Tuesday, 31 August 2010

The To-Be-Read Pile #2

The To-Be-Read Pile
I've finally made my way through my latest TBR small pile (the big pile fills a whole bookcase!) and now I'm trying to decide what next to read. I've narrowed it down to these six books - one fantasy: Patricia Briggs Raven's Shadow. I love Briggs Mercy Thompson series so I'm curious to see what her more traditional fantasy books are like. Feed is a zombie Apocalypse novel that I won from Graham at Graham's Fantasy Book Review and I've read a lot of positive reviews. Two more Urban Fantasy books - I have a big back-log on Urban Fantasy books and series to catch up on, but I like to mix up my genres and not read too many from one genre at once. Final two are a comic fantasy by Tom Holt and a modern classic. I wouldn't usually pick up something like The Barracks but I try to expand my reading occasionally - besides it was another freebie from a friend! So what should I read first? Any suggestions?

Monday, 30 August 2010

The Midnight Mayor Review

The Midnight Mayor

- Kate Griffin

Publisher: UK – Orbit

It's said that if the ravens ever leave the Tower of London, then the Tower will crumble and the kingdom will fall. As it happens, that's not so far from the truth ...One by one, the magical wards that guard the city are failing: the London Wall defiled with cryptic graffiti, the ravens found dead at the Tower, the London Stone destroyed. This is not good news. This array of supernatural defences - a mix of international tourist attractions and forgotten urban legends - formed a formidable magical shield. Protection for the City of London against ...well, that's the question, isn't it? What could be so dangerous as to threaten an entire city? Against his better judgement, resurrected sorcerer Matthew Swift is about to find out. And if he's lucky, he might just live long enough to do something about it ...

A Madness of Angels was one of my favourite reads last year and The Midnight Mayor follows the same vein. While initially the story is somewhat similar to A Madness.., the character of Matthew Swift is explored in more depth. At first he’s woken up confused and chased by Spectres and soon realises the Midnight Mayor is dead and London is under attack. This time however, instead of Swift’s motivation being revenge, its fear for himself and his city that drives his actions. As the book progresses we follow Swifts journey – both literally and figuratively and see a more vulnerable side than we’ve not seen before and eventually it is his humanity that saves the day. There are times when he fears he won’t survive and that made me connect to him more this time than in the first book. The relationship between Swift and his enemy/partner Oda is expanded in this story and has a very bittersweet feel to it.

The writing is as atmospheric and beautiful as ever with the descriptions of London dirty, truthful and spot on. The action travels all over the city from Morden to Willesden and it obvious Griffin loves this city. As a Londoner myself it just made me love the book even more as I recognise the attitudes of the people and the places described.

This is an Urban fantasy book as it deals with sorcerers in a city setting, but this is very much set in our world with little in common with the ‘regular’ urban fantasy – and perhaps better for it.
Recommended for Mike Carey and Jim Butcher fans – but read A Madness of Angels first. I don’t think it’s necessary to read this book, but it is an excellent book as well. 10 out of 10 – highly recommended.

Sunday, 29 August 2010

Books Remembered #1: Anne Rice's Vampire Chronicles

This is a new feature that I want to introduce reminiscing about books or even series that I read over and over again. Or even a book read once that changed the way I looked at life. It can be a book from childhood or a modern series I just can’t get enough off. It’s not a review of the book(s) but merely remembering the impact it had on me and how it’s shaped my reading habits and likes –what made that book(s) memorable. Feel free to join in with your own books remembered.

This week I remember Anne Rice's Vampire Chronicles.

Interview with the Vampire
Queen of the Damned
First up in Books Remembered has to be Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles – specifically the first three books – Interview with the Vampire, The Vampire Lestat and Queen of the Damned. I read these books when I was a teenager and they had a huge impact on me. Even now I pull them out of the bookcase every couple of years and dive back into the Gothic world of New Orleans. They were perhaps my first introduction to ‘adult vampires’ - here vampires weren’t teenagers or the strange old  man, but creatures of darkness, revelling in blood. These vampires were fully rounded characters and their eternal life is forever influenced by their human life, before 'the Dark Gift'. It was their human emotions that defined them and while I could relate to them, they scared me as well.

