Monday, December 28, 2015

New Fire – Philip Dickinson

New Fire – Philip Dickinson
A colleague mentioned this book to me when I happened to mention I was going to read a Bernard Cornwell novel next. I confess I had never heard of Philip Dickinson but the idea of a book set in the Aztec reader appealed to me, so I purchased it on a whim.
If I am honest, after a great opening scene which follows a gang of street urchins roaming the streets to steal food, I found the opening 80 pages or so of the story a little overwhelming. The sheer volume and variety of characters is a tad confusing, especially giving the unfamiliarity of their names (which verge from the unpronounceable – Huitzilopochtli, to the more identifiable such as "Feathered Darkness" or ""Crocodile"). In fact the only character I could emphasise with is the main character "Jaguar."
Having said that, I admired the author's refusal to dumb down the narrative for the reader, I am no expert on this time period, but the story felt authentic. The setting oozes life as each scene is vividly created.
All of a sudden, the book seems to click into place and what follows is an excellent, fast paced yarn, where I came to appreciate and enjoy all of the characters. As I mentioned Jaguar is the stand out protagonist as the young man struggling to find his way. He has potential in his agility on the sporting field but in regards to being a warrior very much lives in the shadow of his best friend Crocodile. It is refreshing that this is never a source of contention between the two friends and both are proud of each other.
Cloud Face is a little less developed but manages to avoid the cartoonish villain tag by having suitable motivation behind his action, whereas characters like Two Sign are terrific in the supporting role, offering laconic one liners and a nobility to the story.
The action scenes are very well handled and for a first novel, Dickinson's prose is extremely accomplished, pacing scenes perfectly and building tension and plot twists that are impactful. The novel was also fairly dark in places, which is something I always enjoy if it fits in with the story.
Whilst the ending is somewhat predictable in part of its outcome, with the writing o engrossing it really didn't matter. Overall, this debut novel surprised and impressed me and I have already purchased the sequel
My rating: 8 out of 10 

This email and any files transmitted with it are private and intended
solely for the use of the individual or entity to whom they are addressed.
If you have received this email in error please return it to the address
it came from telling them it is not for you and then delete it from your system.
This email message has been swept for computer viruses.

The original of this email was scanned for viruses by the Government Secure Intranet virus scanning service supplied by Vodafone in partnership with Symantec. (CCTM Certificate Number 2009/09/0052.) This email has been certified virus free.
Communications via the GSi may be automatically logged, monitored and/or recorded for legal purposes.

Friday, December 5, 2014

I've missed you.

Where have I been?

It has been a very long time since I have posted and for that I am sorry. “Where are the book reviews?” “How is the writing going?” “You’ve done nothing since October 20th!!”

These are just some of the questions or accusations that I have received over the past month. The truth is I am talking a break from reviewing books for the time being. There are three main reasons for this:

  1. I have been doing a second job since the beginning of October. On top of full time job and my family and my writing, the whole reviewing of books thing has been the least of my priorities. It makes me sad but something had to give and unfortunately it was this blog. Hopefully thing will pick up for me soon financially and so I can ditch the second job and afford myself more time to dedicate to hobbies.
  2. This one might sound a little arrogant and it is not meant to be, but now I have three books out there on the market, I don’t feel as comfortable reviewing books as regularly as I do. I know how difficult the process is and although that shouldn’t make me any more or less lenient when it comes to my reviews, I just don’t feel at ease reviewing on the scale I was. You don’t see other authors being so vigorous with their reviews.
  3. After four years of doing this and well over two hundred reviews, I felt my reviews had got a bit stale. I am not enjoying it as much as I used to. Increasingly, I found myself saying the same thing over and over, especially when it came to reviewing the 20th book in a series!  I thought a bit of a break is in order.

