Tuesday 29 March 2011

Book Review: King's X Episode 3: Shepherds by Stephen Harper

King's X Episode 3: ShepherdsI have to confess I feel a bit guilty to have read and reviewed Episode 3 so soon after Episode 2 when I have so many other books in The Stack. I'll point out here that I've never met the author and don't know him any better than any of the other authors I've traded posts with on various forums, or who have done a Q&A with me. However I have realised that a) I really want to know how the series is going to end and b) that these short stories (or novellas, not entirely sure of the word count to know which they are technically) are ideal for reading when the Monkey is having a nap.

This episode picks up the two threads from the last book - in LA Book is still in the company of Jacob, his wife Trudie and Molly, hiding out. Back in the 13th Century Broussard continues the journey started in Episode 2 and with Khali, Shahin and his fellow Templars is racing away from a mysterious Mongol and his unlikely allies to try and protect a secret.

Molly has started to discover a much greater clarity about the position she finds herself in and is able to enlighten Book and the reader as to the nature of the King's X to a greater degree than before. Book remains uncertain about whether she and the others are enjoying some sort of group delusion or whether there is a massive secret hidden from the world at large. A revelation about his father comes as a shock but seems to fit with what he remembers from his childhood and makes their story more credible.

It seems that all the main characters are destined to live their lives on the run and this book is again a mix of action and reflection. We learn a lot more about the shadowy Shepherd previously encountered by Molly and Book and although I am still not entirely clear about exactly what the King's X does I certainly feel like I am closer to understanding. This book also reveals certain links between the two time periods which brought a new dimension to the story for me.

This book is pretty plot driven with the characters now pretty well established, although it was interesting to see Molly veering between scared teen and newly enlightened woman who feels responsible for what she has brought upon Book. There really isn't much let up in this series, with new revelations and more information to further illuminate the bigger picture round every corner. I don't think it'll be long before I find an excuse to read Episode 4.

Format: Kindle, review copy
My rating: 4*

Friday 25 March 2011

Book Review: The Trophy Taker by Lee Weeks

Trophy Taker, TheThis book is one I picked up as a freebie quite a while ago. Not sure what I wanted to read next on my kindle I thought rather than choose I'd go to the one that had been on there the longest - The Trophy Taker. This was Lee Weeks' debut, and I see she has been described as a female James Patterson - high praise to me, a fan of his work.

Set in Hong Kong, Detective Johnny Mann is working to find a serial killer dubbed The Butcher. Body parts are being discovered, and post mortems suggest the killer is removing parts as trophies. The victims are young foreign women, and the police need to clear up the case before it impacts on tourism. Meanwhile Georgina (from a town not far from where I live, which amused me) travels to Hong Kong to meet her only remaining family, her cousins. She is put in danger when she is drawn into the seedy world of hostess clubs. When the case takes on a personal element Johnny is determined to bring the perpetrator to justice.

I thought this was great crime thriller fare, and there were plenty of suspects through out the story to pick from. However the case turned out to be more complicated than I had expected and wasn't as predictable as I had thought it was shaping up to be. The violence and details of the murders are disturbing but not overplayed.

There were a good mix of characters, the good (Johnny and Georgina) the bad (Johnny's former friend Chan) and the attractive, yet unattractive (Georgina's cousin Lucy) Johnny is a flawed hero with a real sense of right and wrong, determined to get justice for the victims. Georgina is a naive young woman who I warmed to, although I found some aspects of her relationship with her other cousin Ka Lei a bit far-fetched and out of place.

As a fan of books set in foreign climes I enjoyed reading about Hong Kong, even if a lot of the focus was on the seedier side, and the Triads. It brought to mind the background to the murder of Brit Lucie Blackman back in the early 00s, which made it a bit more chilling.

I thought this was a good debut, and having seen that the author has released a few more books, and with the sample of the next Johnny Mann book at the end looking promising too I think I'll read more by this author.

Format: Kindle, freebie
My Rating: 4*

Author Q&A with M T McGuire

Last month I reviewed Few Are Chosen by M T McGuire and now I'm happy to be able to welcome an author who stills checks wardrobes for a gateway to Narnia to my blog, for a fun Q&A.


Blimey, there’s a question.
I’ve always loved stories but I find myself pathologically tempted to tweak them. So many, potentially excellent films and books seem to have a point where someone has to do something totally out of character to drive the plot. Alternatively, the protagonists are just not real people. So I guess my quest, as a writer, has been to write something where the characters are believable and the plot – in my eyes – holds up. Something I would enjoy reading.
My first attempt was when I was 5. It was a series of stories about someone called Charles The Dragon Slayer – yes, even then it was fantasy. He had a really groovy Three-Musketeers-style hat with feathers in... and a sword. Yeh.
However, doing lots of joined up words and letters is hard work for a five year old so I had to keep the descriptions pithy and left a lot to the imagination. I illustrated it, which helped but there wasn’t much plot variation and because it was so difficult to write them down Charles was a man of few words. Even so, he was my first character, I was hooked on writing and things deteriorated steadily from there.
So there you have it. I’ve always been writing something. There has never been a choice. I love it but it’s a compulsion. I do it because I have to. If I stop writing for too long I tend to go a little bit mental.


I think my genre is officially called humorous fantasy.  I guess you might say it was aimed at teenagers but basically, I’m 42 and it’s written for me. If anyone else likes it, that’s grand.
The style is mainly humorous but the great thing about doing comedy and silly names is that you can get pretty serious without people noticing. I think I can come across as sounding a bit British and formal sometimes. That’ll be because some of my characters are a bit uptight and repressed and talk like Spock – and the influence of ‘Python, of course, which I do enjoy, a lot.