Why do I remember these books so well? It was the emotion and the language these books provoked that has always stayed with me. After reading one, I came away wanting to speak in beautiful flowery language and longed for the deep melancholy Rice conjured with her characters. I loved the story – the movement through time and the action especially when you see it from different views. Lestat as viewed from Louis eyes in Interview with the Vampire was a very different creature to the one Lestat himself showed in The Vampire Lestat – yet they are both the same character and I could see how there was no difference between them.
In a similar way these three books each tell a complete story on their own but together create a multi-layered history of vampires and their history. They really are books that complement each other but don’t repeat the same thinly veiled story over again. It’s something missing in the rest of the Vampire Chronicles , the sense of wonder, that anything can happen and surprise. Not that the other books aren’t good reads on their own, but these three books are the ones that really made me fall in love in vampires – long before Edward Cullen came along. Anne Rice really started the Vampire as we know them today and there are few vampires that are as well portrayed. If you haven’t read them, pick them up – in fact I might visit New Orleans again as well and disappear into the Garden District...

Saturday, 28 August 2010

On My Wish List #2

This is a meme from Book Chick City. There are so many books out there that I want to read that this is the only way I keep track!

The Mage in Black (Sabine Kane 2) - Jaye Wells
Publisher: UK - Orbit (April 2010)

Sabina Kane doesn't have the best track record when it comes to family. After all, her own grandmother, leader of the vampire race, wants her dead. So when she arrives in New York to meet her mage relatives, the reunion puts the fun in dysfunctional. Not only is mage culture completely bizarre, but everyone seems to think she's some kind of 'Chosen' who'll unite the dark races. Sabina doesn't care who chose her, she's not into destiny. But the mages aren't Sabina's only problem. In New York's Black Light District, she has run-ins with fighting demons, hostile werewolves and an opportunistic old flame. Sabina thought she'd take a bite out of the Big Apple - but it looks like it wants to bite back.

Having just finished the first Sabine Kane book, Red-Headed Stepchild, I want to find out how Sabine does with the Mage side of her family and what gets up to next!

Bite Marks (Jaz Parks 6) - Jennifer Rardin
Publisher: UK - Orbit (April 2010)

Jaz is possessed. After biting the neck of a domyter during a forced visit to his territory, she now has unwelcome voices in her head. While fighting for supremacy in her own mind, she finds herself confronted with a near-impossible task: perform perfectly on her next mission or face the unemployment line. This goal wouldn't be unreasonable, except that her newest target, the leader of a security software firm, plans on transporting a boatload of gnome larvae into NASA's deep space communication complex. Why gnomes? Let's just say that their god is a little peeved with humanity and plans on the usual: total annihilation. Joining Jaz and Vayl are their old buddies Cole, Bergman, Cassandra and Jack the malamute, each of whom has his or her own agenda. Between Cassandra's curse, Jaz's literally mental personal demons, and a host of angry gnomes, this mission is definitely going to be more complicated than any that have come before.

I've really enjoyed Jaz Parks series- more action, than thought-provoking with Jaz and pals rushing round saving the world in true CIA style - kind of like a supernatural Mission Impossible. Not that there isn't strong character growth and change through the series - as well as some very amusing moments. Hopefully Bite Marks will keep up the tradition!

Shades of Grey - Jasper Fforde
Publisher: UK - Hodder (Paperback Out now October 2010)
In a society where the ability to see the higher end of the color spectrum denotes a better social standing, Eddie Russet belongs to the low-level House of Red and can see his own color—but no other. The sky, the grass, and everything in between are all just shades of grey, and must be colorized by artificial means. Eddie's world wasn't always like this. There's evidence of a never-discussed disaster and now, many years later, technology is poor, news sporadic, the notion of change abhorrent, and nighttime is terrifying: no one can see in the dark. Everyone abides by a bizarre regime of rules and regulations, a system of merits and demerits, where punishment can result in permanent expulsion. Eddie, who works for the Color Control Agency, might well have lived out his rose-tinted life without a hitch. But that changes when he becomes smitten with Jane, a Grey Nightseer from the dark, unlit side of the village. She shows Eddie that all is not well with the world he thinks is just and good. Together, they engage in dangerous revolutionary talk.

I'm a long term Jasper Fforde fan so I've been anxiously waiting for Shades of Grey to come out in paperback and it does in October! His Thursday Next books are so clever and love the Nursery Crimes series as well. Really excited about this book!

Thursday, 26 August 2010

Shutter Island Review

Shutter Island

- Dennis Lehane

Publisher: UK – Bantam Books

US Marshal Teddy Daniels has come to Shutter Island, home of Ashecliffe Hospital for the Criminally Insane, to find an escaped murderer named Rachel Solando. As a killer hurricane bears down on the island, the investigation deepens and the questions mount. How has a barefoot woman escaped from a locked room? Who is leaving them clues in the form of cryptic codes? And what really goes on in Ward C? The closer Teddy gets to the truth, the more elusive it becomes. And the more he begins to believe that he may never leave Shutter Island. Because someone is trying to drive him insane...

