Sunday, 27 June 2010

Mad Kestrel

As promised, I'm reviewing as soon as I've read this book. Nearly took it back to the library unread--I'd grabbed it last minute off the shelf and wasn't totally convinced. It was certainly worth reading. Not the best piece of fantasy I've ever read, but certainly a decent enough one. I was about to say it was good enough that I'll keep an eye out for others, but there are none. Just waiting for the author's website to load so I can see if there's anything in the pipeline.

Any rate, it was fantasy, but I would probably call it more of a pirate story than a dragon and magic sort of fantasy. (Hmm, the author's website would appear to be a blank white page...). Kes is a pirate with a secret. (Oh, it's come up now, and it seems there's only short stories other than Mad Kestrel, which is a shame. I don't really like short stories.) Anyway. Kes ran away to sea, to avoid being imprisoned and forced to work for the Danisoba, because she can use magic. And she's safe at sea, because most Danisoba--all, in fact--are severely weakened by water. Kes has never had that problem. Just an interesting note, I wonder what the magicians are supposed to drink if they can't go near liquid... Anyway, it's a reasonable tale. Her captain isn't who she thought he was, gets himself captured, there's a magic plant which offers fifty years without ageing, and a good deal of swashbuckling adventure. So if you're into pirates, Mad Kestrel is certainly worth looking into. It certainly kept my interest, and there were a couple of nice twists to the plot. If you happen to see it, most definitely worth a read. If not, well, it's probably not worth going to a great deal of trouble looking for. A good book, but more of an adventure story with a bit of magic thrown in than a 'proper' fantasy (then again, who am I to talk about proper fantasy, when the angels in my stories tend to go on missions on earth and most don't have magical powers???). At any rate, if you're into pirate stories, I can recommend this one. If you're more of a 'proper' fantasy fan, well, the magic didn't seem terribly thought through in how it all worked, although it was interesting to have it summoned by whistling/humming/singing. It was the whole water thing that got me--I once had a similar idea as a weakness for a dragon-like species, but realised that they would then dehydrate and die, and that rain would destroy them. Oh, I suppose they can hide inside, but it doesn't seem a great flaw to give a magician. Anyway, Kes didn't suffer from it, for reasons that were disclosed late in the book so I won't tell you why.

On a slightly different aside, why is it that books tend to focus on magic users who have a more than usual skill or a quirk that lets them use magic in a way that other people can't? Anyone know of any fantasy that focusses on someone who can't use magic all that well but isn't a satirical poke at some other book?

Any rate, Mad Kestrel was worth the time it took to read it, and was certainly enjoyable even if not the greatest thing I've ever read. But then, if every book was the greatest thing I'd ever read, then none of them would be...

Saturday, 26 June 2010

No Mercy

Fantastic. I realised half way through that it was going to get a rave review, and the book just kept getting better and better. I nearly didn't read it as well! I wasn't sure if it was quite my kind of thing, but boy am I glad I picked it up at the library. Wow. Couldn't put it down, as in bursting for the loo but walked to the bathroom with book in front of my nose couldn't put it down. Tense, exciting, great action, great character... I realise it's starting to sound as though I like every book I read, but if I don't like them they tend to get abandoned a few chapters in and go back to the library, and hence don't get reviewed... Anyway.

Jonathan Grave. An expert in hostage rescue, who operates outside the law. The nearest character I can think of to compare him to would be Scott Mariani's Ben Hope, but they do have significant differences. Grave is a somewhat darker, more mysterious character, with enough personal details slipped in to bring him to life, but enough excluded to leave you begging for more. The plot is fantastic. You'd think there were only so many permutations of terrorist + biological weapons + shady government dealings that you could find, but John Gilstrap proves that there's always one more you haven't thought of.

It's a fairly standard mission for Grave, even if it does end more messily than he'd like. The hostage is safe, the kidnappers all dead. Nobody, including the hostage, knows who he is, and the cops should draw their own conclusions and not put too much effort into finding him. Until Grave's ex-wife is tortured and murdered, and the man who she loved is discovered, also tortured. And Grave gets a message in the post, a film of the negotiations between the kidnappers and the victims parents, just in case he didn't succeed. Trouble is, Grave discovers, the kidnappers didn't want money. The boss of the kidnappers was after secrets, or, more specifically, after a deadly bioweapon that he's already promised to an African warlord. And Grave had reckoned without a sheriff determined to obey her promise to uphold the law, regardless of weather the murders were committed to rescue a hostage or not.

