had me wondering which way it would fall. As it turns out...

A war leader of the treacherous Alpha Legion, the daemon prince Kernax Voldorius has the blood of billions on his hands... and he’s after killing billions more. Captain Kor'sarro Khan of the White Scars Chapter was tasked with hunting down and killing Voldorius , it’s taken him and his men ten long years to track the daemon prince down but now the end is finally in sight...
The planet Quintus fell to the Alpha Legion a long time ago and it is here that Voldorius will either make his last stand or launch the plot that will gain him billions more mortal souls. Kor'sarro Khan and his men must make sure that Voldorius is stopped at all costs. They will have allies in this struggle but will they be enough...?

One of the things that I love the most of all about 40K novels is the sheer depth of world building that can go into a single novel. These writers love the setting and will go all out to make sure that the reader is fully immersed in the experience. This isn’t just the case with the background, military organisations get this treatment as well. Whether it’s Graham McNeill’s ‘Ultramarines’, James Swallow’s ‘Blood Angels’ or Dembski-Bowden’s ‘Night Lords’; the reader is guaranteed an insight into military history stretching back millennia and this serves to emphasise just how far into the future we’ve gone.

It’s a shame then that Andy Hoare decided not to follow this approach; at least as far as I could see.

While Hoare gives the White Scars Marines their own battle cant, and offers us the merest of glimpses into life on their home world, he doesn’t do an awful lot else other than look at their tactics during open warfare. The end result is that the reader is left with a rampaging bunch of supermen with no real clue as to who they are. We may know that they’re the White Scars but we don’t really get much of an idea of what that actually means (in comparison to any other Space Marine Chapter). Half the point of this particular series seems to be that the Marines will always win through regardless and it’s their heraldry and history that adds an interesting spin to an otherwise tedious foregone conclusion. Hoare doesn’t really go down this path so what we get is a rampaging bunch of supermen who we know are going to win through in the end. Where’s the fun in that? Especially when the tactics they employ are delivered in a rather dry manner...
Now, fans of the White Scars might have a few different words to say here as long term fans may well pick up a few things that I’ve missed. It just didn’t work for me though...

What made it all the more annoying is that Hoare managed to get things spot on with the other two main groups in this tale; namely the Raven Guard Marines and Voldorius himself. The Raven Guard were very secretive and devastating on the counter assault with enough questions left unanswered to pique my interest in what they were up to while the focus of the book was elsewhere. Voldorius’ evil was deliciously chilling in places (his plan was suitably epic and a nice nod to technology that might not be too far away from our own) and the after-effects of his demonic presence made for some nice atmospheric moments (I’m thinking about what Captain Kor'sarro Khan finds in the Baneblade tank here, a great moment!) As good as this was though, I just found myself wondering why Hoare couldn’t have put this much effort into his main cast...

The rest of ‘Hunt for Voldorius’ is as full of explosions and heroism as you would expect but it felt strangely flat and there were a couple of times where I found myself skimming pages to get to a conclusion that I had already seen coming. While I would read more of Hoare’s work, just to see where he goes next, I wouldn’t make it a priority on the strength of this book though...

Six and a Half out of Ten

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

'The Goon' Movie - Sneak Peek!


I’m going through one of those phases where anything even remotely technical is beyond my ability to post on the blog. You wouldn’t think that I work in IT would you...? However, if that post is anything to do with the ‘Goon’ movie (that’s in the early stages of development) then I’ll do my best!

Therefore... You won’t be seeing any trailers here but if you click Here then you’ll get the ‘work in process’ material that the Mad Hatter has gone and posted over at his blog. You can’t say fairer than that! :o)

From what I’ve seen I can’t help thinking that ‘The Goon’ might work better as an animated series rather than a film in it’s own right, at least to start off with. As much as I enjoy reading ‘Goon’, I always got the impression that it was more of a ‘cult thing’ that might not translate into those all important audience figures at the cinemas. Build up some rep with a series first, then go for the film!

One thing I am sure of though is that if ‘Goon’ makes it to the big screen (and I think it will) then I’ll be there to watch it, just so long as the Communist Airborne Mollusk Militia and The Psychic Seal feature...

If you like your comic books a touch on the surreal side then you need to pick up ‘The Goon’ if you haven’t already, I promise it’s worth it!

‘The Walking Dead: Life Among Them’ – Robert Kirkman/ Charlie Adlard (Image Comics)


There are a few things guaranteed to perk me up after a rough couple of days. Last week was full of a heavy cold and a little one that refused to let me sleep. Just when I thought that things could only get worse... The latest ‘Walking Dead’ collection came through the door, just in time for the weekend to start! :o)
It has always been a close call between ‘The Walking Dead’ and ‘The Goon’ for my favourite ongoing comic book series. While ‘The Goon’ probably edges it, ‘The Walking Dead’ can still take pride in being probably the best zombie series in any format (I’m including you in that Mr Romero...) Any day where there’s a new ‘Walking Dead’ collection to be read is a good day indeed! Would that be the case with this volume though...? ‘Life Among Them’ won’t go down as one of the stand out instalments in the series but it still has a lot going for it...

After what seems like a lifetime of wandering, our band of survivors might just have found what they’ve been looking for all this time. A walled community offers the chance to enjoy life as it was before the zombies came. Is it too good to be true though? And are the secrets behind this new community any more sinister than the issues brought inside by a group of traumatised survivors? What will give first...?

We’re twelve volumes in now and when you get this far along with a series you find that there’s really only so much that you can say about an artist who’s been there almost right from the start. That’s the position I find myself in with Charlie Adlard, an artist who has produced consistently good work (so far) on his run. I did wonder, a while ago, if the series might benefit from a new artist to freshen things up. Looking at it now though, Charlie’s art is ‘The Walking Dead’ and it wouldn’t be the same without him. What I will say though is that Adlard seems to work a lot better in the smaller panels than he does on the larger ones or the two page spreads. The more space he has the less detail seems to go into it. I guess deadlines and stuff can really work against you in situations like that.

As far as the story goes...

‘Life Among Us’ is very much a book that is all about setting things up for some pretty explosive events in future books. You don’t know what you can see coming but you just know that something big is looming on the horizon. The exciting thing is that it really could go either way. Is there something sinister behind this new community or will Rick’s group do something really stupid because they can’t trust anyone anymore? I’m into this series for the long haul anyway and it’s questions like this that have kept me reading for a few years now.
What I found though is that Kirkman perhaps draws the tension out a little bit too much. You’re waiting and waiting and waiting... but there’s no real payoff. This isn’t like when they were living in the prison where lots of little things were happening on a regular basis. This new community has a stagnant feel to it that weighs at the plot and makes things drag... I’ve still got faith that something huge will happen in the next book though and there is something to be said for the contrasts raised between the two groups in the meantime.

This approach is even more annoying in that a long running question (an intriguing one too) is brushed to one side without much fuss. Cryptic remarks from Eugene promised much but the revelation was flat to say the least. It almost felt like Eugene’s sub-plot was brushed to one side so Kirkman could concentrate on what was going on in the new community. The problem here though is that Kirkman doesn’t really give us a lot in it’s place, just the promise of something to come...

Kirkman hasn’t let me down yet so a curiously flat instalment here feels like more of a ‘blip’ than a real problem. There was enough here to keep me interested and certainly enough to have me wondering just what will happen in the next book. I’m pretty sure the payoff will be worth it.

Eight out of Ten

Monday, 26 July 2010

‘The Challenge...’


Because Sam Sykes isn’t just the angriest man alive, he also wants to mess with your head in the worst possible way...

His email...

