Thursday, 5 October 2017

Simon Toyne - The Tower


The Tower is the climax of the three-book series that started with Sanctus. Looking back at my review of the first book in the series, it started poorly where the first couple of pages were really hard to get into. The Key was a really good book and The Tower is also very well written but there were a few story choices that made me go ‘oh...’ in a letdown sort of way.
I was immediately worried early on when we are introduced to a new character – FBI Agent Shepherd. It was a little frustrating at first as I was enjoying the characters that had already been built so this new one was just getting in the way. My frustration was short lived however, as Toyne manages to make Shepherd likeable and interesting in a few short chapters.
Another interesting style choice was to write the book from two time periods with parts of the story being told in the past as it catches up to the present. All the story chapters from the past are written in italics which makes it easy to identify what is happening and when.
For all the well written, well paced and well structured writing, there are a few things that I didn’t like but this obviously goes with writing a trilogy where the first two books are set up to answer to a big mystery so when so much effort has been put in, it always feels like an anti-climax when you get to the end.
The following paragraphs contain major spoilers for the ending of the book so if do want to read the trilogy (and if you haven’t already read the first two books, why are you reading this?) stop reading now.
There were two things that I found irritating by the choices made at the end of the book, the first one surrounding the character of Detective Arkadian. We’ve spent the best page of 498 pages, plus the length of the other two books, getting to know the lovable oaf yet our fellow characters don’t seem to feel the same way. When he dies saving the life of others, no one seems to give two shits. Half the reason for my annoyance is because I thought for a lot of the characters that it was massively out of character to not be upset but then again, maybe I got it wrong and he was actually a massive knob?
The other thing that got to me was to do with the big reveal. Apparently the doomsday clock is counting down to the point when the universe reaches maximum expansion and then starts contracting back in on itself so essentially the half way point of existence. And that’s great. But why the fuck does a baby need to be born to commemorate the event? There are similarities with the birth of Jesus and other references in the trilogy point to it being connected to the story of Adam and Eve and the return to the garden of Eden... but none of this is explained and it’s a very flimsy connection to the expansion of the universe. It just didn’t make sense as a whole piece to me so I didn’t get as much enjoyment out of the end as I wanted to.
Despite that, it’s a very good book that’s hard to put down and I hammered through most of it in a few days.
The Tower by Simon Toyne was published by HarperCollinsPublishers in 2013. RRP £7.99 (Paperback)

Simon Toyne - The Key


I’ll start with a fairly obvious confession. I have not been giving this blog the time I should have – case in point I actually finished reading this, and several reviews to follow, back in July and August last year. This means I’m relying heavily on my notes to paint the picture of this book and the next one.

The Key is the follow up to The Sanctum, a book that turned out to be really enjoyable despite appearing to shit all over itself in the first few pages. The Key does not make the same mistakes. It’s a thoroughly engaging read from start to finish as are most second books in a three-part series. But more on that later.

The one thing I can’t quite get my head around is the fact that everything is so well logically constructed to make sense in our own world with the exception of the sacrament itself. That’s all I’ll say about that – after all, it’s a book I am recommending!

So with the praise out of the way, I’m only left with more nit-picking through the 437 page offering. I’ll start with the biggest one – mathematical ages of characters. Kathryn is Gabriel’s mother but if I’ve done the maths correctly, this would mean that she was 16 when she gave birth to him. The book makes this really easy to work out as both their ages are depicted on page 49. I suppose it’s feasible but it just doesn’t add up with the character traits – and it’s one of those things that casual observers would comment on – ‘oh, you must have been young when you had him,’ or ‘you look far too young to have a 32 year old son.’ No one says anything though – again, nothing really wrong with it, I just thought it was an odd choice.

Another thing I found surprising was the Vactican City’s approach to Information Security. On page 14 one character’s narrative states that he only has one attempt at entering a password without locking himself out of his entire computer. I get that it’s super-sensitive information but everyone fucks up typing every now and then. I would have thought that sense would have prevailed here and he would have had at least two attempts at entering the password.

The last one worth mentioning is on page 6 where Ghost is interrogating someone called the fat man. The fat man seems to totally forget that he has programmed his Sat-Nav with his home address seconds after being defiant in the face of having his family threatened. I’m all for characterisation but I just don’t get how anyone could be that stupid.

These are three very small observations that are more my personal preference that actual problems. The Key is a solid, enjoyable story with strong characters. Enough said.

