Sunday, 15 September 2013

George R. R. Martin - A Storm of Swords

Instalment number three of the A Song of Ice and Fire saga is so large that it had to split of over two volumes of 569 and 554 pages respectively.

These two are by far the best books in the series so far, not only in terms of story but also in the quality of the writing. In Steel and Snow the only thing I picked up on was that a character’s name was spelt differently on the same page at one point.

We are also introduced to a new term towards the end of the book when we meet Prince Oberyn, who incidentally is one of my favourite characters. When talking about his... lover, she is referred to as his paramour. This, in itself wasn’t a major problem for me. In fact, quite the opposite. I thought it may have been a term commonly used in Dorne... until it appeared in some narrative from Tyrion’s perspective. I deduced that one of two things had happened. Either Tyrion was so awestruck by Prince Oberyn that he wanted to sound just like him (unlikely) or the author liked the term so much that they had to use it again – otherwise, why hasn’t it appeared previously when describing similar circumstances throughout the other instalments?

Blood and Gold was my favourite of the two volumes. I read it in its entirety in less than a week, (which for me is quick!) the story flowed really well and it was very difficult to put down. The only issues I had in this book were character related and subjective and I also found the answer to my earlier question in the A Game of Thrones review.

Continuing where I left off in A Clash of Kings, Catelyn Stark is just an unbelievable dick in relation to almost everything she says or does. She continually tries to put herself in the middle of things and always makes things worse for everyone involved. She has some classic moments in this book as well.

On page 59, she argues with Robb over his kingly decisions like she has the right of it and even uses her own ‘dead’ sons as a point of argument which is absolutely disgusting. Let’s go back to the fact that these sons might still be ‘alive’ if she had done the right thing and actually gone back to Winterfell to look after the two of them.

This point is really hit home on page 61 where she reflects that being able to use an axe may have given her the ability to better protect her sons and daughters. I’m milking this point but it really is a stupid internal monologue that only serves to highlight her deluded nature.

Incidentally Catelyn’s internal thoughts are not the most irritating of character traits in the book. For that, we need to look to the younger version of Catelyn – Sansa Stark.

POTENTIAL SPOILERS: Towards the end of the book, Sansa is taken away from King’s Landing to the Eyrie. She has suffered nothing but pain and suffering during her time in King’s Landing so her first thought of arriving in the Eyrie is that she was thankful to finally be safe... no, wait, that’s what I thought it should have been. In reality, her first thought is that there is nothing to do and that she would be bored. You have got to fucking kidding me, you ungrateful little shit!

In my review of A Game of Thrones, I was confused about a sentence that read, ‘...have the with the gods gave a goose.’ After reading Blood and Gold, I now know that ‘with’ was actually meant to be ‘wits’! I have had this hammered home because the expression, ‘Have the wits the Gods gave...’ is used in more or less every chapter where Tywin Lannister has dialogue.

The only writing that stood out as a sore point was on page 342 where Jaime is narrating and I couldn’t tell whether he was talking about himself or Barristan. The fact that this is the only writing issue I identified shows how brilliantly written the book is.

If you’ve read the first two books then you should definitely read these. If you haven’t read them though, don’t bother with this one as it will not make much sense, even if you have seen the television series. They are so different that you will have no idea what is going on!

A Storm of Swords bibliography:

A Storm of Swords 1: Steel and Snow was published by Voyager in 2000. RRP £8.99 (Paperback)
A Storm of Swords 2: Blood and Gold was published by Voyager in 2000. RRP £8.99 (Paperback)

Saturday, 14 September 2013

George R. R. Martin - A Clash of Kings

So on to book two and another 873 pages of fighting, politics and... fighting and politics. There is nothing wrong with that at all. Quite the opposite in fact; it is a testament to how much a fantastic writer Martin is, as he has managed to develop so many interesting and exciting characters. And some real masters of hypocrisy as well. But I’ll get to that later.