Dear Bloggers,

I had an inkling for a fun activity to do and wondered if any of you wanted in on it. After perusing your blogs for awhile, I think I've got a pretty keen grasp on your tastes. My proposal to you is this: if you should accept my challenge, I will do my best to find a book I think you will very much despise based on what I know of you. I mean, I will go balls-out offensive if I can. Your task will be to finish and review it and see what happens.

The purpose? To see how set in our tastes we are and to perhaps for me to cause you some mental anguish.


My response (upon realising that he never emailed me)...

How come you didn't pick an offensive read for me? I'm a blogger, I want to be offended dammit!

Cheers mate :o)

Graeme


Bits and Pieces of subsequent emails from Sam (once he realised I’d never read anything by Terry Goodkind)...

No Goodkind, you say? That might be nice, given that he's basically an industry bogeyman. If you've never been exposed to the reasons for the hatred surrounding him, it might be good to do a "clean read" so to speak.

It's either that or something super girly.


Having read a Laurell K. Hamilton fairly recently, I went for the Goodkind...

Well, undoubtedly you're familiar with the legacy of woe surrounding Goodkind, right? If I were to hand it over to you, I'd want to see if, as the legends say, he actually was good at some point before he went all loopy. Could you think yourself strong enough to judge the book based solely on its literary merit?

I said ‘yes’ of course :o)

Wizard's First Rule! Show us if Goodkind was the savior of humanity!

So then, that’s the task in front of me... Is Goodkind the saviour of humanity or is everything that I’ve read online about him completely true? I will tell you once I’ve read ‘Wizard’s First Rule’ (second hand copy on the way to me courtesy of Amazon). ‘Wizard’s First Rule’ is one of those books that I feel like I’ve already read, even though I’ve never gone near it, because of the amount of discussion that it generates here and there online. It’ll be interesting to see what it’s really like, wish me luck...

The 'Blimey it's going to be a busy week!' Competition Winner's Post!


It really is... What with a baby who refuses to sleep at home and loads to do at work, when is it the weekend?

Oh well, what better way to kick things off (for three people at least) than to announce the winners of last weeks competition. If you weren't here last week, I'm talking about J.L. Bourne's 'Day by Day Armageddon' here! Three people will be getting a tasty slice of zombie goodness and they are...

Todd Johansen, Utah, US
Megan Beard, Collie, Western Australia
Ian Travis, Nova Scotia, Canada

Well done guys, your books will be on their way soon! Better luck next time everyone else (there's always a next time...)

Sunday, 25 July 2010

Yet another series changes cover midway through...

From the press release...

NEW YORK & LONDON--(SCIFI-PR-WIRE) --HarperCollins Voyager, the fantasy and science fiction imprint of HarperCollins, are currently in the process of re-jacketing many of the old classics on their list to bring the novels up-to-date.

Some of the first re-covers to hit the market will be for the Raymond E. Feist and Janny Wurts’ ‘Empire’ trilogy – while British fantasy author Stephen Hunt’s works are also being re-designed, with the paper-back of his 4th novel in the Jackelian series, ‘Secrets of the Fire Sea’, breaking away from the look of the current hardback’s jacket. These new designs will be on sale in September 2010.



When word of Stephen Hunt’s redesign filtered through the market, the original hardback for ‘Secrets of the Fire Sea’ sold out of its last print run on Amazon within days, with collectors purchasing what they anticipate now becoming a collectable.

The original designs for Stephen Hunt’s Jackelian fantasy series featured a line-work motif that echoed the Victorian level of society which features in Hunt’s imagined ‘Kingdom of Jackals’ – a post-ice age take on what England transforms into millions of years in the future, filled with page-turning jeopardy, intrigue, strange races and the debris of lost civilisations.

The new jacket designs feature a more contemporary take on Hunt’s deeply imaginative creations, suggestive of the mystery, romance and adventure which runs through the novels.

Literary agent John Jarrold, who represents Stephen Hunt, said the designs “are quite dashing”, while Hunt commented, “It’s an opportune moment with the print runs for the Jackelian books still selling out and new editions about to hit the bookshops, to seize the opportunity to do something distinctive and fresh for their covers.”

Books in the series include ‘The Court of the Air, ‘The Kingdom Beyond the Waves’, ‘The Rise of the Iron Moon, ‘Secrets of the Fire Sea’, ‘Jack Cloudie’ (pub: 2011), and a 6th as yet untitled work in the series due for publication in 2012.


All well and good (and the new cover doesn't look bad I guess) but I always feel sorry for the people who end up with a different cover halfway through a series. It just doesn't look right on the bookshelf does it? This, coming from the guy who has mismatched 'Felix Castor', 'Malazan Book of the Fallen' and 'Wheel of Time' cover art on his shelves... I haven't read the 'Jackelian' books though, anyone here read them?

I totally get that publishing is an industry and there to make money first and foremost, of course it is. It would be an awfully run business if it wasn't! I just wish they'd let me finish collecting a series before messing around with the covers...

Saturday, 24 July 2010

Giveaway! ‘Finch’ – Jeff Vandermeer


When I read ‘Finch’, late last year, I said it was ‘not only a gripping detective story but a triumphant conclusion to events set in motion a long time ago.’ I also said it was like ‘Lethal Weapon’ with talking mushrooms...’ You can’t really go too far wrong with a book like that can you? I didn’t think so then and I still don’t now. Do yourselves a favour and give this one a go!

Thanks to Corvus (publishers of ‘Finch’ in the UK), I have five copies to give away here on the blog. This time round however, only UK residents can enter. Sorry about that everyone else!

Entering this competition is as simple as ever. 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 postal address is. You also need to make it clear, in the subject header, that this is the competition you want to enter. Something along the lines of ‘Finch’, ‘Ambergris’ or ‘I love talking fungus’; any of these will do the trick ;o) Bear in mind that no subject header means no entry...

I’ll let this one run until the 1st of August and will aim to announce winners as soon as possible afterwards.

Good Luck!

PS If you haven’t already read my review for ‘Finch’ (or if you have and want to read it again) just click Here...

Friday, 23 July 2010

‘Waking the Witch’ – Kelley Armstrong (Dutton)


Despite my going on about how most Urban Fantasy/Paranormal Romance is just the same old story (with different names added to the mix) I still find myself going back to the genre for a read more often than I’ll care to admit. Part of this is a ‘comfort read’ thing (something I’ve been after a lot just recently!) but the other reason is that when the balance is right Urban Fantasy always makes for a fun read.
One of the authors who I feel gets the balance spot on is one Kelley Armstrong, an author who absolutely won’t let romance get in the way of her plot. The two go more or less hand in hand and this makes for a plot driven read with characters that are always interesting to follow. I haven’t read all of her ‘Otherworld’ books but whenever I come across one I’ll be sure to give it a go. It took me a while to get to ‘Waking the Witch’ but it was worth the wait. Kind of...

Even members of the supernatural community need a little sleuthing work done every now and again... Savannah Levine (half witch, half sorcerer) works as the junior member of a Private Investigations firm and is eager to finally get her teeth into a case that she can call her own. Once she does though, Savannah will be lucky if she lives to regret it.
Three women have turned up dead in a small town and there are signs that an occult ritual may be at the bottom of it all. Savannah doesn’t need much encouragement to take the case but her arrival in town is just the precursor to more people dying (more often that not, just as she arrives on the scene). Is someone covering their tracks or laying a trap for Savannah? Has the town bad boy bitten off more than he can chew or is the head of the local commune scared of what might be found behind the tool shed...? One thing is for sure, Savannah Levine is going to need all her luck and magic to stay ahead of the game. It’s just a shame that certain other people have no luck at all...