The Key by Simon Toyne was published by HarperCollinsPublishers in 2012. RRP £7.99 (Paperback)

Tuesday, 22 August 2017

Ezekiel Boon - The Hatching


You know that feeling when you go on holiday that you haven’t brought enough books with you? Well this was the reason I bought The Hatching. I hadn’t read a decent horror book for a while and this one seemed to promise to fill the gap. However it turned out that The Hatching is closer to Scary Movie than Scream in terms of a horror offering.

The Hatching is a multi-perspective story told from I can’t remember how many viewpoints. It’s about spiders who want to eat everybody and how various parts of the world react to it. In general, it was a quick and relatively enjoyable bubblegum read that was in no way scary but there were several things that screamed at me throughout the story.

The first thing I found striking was that it’s an end of the world survival horror but I found myself not really caring about any of the characters and here’s why. Firstly there are too many viewpoints. The book is only 351 pages long and the words are well spaced out. Due to the vast array of characters, this didn’t give me enough time to emotionally invest in any of them. Sad to say, I didn’t care whether any of them lived or died.

All of the viewpoints have one thing in common. Sex. And Objectivity. All of characters constantly make sexual narrative towards their preferred gender and also objectify everyone. At first I was like, what, but after the third one did it, it started to become hilarious.

In addition to this, a lot of character types are clich├ęd. There is the scientist, the simple cop (who is also the divorcee with a child to protect), the president, the president’s aide, an author, the soldier. It’s all blah but I understand the purpose they are serving, it’s all just a bit too thin and doesn’t pull it off.

My final point is one that would have me shot in certain circles so I will to do this without attracting too much ire. All of the roles are filled by female protagonists. The scientist is female, the president is female and the solider is female. The solider is even narratively described as being massively superior to the men. Now, I don’t have a problem with this in the slightest. I watched Battlestar Galactica and I thought Mary McDonnell made a cracking president. But in this book, it feels that the women are effectively forced into this roles just because they are opposite typecasts. If more work had been put into the narrative and padded to develop the characters more, I probably would have been able to buy in to the characters and not noticed this at all.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that The Hatching feels very hastily written. The concept is great, don’t get me wrong but I feel that the idea is what drove the novel and the characters are just there to plod until the conclusion. This can sometimes work in movies but not so much in books.

The Hatching by Ezekiel Boone was published by Gollancz in 2016. RRP £12.99 (Paperback)

Thursday, 25 May 2017

Simon Toyne - Sanctus


With a lot going on finding time to read has become quite difficult. Setting aside an hour at bedtime normally results in about three pages of reading before falling asleep – such is the current slow rate of reviews. That said, the quality of books I’m reading at the moment seems to be going up and Simon Toyne’s first book is no exception.

I must admit that it was another slow starter and I seem to have a developing dislike for books which set the scene for the story without using their central character. Sanctus follows the story of Liv Adamsen and she isn’t introduced until page 20. The first 19 pages outline what happened to Brother Samuel, a monk living at the Citadel in Turkey. While there is nothing really wrong with this approach, it made it harder for me to connect with the main characters.

So yeah, it’s a slow builder that takes a while to get going but the story telling and character development is really good throughout. It is a very slow build up but the last 200 or so pages really pick up the pace as the action builds.

I can’t really say a lot about the story as there are lots of twists and turns and it’s definitely worth reading. However there were a few things that I questioned during the 470 page novel.

The first of these occurred on page 120 where a credit card was used to receive a payment. Now I’m pretty sure that a credit card cannot be used in this way. Mind you, I’ve never had a credit card that’s been in credit before and I don’t even know how I would go about even doing it. It also seems a very strange way of organising a payment considering the many other ways there are to make secretive payments. In fact, I’m not even sure why you would draw attention to the payment method.

Also on the very next page, there is a reference to drinking a, ‘bucket of black coffee.’ I don’t know what it is with Americans being stereotypically portrayed in every single book going as drinking coffee all the time and seeing coffee as way to combat tiredness. This isn’t really a criticism of Toyne but a build up of frustration at many different authors.

Also, this isn’t really a criticism but the narrative style changes towards the end to be more like Lee Child where the use of full sentences is abandoned to build the pace. Like I said, not a criticism but I did notice it even though I was aware of its intention. I also think that narrative styles should remain consistent. I didn’t like the Lee Child style at first but at least the novel stuck to what it was doing throughout. I also think it wouldn’t have had that much of an impact on the pace if it had remained in the same style narrative, as evidenced by other books.