Hmm... OK here’s my dream routine. Get up, eat, drink a lot of coffee, sit down to write and do so until brain fry occurs. Lunch. Read morning’s work. Editing. Supper, mindless telly with the other members of famille McGuire. Bed.
And here’s the reality. I am a full-time stay-at-home parent with a two year old. My days are splendidly random and surreal, as are my conversations but I only have 4 hours a week to myself. Making headway, especially at times of plot difficulty, can be a challenge. During the school holidays, all writing tends to stop. Those four hours are very important.
What is the hardest thing? Finding the time. Bear in mind, this is a compulsion. Some key scenes need a lot of work. It’s hard to hold all the complicated threads of a long discussion in your head when you can’t work at it for more than an hour at a time. It’s hard to remember who said what to who in scenes you wrote a year ago. Actually it’s often hard for me to remember my own name without cue cards right now so I’m not sure how I do that at all.
When I was working at my writing all day, every day, I never had that problem. Now, I have very little thought collection time. That can be stressing and then, of course, if I stress about it it’s even harder to keep hold of it all. If I really lose my mojo I get insanely frustrated. It’s like watching half of a really good film, popping out to the loo and then coming back to find you’re only going to be able to watch the rest of it in 30 second bursts once a week over the course of the next three years.
When real life gets like that the only solution is to stop writing. It’s no good spanking my mind until it gets to the point when it can’t even be bothered to wander off. Usually I can fix it by drawing writing my blog or marketing my work instead. It always comes back eventually but while it’s gone and I want to get on with the story... Mmm... that’s the difficult bit.


At the outset of a book everything’s a bit blurry – I suppose you could describe it as pixilated. I know the start, I know the end and I usually have a couple of conflicts or events in the middle chalked up, too. I write the scenes that are clear in my head. That process may throw up a couple more, if it does I write those too, then I embark on an interesting journey to join the dots.
Music helps. A lot of it’s a case of listening to a song that inspires me and writing down what I see or finding a song that goes with a scene or ambience I want to create and doing the same thing.
I like to give the characters free rein so it’s an interesting journey. I always get stuck at some point, sometimes, for months. That aspect can be very frustrating and I’m sure if I bothered to plan properly it wouldn’t happen. I like the spontaneity of flying by the seat of my pants though and eventually, if I keep plugging on, it all starts to slide into focus. Suddenly, I know where it’s going and it doesn’t read like a draft any more. It’s happening now with the next stage of the K’Barthan Trilogy. I’m nowhere near finished but I can see it beginning to clarify and I’m buzzing around, bouncing off the walls like a very cheery wasp in a bottle.


I’m self published. The best thing is that I am, the worst thing is that I waited too long.
I didn’t mean to do my own thing at the outset. I bought the Writers & Artists year book and compiled a list of agents but since I write humorous fantasy I was left with a very short list. Most of them were the huge ones who would never take a punt on a rookie author but just said they accepted everything because they’re mega and – on paper – have the facilities to do so. Many refused simultaneous submissions and it took me a year to get polite no’s from four of them – although fair play to the last lot who said ‘no’ in a straight 24 hours.
Fantasy, especially humorous fantasy, is quite a big a gamble for the risk-averse and it seems there are few industries more risk-averse than UK mainstream publishing. Furthermore, my target readers are thin on the ground among the gatekeepers. Fantasy doesn’t traditionally appeal to Oxbridge graduates, with 1st class honours degrees in English Literature, who are into literary fiction. Although it would be lovely to think somebody out there, in the know – one of the gatekeepers – would like my work I’m not holding my breath. Indeed, I suspect the only way I’ll attract an agent is if I make it big and somebody has to do it. Even then I can imagine that, for whatever poor schmuck lands the job, it will be like having to stick pins in their own eyes... Hmm... actually, thinking about it, a few years ago I rang Philip Pullman’s agency to check their lists were open. The woman who answered the phone was absolutely horrible to me (MTM guffaws evilly). If I make it. Let’s hope it’s her.
On a more serious note. There are some compelling arguments to self publish.
One, money. It costs less and the author gets more.
Two, marketing. Unless you’re Dan Brown, I gather there’s not much difference, with regard to workload for the author, between being published or self publishing. 
Three, control. The way I see it, once you’ve written a decent book, which is by far the hardest bit, you have two choices:
Self publish and get the book out there and read, if only by a small group of readers. At least this is dynamic. If the readers like the book they may well recommend it to more readers and the author can work on selling it, too. Sure that’s a slow process but there’s movement and tangible (if small) results.
Put in several years of graft selling the book to an agent and hoping the agent can sell it to a publisher. No guarantees with that one. Eight years on there’s a very real chance of ending up back in the same place – thinking about self-publishing, only from a lot further behind all the authors who got on with it at once.
In summary: I could spend several years chasing a dream which might come to nothing or I could get on with building that dream, now.
I’m not one for sitting around. I took the ‘now’ route, obviously.
I had a lot of help from any number of kind people; small publishers, other authors and the general public on forums, on blogs or face to face. They were all great, in fact the best bit of the whole process was the number of people who are prepared to help a newbie in this game for no reward other than good karma. I am hugely indebted to all of them and if you’re thinking about taking this route and want to publish a paperback too, Aaron Shepherd’s Aiming at Amazon or POD for Profit are both good books to read. Even though they mainly concentrate on the US market a lot of the general advice is sound.


Hmm... Tricky. I have a real bug-bear about books where nobody is likeable. It means I’ve over-compensated.
I am very fond of The Pan of Hamgee because he’s growing up so fast as the series goes on. He’s turned into his own man, I really have no control over what he does. He’s witty and smart and quick and that’s definitely nothing to do with me. He was a bit character who walked in and took over and he seems to have a developed a life and personality of his own.
I love Ruth because she’s feisty and intelligent and doesn’t take any crap. She’s got a nice dry sense of humour too. She comes to the fore in the second story and she’s kind of how I’d like to be.
I like Lord Vernon, the bad guy because he’s a completely over the top pantomime villain and is an absolute scream to write. When I am writing Lord Vernon’s scenes I spend more time guffawing than is tasteful or necessary. In his own rather dark way, he’s a very sharp wit but at the same time, he’s horrible, horrible, horrible.
Finally, I have to give General Moteurs a mention (first name Ford) who, like The Pan was meant to be a bit character but turned out to be too interesting. He’s a very brave fellow and he’s had to endure a horrible back-story.
Long pause... I haven’t answered that have I? Alright, if you make me choose, The Pan of Hamgee.