‘Waking the Witch’ is one of those stories that comes across as self contained (and ‘stand alone’) but is anything but. This is to be expected really, ‘Waking the Witch’ is book number eleven in the ‘Otherworld’ series so there is bound to be some cross referencing with earlier instalments. If you haven’t read earlier books about Savannah Levine though then the whole payoff for ‘Waking the Witch’ isn’t going to make much sense at all. I’ve never really read the ‘Savannah Levine’ books so the revelation about the killer really came out of left field for me and looked to be at serious odds with what the rest of the book had been building up to. Long term readers will no doubt look at the ending in a completely different light. As a casual reader of Armstrong’s work, the sense I got was of an ending (that was way off base) that had been jammed onto the end of the book and left hanging... This is definitely worth bearing in mind if ‘Waking the Witch’ is the first book of Kelley Armstrong’s that you’re planning on picking up. The book isn’t as self contained as it first appears...

It’s a bit of a shame that things went this way for me as, in most other respects, ‘Waking the Witch’ was a thoroughly entertaining read that had me reading until I’d finished the book. The mystery itself isn’t particularly original but that comes over the course of the book as Armstrong adds more and more questions to the mix. As with all good detective fiction, things don’t really start to make sense to our heroine until the very end of the book and Armstrong does very well to string things like this; it was an approach that kept me reading as I had to factor in all the little issues that kept popping up and throwing the case in new directions. Armstrong gives her readers a case that is constantly changing and you have to keep reading if you’re going to stay ahead of the game! The ending may not work for certain people (like me) but the build up is certainly more than satisfactory.

What Armstrong also looks to give her readers is a very convincing picture of a (very) junior detective who’s finding herself more and more out of her depth but still determined to see things through until the bitter end. Savannah Levine is a very strong character in this regard and her determination powers the story along at a rate guaranteed to draw you along with it. There’s also a side to her just dark enough to make her worth hanging around with, just to see what she’s capable of...
There’s the potential for plenty of romance here and Savannah being who she is (as well as the good looking men she just happens to conveniently keep bumping into) means that this does get explored. It doesn’t take over the plot completely though, something I was really pleased to see. The important thing is always solving the case and that’s just the way it should be here (seeing as that’s what the book is about). There is time for romance though and it feeds back into the plot in the best possible ways.

What really struck me though was the fact that Armstrong is clearly not afraid to end the case on a low note and really put Savannah through the wringer. If that wasn’t bad enough, the last lines of the book really throw things up in the air and have ensured that I’ll at least be round for the next instalment, just to see what happens next. If Armstrong is going to develop her characters like this then I’m along for the ride!

‘Waking the Witch’ is probably one for long term fans only, purely because of the way that it links to earlier books. As a relative newcomer, the ending felt a little contrived and tacked on... There was still a lot to recommend it though and Kelley Armstrong has done enough to make sure that I won’t be a relative newcomer for much longer. 'Waking the Witch' is published by Dutton in the US, I'm not 100% sure but I'll hazard a guess and say that Orbit will be publishing it in the UK.

Eight and a Half out of Ten

Thursday, 22 July 2010

Which cover would you go for...?

This one is perhaps a bit of a no-brainer but I’m going to run with it anyway and see what happens J

Every so often I’ll get two copies of the same book from different publishers. I’m only ever going to read one of these (really can’t be bothered reading alternate chapters, from each, in the interests of being fair...) but want to give some coverage to both so... which cover do you prefer?

Up this time round is China Mieville’s ‘flawed but still quite splendid’ ‘Kraken’. I posted my review a couple of months ago so won’t waste your time saying what the book is about, have a click over Here if you want to read more...

Here’s the UK cover....



And here’s the US cover...



So, what’s your preference? The way I see it, if you’re going to have tentacles on your front cover then make them tentacles (with suckers and everything!) not the merest suggestion of tentacles... It’s a foregone conclusion as far as I’m concerned, the UK cover wins hands down this time round for that very reason. I’d also say that the colour scheme on the UK cover is more suggestive of the tone of ‘Kraken’ than the US cover. ‘Kraken’ is a garish novel (in a good way), more so than you’d think by looking at the US cover.

What about you though? If you saw both of these covers on the shelf, which one would you take home with you?

Comments please!

Tor Books announces new Halo novels with #1 New York Times bestselling author Karen Traviss

From the press release...

Veteran author of bestselling Star Wars and Gears of War novels to follow up her contribution to the “Halo: Evolutions” story anthology with an all-new series set in the Halo Universe

New York, NY – July 20, 2010 - Tor Books, an imprint of Tom Doherty Associates, LLC—the largest publisher of science fiction in the world is excited to announce that Karen Traviss, who has penned number one bestselling novels in the Star Wars universe, as well as bestselling novels for the Gears of War franchise, will be writing the successor novel to Halo: Ghosts of Onyx in the first part of a multi-book deal to explore the Halo Universe in the wake of the final events of Halo 3. Halo novels published by Tor have sold over a million combined copies to date, and in 2010 Tor will also publish the first in a new Halo trilogy by science fiction icon Greg Bear. The highly-anticipated Xbox 360 video game “Halo: Reach” is scheduled to release September 14.

Traviss, whose first foray into the Halo Universe came with “Human Weakness,” a short story from Fall 2009’s New York Times bestselling Halo: Evolutions anthology, says of the opportunity:

“When I was invited to write Halo fiction I already knew it’d be right up my street; not just because military fiction is my specialty, but because there’s also huge unexplored depth, grey areas, and really uncomfortable moral dilemmas that underpin the Halo story, and that’s like catnip to a writer like me. I write what’s known as tight third person – that is, I get right inside each character’s head and see the world as they see experience it – and Halo offers some terrific chances to explore some fascinating psyches caught in complex situations.”

“Halo fiction fans are incredibly passionate about the fate of the Spartans of Onyx and the state of the Halo universe in the aftermath of the game events,” adds Frank O’Connor, 343 Industries Director of Franchise Development. “We know that Karen has the talent, skill and passion to not only bring those stories to life, but also bring her experience a fresh new perspective too.”


I only ever read the one ‘Gears of War’ book and wasn’t too keen; I loved Traviss’ ‘Republic Commando’ books though (‘True Colours’, ‘Order 66’ and ‘501st’) so am excited to hear that she’ll be writing in the ‘Halo’ universe. Like I said, hopefully these books will be more along the lines of the ‘Republic Commando’ books than ‘Gears of War’ though...

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Interviews with Naomi Novik & Pat Rothfuss


If you can’t make it to ComicCon what’s the next best thing? Watching videos of other people having a great time there while you’re sat behind your computer trying to fool your boss into thinking that you’re working... Can you tell that I’m bitter and jealous over here (behind my computer)...? ;o)

Shawn Speakman (of Suvudu and Terry Brooks Forum fame) has come up with an idea that will satisfy the likes of you and I who aren’t over there in San Diego being demonstrated at by those lovely Westboro Baptist people. See if you can spot the use of sarcasm in that last sentence... ;o)

What Shawn will be doing, amongst other things, is interviewing none other than Pat Rothfuss and Naomi Novik at the convention. Not just any old questions though, these are questions submitted from fans via Suvudu. If you want to be in on the act, or see what the results are, then you should be clicking either Here or Here...

The ‘I feel rotten...’ Competition Winner’s Post!


You never really understand how important your nose is until you can’t breathe out of it... Yep, I’ve got a cold and (in the true spirit of men everywhere) am feeling all sorry for myself. Roll on the weekend!

In the meantime though, I am the bearer of good news! Well, for three people anyway... These three people won last week’s competition and will have a copy of ‘Johannes Cabal The Detective’ landing on their doorstep very soon (I really need to pick my copy up). The luck winners were,

Ron Miller, Michigan, US
Annalise Cave, Sunderland, UK
Joel B. Middents, Texas, US

Well done guys, your books are on their way! Better luck next time everyone else, if you fancy your chances at bagging a free zombie book then you might want to scroll down the page a little bit...