Everything about is really minor and totally subjective. Sanctus is a great read and I’m looking forward to getting stuck in to the next two books in the series.

Sanctus by Simon Toyne was published by HarperCollinsPublishers in 2011. RRP £7.99 (Paperback)

Saturday, 26 March 2016

Chris Kuznetski - Sword of God

The reason for reading this one was simple. It was on the end of the shelf when I came to picking my next book. In general I know what to expect from a Chris Kuznetski, Payne and Jones (Batman and Robin) novel, so much so that I didn’t actually make that many notes on it.

My biggest criticism of his writing is that he foreshadows events far too much. More or less every chapter ends with a massive hint as to what will happen in the next chapter or the chapter after that and it’s a real shame too as his books and very readable and he is a great storyteller and character builder.

Despite my resounding praise for his work there is always nitpicking to be done. On page 67 (at least I’m lead to believe it is page 67 as it is directly after page 66 but doesn’t feature a page number. This is hardly Chris’s fault though as I’m sure he doesn’t do his own paperback printing) there is the use of the word ‘mum’ which I always find strange when written by an American author even when talking about Koreans.

Page 99 has a rather bizarre paragraph about Muhammed and how Muslims and English speaking Muslims deal with saying his name, which is fine... only it has no bearing on the story at all. Other than maybe highlight that Shari is an English speaking Muslim who doesn’t follow the customs but we knew that anyway and if it was such a big deal, why doesn’t anyone else mention it? The narrative isn’t really required and doesn’t add anything to the story.

I didn’t see anything else even worth mentioning until page 316 where another meaningless paragraph is present. The entire section about the Abraj Al Bait Towers feels tacked in just to tell us about the target for the terrorist attack. We knew about the building before this point so it might have been better to have explained the size of the building earlier. Another way to address it would have been during the mission scoping before Payne and Jones attempt to take down the terrorists – that way it would have fit in to the story properly rather than feeling like a total tack-in before the finale.

The last thing I picked up on was the incorrect spelling of character name on page 414 out of 422 where Henderson is replaced by Harrison which made me reread the chapter over again to make sure I didn’t miss anything.

So in summary, Sword of God is a good read with a few minor quibbles and definitely a good book to pick up if you are going on a long journey. However, I couldn’t help but be disappointed with the lack of an actual ancient sword to find. I do enjoy the epic questing, searching for ancient objects and myths.

Sword of God by Chris Kuznetski was published by Penguin Books in 2007. RRP £6.99 (Paperback)

Stephen King - The Wind Through the Keyhole

When I found out another Dark Tower book was released, I was quite excited. I thought it would be great to dive back in to Stephen King’s crazy world of Gunslingers and apocalypse in spite of everything I may have said in my review of the final Dark Tower book. For the most part I was right. It is a tale that can work by itself and also as an extension of the seven-book extravaganza – but only if you make certain exceptions.

The main thing that stood out to me was the weird suedo-English used throughout Wind Through the Keyhole. In the main series you are made aware that there is a high speech and a low speech. The low speech is how we - in the real world - communicate with each other. The problem I found in this book was that King creates his own in-between language without any kind of background explanation as to what the words he uses actually words mean. The crux of this is that at points, it is really hard to understand what on earth people are talking about.

The Wind Through the Keyhole is actually a story within a story... within a story. That’s not actually overtyping, but fact. Roland is telling the usual gang of wanderers a story about his past. While telling the story of his past, he then tells another story in this story... it’s less complicated than I’ve made it sound but it’s still a bit weird. Especially when Roland is supposed to be telling them a story about the storm they are sitting in. Why not just tell them the actual story you told to the boy in the story from your past? It didn’t really make much sense in terms of framing... or over-framing. 

There were a couple of things that made me stop reading to question what was actually going on, more than just the suedo-language, during the 333-page addition to the Dark Tower. The first one occurs on page 132 when one character’s wife and child die. The next three words in the narrative are ‘Ross was gloomy.’ This feels kind of redundant in the face of another character losing everything they supposedly loved and is also ridiculously selfish when put into context. Ross is supposed to be a character we look up to and respect yet he becomes gloomy as he thinks his friend would resort to drink and violence in the face of his wife’s death because he will have to deal with it. Really?