Hmm, where to start. OK, reading. I read absolutely anything if a) the blurb looks interesting b) it’s recommended by a friend or c) I know the author. Please bear with me because Mr Spellcheck has left the building but highlights include:- Mark Haddon, Pete McCarthy, Bill Bryson, Terry Pratchett (obviously) Nick Hornby, Douglas Adams, Grant Naylor (Red Dwarf), PG Wodehouse, Kalid Hussain (Kite Runner) Alexander McCall Smith, Kassein Baiev (biography The Oath, highly recommended), Graham Greene, Somerset Maughan, Neville Shute, H E Bates... it goes on and on although I don’t have much time to read at the moment. That’ll improve as mini-mi gets bigger and more self-sufficient. I’ll get to read more things with him, then, too.
Hmm... what else... I draw stuff, I’ve illustrated my characters, I’m very, very bad at it but they look pretty much like comic book versions of the people in my head. Just about everyone who has read the book first tells me I’ve got them wrong! I’m not sure what this says but as the inventor I’m going to pull rank and say my impressions are correct.
I mentioned music didn’t I? Yep.
60s film and TV. I grew up (not in the 60s) on a diet of Get Smart, The Man from U.N.C.L.E. the Saint, The Avengers, James Bond the original StarTrek. Combine that with being a kid when the first three StarWars came out and I’m sure you get the picture.
Comedy, anything and everything, especially if it’s a little anarchic. Bottom, The Young Ones, Blackadder, Not the Nine O’Clock News, The Two Ronnies, Chewin’ the Fat, Goodness Gracious Me, Still Game, Outnumbered, Dead Ringers – especially when it’s on Radio 4 rather than TV – The Fast Show, Little Britain, The Big Bang Theory, shows like Have I Got News for You and Mock the Week. Stand-up I’m usually guaranteed to enjoy Friday Night at the Apollo; Michael McIntyre, Darah O’Brien, the second series of Ben Elton’s Man from Auntie, Jack Dee, Lenny Henry doing stand-up, anyone ever seen the set about how he sets fire to his house, calls the fire brigade and runs away? It’s genius? I’ve missed stacks of people off that list but really, we’ll be here all day if I mention them all. Few things beat clever, well thought out stand-up, I used to do it myself, very badly, so I’m always in awe of the people who get it right.
I love cars. If you’ve read Few Are Chosen there’s an outside chance you might have picked that up from the whole snurds thing. I think there might be another hint in the way I’ve anally retentively named them all so we know exactly what they look like in this version of the universe. And yes, even with the two year old I drive a stupid, stupid car, myself – but he loves it as much as I do so we have a lot of fun.


The rest of the K’Barthan trilogy. I’m hoping the next installment, All The Wrong Stuff, will be out by September. I have reservations but that’s my aim. I’ve learned a lot publishing Few Are Chosen so I’m hoping the production process won’t take quite as long. The hold up is that I’m not sure where to make the split between books 2 and 3 so I might have to finish the whole thing before I can work it out. That’s a 2 year job.
In the interim, I’ll be gathering my free shorts together into one, or possibly two volumes. I don’t know how to publish things free on Amazon, I’m not even sure you can, so for the convenience of downloading them in one easy hit they will cost the lowest price is at the time – 75p or thereabouts.  If book 2 makes it for a September launch, you’ll see those in 2012, if it doesn’t I’ll be publishing those this year, instead.
Thank you very much for interviewing me it’s been great.


A big thanks to MT for fitting me in, not easy with a busy writing schedule and a toddler!

You can get your copy of Few are Chosen on MT's website, Amazon, Smashwords or the Book Depository, in paperback or as an e-book. MT is on Twitter - @mtmcguireauthor - and Facebook If you want to join the mailing list email with Add Me as the subject to list@hamgee.co.uk

Follow Friday and the Book Blogger Hop

It's a beautiful sunny day and it's a Friday, so shaping up to be a good day. After a break last week while I was visiting family I'm back to the meme fun. First up Follow Friday hosted by Parajunkee.com -
Q. Inspired by the inane twitter trend of #100factsaboutme, give us five BOOK RELATED silly facts about you.
Ooh, this is hard, can't think of much that's particularly interesting or silly but I'll have a go!

1) The only books I can remember starting but not finishing are Don Quixote by Cervantes and Ulysses by James Joyce.

2) I am completely besotted with my kindle, it goes everywhere with me and having raved about it I know a few other people who have bought one.

3) My influence must be rubbing off on my daughter, at 17 mths old her 4th word was Book.

4) Although I never really read them I have loads of beautiful coffee table books on natural history and the marine environment, I love the gorgeous pictures.

5) I have one book in my collection I haven't read but love to look at and smell - a rather delicate leatherbound version of The Pickwick Papers from the early 1900s. If modern mass produced paperbacks were as wonderful I might have had a hard time switching to the kindle.

And from Jennifer at Crazy-for-books.com

"If you could physically put yourself into a book or series…which one would it be and why?"
Now this one is easy, I don't think I'll be alone but I wish I had received a letter from Hogwarts as a kid so it's got to be Harry Potter!

Thanks for visiting my blog, and have a great weekend.


Wednesday 23 March 2011

Book Review: The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga

The White TigerA while ago I was looking at the list of Man Booker prize winners and this caught my eye. It won the prize in 2008 and when I saw it at the library I thought it was worth a look as it had come across my path.