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

‘Star Wars: Fatal Alliance( The Old Republic’)’ – Sean Williams (Del Rey)


Every time a new Star Wars book hits the market, I find myself in an awkward position. I used to buy every new Star Wars novel as they came out (yes, even ‘Darksaber’...) but it soon got to the point where the publication schedule started to look more and more cynical and like a dead horse was being repeatedly flogged. ‘Keep it rolling guys! Sub-standard or not, people are still going to buy these little beauties!’ I also found it extremely off-putting to hear that George Lucas will quite happily ride roughshod over books that have been in circulation for a while if they don’t fit with his ‘canon’. I wouldn’t mind so much if his ‘canon’ wasn’t liable to change whenever he felt like it...

The thing is though, I still like reading Star Wars books. The bottom line is that they’re a comfort read and a fun way to spend a couple of hours. When Del Rey sent me a novel based around the latest Star Wars computer game, well... Half of me knew I was being sucked back into that endless cycle of Star Wars books, the other half didn’t care so long as it was a bit of fun. ‘Fatal Alliance’ isn’t a bad book by any means, it wasn’t exactly fun though...

Three and a half thousand years before Darth Vader appeared on the scene but the galaxy is still the same in a lot of ways. The matriarch of one of the leading Hutt crime cartels has come by something very valuable and is about to sell it to the highest bidder. Envoys from the Republic and the Empire seek to outbid the other, all hiding the fact that they’re not intending to pay for the goods at all; whoever gets into the vault first will take the prize by force. And just what are the aims of the mysterious Mandalorian forever lurking in the shadows...?
The contents of the vault are far more than just the key to the riches of an entire world though. The truth is far more deadly and an unprecedented alliance must hold together if this threat is to be kept to one planet and not unleashed upon the galaxy. A double agent, a former special forces trooper, a Sith apprentice and a Jedi Padawan must combine their forces for long enough to see this threat off. After that, what happens next is anyone’s guess...

‘The galaxy is still the same in a lot of ways...’ You’d better believe it, especially when the first couple of pages talk about the Republic fighting Imperial Forces. A few pages further in and you find out that the Imperial forces are under the ultimate command of the Emperor... I had to re-read the first few pages just to be sure that there wasn’t some kind of ‘timeline jumping plot device’ going on!
Once that little slice of confusion was safely out of the way I was free to get on with the rest of the story but found that found that recycled plot devices were in abundance and made it feel like I could have been reading any one of a number of other Star Wars novels, even though ‘Fatal Alliance’ is set a good couple of thousand of years before most of them.

In a way, the whole point of Star Wars (the films and the novels) is that it’s derivative and really doesn’t care, preferring instead to concentrate on glorious space battles, high emotion and sweeping romances. It’s unashamed pulp that riffs off a lot of other source material, pure and simple. When it turns in on itself and starts riffing off itself though, that’s another story...

‘Fatal Alliance’ has everything that you’d expect to find in a Star Wars novel, the only problem I found was that this meant there was nothing that made the story stand out in it’s own right. Are you after a Jedi apprentice that doubts his own abilities and is tempted by the Dark Side? ‘Fatal Alliance’ has one of those. Are you after a threat to the entire galaxy? ‘Fatal Alliance’ has one of those too (seriously, another one?) Are you after reading about people trying to do the right thing in a galaxy divided between two polarised forms of government trying to justify themselves? You’ve come to the right place.
Like I said, there were times when I felt that I could have been reading any one of a number of Star Wars novels with the character’s names replaced. There’s a fine line between paying tribute to the original films and writing another story around them. What makes it worse somehow is when you see the direction that the Star Wars universe could go in given a little bit of free rein (I’m looking at ‘Death Troopers’ here...)

Having said all that though, while Williams doesn’t aim for originality (and given the confines he’s working under, perhaps you can’t blame him) he totally captures the essence of Star Wars, namely high adventure and high odds. ‘Fatal Alliance’ can be slow going sometimes (a little too descriptive where perhaps it doesn’t need to be) but when it does get going it kicks off in a flurry of thruster burn and laser bolts. You may have see it all before but there’s no denying that Williams writes storming action sequences that take you on a ride where anything can happen. It’s the same deal with the characters, you will have met them all before (either in books or the films) but Williams makes them all people that you want to follow through much intrigue and treachery. He’s also very good at delivering those ‘moments of spectacle’ where our heroes realise just what they’re going up against, just like when Luke and co see the Death Star for the first time...

After reading ‘Fatal Alliance’, I was left with the feeling that Williams was told to write a particular kind of Star Wars books; one that tied in with the computer game (of course) and highlighted the kind of themes you’d expect to find in one of these books. The end result is almost indistinguishable from other Star Wars novels but every so often you can see that Williams is chafing at the bit and wanting to show us what he can really do. If Sean Williams does write another Star Wars book (and I’m sure he will) I want to see more of this and less of the former. ‘Fatal Alliance’ was the poorer for having more of the former and less of the latter...

Seven and a Half out of Ten

Monday, 19 July 2010

‘Fear the Alien’ – Edited by Christian Dunn (Black Library)


I’ve mentioned before, somewhere on the blog, that I’m a fan of cover art that doesn’t muck around and get too involved in itself. Instead, I prefer the kind of stuff that just gets out there and smacks the reader in the face with something straight and simple. Very much like this latest anthology from the Black Library. Check it out, we’re told to ‘Fear the Alien’ and then shown exactly why with what’s on the cover. If I spilt his drink, in a pub, I’d probably blame it on you before running away very quickly!

The Warhammer 40,000 universe is full of alien life, all itching to make a meal of humanity, and someone somewhere has decided that it’s only fair to focus on these races for a change. This is fine by me as anything that fleshes out the setting can only be a good thing.
However, the nature of certain of the aliens on show (coupled with the fact that there aren’t really that many alien races in the 40K universe, at least not many that are prominent) means that the focus shifts back onto humanity, almost by default. Genestealers and Tyranids feature in a number of the stories and although Aaron Dembski-Bowden makes a game attempt to get into their mindset (in ‘The Core’) the fact that they’re mindless eating machines means that the reader has to stay with the human combatants in order to get anything out of the story. Same deal with the Necrons (implacable killer robots). There’s nothing there to identify with, although they are very cool, so the reader shifts to what they can engage with instead.

As a collection ‘Fear the Alien’ more than does what it says on the front cover, showing us exactly why we should fear the creatures that lurk in the blackness between the stars. It’s not any more a book about these aliens than any other 40K books though, apart from perhaps C.L. Werner’s ‘Iron Inferno’ short story. This is to be expected really; the whole point is that these aliens are ‘alien’ and, by definition, you can’t write a story about something totally alien... can you? It’s worth bearing in mind though if you’re expecting this in the collection. The stories within (and what I thought) are as follows...

‘Gardens of Tycho’ – Dan Abnett
If you’re going to kick off an anthology, what better way to do it than with one of the Black Library’s big guns? It didn’t quite work for me though... Abnett paints a superb picture of a bombed out city recovering from war but the detective story taking place within it comes across as strangely subdued and a little contrived for my taste. I did like Abnett’s take on ‘humans as the aliens’ though, it really worked in this particular far future setting...

‘Fear Itself’ – Juliet E. McKenna
You don’t see an awful lot of women writing for the Black Library (if any?) so I was interested to see how Juliet McKenna fared in her tale of Imperial Guard facing off against a Tyranid incursion. McKenna nails the fear that the Guardsmen feel and this highlights just how alien the Tyranids are; she’s also not afraid to go into great depth as to what a Tyranid claw can do to human flesh. ‘Fear itself’ left me feeling cold though as the message in the title came across to me as more than a little heavy handed...