Tense, exciting, leaves me in no doubt that I'll be after the next as soon as it comes out.

The Cult of Osiris

Okay, I'm so far behind with book reviews it's actually ridiculous. However, I shall do what I can to catch up, and I shall make a determined effort to review everything I read as close to when I read it as possible. So I didn't actually read this book all that long ago, but it's easy to start with the titles and authors I remember off the top of my head and then go fishing up library records.

So, The Cult of Osiris. My only complaint: it finished. And it finished at a most inconvenient time for me too, as I was sat in the dentist waiting for paperwork to be ready to sign so that I could go home. But I'll tell you this now, the Eddie Chase/Nina Wilde (not sure which character has the official title of the series, I think it depends where you look) series just gets better and better. I mean, I thought the first four books were action packed, with interesting characters (especially Eddie and his dozens of friends who happen to be female scattered across the globe), but this one outdid them all. Corrupt government officials, an interesting legend to prove (and one that I'd not heard of before too, which is a definite bonus as there are, let's face it, quite a few books out there with tales of discovering Atlantis in them), great action, and a diabolical plot to foil. All in a day's work in your average archaeological thriller (and if it isn't a genre, there's enough books I've read that'd fit in that it should be), but the quality of the writing is great. I am torn, I don't think I could say it's my out and out favourite in the genre, because David Gibbins is ace too, but I have to say, it's probably better than the most recent Matthew Reilly. And since I'm quite a fan of his... Basically, the book delivered even better than I thought it would. I mean, the others have been great and I've got them all, but I hadn't bought this one. Half because I'm currently pretty skint and going to uni next year so don't want to start buying loads of books, half because I wasn't sure it was going to be as good as the others. I mean, how many interesting legends can you 'prove'? But this one proved to be better than ever. Now I just have to wait for the next one to come out.

Victory Conditions

Okay, so I kinda ended up skipping book four because I couldn't find it and I was pretty keen to read more from this series. But wow. This book was fantastic. I mean, I don't read that much sci-fi (okay, I suppose I have written a fair few reviews of sci-fi, but honestly, I normally go for thrillers), but this has gotta be in the top ranks of the genre. It's thrilling, it's engaging, it's engrossing, it's full of personal detail about the characters, it's got a fantastic range of societies, it's got brilliant action scenes, it's... Yeh, basically anything good about sci-fi goes in that spot. My main complaint is that it finished :(. I ran out of book. It was perfectly understandable despite not having read any other than the third (five book series), although I do feel like I missed out a bit by not reading it. Hope to rectify that problem asap, but the libraries round here don't seem all that keen on fantasy/sci-fi. The characters are brilliant, from Rafe, struggling to appear respectable and hold down a job as CEO of a major company, despite his wild streak, to Ky Vatta, admiral of a multi-planetary force, determined, set on vengeance, skilled leader, through Toby (young, in love, and a technical genius), Stella (Ky's cousin, head of Vatta Enterprises) and on... One other particularly deserving of mention would be Teddy Ransome. From a planet where the people go through stages before becoming an adult, he's introduced as a Romantic, an adventurer, a wild, impulsive man with a strong sense of honour, but he shifts while in space travel and suddenly finds himself more morose and sensible. Brilliant.

Highly recommended, and I'll most definitely be looking out from other books by this author.

Engaging the Enemy

Just realised I hadn't actually reviewed this book already. It's the third in the Vatta's War trilogy, and boy is it good. Believable sci-fi, with a fantastic plot and all those little details that create an alternate reality to escape into. The Vatta empire is under threat, Ky Vatta one of the only family members who remains alive. More, the communications network supposed to provide real-time communications across the vast distances of space (too big to be aboard a ship), are out in parts. So while Ky and her cousin Stella try to not only stay alive, but begin to run their trading business once more, other members of the family are still under threat. A thrilling novel, full of fantastic societies, gripping action, and spell-binding intrigue.

On a slightly different, but related note: the author's name, Elizabeth Moon. Is that not the best name for a sci-fi writer to have? And from what I can see, it's not even a pseudonym... Just thought I couldn't leave that without comment.