This book is the story of Balram Halwai, the eponymous White Tiger, in his own words. As a boy he lived in a village and was expected to leave school to work in a tea shop. He was convinced he was destined for better things and through a combination of luck and effort lands a job as chaffeur in New Delhi for the son and daughter in law of one of the village landlords . He is an ambitious character and spending time in a city opens his eyes to how to progress in the world. He considers himself an entrepreneur but is also a criminal who is able to justify his acts and from early on we are given the suggestion he has murdered to get to where he is.

I found the way the story is presented pretty unusual and really appreciated the approach. Balram is writing a series of letters to the Chinese Premier who is due to visit India, telling him the truth about Bangalore and the Indian entrepreneur. Balram wasn't a character I could really warm to but despite his shortcomings I felt some respect for his determination to rise above his caste.

Possibly the part I enjoyed most about the book was the contrasts it provides between life in the villages of India and that in the bustling modern cities, and the places where the caste system still holds sway compared with the opportunities available to those determined to beat that system.

Unlike some other Booker prize winners I found this book really accessible and enjoyable, being a cross between a crime story and a commentary on modern Indian. In places dark and in others comic, fictional (I hope) yet informative, it's the sort of book I may re-read to pick up on things I might not have fully appreciated first time round.

Format: Paperback, from the library
My rating: 4*

Monday 21 March 2011

Book Review: King's X Episode 2: Revelations by Stephen Harper

King's X Episode 2: RevelationsI reviewed the first short story in the series - Visions - last month, and was determined not to leave it too long to continue the story. Again the tale moves around in time, set in part during the Crusades and partly in  late 20th century LA. The threads of Visions are picked up and as well as rediscovering characters like Book and Sebastian we meet new ones.

It seemed to move between the two periods less and spend more time on each part of the story in turn. The pace of this book wasn't quite as relentless as the first, possibly in part because of this. There isn't a lot of action at all in LA, especially when compared with Episode 1. Instead Book encounters Jacob and John, who are in a position to provide the revelations of the title. Whether Book will listen to what they have to say is another thing entirely though. I had no problem with this change of pace as I found out so much more of the background to Kings X and why the various events are happening.

Again this was well proof-read and edited. Although the hook that was drawing me in last time - finding out what the great mystery was - has largely gone with some of the big questions answered, I'm finding myself wanting to move onto Episode 3 as Harper has set up a new set of questions as a result of the revelations made. This series in particular has made me very pleased that I opened my mind to short stories when I got my kindle, having never really been a fan before. I'll have to fit the next episode in soon!

Format: Kindle, review copy
My rating: 4*

Friday 18 March 2011

Book Review: Vestal Virgin by Suzanne Tyrpak

Vestal Virgin (Tales from the Adytum)I enjoy historical fiction and I found this book when the author was doing a giveaway on a forum. I have previously read Imperium by Robert Harris, and other similar books, which I found really interesting so reading about ancient Rome from the viewpoint of a woman was a tempting proposition.

Elissa is a vestal virgin, a priestess sworn to chastity, and one of the most powerful women in Rome. The vestals are envied by other women as they are allowed to own property and have a much greater degree of independence than other Roman women, but it is something of a gilded cage. After Nero kills her brother and pursues Elissa she vows revenge and is determined to try and stop Nero bringing about the fall of Rome. She becomes disenchanted with the Roman Gods and under the guidance of a family friend and potential lover she is introduced to the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth. Her actions could lead to her death but she is driven to protect her family and Rome.

This is a story with a lot of strong characters who play important roles in progressing the plot. In some books this can be hard to follow but not this one. The particular emphasis on the views and positions within society of the women in the story, and the fact most of the book comes from the viewpoints of female characters, is quite refreshing and showed me a different side to the Roman era than I had gleaned from other books. I'm no historian so I couldn't swear to the accuracy of every detail but it felt authentic and very interesting.

This book is well written and proof-read, in fact I don't think I spotted a single typo which is very unusual for me. The story wasn't overly complicated but with such treachery and ambition on display it didn't need to be, reading about Nero's debauchery and Elissa's sister's cruelty driven by naivety I was hooked. I think the reason I didn't come away from it thinking it was a brilliant book was possibly that there is a lot of Roman terminology that I haven't come across before and wasn't in the OED on my kindle. Although I understood the gist it would have been helpful to have had a little more description - for example of the various articles of clothing - so I could better imagine what was being mentioned. One small warning (and it is mentioned on Amazon) -there are some scenes of a sexual nature which although not lengthy or using coarse language, more suggestive than anything, may not be to everyone's taste.

I really liked this book, it definitely broke my recent run of 2* books, and I was happy to see a mention at the end of the author's next book based in ancient Greece.

Format: Kindle, received from author giveaway
My rating: 4*

Tuesday 15 March 2011

Coming Soon Book Review: These Dark Things by Jan Merete Weiss

These Dark Things: Introducting the Captain Natalia Monte Series Set in NaplesI love a good murder mystery, especially with a foreign location thrown in for extra interest, so when I read the synopsis for this book it was pretty appealing.

Captain Natalia Monte is assigned to investigate the murder of a pretty student found in the catacombs beneath a monastery in Naples. There are more than a couple of suspects for Monte and her partner to investigate, some of them who have a history with Natalia. The story is set in a Naples drowning in rubbish and with the main crime families at war, and one of Monte's oldest friends caught up in the violence.

While I haven't visited Naples I have had a couple of stints working elsewhere in Italy and there is a lot of wonderful evocative narrative that painted a familiar picture for me, of both the place and the people. This was probably what I liked most about the book. I found a lot of the information about the Catholic church and the influence of the Camorra criminal organisation very interesting, also a positive. However other aspects of the book weren't so strong.