That is not to say I have not been reading. I have still read many books in the last month, some I have loved, and others not so much:

Witch Hunt – Syd Moore

Micro Review – Enjoyable novel. The flashback sequences and the real life facts about the past were fascinating. Tried too hard to be eerie in places. My Rating: 8.2

The Ship of Magic – Robin Hobb

Micro Review – Fantastic start to a new series. Reminded me why I love Robin Hobb. Was unsure about the Serpents and the talking ships to begin with but it worked brilliantly. My Rating: 9.2

Duma Key – Stephen King

Micro Review – King doing what King does best. Nothing groundbreaking, but a great yarn. My Rating: 8.7

Cross my Heart – James Patterson

Micro Review – Great addition to the series. James Patterson seems to have made an effort to the multiple cartoonish killer syndrome and is now trying to make things a little more gritty and grounded. My Rating: 8.8

Enchantress – James Maxwell

Good start to a series if a little by the numbers. The battle scenes come across as heavily influenced by a gaming background but this is definitely a promising start to a series. My Rating: 8.4

I will put up another post regarding how the writing is going in the next week or so ago. In brief it is going well, although I did fail miserably and surprisingly at NaNoWriMo this year. I was massively disappointed about that.

Monday, October 20, 2014

On Writing - The Slump

The slump after you have finished a book.

I have read a lot of blogs and books about the process of writing. Mostly out of interest rather than thoughts of educating myself. I say that not because I am arrogant enough to believe I can’t be taught anything, but because I firmly believe writing is a personal process and the only way to learn is to actually write.

All of the books and blogs I have read offer great advice, none more so than Stephen King’s, “On Writing,” but what I have yet to read is someone talk about the experience of finishing a project and starting a new one.

When I finished Ritual of the Stones I was elated. It was surreal to see my book out there on Amazon and garnering favourable reviews. It spurred me on to want to write the sequel and the one after that and the one after that.

I had the bug, I knew what it took now to get published and I had learnt a lot along the way. Even better, I could not wait to get back to the characters I loved and tell their story.

I remember sitting down at my laptop feeling invigorated and ready to take on the world. I sat there and I sat there and yep, you guessed it I sat there. “This is stupid,” I said to myself. I knew what I wanted to say, I knew the voices of my characters but I could not find them in my head.

I ground out a measly 300 words and put it down to a bad day and having a bit of rust. After all, with all the proofreading, formatting and cover designs it had been two months since I had written anything except blog posts.

However, the next day was the same and the one after that. After a month, I had around 10,000 words. They were 10,000 words I knew weren’t very good and knew I would be rewriting at some stage.

I decided to adopt a different approach. Something a reviewer said stuck with me. They had read my work before and liked my humour. They wanted more humour in my books. To be honest after the grim and dark, Ritual of the Stones, I needed it too. I came up with the idea of Pewtory the Lesser Bard, a bard who would travel around Frindoth and sing about the characters in the Ritual of the Stones. It would be a great way to garner interest of my first book and introduce the characters to a wider audience as I could give the book away for free.
Pewtory the Lesser Bard would be delivered in short snappy chapters of around 1,000 words. The formula worked, I committed to writing 1,000 words a week on Pewtory and writing book two for the remainder of week.

Pretty soon, I found my rhythm again and my output was tremendous. Pewtory the Lesser Bard failed in his purpose as a short piece of fiction and morphed into a story of his own. One I am very proud of. The only headache I now had was I wanted to concentrate on just the one story. In February I made the decision to focus on Pewtory and ended up with a novel of 53,000 words. Not too shabby at all, for what was only intended to be a gimmick piece of writing.

Meanwhile book two – The Stones of Sorrow, grew into a monster of a novel. Yes, I was worried at the size but I decided to just go with the flow and maintain the output I was producing.

By the time I had finished the book I had written more words then I had ever written in a single year. I had already sorted out the cover and knew where I was going in terms of the proofreading.

The whole process was a lot smoother then the first time as I was more familiar with it. Yes there were headaches but the sense of satisfaction was there. I was getting better at this. I was learning all the time and I was sure that the next book was even better.
I sent the Stones of Sorrow off to the proofreader allowed myself two weeks off and then sat down to begin work on book three. The aspiration was to publish it one year after book two.