I picked up Shutter Island because I saw the film earlier this year and enjoyed the psychological twists and turns. It has remained one of the best films I’ve seen this year. Having seen film I can’t really judge the book as a separate entity. The film was a very faithful to the book with many scenes lifted straight from the book. As such I felt that I had read the book previously. However, I did enjoy the book – it had a creepy, spooky atmosphere and the more I read the more I actually appreciated Leonardo Di Capiro’s portrayal of Teddy. Teddy is a haunted character – haunted by his war experience, by the death of his wife and this colours the whole book. There were some genuine creepy moments – the parts set in Ward C made me shiver. I really wanted Teddy and Chuck to solve the mystery of Shutter Island – even knowing the ending from the film.

This was my first Dennis Lehane book and I think I will try a few more. Recommend for Jeffery Deaver and James Pattinson fans. 8 out of 10.

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

Friday Night Bites Review

Friday Night Bites (Chicagoland Vampires 2)

- Chloe Neill

Publisher: UK – Gollancz

VAMPIRES IN CHICAGO! You'd think a headline like that would have made the fine citizens of the Windy City to take up arms against us bloodsucking fiends. Instead, ten months later, we're enjoying celebrity statue and fending off the paparazzi, who are only slightly less dangerous than angry stake-wielding slayers. Don't get me wrong - Joe Public isn't exactly thrilled to be living side by side with the undead, but at least they haven't stormed the castle . . . not yet . . . But it could be a matter of time. There's a first-time reporter sniffing around vampire society, and if he uncovers the Raves - mass feeding parties, where vampires round humans up like cattle and drink themselves silly. The fact that it's majorly frowned upon by vamp society won't make a difference to that kind of a headline, or a new reporter who's out to impress his family. So now my 'master' - the centuries-old yet gorgeously well-preserved Ethan Sullivan - wants me to reconnect with my own upper-class family and act as liaison between humans and vampire . . . and use the opportunity to keep the less savoury aspects of vamp existence out of the media spotlight. Tough job, when it seems someone doesn't want vamps and humans to play nicely - someone with a serious, ancient grudge . . .

The best thing about Friday Night Bites is Merit the main character. She has a style that is easy to read, is tongue in cheek without being forced and someone I would like to spend time with. There’s some good exploration of Merit’s relationships in this especially with her best friend, Mallory – who deserves a book of her own. I also enjoyed learning a little bit about Merit’s family – meeting her sister and niece was actually one of my favourite bits – more of Charlotte and Olivia please!

Unfortunately the plot of this book felt more like an after thought. It didn’t really make sense – the threat against the vampires – opening the rave culture was a good idea – but in order to stop it, Merit has go to formal functions... huh? In addition, the reaction of one of the wealthy families didn’t ring true to me – if your family were threatened by vampires would you ask the vampires to solve it? There’s less action in this book, that in Some Girl’s Bite, the first book – apart from a big action sequence at the end that seems tacked on.

Overall the book was easy read and amusing, if you didn’t want to think too hard. I’m probably going to try the next book in the series, but Some Girls Bite was much more fun.
Recommended for fans of Tanya Huff and Charlaine Harris. 6 out of 10.

Sunday, 22 August 2010

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo Review

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

- Stieg Larsson

Publisher: UK – Quercus

THE INDUSTRIALIST. Henrik Vanger, head of the dynastic Vanger Corporation, is tormented by the loss of a child decades earlier and convinced that a member of his family has committed murder.

THE JOURNALIST. Mikael Blomkvist delves deep into the Vangers' past to uncover the truth behind the unsolved mystery. But someone else wants the past to remain a secret and will go to any lengths to keep it that way.

THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO. Lisbeth Salander, the enigmatic, delinquent and dangerous security specialist, assists in the investigation. A genius computer hacker, she tolerates no restrictions placed upon her by individuals, society or the law.

Okay, confession time. My reading choices can be easily influenced. First of all by the best sellers list; after all if everyone else buying them there must be something to the books, right? Secondly, by the web – everything from other blogs, reviews from online websites and even giveaway competitions (I’ve discovered some real gems by reading a book I’d won that I had no intention of ever purchasing!). Thirdly and finally, by my friends – if someone passes me a book and says that it’s good then it goes to the top of my TBR pile. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo has topped the best sellers list for a while, has received predominantly positive reviews online, but I didn’t pick it up until a friend at work told me how good it was. So with hopefully anticipation I started reading...and, it’s OK.