I found that there was plenty of description of passing characters, which provided a lot of local colour but didn't relate to the plot, yet I came away from the book with very little feeling for Monte or her partner. I didn't feel like I understood her background or got any real sense of her feelings about what was happening. She wasn't unsympathetic, perhaps worse I came away feeling apathetic. The developing relationship between the partners was nice but I can't see myself picking up future books in the series to find out what happens between them in the future.

With regard to the murder mystery, it started strongly and there were plenty of candidates for the role of murderer, each with their own motive. However towards the end everything seemed to resolve itself too easily, with confessions falling into Monte's lap. Without wanting to reveal too much, when the murderer was revealed their motive was made clear but I couldn't entirely understand why they had staged the scene as they had and no attempt was made to explain it.

I also felt that the other strand to the book, the rivalry between the criminal organisations and its effect on Monte's friend, was very minor for most of the book only to becoming more dominant towards the end. The decaying rubbish was mentioned throughout but it seemed more of a background setting than a storyline earlier on and it felt a little unbalanced.

This wasn't a bad book but it isn't one I can find myself getting hugely enthusiastic about. I have read too many books of this type that I've really enjoyed to be able to see myself recommending this one.

Format - E-book, review copy, expected release date 9th May 2011
My rating - 2*

Sunday 13 March 2011

Book review: Leaf Storm by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Leaf StormI was recommended this author years ago by my Spanish teacher but this is the first time I have read anything by him. Leaf Storm is a short story with some of the characters also appearing in his well known work One Hundred Years of Solitude.

The story is set in the town of Macondo in the early 20th Century. Macondo has been invaded, then deserted by a banana company, leaving the place unrecognisable to its inhabitants. One of those inhabitants, the Colonel, is faced with fulfilling a long held promise when the Doctor hangs himself. The Doctor was a mysterious individual who appeared from nowhere, lived with the Colonel's family for years, embroiled himself in scandal and became reviled for refusing to treat the people of the town.

The story is told from the perspectives of the Colonel, his daughter Isabel and her son, and as well as covering the here and now moves around in time to encompass the Doctor's arrival in town and Isabel's marriage among other events. It wasn't always entirely clear who was narrating or which point in time they were talking about, and much of it read like a stream of consciousness. This gave it something of a dreamlike quality. Not much actually happens and there isn't a lot of depth to any of the characters, but it's nicely written - other reviews I've seen describe as ethereal, not the first word that sprung to mind for me but I wouldn't disagree.

Overall I can appreciate some of the beauty of it but wouldn't go as far as to say I liked it. I think I'll be checking a sample before buying any of the author's novels.

Format: Paperback, from the library
My rating: 2*

Friday 11 March 2011

Author Q&A with Sean Sweeney

Continuing my run of Friday author Q&As I've had a chat with Sean Sweeney, author of recently reviewed Model Agent. As well as an author he's also a bit of a sports fan as you'll see below!

When did you first think of becoming a writer and who or what got you interested in writing?

I've always been a storyteller; I can remember back to 10 years old, coming home from the store with my cousin and, after he broke the milk jug he tossed, I called my mother and told her the story. I started writing at age 16 or so. I had been reading the Star Wars Expanded Universe novels and I wanted to write my own stories; I guess they call that fanfic now. I turned my attention to sportswriting while still in high school, and I've been doing that ever since. I started writing my first novel at 25, about a year after I talked with R.A. Salvatore about novel writing. Bob is a class act.

How would you describe your books and style?

My books are an eclectic bunch, my style ever-developing. I've written 15 books and novellas over the course of the past eight years, under two names, with plenty more coming. I've written sci-fi, fantasy, sports fiction (the English may or may not enjoy my football short story Vuvuzombie, written as John Fitch V and set around the England-USA World Cup matchup), and thrillers. I've always wanted to reach a broad number of readers. Back in high school, I told my English teacher at the time that I only wanted to write sports; I didn't want to do news or anything else. She told me not to limit myself. A few years out of high school, I start doing news on the radio, and that experience was the best civics lesson I could have ever taken. When I first started writing books, I only wanted to write Tolkien-esque fantasy. But once I expanded my horizons a second time, I've grown as an author. Now to pick a genre and stick with it....

When you write do you have a particular routine you follow, and what do you find the most difficult part of writing a book?

Oh yes. I conceive, I outline, and then I write. Probably the most difficult part is writing that blurb for the product description on Amazon/Nook.

Do you start a book knowing what the beginning, middle and end will be or does it take on a life of its own as you write?

I'm an outliner; I need to have that road map for my story. For some books, I'll write a few pages of notes, and that'll get me through the story. For my new book, Model Agent, I wrote a 22-page treatment, as well as several pages of notes for detail. I also took some 80-someodd photos, and that helped with detail, as well. I've tried the seat of my pants thing when it comes to writing, letting it be spontaneous. It didn't work for me. I will admit that while I'm writing, there are times where I gain an idea that is too good to leave out. For the most part, I don't like radical plot shifts.

Are you self-published or traditionally published, and what has been the best and worst thing about the route you have taken?

I am self-pubbed. The best thing is meeting so many readers online; it proves to me that reading is not dead. It's one thing I can do that most traditionally-pubbed authors can't do; you don't see Jo Rowling on the Internet, on an Amazon forum, talking with readers, do you? The worst thing is the fact that I have to relentlessly promote in order to get my books seen. It has involved sacrifice that some wouldn't believe. Another good thing is the feeling I get when I either sell a book or receive a great review.

If this isn't too much like asking a dad which of his children he likes best, which of your characters is your favourite?

Ahhhh, such a tough question. I'd like to say they all are. Right now, Jaclyn Johnson, the heroine of Model Agent and the forthcoming Rogue Agent (set in London!), is my current favorite. Jaclyn is completely bad ass. She's a partially-blind counter-terrorism agent, but she's also a fashion model. You wouldn't expect a fashion model to whip out a gun and start blowing terrorists away. She uses her beauty to get close to targets. She's the woman men would want to drool over, and the woman other women would either want to be or the woman they'd be jealous of.