‘Prometheus Requiem’ – Nick Kyme
Salamander Space Marine board a Space Hulk (a wrecked craft spat out of the Warp) to finish a mission that began over a hundred years ago; what they’re after though is only the least of what they’ll find…
Kyme has obviously been around a few Space Hulks in his time as he sets the tone and atmosphere well nigh perfectly. He also divides equally between his Marines and what they find on board, striking a good balance between the human and alien. I’m beginning to really get into the tales of the Salamander Chapter and it’s all because of tales like this.

‘Mistress Baeda’s Gift’ – Braden Campbell
This was a story that shouldn’t have worked but ended up being superb. A tale of the most sadistic and cruel alien race in the galaxy... with humour added to the mix. I couldn’t see it working but the humour really added pathos to this tale of unrequited love and highlighted the alien qualities of the Dark Eldar. The surprise package in the anthology.

‘Iron Inferno’ – C.L. Werner
Billed as the ‘first ever Ork viewpoint story’, ‘Iron Inferno’ is also a tale of just how futile it can be trying to understand the alien mind. The consequences can be fatal and it’s this revelation that drives the story instead of the chance to look inside what goes on in an Ork’s head (which to be fair isn’t an awful lot, they just love to fight). An entertaining read with a real punch at the end.

‘Sanctified’ – Mark Clapham
A lowly tech-priest uncovers a plot by the Dark Eldar to steal an entire star cruiser and is the only person who can stop them. ‘Sanctified’ does a good job of showing how man can make himself ‘alien’ but less attention is paid to the true aliens themselves. The end result is entertaining enough but I was left feeling that I hadn’t really seen who I came for and that left me feeling disappointed.

‘Faces’ – Matthew Farrer
The most beautifully written story in the collection is sadly also the most confusing. There’s a real haunting, dreamlike quality to this piece about the Eldar Harlequins but the revelation is so long in coming that by the time it arrived I’d stopped caring because I’d spent so long trying to work out what was going on...

‘Unity’ – James Gilmer
A Raven Guard Marine and an Imperial Guard Sniper are trapped behind Tau lines as a planet burns... Gilmer’s tale does well to show us that gestures of alien friendship can hide something far more sinister but the two main characters didn’t really gel for me and, as a result, ‘Unity’ didn’t so much flow as… judder. I was also left feeling that ‘Unity’ was more of a chapter in a book than a short story in it’s own right and this vagueness didn’t help either…

‘The Core’ – Aaron Dembski-Bowden
Night Lords Traitor Space Marines board a Space Hulk to scavenge for ancient technology and anything else they can lay their hands on. What they’re after though is only half of what they’re going to go up against. Dembski-Bowden’s tale dovetails perfectly with Kymes and he builds on the Night Lords mythos while showing us just what it’s like to be at the wrong end of a rampaging Genestealer horde! Watch out though, I’m not sure if it’s a spoiler or not but Dembski-Bowden jumps ahead in the Night Lords series timeline and shows us where Talos will be in the future. This has lessened my anticipation for the next Night Lords book…

‘Ambition Knows No Bounds’ – Andy Hoare
This final story ends proceedings on a real high in terms of visual spectacle as a Rogue Trader’s entourage seeks to penetrate a Necron Tomb. The tension builds up nicely to a real crescendo but I was left feeling that I’d seen it all before. Explorers heading into an alien craft, ‘Alien’ anyone? This feeling was a little too strong to really let me get into what was otherwise a thrilling tale.

‘Fear the Alien’ pleads with us to heed it’s message (and with good reason judging by some of the things that take place inside the covers) but, at the same time, it’s also a book about humanity’s strength and courage in the face of such adversity. The end result is a collection of short stories that chill and stir the senses at the same time; while they vary in quality they all inspire that same feeling. If you’re after ‘bite sized chunks’ as a way to get into the 40K universe then you’re not going to go too far wrong here. ‘Fear the Alien’ is a good mixture of ‘scuttling alien menace’ having hot lead poured into it by ‘staunch, brave humanity’. Polarised? Of course it is but that’s the whole point of the setting. Fans will have a lot of fun with this one. Look out for it in September this year.

Eight and a Half out of Ten

Sunday, 18 July 2010

I didn't want to have to do this...

... but I did.

I'm always up for comments being left on the blog and if you want to post anonymously then that's fine too, so long as it's about the post in question. Why else would you post otherwise?

The answer there is if you're a spammer. I've been fighting this dirty breed for a little while now and I've just got tired of deleting the same old spammy comments over and over again. Seriously you guys, post this rubbish on your own blogs!

As a result, what you'll find now is that certain posts have had the comment moderation thingy switched on. If you're an anonymous poster with something to say about the post then I'm sorry your comment won't go on straight away, I'll get to it as soon as I can. If you're a spammer, I'm not going to release your comment so don't bother even making it...

Edited To Add - I will laugh though if the first person to comment does so anonymously...!

Sci-Fi at the BFI


Now that the weather is starting to act more like a proper English summer (instead of it being all sunny and hot, what kind of a summer is that?) the following might interest you if you’re in or around London over the next couple of weeks.

From the press release...

Film Science: Future Human

BFI SOUTHBANK

July & August 2010

Cinema has long striven to imagine the future, near and distant, but what would it mean to live in the societies depicted in such cinematic speculations? Inspired by the Royal Society's 350th anniversary, we present a two-month season that surveys the future human condition as it has been imagined by filmmakers over the years. Titles include Fahrenheit 451,Terminator, The Machine Stops, 2001: A Space Odyssey and Solaris.

For full information go to http://www.bfi.org.uk/whatson/bfi_southbank/film_programme/july_seasons/film_science_future_human


It looks like a couple of good ones have been and gone already but there are still some films worth checking out...

Saturday, 17 July 2010

Giveaway! ‘Day by Day Armageddon’ (J.L. Bourne)


If you’re a fan of zombie fiction (or just zombies in general) then you’ve probably read this already. If this is the case then I wouldn’t bother reading any further, come back tomorrow and pick up from there instead :o)

It may be that you’re a fan of zombie fiction and haven’t given this one a go yet. Or it may be that you’ve never read a zombie book at all and fancy diving in! Keep reading, this one is for you...

Thanks to Simon & Schuster, I have three copies of ‘Day by Day Armageddon’ to give away three lucky readers of the blog. This competition is open to everyone, it doesn't matter where you live! Entering is as easy as ever, simply drop me an email (address at the top right hand side of the screen) telling me who you are and what your postal address is. You also need to make it clear, in the subject header, that this is the competition you want to enter. Something like ‘Zombies!’ or ‘Armageddon’ should do the trick nicely I reckon.

I’ll let this one run until the 25th of July and will announce the winners as soon as possible afterwards.

Good Luck!

Friday, 16 July 2010

The 'Uncannily on Time' Competition Winner's Post!

In a break from my normal ‘well meaning but not at all punctual’ approach to announcing competition winners I’m ahead of the game (for a change) and able to announce the winners of this morning’s ‘Waking the Witch’ competition. Thanks to everyone who entered by the way, my inbox was heaving! As soon as that all important third entry came through though... Well, that’s when the competition ended I’m afraid. Better luck next time everyone else!

The lucky winners were,

Carole Spring, Illinois, US
Debbie Penny, Michigan, US
Donna Simmonds, Missouri, US

Well done guys, your books are on their way!

The Third Bear Carnival!


If you’re a fan of Jeff Vandermeer then you might want to head over to ‘The Mumpsimus’ and check this out.

From Matt Staggs’ email...

If you haven't seen it already, I thought that I would take an opportunity to direct you a current event occurring literary critic Matthew Cheney's website, The Mumpsimus.