It’s a different style than most books – it almost reads like a non-fiction at times sharing mostly what is happening to who and how. But little is said to how people are feeling – it is left up to the reader to interpret from the actions. This took me a while to get into the style of writing (or possibly translation?) and after a while it didn’t bother me. The story is almost “a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma” and layers are different from each other covering corporate fraud, a missing girl and a serial killer. The most intriguing of which to me was the missing girl. However, I found Blomkvist a little difficult to like. He seemed a little naive at times, and I never really felt like he was a real person. Little things annoyed me, like ignoring his daughter for most of the year. I couldn’t find myself taking to someone who never really thought about other people.

The character that was more fascinating is Lisbeth Salander, who comes over as a sociopath and a very different character than any other you’ll come across. And it is her who is the major draw to the book – not the mysteries which are solved pretty easily all things considered. It would only be interest in Lisabeth than might persuade me to pick up the next two books. Otherwise, it’s a perfect serviceable crime with a couple of scenes of extreme violence that might shock you.

Good for fans of Mark Billingham or Dennis Lehane. 6.5 out of 10.

Saturday, 21 August 2010

On my Wishlist #1

This is a meme from Book Chick City. There are so many books out there that I want to read that this is the only way I keep track!

The Enchantment Emporium - Tanya Huff
Publisher: Daw Books (June 2010)

Alysha Gale is a member of a family capable of changing the world with the charms they cast. Then she receives word that she's inherited her grandmother's junk shop in Calgary, only to discover upon arriving that she'll be serving the fey community. And when Alysha learns just how much trouble is brewing in Calgary, even calling in the family to help may not be enough to save the day.

I loved Tanya Huff's Keeper trilogy - they were so funny as well as exciting . Her Blood series were pretty good as well and well ahead of their time. Coming out long before the current craze of Vampires, it told the story of a  Private Eye torn between an ancient vampire and a human cop. So when I discovered Tanya's starting a new series I have to read - just wish some UK publisher will snap up the rights soon!

The Prodigal Mage (Fisherman's Children 1) - Karen Miller
Publisher: Orbit (June 2010)

The weather magic that holds the kingdom of Lur safe is failing, and the earth feels broken to those with the power to see. Among Lur's sorcerers only Asher has the skill to mend the antique weather map that governs the seasons, keeping the land from being crushed by natural forces. Yet when Asher risks his life to meddle with these dangerous magics, the crisis is merely delayed, not averted. Asher's son Rafel has inherited his father's talents, but has been forbidden to use them. Many died in the last Mage War and these abilities aren't to be loosed lightly into the world. But when Asher's last desperate attempt to repair the damage leaves him on his deathbed, Rafel's powers may not  be denied. For his countrymen are facing famine, devastation and a rift in the very fabric of their land.

Another favourite author of mine, Karen Miller has done some great fantasy with the King Maker, King Breaker duology and I'm two thirds of the way through the Godspeaker trilogy which is very different! Hopefully the return to Lur in Fisherman's Children series will be live up to previous. (Oh, and also recommend her Rogue Agent series under the name, K.E Mills - excellent!)

The Spirit Thief (The Legend of Eli Moonpress 1)- Rachel Aaron
Publisher: Orbit (October 2010)

Eli Moonpress is talented. He's charming. And he's a thief.
But not just any thief. He's the greatest thief of the age - and he's also a wizard. And with the help of his partners - a swordsman with the most powerful magic sword in the world but no magical ability of his own, and a demonseed who can step through shadows and punch trough walls - he's going to put his plan into effect.
The first step is to increase the size of the bounty on his head, so he'll steal some big things. But he'll start small for now. He'll just steal something that no one will miss - at least for a while.
Like a king.

This just sounds like a real cool book. There are two other books in the series released in the months following, The Spirit Thief's release in October. Orbit describes the book as an "adventure of a classic epic fantasy combined with the wit and humor of the Princess bride" here and if that isn't intriguing enough how pretty is the cover? That cheeky eyebrow raise and knowing smile - or is it a smirk? Can't wait to read it!

Thursday, 19 August 2010

The To-Be-Read Pile #1

My TBR bookcase
I love books. I always have a book on the go and have a huge To-Be-Read pile. Seriously. I have a full bookcase dedicated to my TBR pile - I've even had to start double shelving them. It's recently been brought to my attention that I have been increasing the frequency with which I purchase books but my reading speed hasn't kept apace. Not that I'm a slow reader - two/three books a week isn't slow, but when Waterstone's has a constant 3 for 2, new releases are price promoted in the supermarkets and the wide choice at Amazon, I can't resist reaching for my purse. Part of the trouble is that I tend to read across genres - I can't read too many of the same type of book in one go without feeling the need to try something completely different. So following Amanda from Floor to Ceiling Books example, I decided to stop buying books at least for a bit as I try to make my way through my backlog of TBR books. But where do I start?