What do you like to read and do you have any other passions?

Like my writing tastes, my reading tastes vary. I read Lord of the Rings once a year. I read thrillers -- if you're in the UK, you MUST read Steven Savile's SILVER -- sci-fi (Star Wars, of course, although it's starting to temper out for me), fantasy, and the occasional mystery. For passions, I love to cook. I like walks where I can take my tape recorder with me and record pages of prose. And I'm also a huge sports fan (have to be, as a sportswriter); here in the States, I'm a fan of baseball. But I also enjoy the game of English football. I'm an Arsenal supporter (let's NOT discuss the League Cup Final, thank you), and I don't mind cricket, either. We don't get to see matches here in the US, but I try to follow along on the BBC live text. We get the football, though. Loads of it. Several stations of it. I can't go a day without football news. To be honest, I prefer the English game to the American game; other than my local high school's throwball team, I don't pay attention to the NFL or the college game. I love movies, and cuddling with my cat, Caramel, is a must! Cuddling with my girlfriend, Estee, is a must, as well. She is my passion, my muse. I couldn't do what I do without her behind me.

Finally, what are you working on at the moment that you can tell us about?

I can actually tell you about everything! At the moment, I'm agonizing over my next baseball project. I intended it to be a novel,  but I'm thinking it may serve the reader better as a novella, which means RE-WRITE. I also have the next Jaclyn Johnson book, Rogue Agent, to finalize. My next release will be a zombie story set in Tombstone, Arizona. I have my next fantasy novel to publish, and then, maybe I can do some writing. I have several projects in the conceptualizing stage at this point.

Thanks TC, I appreciate the opportunity!
And thanks to Sean for taking time out, I always appreciate these busy writers making the effort to join me! You can find Sean's website here. A list of Sean's books is available here.

Book Blogger Hop & Follow Friday

The only good thing about days going by so quickly is that you get back to the weekend sooner! Once again it's time to link up with other book bloggers, thanks to Jennifer at crazy-for-books.com and Parajunkee at parajunkee.com. Here are the questions -

Book Blogger Hop
"If I gave you £50 (or $80) and sent you into a bookshop right now, what would be in your basket when you finally staggered to the till?"

I don't really buy physical books anymore, I prefer my kindle, but if I was being given vouchers for a bookstore I'd stock up with some that are pricier or not available as e-books. I'd like to pick up some more Val McDermid, want to finally get my hands on The Hunger Games having read so much about the series, Everything is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer caught my eye when it was featured on TV recently, I could go on for ages, I'd be over-excited (but possibly also disappointed at how far the money would stretch now I'm used to free and cheap reads!

Who are You the Girl instead of You the Blogger?

Let's see, I'm in my early 30s, a mum of one (a gorgeous 16mth old girl) and wife of one! As far as pets go we just have two budgies - they're great fun to have around. I work a couple of days a week to keep my brain working properly, and spend the rest of my time in a complete whirlwind. When I'm not reading I love being outdoors, I live a 2 minute walk from the beach so can often be found wandering along the seafront. While I'm walking I'm usually wishing the sea here was warmer and the water was clearer so I could indulge in a bit of scuba diving without having to travel abroad. Although it's taken a backseat now I enjoy photography, especially taking snaps of the natural world.

Thanks for visiting the blog, if you have time to look around, especially at my latest author Q&A, that'd be great. Have a wonderful weekend!

Thursday 10 March 2011

Book Review: The Summoner (The Dominic Grey Novels) by Layton Green

The Summoner (The Dominic Grey Novels)I read about this book on another book blog a while back, and it has been sitting on my kindle neglected until yesterday. Fresh from a supernatural book about fairies I thought it seemed like a short-ish hop to bizarre and dangerous cults that embrace spirits and rituals.

When a US Diplomat disappears during a religious ceremony in the Zimbabwean bush there are hundreds of witnesses but no one willing to help the investigation. Dominic Grey works as a diplomatic security expert and is asked to investigate with the assistance of phenomenologist and cult expert Professor Viktor Radek. Being in Zimbabwe they are only to investigate under the supervision of a Government liaison, Nya Mashumba. As Grey and Nya , guided by Viktor's expertise, find increasingly disturbing evidence of a cult at work they also become targets.

In the past I have read odd articles and pieces about voodoo and juju, as well as other minor religions and cults but nothing as in depth as this. The details of the rituals were graphic in places, not recommended if you get a bit queasy about gore, but I also found the academic perspective of how cults work, provided by Radek interesting.

Grey is a complicated character with a difficult past, but I found him likeable and not lacking in depth. Nya is a little more mysterious and provided a good foil for him. The book is predominantly written from his viewpoint but also from that of other characters in places, allowing a greater insight into each of them.

The story does cover some of the issues faced in modern Zimbabwe, and provides some interesting description of a country I only know a little about from the news, but it doesn't labour details of the political situation. I felt I got a better feel for the place than I had before, without lots of unnecessary information that didn't really progress the plot, it struck a good balance.

I found the book well paced and interesting, but my minor complaint would be some of the language used by the author. In places it was quite archaic and obscure, and I found myself using the dictionary far more than usual. Where the words related to specialised areas of study I didn't have a problem but elsewhere there seemed to be a lot of words used for effect rather than for the benefit of the reader.

Overall though this was a really good read and I'll be interested to see where future installments take Grey.

Format: Kindle, bought by me
My rating: 4*

Tuesday 8 March 2011

Coming soon book review: Don't Breathe a Word by Jennifer McMahon

Don't Breathe a WordThis the author's fourth book, but the first I have read of hers. It is described as interweaving family secrets, dark loves, and the allure and fear of the supernatural. I'm not necessarily a big believer in all things supernatural but I'm certainly open minded and as it sounded quite dark and mysterious it appealed to me.