Independently of any effort from the author or publisher, a community of readers, writers, artists and fans have launched a critique and celebration of award-winning fantasist Jeff VanderMeer's newest fiction collection, The Third Bear. They're calling it the Third Bear Carnival, and Cheney's The Mumpsimus is the launching point for it all.

Each participant has taken one fiction selection from The Third Bear and written - or even drawn - a response to it. These responses range from light hearted and playful to sober literary criticism. The Third Bear Carnival has just begun, and over the next few days more writers will be contributing to this unique effort.

Visit the Third Bear Carnival here: http://mumpsimus.blogspot.com/2010/07/third-bear-carnival.html


And here’s a little bit about the book itself...

Compared by critics to Borges, Nabokov, and Kafka, inventive contemporary fantasist Jeff VanderMeer continues to amaze with this surreal, innovative, and absurdist gathering of award-winning short fiction. Exotic beasts and improbable travellers roam restlessly through these darkly diverting and finely-honed tales.

Highlights include "The Situation," in which a beleaguered office worker creates a child-swallowing manta-ray to be used for educational purposes (once described as Dilbert meets Gormenghast); "Three Days in a Border Town," where a sharpshooter seeks the truth about her husband in an elusive floating City beyond a far-future horizon; "Errata," following an oddly-familiar writer who has marshalled a penguin, a shaman, and two pearl-handled pistols with which to plot the end of the world. Also included are two stories original to this collection, including "The Quickening," in which a lonely child is torn between familial obligation and a wounded talking rabbit.

Chimerical and hypnotic, VanderMeer leads readers through the postmodern into a new literature of the imagination.


‘Dlibert meets Gormenghast’? Sounds like my office... I enjoy Vandermeer’s work so will be checking this out when I get a chance, same deal with what’s happening over at ‘The Mumpsimus’ :o)

Giveaway! ‘Waking the Witch’ (Kelley Armstrong)


Despite my moaning about certain kinds of Urban Fantasy there are some authors that you’ll always find me going back to; Kelley Armstrong is one of these. Her portrayal of relationships is never forced or contrived and there’s always a decent mystery to be solved, just what I like! Her latest book, ‘Waking the Witch’, looks to promise more of the same. Here’s the blurb...

At twenty-one, Savannah Levine—orphaned daughter of a notorious dark witch and an equally notorious cutthroat sorcerer—considers herself a full-fledged member of the supernatural race that rules the Otherworld. The once rebellious teen has grown into a six-foot-tall, motorcycle-riding jaw-dropper with a full arsenal of spells that she’s not afraid to use when she gets caught in a bind. There’s only one small problem—her adoptive parents, Paige and Lucas, don’t always trust her. Of course, she’s given them plenty of reasons . . . but those are in the past. People can change, right?

When Paige and Lucas take off on a romantic vacation alone, leaving her in charge of their detective agency, Savannah is presented with a case that she can’t turn down, and one she can finally call her own. Recruited by another supernatural detective, she travels to Columbus, Washington, a small, almost shell of a town. Two troubled young women have been found in an abandoned warehouse, murdered. Now a third woman is dead, and darker forces seem to be at play.

Savannah feels certain she can handle the case, but with supernatural activity appearing at every turn, things quickly become more serious—and far more dangerous—than she realizes. Caught up in a web of lust, false identities, and lies, Savannah must summon strength from her depths, and fight like she’s never fought before.


If you’re a fan of Kelley Armstrong (and you live in either the US or Canada, no-one else can enter this one I’m afraid) then this could be the competition for you. Thanks to Wunderkind PR, I have three advance copies of ‘Waking the Witch’ to give away to three lucky readers of the blog. Just one thing though...

The book itself comes out on the 27th so I want to get these ARCs into the hands of winners as soon as possible. After all, there’s no point having an ARC if you can’t read it before everyone else gets their hands on the book is there? ;o) With that in mind, this competition is going to be run a little different than normal. Namely...

The first three emails in my inbox will win copies of ‘Waking the Witch’.

My email address is at the top right hand side of the screen. I need your name and postal address and you also need to put ‘Waking the Witch’ in the subject header. Miss out any one of these three things and your entry gets deleted no matter when it arrived.

If you’re a winner, your book should hopefully go out today; it might take me a little longer than that to announce the winners here though...

Good Luck!

Thursday, 15 July 2010

‘Day by Day Armageddon: Beyond Exile’ – J.L. Bourne (Pocket Books)


You all knew it wouldn’t be long before I picked up the sequel to ‘Day by Day Armageddon’... ;o) If a zombie book appears on my radar then it’s always a question of ‘when’ it will be read rather than ‘if’. There are still a number of zombie books on my radar and I’m slowly working my way round to getting to them all...
There was also the fact that ‘Day by Day Armageddon’ was quite simply a read that had me gripped throughout and eager to find out more when the curtain came down at the end of the book. That’s not to say it was without its flaws, not by any means. Have a scroll down the page, a little, to see what I mean. What it was though was an atmospheric read that demanded my attention and that had to bode well for the sequel. Didn’t it?
Well, you would have thought it would have meant good things for ‘Beyond Exile’ and this is a book that does have stuff to recommend it. However, I was also left with the feeling that Bourne had lost his way a little bit here...

The world’s gradual slide into chaos continues and it’s all recorded in the diary of one man. The events at the ‘Hotel 23’ missile silo have shown our band of survivors that it’s not just zombies that they need to worry about. If there’s one thing worse than a ravenous walking corpse it’s a survivor with a loaded gun and a complete lack of morals.
However, this is the world now and survival has to be strived for; the alternative is unthinkable. As our band of survivors struggle to survive though, it becomes clear that remnants of the old world are looking to carve out a niche for themselves in the new. It’s time to pick a side...

‘Beyond Exile’ carries on a lot of the good work originally found in ‘Day by Day Armageddon’ and is a decent zombie novel because of it, but only when it stays on this path...

As with ‘Day to Day Armageddon’, the diary format works both for and against the novel in ‘Beyond Exile’. We still don’t really get to know our main character who can be a taciturn sort most of the time. Even the culmination of the ‘love interest’ side plot doesn’t merit much more than a ‘I really should go into this but... some other time’. Not getting to know who our main character actually is opens up a gulf between him and the plot that is difficult to negotiate. How can we tell what this new world really means to our main character if he refuses to engage with it in his diary?

Bourne tries to address this issue in the passages that give the book its name. Our man faces a two hundred mile walk home across zombie infested territory and it is handled very well. Bourne makes good use of the diary format to once again leave us with cliff hangers and revelations that drive this section of the book forwards at a fair old rate. We still don’t get much of an insight into the character though, he’s far too busy being a soldier for anything like that... A little bit of exploration into who this character is could have made all the difference.

As far as the atmosphere goes, Bourne nailed it in ‘Day by Day Armageddon’ and does the best thing possible by sticking to the ‘tried and tested’ in ‘Beyond Exile’. When the living are outnumbered by the dead (millions to one) it’s going to be as quiet as the grave... until you hear zombies start to moan nearby. Bourne displays a keen sense of timing, regarding when zombies appear on the scene, which had me holding my breath a couple of times and waiting for the inevitable...

It’s a shame then that Bourne appears to head off on a tangent that steers the focus away from what makes the book (and it’s predecessor) such a good read. Overemphasis on the military aspects of the tale, and bringing a shadowy government organisation into the mix, make ‘Beyond Exile’ a book that’s less about zombies than it is a book about conspiracy theories and cool military hardware. ‘Beyond Exile’ worked for me when it was a book about zombies, when it became about something else I found myself losing interest. The zombie threat was what drove the plot forwards and introducing another element to the plot, of this nature, derailed the main thrust.
Now, ‘Beyond Exile’ clearly sets things up for the next book so it may be that things become a lot clearer in the future. As it stands now though, things aren’t as clear as they could be. Setting things up for the next book in this manner also leaves the ending feeling a little vague and up in the air. ‘Day by Day Armageddon’ was left open for a sequel but ended on a very final note and was all the better for it.