I sat there, I sat there and I sat there. The same thing happened again. I could not find the words again. These were characters I had spent over 370,000 words with, yet I could not write more than 300 words on them.

No problem I thought. I will just write a short story like before. Only this time the formula hasn’t worked so well. It is not writer’s block as such. It is just that I have lost my rhythm. I know it will come back, I just need to get myself mentally prepared.

As I type this, it has been two months since I penned the last word on The Stones of Sorrow. This morning, I wrote 900 words. Yesterday I managed a 1,000. This afternoon I fancy writing some more. I am not saying I have the rhythm back just yet, but it feels like it is getting there. Do you know what else I realised? The “slump” is not a slump at all. It is my recharging time. Having made the switch from writing to editing it is the time I need to flick the switch back again.

I try not to focus too much on word counts, but I do have rough goals in mind. My aim is to write a decent amount of words on this new novella before November. I will then use NaNoWriMo again to deliver a large chunk of that book and maybe even finish it.. Only time will tell if I can achieve that goal. I think I might.

Saturday, October 18, 2014


The Stones of Sorrow is out!!

The title says it all really. My third book and the second in the Ballad of Frindoth trilogy has been released. I would be honoured if you checked it out.
Here is the blurb:

The whole of Frindoth is in turmoil. After the catastrophic events of the Ritual of the Stones, King Jacquard dispatches a company of his most skilled subjects into the Calipion range to seek out the Kingdom of the Glooms and so put an end to their invasion and destruction of his realm. However, as events spiral out of control King Jacquard's once firm grip on Frindoth weakens as does his grip on reality.

Meanwhile having won a surprise victory against the usurper Vashna, Prince Althalos quickly finds that there is more to leading an army than winning a battle. Outmanoeuvred and outwitted, the prince must quickly learn how to rule if he is to retain the trust and the respect the warlords now have in him.

As war engulfs Frindoth new dangers emerge from an increasingly popular religion, whose followers are fanatical in their belief and devotion to their gods. And then there is perhaps the most serious threat of all - the threat from the sea.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Book Review - Moon Bear

Moon Bear – Gill Lewis
I can’t remember how I came across this book, but I am so pleased I did. Sometimes there is a stigma around young adult novels or even children’s novel. I have never been put off by such a thing. If the story is good and you can root for the characters then sometimes it is exactly what you are after.
The Blurb:
When twelve-year-old Tam is sent to work at a bear farm in the city, he has never felt so alone. He hates seeing the cruel way the bears are treated, but speaking up will mean losing his job. And if he can't send money home, how will his family survive? When a sick cub arrives at the farm, Tam secretly nurses it back to health and they develop an unbreakable bond. Tam swears to return his beloved cub to the wild, but how will they ever find a way to be free? Deeply moving and powerful, Moon Bear is an unforgettable story of compassion, hope, and bravery against overwhelming odds.
I loved this book. I devoured it in less than two days. I just simply could not put it down. At just over 300 pages it is on the shorter side, but it tells the story it needs to tell without drawing out any scenes unnecessarily. Gill Lewis could easily have been tempted to go for maximum empathy in describing in detail some of the horrible things that happen in this book, but she instead opts for the “less if more” mantra and it works a charm.
The book focuses on Tam, a boy who lives with his family in the mountains until they are relocated by the General Chan. Tam is promised a better life, with electricity, a school and even a village TV. The promises are half-truths though and when events go from bad to worse, Tam is forced to leave his family and work at a bear farm in the city.  
Tam is hugely likeable. He is undoubtedly a victim but he does not bemoan his fate. That does not mean he accepts it either. He is sensible enough to keep his mouth shut and head down when needed but also rebels in his own way. His friendship with the bears and the way he cares for them is truly touching.
What I liked most is that Lewis focuses on Tam’s relationship with one of the bears. Tam recognises there is little he can do for the other bears but when a young ill cub (Sook-dli) arrives, he takes it upon himself to nurse the bear back to health.  The bond the two forge is both tender and heart warming. The two souls are linked by the same lot in life in that they have had little choice or say as to what happens to them.
However, to just comment on Tam’s interactions with the bears would do the book a disservice. Everyone Tam converses with is affected by his behaviour in some way, mostly for the better but sometimes not. The only character that is not well-drawn is Tam’s supervisor Assang. He is your typical card board cut out caricature and is not really needed in the story. All the other characters are well portrayed and within a few short pages, Lewis establishes strong links between Tam and other characters such as his Granddad, his Ma and Kham.
In regards to the plot, there is nothing too surprising about it. A lot of what happens to Tam is not very original and nothing you couldn’t predict if you really sat down and thought about it. The beauty of the novel is that whilst reading the novel none of this occurred to me. I was so enthralled by the prose and swept up in Tam’s life that I was too busy enjoying the book.  I had never heard of bear milking though and it has truly opened my eyes to another of mankind’s atrocities inflicted on animals.
I said at the start of this book that this is classed as a children’s book. With all that happens to Tam it certainly does not read like one. With a children’s book (as true with a lot of adult books) the usually all of the plot points are wrapped up or loose ends tied. Gill Lewis does not pander to her audience. Sometimes in life there are loose ends and with one character in particular, she uses their actions to teach Tam this lesson. It is infuriating but realistic at the same time.
The ending is great. Normally I like dark endings, but I also recognise when a book needs to end in a certain way. I will not reveal which was this one goes, but to me it was the perfect ending.
My rating: 9.3