One night 12 year old Lisa goes into the woods behind her Vermont home and disappears. She has told her brother Sam that she has met the King of the Fairies, and that he is going to take her home to be his Queen. She believes the door to his world is in the ruins of an old abandoned town in the woods. Fifteen years later Phoebe and Sam, her boyfriend, receive a strange call that brings Lisa's disappearance to the forefront of their minds.

The book switches between the time just before Lisa's disappearance and the present, and from Lisa's viewpoint to Phoebe's. The moves between the two, and when the events are supposed to have taken place, are clearly indicated, but even without it would have been easy to follow.

This was one of those books where when I had to put it down I found myself thinking about it, and trying to figure out what was going on and where the story might be headed. Would the explanation be supernatural or was it some darker but human? Lisa absolutely believed in the fairies, whereas Sam was a logical, scientific type who was sceptical at the time and has remained so over the years. I felt a bit like I was trying to untangle the truth along with Phoebe and Sam as they got pulled into the mystery, such was the strength of the storytelling.

I thought the characters were well drawn, and could well imagine the dynamics between the young characters in the time before Lisa vanished. I also really liked Sam and Phoebe, they were both sympathetic characters whose lives were thrown into turmoil. I really wanted to see them have a happy ending. I couldn't possibly reveal whether they get it or not, but the ending left me feeling satisfied, even if it did leave me with some questions.

I started the book with a slight concern about whether this might venture too far into the realms of fantasy and the supernatural but needn't have worried, it was well balanced between fantastical and thrilling. I'll definitely be looking at the author's other titles.

Format: E-book, review copy (expected publication date 17th May 2011)
My Rating: 5*

Sunday 6 March 2011

Book review: Silent Scream by Karen Rose

Silent ScreamI picked this book up at the library to read towards the Borrowed Book challenge. I had seen Karen Rose mentioned recently in the same sentence as Tess Gerritsen and Karin Slaughter, both authors I enjoy, so thought I'd give a different author a try. I didn't realise when I started reading it that the main characters had appeared in her previous books.

The story begins with an arson attack on a new condo, resulting in two deaths. The cuplrits are being watched and become the target of a blackmailer who uses them to achieve his own ends. Olivia Sutherland is a homicide cop called to the scene to investigate, and David Hunter is a fireman who attends the fire and almost loses his own life while fighting the fire. Their paths have crossed in the past and the book follows the investigation but also details the relationship between these two characters.

I found the start of the book had me turning the pages quickly as I was drawn in, but there were a lot of characters introduced and I struggled at times keeping track of who was who and how they were all related. As some of the characters are deaf and the police use a sign language interpreter I was pleased, as the parent of a deaf child, to see that the author appeared to have done her research well. The start was very promising.

Early on I was keen to see how the relationship between Olivia and David would pan out, but as I read on he seemed too good to be true and with the sex scenes thrown in it became a bit Mills and Boon. I did find the main characters quite likeable though. One of the things I liked least about this book was the way the author used conversations between them and family or friends to reveal their backgrounds. These conversations, with family member or friend recounting all the major events in their life, seemed very false and a slightly lazy way of laying out what events in their past were affecting the present.

The last third of the book contained a lot of action as the homicide squad closed in on their suspects, but I found that my attention wasn't sustained all the way through to the end, trying to maintain the book at such a pitch for so long just didn't work for me. I felt a bit like I was limping over the finish line when I got to the end.

I quite liked Silent Scream, there were a few twists and turns, but there are other authors in this genre I would select ahead of Karen Rose based on this book.

Format: Hardback, from the library
My rating: 3*

Friday 4 March 2011

Author Q&A with Stephen Harper

I'm so pleased to be joined by another author this week. I recently read and reviewed the first of his King's X series and it's been very interesting to find out more about the man behind the book, Stephen Harper, who lives in California with his wife of three years.

When did you first think of becoming a writer and who or what got you interested in writing?
I don't remember a time when I didn't want to be a writer.  Even as little kid, when my older sister was taking typing classes, I used to dictate stories to her so she could practice.  They were really bad, of course.  I also had a string of good English teachers from grade school to high school who noticed and encouraged me.
Product DetailsHow would you describe your books and style? 
I like to get into the heads of all the characters.  I like to explore why heroes do why what they do. And how a person actually becomes a villain (it's never because they are simply "evil").   Beyond that, I really enjoy writing in two distinct styles.  The first is really big, mythical,epic, emotionally stirring stories about enormous subjects - things like Arthurian legend, Star Wars, The Three Musketeers, anything by John Steinbeck.  And second, I love writing comedy.King's X hopes to be like the former. There's maybe two laughs in the whole story. It has an uncompromisingly serious tone throughout.  Which, I feel, is ultimately what makes it fun and impactful. It's not fooling around, you know?  You want to go for ride?  Let's really go for a ride!  It touches on a lot of emotions, I hope, but none of them are the ones that make you laugh.

On the other hand, my next project is a detective series that (so far at least) is very funny.  For me it is the opposite of King's X, and my hope is to continue both series for a long time, writing one then the other, and thus, keep my canoe headed in a straight line.

When you write do you have a particular routine you follow, and what do you find the most difficult part of writing a book?
Most of the heavy lifting is done in the morning.  The most difficult part is outlining the story all the way through before you really start writing. Well, you're supposed to.  I try to.  The problem with outlining is that the characters come alive and start arguing with their fate.  Many times I come to a part in my outline where it becomes... "nope, only an idiot would have arrived at this spot and not realized that it was a trap."  Or something like that.  So you constantly adjust your stories in favor of your character's free will.  The good part is, when your charcaters are that real, your stories are usually that much better for it...  I've had heroes actually become really interesting villains that way, love affairs begin and end that way...