One of the things that I particularly liked about ‘Day to Day Armageddon’ was that you never really found out what caused the whole mess in the first place. That’s just the way it should be. Where’s the point in worrying about where the zombies came from if they’re right there in front of you trying to eat your brains? Keeping that side of things low key just adds to the atmosphere.
Bourne goes against all of this by laying it on the line and telling us how it all began. If you’re going to do something like this then you had better do it damn well, Bourne misses the mark in my opinion. As with the military conspiracy stuff, Bourne’s revelation takes the focus away from the zombies and makes the story about something else entirely. As with the military conspiracy stuff, this shift doesn’t do a lot for the story. There is at least one more book to come though so I’m willing to be proved wrong here!

The initial impetus of 'Day by Day Armageddon' carries on in 'Beyond Exile' and there's enough here to have me all set to see where things go in the next book. I'm not as confident about where it's all going as I was before though. There is a danger that the story we came for isn't the one that's eventually going to be told, at least as far as I'm concerned.

Six and Three Quarters out of Ten

Wednesday, 14 July 2010

‘The Bird of the River’ – Kage Baker (Tor)


Sometimes all it takes is one book and you’re a fan. This was what happened to me when I picked up Kage Baker’s ‘The House of the Stag’ a couple of years ago; by the time I’d finished reading I was a fan and hungry for more of the same. Life meant that I never really got round to getting into Baker’s other work and I found that I wasn’t really interested in her ‘Company’ books. ‘The Empress of Mars’ was a fun read but I realised that it was the setting from ‘The House of the Stag’ that I wanted to get back into and that wasn’t going to be happening in her sci-fi work (tracking down a copy of ‘The Anvil of the World’ as I’m writing this!)
Kage Baker sadly passed away in January this year but the flow of published work hasn’t stopped yet. I have a copy of ‘Not Less than Gods’ waiting to be read and I will eventually find out just what ‘The Company’ is all about. What really made my day though was the advance copy of ‘The Bird of the River’ that came through the post a short while ago; I finally had my chance to go back to the world of ‘The House of the Stag’...

What looks to be another new beginning for Elissa and Alder takes on a new meaning when their drug addict mother drowns in a diving accident working for the captain of ‘The Bird of the River’, a massive barge. Elissa is offered the chance to support herself and Alder by odd-jobbing on the barge as it makes it’s way up river. There is no real alternative but Elissa soon makes a home for herself and finds her niche as lookout where she soon proves her worth to the crew. Elissa finds that she can see a lot more than snags in the river and this will prove useful to Krelan, the young assassin who is using ‘The Bird’ as a means to accomplish vendetta. Where is the head of the dead nobleman? Why has there been an increase in pirate attacks along the river? And why has the Captain of ‘The Bird’ never set foot on dry land? All these questions are connected but only two of them will be answered...

Like I said a little earlier, I’m a fan of this setting (and Baker’s storytelling) so you might want to bear that in mind when you read this. Having said that though, ‘The Bird of the River’ is another example of Kage Baker doing what she did best, telling a deceptively gentle tale that is far more than it seems. What initially looks to be a rites of passage tale, on board a large boat, soon becomes a tale of mystery and intrigue as hitherto unrelated occurrences slide into place and make their connections clear for the reader to see. Nothing happens by chance on the river but Baker leaves enough unsaid to make sure that these connections don’t come across as contrived in any way. This gradual intrusion of outside events into the lives of the crew drives the plot forward at a decent speed (not too fast but not too slow either) as we see their reactions and get an idea of the danger that ‘The Bird’ could well be sailing into. ‘The Bird of the River’ is only two hundred and sixty eight pages long (at least, my advance copy is) but Baker makes good use of that relatively short space, drawing things out and then letting them go when the time is just right. This ‘ebb and flow’ effect also serves to drive the plot forward, in much the same way that the flow of the river drives ‘The Bird’ on to it’s destination.

Just when you think that everything fits together perfectly, Baker shows us that there are still a couple more twists to the tale; one serves to tie everything together even more tightly while the other hints at a wider world that will sadly never be explored further. In a ‘hint of the unknown’ kind of way though, this final twist/revelation serves to flesh out an already fascinating world and make it a place that the reader wants to spend even more time in. The boat trip takes the reader through a number of towns and cities and this gradual onward process reveals more and more about the world. By the time the story ends you’ll be surprised at how much you took in without even realising it.
Baker doesn’t just go for the ‘slow reveal’ though; when things explode Baker shows that she could mix it with the best of them with scenes that are as sharp as the blades on show. The climactic events are suitably climactic in this regard!

While all this is happening, Baker shows her readers how Elissa develops and grows as a character throughout the voyage. Baker doesn’t shy away from showing us exactly what it means to be newly orphaned and forced to make your own way in the world. This approach meant that I found myself really caring about Elissa and wanting to find out what happened to her next. Things may come a little too easily to her (she’s a little too good to be true sometimes) but Elissa remains a likeable character throughout and one who it’s easy to spend time with. The same goes for the other characters, to a lesser extent of course. ‘The Bird of the River’ is a thriving community full of memorable characters that stand out from the page.

As ‘The Bird’ sits at anchor, at the end of the book, there’s a real air of poignancy; both in the place where Elissa finds herself and in the fact that we will never be able to follow ‘The Bird’ on her next voyage. Like I said, I’m a fan and books like ‘The Bird of the River’ are the reason why. Engaging, captivating and ultimately bittersweet.

Ten out of Ten

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

‘Day by Day Armageddon’ – J.L. Bourne (Pocket Books)


All over the world there are people tirelessly dedicated to making sure that the general public remain aware of the very real possibility that the dead will someday rise and feast on all that juicy grey matter we carry around with us. No, seriously! It could happen! Look, don’t say I didn’t warn you...
These selfless types can be divided into two main groups. There are people like myself, scouring books and DVDs for visions of the zombie apocalypse and how it can be survived. Any tips I find get passed your way ;o)
Then there are the people who have those very visions; the Kirkmans, Romeros and Keenes. These are the people who know how it will all go down on the day and they’re the people you should listen to if you don’t want to join the ranks of the walking dead...
J.L. Bourne aspires to join these ranks with ‘Day by Day Armageddon’ (formerly published by Permuted Press in the US but published by Pocket Books over here). He doesn’t quite hit those heady heights but the end result is still a book that any fan of zombies will get a lot out of.

What better motivation to keep a diary (everyone’s New Year’s Resolution) than to be swept up in an outbreak of zombies that devastates North America? That’s the situation facing our hero as he fights to stay alive in the aftermath. He’s outnumbered millions to one but he’s got no option other than to keep fighting. Not when the only other alternatives are to become zombie food or a zombie yourself...
For a member of the US armed forces, survival in a zombie wasteland is dangerous but manageable. It’s when the living come on to the scene that things become just plain dangerous...

I found ‘Day by Day Armageddon’ to be a gripping and compulsive read, in no small part down to it’s diary format. The reader gets to see the catastrophe gradually unfold over a number of days and that gradual transition highlights just how bad things are. Bourne also proves to be very adept at using the diary format to heighten the tension at just the right times. Diary entries can either end on a cliff hanger or look like everything is fine and then kick off without any warning; you never know what you’re going to get until you turn that page... This approach certainly kept those pages turning as far as I was concerned.