The other thing that stuck with me, and I’m pretty sure this came up in the original series as well, is the description, ‘Turtle that holds up the world,’ which still feels like a Terry Pratchett Discworld rip-off. This could also be a reference to Chinese or Indian mythology but that seems like a giant leap in term of the Dark Tower story.

Other than that though, it is good standalone novel that fits nicely in to the Dark Tower journey. If any more of these come out, I will definitely read them but I would like to see more adventures from the actual journey to the tower rather than stories within stories within stories.

The Wind Through the Keyhole by Stephen King was published by Hodder and Stoughton in 2012. RRP £7.99 (Paperback)

 

Thursday, 3 March 2016

Lee Child - Killing Floor

This book was recommended to me by a friend who doesn’t read very much so I thought I would pick it up and give it a go. What I’m about to say may seem extremely negative and for the most part it is because there were a lot of things about the book I didn’t like. That said, once I got used to the writing style, it became a fast paced, accessible action-adventure which was difficult to put down. That’s the praise out of the way, let’s talk shittiness.

Now I’ve always been taught that the first page of anything you write is the most important, especially when it comes to novels. Selling yourself to publishers happens in about sixty seconds, maybe less depending on how many manuscripts they have to read. The first page here made me take a second check of what was going on because the last paragraph, which crosses over to the second page, starts with some newspaper bullshit of no relevance to the scene and moves immediately to the action of our main protagonist being arrested. I understand the reasons for this but it made me stop, think and need to re-read and that’s not something I should be doing on the first page of a novel.

As I’ve said above, it took me a while to get used to the writing style, however once I did it reads quite well. The main issues I had were with some of the character decisions made throughout the book and they link back to the writing. I will warn you now that some of things I’m about to say may be considered spoilers but I will try to be as vague as possible.

As early as page 39, I started to raise my eyebrows at some of the stuff that was going on. Apparently the Chief of Police sees Reacher at the crime scene at midnight. Not one person turns around and asks what the Chief of Police was doing there. Just a routine stroll around the out-of-town warehouse where someone was murdered as the exact same time?? This is explained later on as to why he thinks to saw Reacher there but that just poses more questions than answers. This carries on for the next twenty pages and not even the first-person narrator questions why the police chief is there. Maybe I’ve read/watched too many deductive programs but it would have been the first question on my list.

On page 80 when Reacher and Hubble turn up at the prison, the warden asks which one of the two of them is Hubble... but doesn’t address Reacher at all. This doesn’t make any sense. Either you are checking you have both of the right people or you know both of them. Why only ask one of them? Again, there is a clear reason for this but it doesn’t make sense to do it in the context it is done unless the Warden’s character is really stupid but if that’s the case, Reacher isn’t he so should have sensed something was up. The intelligence of Reacher is established early on when he works out that Finley is an ex-smoking divorcee just by looking at him.

In fact, a lot of the other points I’ve made about the narrative decisions relate to Reacher’s early show of observation and deduction. Apparently, it’s a super power that needs to re-charge because he didn’t work out that someone at the police station didn’t run the victim’s prints and was therefore in on the murder; he didn’t question the suspicious death of the previous investigator even though the evidence made me think it was murder (and I was right); he didn’t work out until a few days after the event, that the white supremacists who tried to kill him should have been trying to kill Hubble; he doesn’t think that taking a car from a house would alert anyone watching the house that he had been back there; he drives for 50 miles further than his petrol tank will allow him to go but after pointing this out, he isn’t surprised by this and doesn’t even do a fuel check after stopping.
 
It’s lucky though because his super powers come back in to play at the end as he manages to track down Hubble by making a fuck load of ridiculous assumptions about his fake name and location that, of course, are right on the money. Looking at this, it actually seems like his deductive brilliance is actually out of character.

On the subject of Reacher, he is the a-typical male character. He objectifies the one woman in the town who is actually attractive (according to the narrative anyway) and of course, she ends up fancying him too. It’s all very stereotypical.

So there you go, Killer Floor is a novel with some narrative decisions that are more puzzling that the decision to cast Tom Cruise as the 6-foot tall blonde guy. As I said though, none of that takes away from the fact that it’s a very readable book and there are some clever bits in there that make it worth reading.

Killing Floor by Lee Child was published by Bantam Press in 1998. RRP £7.99 (Paperback)