Are you self-published or traditionally published, and what has been the best and worst thing about the route you have taken?
Self-published.  And very pleased about it.  Couldn't be happier with the control over my own work and the speed at which I can move.   I've arrived with King's X at a great time to be a writer.  The publishing industry is in great flux right now, and writers suddenly have options they did not have even 2-3 years ago.  For one thing, the pace of the publishing industry is too glacially slow for today's environment. And they seem even slower for all the uncertainty.  In the arms of uncertain business folk is not a good place to be for a debuting author.  So, by the luck of timing,  I did not suffer through any of the horror stories associated with "breaking in" to publishing.  A few queries, a decent amount of interest, and a few form-letter rejections.  Once I realized that a "yes" for any of those queries meant at least 18 months to publication, a massive loss of intellectual property,  and that I would need to market the books myself anyway, I went straight to Independent publishing.  In the mean time, I am looking at the papers on my desk, right now, for an agreement to develop a feature film based on King's X.  No doubt in my mind what the right thing to do was.  Life is short.  Take fate in your own hands and have fun.

If this isn't too much like asking a parent which of their children they like best, which of your characters is your favourite?
In King's X?  I'd love to say that this isn't an easy question because I really am fond of all of them, but It's Captain Shahin.  The Moorish pirate with no thirst for blood and an addiction to the company of women.  I've always loved Han Solo, and he's the Han Solo of  this story.  Cynicism hiding a good heart.  He's a terrific foil for the heroic ass-kicking Broussard, and a strong temptation in the romantic triangle.  Plus, he's coming back really strong in the next unstallment of King's X due out later in 2011.  The historical setting moves from the Crusades to the Elizabethan era, when skills as a pirate on the high seas will come in rather handy.  It will be mostly his story this time around.

What do you like to read and do you have any other passions? Do you start a book knowing what the beginning, middle and end will be or does it take on a life of its own as you write?

I do a lot of research for everything I write, so I read a ton of non-fiction.  My favorite writers are John Steinbeck, Jame Joyce (although I'm not smart enough to read "Finnegan's Wake"), Joseph Heller and probably John Kennedy Toole.  Other passions... I'm a pretty decent amateur guitar player. 

Finally, what are you working on at the moment that you can tell us about?
Very excited about the detective series I mentioned above.  The other thing right now is that feature screenplay based King's X.  It's been a very interesting process.  Unfortunately I can't really talk very specifically about either of them right now.  But I'd love to talk a lot more about either or both with you in the near-future if you'd like.

Thanks very much for doing this, TC.  It's been a lot of fun.  Cheers,  Steve

Sounds like a very busy time for Steve, so thanks for taking the time to join me and take part in the Q&A. You can find Steve blogging here and the website for the King's X series here.

It's the weekend! Follow Friday & Book Blogger Hop time.

Book Blogger Hop

I missed the fun last week, I was meant to be away but came down with flu so spent most of last weekend resting up in bed. Normal service is now resumed though, so here are this week's questions for my two fave memes.

On the hop, hosted by Jennifer at crazy-for-books.com the question is:

 "Who's your all-time favorite book villain?"
The first villain who sprung to mind for me was Hannibal Lecter, of Silence of the Lambs and Hannibal fame. He is just so creepy and evil, with such a cool facade and some of the best lines. I was quite young when I read the first two Thomas Harris books that feature him so I guess he made an even bigger impression!

No question yet at parajunkee.com, so I'll be back to that later! EDIT - Here we are:

What embarassing thing have you done on cold medicine?

I can't think of anything bad on cold meds but remember when I was still at school I'd torn something in my shoulder and was given some meds for pain relief. Problem was they kept making me fall asleep. As if that wasn't embarassing enough after it happened a couple of times in class my tutor took me to one side for a talk, asking me if I was taking illegal substances.

I hope you have time to look around my blog while you're here and please take a look at my latest author Q&A with Stephen Harper. Have a great weekend everyone

Thursday 3 March 2011

Book Review: The End of Marking Time by CJ West

The End of Marking TimeI found this book being promoted on a forum (as in my recent post the author is giving away a huge number of copies of this book) and the product description sounded interesting so I thought I'd give it a go.

Michael O'Connor is a thief who has never needed to find work, having started stealing to support himself in his teens. He specialises in home breaking, and has sucessfully evaded the law, until he robs a man with clout when he is finally arrested and imprisoned. During the course of his sentence however the Supreme Court declare long term prison sentences a cruel and unsual punishment and they are abolished. Instead felons are placed in re-education programmes with a black box and a team of counsellors to teach them the important lessons they missed earlier in life. The book paints a bleak picture of a society in which law abiding citizens live in fear of re-learners as there doesn't appear to be any effective deterrent to prevent crime. Michael however is being put through the wringer in order to graduate and recover his freedom.

The theme of future alternatives to imprisonment is not dissimilar to that of IVRRAC which I read last year, but this story had a darker more sadistic edge. It certainly provides food for thought on contemporary issues such as human rights, privacy and alternatives to the present overloaded prison system.

The book is written from a first person perspective and in parts Michael is addressing the reader directly. It is an effective device as creates a connection with him and it gave those parts even more of an impact. I found myself struggling to figure out how I felt about Michael, who on the one hand had no compunction about breaking into peoples' homes and taking their money and possessions, but who on the other hand was forced by circumstances to support himself from an early age. Within the programme I couldn't decide if he was taking on the challenges in order to change or purely to finish the programme.

I thought this was a clever book with an interesting subject matter. I was totally conflicted as I read it, trying to figure out how I felt about Michael and the new system, which didn't make for a light read but it certainly made me think. I see that as no bad thing. However I did find the end a little disappointing. After so much build up to the final scene and with the revelations made I felt it was a bit rushed and didn't feel quite like it was up to the same standard as the rest of the book. Overall though it was a good thought-provoking read, well edited and a bargain if you were to pay 71p rather than request a free copy.

Format: Kindle
My Rating: 4*