Friday, October 3, 2014

Book Review - The Corninsh Coast Murder

The Cornish Coast Murder by John Bude (JS)
Review by Jacqui Slaney
I love murder… let me rephrase that, I love the old fashioned murder mysteries, that you get from Agatha Christie, Dorothy L Sayers etc, so when this title popped up as recommended for me as I like such and such, I could not resist.
This is the description:
Never, even in his most optimistic moments, had he visualised a scene of this nature - himself in one arm-chair, a police officer in another, and between them - a mystery.' The Reverend Dodd, vicar of the quiet Cornish village of Boscawen, spends his evenings reading detective stories by the fireside - but heaven forbid that the shadow of any real crime should ever fall across his seaside parish. However, the vicar's peace is shattered one stormy night when Julius Tregarthan, a secretive and ill-tempered magistrate, is found at his house in Boscawen with a bullet through his head. The local police inspector is baffled by the complete absence of clues. Suspicion seems to fall on Tregarthan's niece, Ruth - but surely, that young woman lacks the motive to shoot her uncle dead in cold blood? Luckily for Inspector Bigswell, the Reverend Dodd is on hand, and ready to put his keen understanding of the criminal mind to the test. 
I must admit I had not heard of this author, but within a few pages, I was hooked by the story.
The writing is descriptive, and sets the scene for the reader so you can visualise the characters in their daily lives and the dramatic Cornish coastline. A storm opens the story and this dominates all events. However, the description is not overdone and unlike in some stories, does not slow the narrative, which is good as the pace is brisk and enjoyable.
There are not loads of murders and action, just a cleverly written tale with loads of twists, turns and false leads that keep you entertained.
The character of the Reverend is excellent, I liked him a lot. I was a bit worried at the start that he might be pompous and overbearing, but he is a joy to read and gently points out to the usual police officers the error of their ways.
I suppose my only slight complaint is that some of the secondary characters are not fleshed out a lot, such as the niece, and the little you read about her, doesn’t make her very sympathetic, so you do not feel for her predicament.
The author cleverly changes the point of view between the Inspector and Reverend as well, so you can see the clues the Inspector finds and so agree that he has seemingly solved the mystery. Then however you jump to Dodd’s chapter and you realise that what you thought is completely wrong.
There are clues that let you solve the mystery, this is not one of those books where a surprise murderer appears with a motive that you had not been told about before. But the clues are cleverly hidden so when you spot them, you feel very pleased with yourself.
Whether you solve the murder yourself or just follow along with the Reverend either way I am sure that this story will be enjoyed, it’s not a long read, but definitely worthwhile.
8 out of 10