Seriously though, I highly recommend this book. Haven't read the ones that come before, but if they're anything like this one... Ky Vatta is a brilliant character, as are Stella and Toby and Rafe and... I could go on. However, for anyone who's into the whole sci-fi/fantasy thing, I can't recommend this enough. And for anyone who isn't... You don't know what you're missing out on :)

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

Death Train

Based on a film script by Alastair MacLean, this is a fantastic book. Although you can kinda tell it's not an Alastair MacLean, cos one of the main characters is female *shocked gasp!*. And she's not just a pretty face, a damsel in distress, a femme fatale, or any of those cliches that you tend to find in older thrillers. She's got a brain, she uses it, and she's an integral part of UNACO. The United Nations Anti-Crime Organisation becomes aware that six kegs of plutonium, one damaged, are being shipped around Europe. A fascinating hunt ensues. All the drama you'd expect from an Alastair MacLean, but with even more interesting and well-developed characters than usual. Plenty of twists, plenty of action, plenty of intrigue. Kinda seems mean that Alastair MacNeill didn't get to put his name a bit bigger on the cover, given that he was the person who actually [I]wrote[/I] it, but there you go. I couldn't put it down, a great book that I highly recommend.

This Body of Death

Another gripping novel from Elizabeth George. An out of town cop has been brought in to head Inspector Lynley's old group, but struggles to make headway, particularly with Havers. Scruffy, unconventional, determined to go off her own way, Havers is everything Isabelle Ardery isn't. And Ardery is determined to change her. This novel weaves skilfully between a fascinating murder case and a rather amusing shopping trip, bringing out the characters fantastically. Even if you're not much of a crime lover, this book is well worth the read for the sheer brilliance of the characters, and a plot that will send shivers down your spine. Addressing the issues posed by young murderers along with creating a brilliant atmosphere and drawing you in to the story, I highly recommend 'This Body of Death'. A gripping must read.

With No One as Witness

My mum and I watched the third season of Inspector Lynley together recently. We really enjoyed it, and when we took it back to the library, the librarian told us that the books were much better. "Books!" we both cried, "we didn't know there were books...". And so, I found 'With No One as Witness' by Elizabeth George, and was utterly captivated. The characters are brilliant, I especially love Havers. The detective work is described grippingly, the case is fascinating. A serial killer on the loose in London. Where are his victims being chosen? And why did the Met not notice there was a serial killer until the fourth body was found? Amidst charges of institutionalised racism, Lynley, Nkata (promoted in what everyone knows was a politically inspired move--but everyone also agrees he deserved the promotion), and Havers have to find the serial killer, before the reputation of New Scotland Yard is permanently damaged. (Why is it Scotland Yard by the way? Does anyone know where the name came from?). Fascinating, with characters that actually feel real, and a tragedy that leaves you reading breathlessly on. A read until half two in the morning sort of book, utterly unputdownable and highly recommended.

E Force, State of Emergency

Hmm. Think Thunderbirds, but written more recently. It was good enough that I finished it, but the characters were rather shallow, the action seemed somewhat drawn out (seriously, how hard is it to get out a burning building?! Most of a book's worth of action it seems...). A reasonable plot, but the whole thing shouted Thunderbirds, especially because the vehicles were the 'mole' and the 'firefly', and the two main vehicles were a very fast Mach 10 rocket type thing and a larger, slightly slower carrying aircraft. Hmm. Sounds rather like Thunderbirds 1 and 2 to me. Same with the secret island. Other than being somewhat cliched, and the characters being so shallow they were practically transparent, it was fairly decent. But the main characters were all but indistinguishable from each other, which did lead to me confusing them several times over. Could probably do with a few less main characters, or to be from first person perspective, so that you actually care whether they survive the mission or not. It was the first book in the series, so I am tempted to read the next, if there is a next. One moment... Ah, it's only just come out, there are no others yet. Working on the basis that most authors do improve as they go along, and books tend to get more interesting the further you get in a series (up to a point, when they can end up very samey). So, if you happen to see it in a library, it's probably worth getting out and reading. Unless you're a major fan of Thunderbirds, and want to read what is, in effect, a new version of Thunderbirds, it's probably not worth buying a copy.