Bourne fills his book full of dangerous situations to be negotiated round and paints a very grim picture of a zombie infested America as a result (although his naval officer main character tends to get round these situations suspiciously easily...). He very wisely doesn’t elaborate on the cause of the infestation and this air of uncertainty just adds to the impact the reader gets when they see cars abandoned on the highway and hear the undead moaning in the distance... ‘Day by Day Armageddon’ follows all the best zombie media by really laying on the atmosphere. You may not know what caused things to deteriorate so rapidly but you are left in no doubt as to what the end result is. There’s a real spooky feeling in the air and the diary format gives the reader a clever insight into the pressures that face someone in this situation. You can feel the pressure mount and you’re never quite sure how things will go.

It’s a shame then that the format works against, as well as with, the novel. With ‘Day by Day Armageddon’ being a diary, we never really get a feel for who the main character actually is. He obviously has no need to supply these details as he already knows who he is but we’re left with a vague impression of a character that doesn’t become an awful lot more. We learn that he loves his parents but this, and other small details, come across as generic and applicable to anyone really. There’s nothing here that defines our hero as a person in his own right. What this meant for me was that I didn’t feel there was much of a connection between the main character and the landscape that he travels through. This was especially the case when I took into account how easily some zombie obstacles were overcome. The feeling of disconnection was a real hindrance to the smooth flowing of the book itself. Just a few more details could have made all the difference.

At the same time though, Bourne loves his subject matter and this enthusiasm really comes across in the level of detail he goes into with regards to surviving a zombie apocalypse. You can’t help but get enthusiastic about a book when the writer is clearly having a great time writing it! There is an energy here (albeit interrupted from time to time) that’s worth sticking with and Bourne has a handy knack of riffing off other source material yet clearly stamping his voice on the proceedings. ‘Day by Day Armageddon’ ends in a real blast and has me eager to find out what happens next. This is a book that, despite it’s flaws, will take a well earned place on the ‘zombie shelf’...

Eight and Three Quarters out of Ten

Solaris scores a win at the Shirley Jackson Awards.


From the Press Release...

Oxford, UK: Solaris Books are happy to confirm that Poe: 19 New Tales Inspired by Edgar Allan Poe, edited by Ellen Datlow, won the coveted Shirley Jackson Award for ‘Edited Anthology 2009’announced at Readercon 20 last night.

The Shirley Jackson Awards are given in recognition of the best imaginative fiction work published in the preceding year. They are named after Shirley Jackson, author of The Haunting of Hill House and We Have Always Lived in the Castle, as well as one of the most famous American short stories ‘The Lottery.’ Her work continues to be a major influence on writers of every kind of fiction, from the most traditional genre offerings to the most innovative literary work.

Poe: 19 New Tales Inspired by Edgar Allen Poe coincided with the 200th anniversary of the birth of Edgar Allan Poe. This anthology celebrates the depth and diversity of one of the most important figures in literature. Compiled by multi-award winning editor, Ellen Datlow, it presents some of the foremost talents of the genre, who have come together to re-imagine tales inspired by Poe.
Sharyn McCrumb, Lucius Shepard, Pat Cadigan, M. Rickert, Gregory Frost, Kim Newman
and more, have leant their craft to this anthology, retelling such classics as ‘The Fall of the House of Usher’, ‘The Tell-Tale Heart’ and ‘The Masque of the Red Death.’


Congratulations to Ellen Datlow and Solaris! I wouldn't mind reading this...

Monday, 12 July 2010

The 'Sometimes I really hate commuting' Competition Winner's Post!


Actually, to be fair... It wasn't so much a commute as it was a 'walk to work when all other modes of transport failed...'

Thanks to everyone who entered the contest for Naomi Novik’s ‘Tongues of Serpents’. I’m actually working my way through it at the moment (and hope to have my review up at some point) but am finding the rather dry tone a little off-putting. Novik hasn’t let me down with her other books though so I’m still very much in the game! We’ll see how it all pans out...

Hopefully the lucky winner of ‘Tongues of Serpents’ won’t have the same problem! That person was,

Alexis McAdams, Illinois, US

Well done Alexis, your book is on it’s way even as we speak!
Better luck next time everyone else...

Robert Rankin Signing Event (In September)


A little advance notice for this one if you’re in or around London on the 18th of September.

From the Press Release...

ROBERT RANKIN

SIGNING AT FORBIDDEN PLANET

Bestselling comedy author Robert Rankin will be signing The Japanese Devil Fish Girl at the Forbidden Planet London Megastore on Saturday 18th September 1:00pm – 2:00pm.

The pickled Martian's tentacles are fraying at the ends and Professor Coffin's Most Meritorious Unnatural Attraction is no longer drawing the crowds. It's 1895; nearly a decade since Mars invaded Earth, chronicled by H.G. Wells’ THE WAR OF THE WORLDS. Wrecked Martian spaceships, back-engineered by Charles Babbage and Nikola Tesla, have carried the Queen's Own Electric Fusiliers to the red planet, and Mars is now part of the ever-expanding British Empire. The less-than-scrupulous sideshow proprietor likes Off-worlders' cash, so he needs a sensational new attraction. Word has reached him of the Japanese Devil Fish Girl; nothing quite like her has ever existed before. But Professor Coffin's quest to possess the ultimate showman's exhibit is about to cause considerable friction amongst the folk of other planets. Sufficient, in fact, to spark off Worlds War Two.


London-born Robert Rankin started writing in the 1970s and his books regularly storm the bestseller lists including The Witches of Chiswick and The Toyminator. He’s one of the country’s most renowned humorous fantasy writers and is well known for having recurring characters and running gags that pop up throughout his books. Robert is also an unrepentant Luddite who writes novels by hand in exercise books.

For more news about our signings please go to: http://forbiddenplanet.com/events/

I’m actually going to be at a wedding on the 18th but can totally recommend this event to anyone who fancies popping along, Robert Rankin is great fun to chat with and is pretty much guaranteed to give you a rather gorgeous autograph in whatever you give him to sign. I wish I was going...

Sunday, 11 July 2010

Giveaway! ‘Johannes Cabal the Detective’ (Jonathan L. Howard)


I never got round to reading ‘Johannes Cabal the Necromancer’ and maybe I should have judging by the positive things that I heard. Have you read it? What did you think?

I will be reading ‘Johannes Cabal the Detective’ at some point though as the blurb suggests that it can be read on it’s own. Here’s said blurb...

Johannes Cabal is back – a little older, a little wiser, but just as sharply funny, cuttingly sarcastic, and unexpectedly violent as ever.

For necromancer Johannes Cabal, dealing with devils, demons and raising the dead is pretty much par for the course. But when his attempt to steal a rare book turns sour, he is faced by a far more terrifying entity – politics. While awaiting execution for his crime, Cabal is forced to resurrect an inconveniently deceased emperor. Seizing his chance, the cunning Cabal engineers his escape, fleeing the country on a state-of-the-art flying ship. But the ship has more than a few unpleasant surprises, including an unwelcome face from the past and the small matter of some mysterious murders. Cabal may work with corpses but he has absolutely no intention of becoming one. Drawn into a deadly conspiracy, is he shuffling dangerously close to the end of his mortal coil?


While I’m reading ‘Johannes Cabal the Detective’, you could have a chance to win a copy to read for yourself (only if you’re in the UK or US though, sorry everyone else...). Thanks to Doubleday, I have three copies of ‘Johannes Cabal the Detective’ to give to three lucky readers of this blog. Do you fancy your chances?

If you want to enter, it’s as simple as ever. Just drop me an email (address at the top right hand side of the screen) telling me who you are and what your postal address is. I’ll do everything else.

I’ll be letting this one run until the 18th of July and will aim to announce the winners as soon as possible afterwards.

Good Luck!