Monday, September 29, 2014

Book Review - King of Swords

King of Swords – Nick Stone
It has been over four years since I read and loved Nick Stone’s debut novel Mr. Clarinet. I found the gritty mix of the detective story and the hint of the supernatural in the form of voodoo worship to be right up my street.
Quite why I waited so long to read the next in the series is beyond me.
Here is the blurb:
Miami, 1981. When Detective Max Mingus and his partner Joe are called to the scene of a death at Miami's Primate Park, it looks like another routine - if slightly bizarre - investigation. Until two things turn up: the victim's family, slaughtered; and a partly digested tarot card in the dead man's stomach. "The King of Swords" - an increasingly bloody trail leads Max and Joe first to a sinister fortune-teller and her scheming pimp son, then to the infamous Solomon Boukman. Few have ever met the most feared criminal in Miami, but rumours abound of a forked tongue, voodoo ceremonies and friends in very high places. Against a backdrop of black magic and police corruption, Max and Joe must distinguish the good guys from the bad - and track down some answers. What is the significance of the "King of Swords"? What makes those who have swallowed the card go on a killing spree just before they die? And can Max find out the truth about Solomon Boukman, before death's shadow reaches his own front door ...
As the blurb indicates, this is a prequel to Mr. Clarinet. I am not normally a fan of prequels unless they have relevance to future plot points. When they are just fleshed out stories of past events main characters happen to mention then I am normally disappointed. However, when they have a direct bearing on the way a character views their life and why their motivations are like they are, then I am much more invested in the prequel.
The latter is the case in point with King of Swords. The book focuses on three characters characters: Max Mingus, Joe Liston and Carmine. Max is the main character in Mr.Clarinet but he does not behave the same way. There are similarities of course, but in this story he is a lot more raw and despite having good intentions, he regularly walks the thin line between good and evil.
This is typified by the two people that influence his life the most. The first is his partner Joe and the other is his boss and father-like figure Eldon. Eldon is a complex character. He is as corrupt as they come but he truly believes he is delivering the greater good in his methods. His aim is to increase his empire in the police force and get the bad guys off the street. If this means cutting corners by sending known criminals down for crimes they did not commit, then so be it.
Max is only too aware of Eldon’s methods but is torn between the correct thing to do and achieving results. He can see the reasoning behind Eldon’s motivations but at the same time he recognises that he has lost his way in the implementation of those methods.
By contrast Joe is only too aware of what is going on and is deeply opposed. He has high morals and a belief in the system. He is a policeman and wants to do it the right way. It is only his like and respect for Max that clouds his judgement. The dynamic works, as rather than being a constant source of conflict and bickering, the two behave rationally and try to figure out the correct path.
Intermingled with all these politics of course is the enigmatic Solomon Boukman. A man that has built his criminal faction based on myths and legends. We mostly see Solomon through the point of view of Carmine his childhood friend. Carmine is a fascinating character in his own right. To the public he is a competent and feared pimp, but behind closed doors he is still a scared boy petrified by his despicable mother.
With such rich characters the book was always going to be readable, but the plot is tight, the pace is consistent and the criminals suitably sinister. Stone does a terrific job of portraying Solomon Boukman keeping him mysterious but at the same time believable. I know virtually nothing about the Haitian culture, but Stones description of it comes across as authentic and makes you want to learn more.
The ending is great, wrapping up all loose ends nicely. At times I was worried that it was being dragged out or in places rushed, but I think by the end of the book Stones got the narrative spot on. This was a pleasure to read and reminded me why I loved the first book so much.
My rating: 9.1