Here, I've narrowed my soon to be read pile down to a handful that I want to get through in the next couple of weeks. I started reading Shutter Island this afternoon purely on the basis that I loved the film. (It was one of the few films that got me thinking this year and I heartily recommend if you get the chance!) But what should I read next? Some cool London UF with Matthew Swift in The Midnight Mayor? Finish Karen Miller's different Godspeaker trilogy with the Hammer of God? Give into the best seller pressure and try Dan Brown's Da Vinci follow up? Or start a new UF series with Blue Diablo? Decisions, decisions. And like deciding which dish to try at a restaurant I can only hope for a delicious suprise.
The To-Be-Read Soon Pile

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

The Changing Covers of Urban Fantasy

There's the whole adage of never judging a book by it's cover, but sometimes it's the cover that first attracts your attention. I know I've been suckered in purchasing books based on a good title, nice cover and an interesting blurb! So what is the typical fantasy cover? Well, Orbit may have the answer.

They have done a survey of the covers of Fantasy books released in 2010 and compared them to 2009 releases, including my particular favourite genre -  Urban Fantasy -Orbit UF Cover. It's pretty interesting to see how covers have changed in just a year - and I have to say (or write in this case!) I much prefer the typical 2010 cover - I never liked high-heels and short skirts on my heroines! Have a look and let me know what you think. What do you like on front covers?

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

Red-Headed Stepchild Review

Red-Headed Stepchild (Sabina Kane - Book 1)
- Jaye Wells

Publisher: UK – Orbit

In a world where being of mixed-blood is a major liability, Sabina doesn't really fit in. And being an assassin - the only profession fit for an outcast - doesn't help matters. But she's never brought her work home. Until now. Her latest mission is uncomfortably complex, and threatens the fragile peace between the vampire and mage races. As Sabina scrambles to figure out which side she's on, she uncovers a tangled political web, some nasty facts about her family and some unexpected new talents. Any of these things could be worryingly life-changing, but together, they could be fatal ...

I picked this book up shortly after it first came out having been persuaded by the advertising campaign, but it’s never made it to the top of my TBR pile until now. Having seen that my TBR pile features a lot of Urban Fantasy I’ve decided to start reading and weed out the good (loads of series for me to follow!) from the dreadful (plenty of that in the genre as well!).
RH SC was an easy read. The world was nothing new to readers of UF but has some fun twists on the usual set up such as apple being poisonous to vampires (even cider!). At it’s heart it’s a lonely, hard-assed girl learning to connect to people. Sabina doesn’t worry about killing people (she is an assassin after all) or drinking blood, but over the course of the story she makes friends with a wood Nymph and starts to trust a mage – a race vampires usually despise. She also learns her family isn’t all she thought it was. There was nothing challenging in the story but it balanced some light hearted moment involving a demon cat and action as well skating close to issues of rape and assault, but generally landed on the lighter side. There are a few revelations which set up the next two books and will have me looking out for the next book - The Mage in Black.

Fans of Kitty Noville and Sookie Stackhouse might enjoy this for a different view on creatures of the night.
Rating: 7 out of 10

Sunday, 15 August 2010

Take Two

Last year while bored I was exploring the Internet and stumbled over the mysterious and complex world of book blogs. I read with growing fascination, of the different types out there - the prolific, the established, the whimsical, the different, the good, the bad and indeed, the ugly. I got myself all excited and decided to set up my own blog based on nothing more than the fact I could and I read a lot (an hour commuting each way every day leaves plenty of time for books!).

I looked before I leaped.

It soon became obvious to me that book blogging is hard work and require more thought than I gave to it! So I stopped.

I still read books. I followed half a dozen blogs regularly (my favourites being Graeme's Fantasy Book review, Carolyn's Book Chick City and Amanda's Floor To Ceiling Books - all I heartily recommend!) and a few more semi-regularly. I was so awed at the amount of energy, effort and enthusiasm so many put into their blogs and a lot over-whelmed! I didn't see how I could compete, so I took a step back.

I've spent a lot time since thinking about blogs etc and now having done my homework, I plan to re-ignite this blog with my own enthusiasm, effort and short falls. I can't claim to be any good, but I just hope there's a little corner of the Internet that doesn't mind if I blog away to myself. Hope you lot don't mind!