Sunday, 13 June 2010

BBQ and games

Well, yesterday was a noteworthy one for me, and not because of the World Cup. We had a Church BBQ and Fun Day, out in Ribchester. Started out on the Recreation Ground, playing outdoor games, including an interesting game of rounders. Interesting because of the [I]slight[/I] bending of the rules involved once or twice and the flexible attitude to who was and wasn't out... Had fun sliding across the grass to hit a cone, only to be told we weren't playing for half points :(. There was, in fact, no point to my leap (well, skid) to get in. Still, it was quite fun. Then there was (little) Tom's 'batting'. Well, Andy's batting with Tom holding the bat and nearly sending Tom flying instead of the ball... Oh, and Norma's amazing method of hitting things by flicking the bat straight up in the air with a squeal. Good fun was had by all. And of course, I had to take part in the sack race, egg and spoon race, bean bag on head race. Won none, but that was fine. They were really for the littlies, and given the size of the sack I was using, hardly surprising I didn't win :). Then we went back to Sue and Andy's for a BBQ, ate outside, relaxed, had fun, went on a walk, went paddling in the Ribble (bad move, more like scrambling bare foot over rocks that weren't too friendly and then standing in green slime...)... So yeh, good fun. Hattie came too, which was a bonus. Really enjoyed myself, got home and my nose turned bright red. And that was despite sun cream and hat! Still, it's not too bad now.

The Hostage

Well, since going AWOL for a month or so, I have discovered some fantastic authors, which means I have loads of book reviews to catch up on. I'll start with The Hostage. It's actually one of the more recent ones I've read, but it's also first in the series, so I figure that makes a good start point.

A brilliant novel, dragging you into the heart of the action through life-like description, vivid images that leap from the page and into your mind's eye, and an enigmatic character who leaves you hungry for more details. Since reading my first Duncan Falconer book I've been hungrily hunting for more, and this one does not disappoint. My only slight annoyance is that I didn't realise it was the first in the series straight away because it looked newer than the one that came after it which I bought at the same time, but that's my fault and not the book's. I was hooked from start to finish and struggled to put it down.

When a stakeout to catch a RIRA operative goes wrong and the watcher is snatched, Stratton is sent out to retrieve him before he's taken over the border. Catapulted straight into the action, the focus then switches briefly to an American SEAL, over to learn what he can from the SBS. And when a stakeout in Paris goes wrong, leading to the American's kidnapping, Stratton is determined to catch the mole who's lurking somewhere in Military Intelligence. But that's only the surface of a much deeper plot, leaving Stratton in a desperate race against time to avert catastrophe. I suppose the plot sounds like a fairly run of the mill thriller, but the writing is first class and it certainly doesn't feel predictable.

All in all, an excellent book which I thoroughly enjoyed. Highly recommended.

Monday, 7 June 2010

Finished College

I've just realised that I have the grand total of two posts for May. I am so far behind with writing book reviews its untrue. Still, I have had a lot of college work to do, so I hope you'll forgive me. Shall try to catch up a bit now I've finished college, but I highly doubt I'll manage to review absolutely everything I've read--I can't even remember half the books I've read...

However, it now being too late to do anything about that, I shall write about some other news. You can probably guess what it is from the title of my post. Yes, I have now finished my time at Cardinal Newman College. And what a time! Since starting college in September 2008, I have made dozens of new friends, learnt a heck of a lot, and had a fantastic time. The atmosphere at college has always been great, and while I do feel ready to move on, I'm certainly going to miss it. Of course, I still have to go in for six more exams, so I've not really finished yet. Nevertheless, it won't be the same now that I've no more lessons. I'll have to get a job over the summer holidays, if that's possible. Failing that, I'll do volunteer work instead (going to try and do some volunteer work anyway though--it's the only way of getting experience in museums or libraries).

The last day at college was certainly sad, but it was also, in many ways, a celebration of all that it has been. Unfortunately, I had an exam (Romans) first thing, so I missed some of my short lessons. However, I was done in plenty of time for both Modern History and the Leaver's Mass. Newman could really teach my old high school a thing or two about how to conduct a service that's actually worth listening to! Managed not to cry, helped by the fun drama, up beat songs, and general cheerfulness of the whole event. Afterwards, college put on a buffet lunch for all us leavers, so we sat on the grass and ate. Great fun, and a memory I know I will hold forever.

I've certainly changed a lot over the past two years (well, almost two years) at college. I feel a lot more confident, I'm more cheerful, and I've met a lot of new people and learnt plenty about the world. I have to confess I used to think Catholics were boring, rule following Christians who were more focussed on law than relationship with God. Having met Father Jim, I don't think it's possible to hold onto that prejudice! Particularly when he came cheerfully into my Monday morning RE lesson the other week and upon being asked how he could be so happy, replied 'I'm high on Jesus'.

So, there it is. The end of my time at Newman, and the start of something new... University! Well, soon enough at any rate.