However, my first stopping point was on page 16 when Stannis, Davos and a few others are having dinner. Two women are being discussed and Davos says ‘her.’ I had to read the paragraph several times to work out that Davos was actually talking about Stannis’s wife and not the evil witchy Melisandre. I was thinking that, in a book of over 800 pages, a few extra words to clear this confusion up wouldn’t have hurt.

On page 54, we switch from not explaining enough to stating the clearly obvious. Tyrion lying is like a fish swimming. It doesn’t need to be drawn attention to. In fact, this sort of thing should be left to the reader. Readers would get more satisfaction out of working out whether Tyrion is lying than having the author use unnecessary exposition to tell them.

The next thing is something I’ve been wanting to discuss for a while –the use of ‘a’ and ‘an’ and when it is appropriate. First off, on page 121 the sentence reads, ‘...what a honor it is...’ which is correct on a technical level, however, if spoken it should be ‘an honor’. I’m not sure if this is down to my English background (that’s my being English, not my study of the language) but the use of ‘an’ before most words being with h is encouraged but is not something I wholly agree with. There are only four words beginning with h where it is appropriate to use ‘an’ as a prefix, of which ‘honor’ is one of them. Incidentally, most words that begin with a vowel should be preceded by ‘an’ except for the word ‘eunuch’ which appears as ‘an eunuch’ on page 166.

There are a few other small typing errors, which are to be expected in book of this magnitude, however there is one more punctuation mishap that caught my attention. On page 168, Theon is talking about some inane bullshit, the way that he does, but there was no closing speech mark and then someone else started talking, but the punctuation led me to initially believe Theon was still prattling on.

All that aside it is a fantastic book and one that generated a lot of emotion in me especially towards Catelyn Stark. She made me laugh whole heartedly when she thought to herself, Is there any creature on earth as unfortunate as an ugly woman? I couldn’t help but think of her dead husband or maybe her young crippled son who would never walk again. But no, to Cateyn, Brienne is most unfortunate creature alive because she is ugly! Brienne can kill pretty much anyone in single combat but she is more unfortunate than Catelyn’s own crippled boy who can’t ride a horse unaided and will never be able to walk again.

I found it a rather poor decision that when Robb rides of off with most of the North in tow, Catelyn decides that the best place for her is by his side rather than looking after her two youngest sons who are effectively alone, without any parents, knowing their father is dead, in Winterfell. She is the equivalent of an 18 year old mother of two who leaves her children with her parents so she can go out and get pissed.

So in summary it’s an excellent book with a few minor mistakes in the early pages. Once hooked, I couldn’t put it down and charged straight on with the next one.

A Clash of Kings by George R. R. Martin was published by Voyager in 1998. RRP £9.99 (Paperback)

Thursday, 1 August 2013

George R.R. Martin - A Game of Thrones

After many, many people started creaming their pants about the television series, I saw this book on the counter at GameStation and thought, ‘Why not? Let’s see what all the fuss is about.’ So I took it. In exchange for money.

I’m ashamed that it is one of the only books I own that has the television cover on it, which is also annoying because all the rest of the books I’ve bought in the series do not having matching covers which is something I will struggle to live with.

While the TV series was enjoyable, the books are so much better. In terms of character building and story telling the narrative is well developed and the dialogue tells you so much about the type of person the character is.

I didn’t make any notes over the first 375 pages which shows how cleanly written it is, however after this point, it suffers from Stephen King’s Carrie syndrome as the writing completely falls apart. It was like the first 300 pages were submitted for publication and then the rest of it was just rush written with little editing.

For example at the bottom of page 376 there is a piece of dialogue that I still cannot understand; ‘Mind you, Princess, if the lords of the Seven Kingdoms, have the with the gods gave a goose...’ Can someone please tell me what this is supposed to mean? It’s clearly a typing error of some sort but it makes the dialogue meaningless which is unfortunate at best.

There are loads of other little ones that don’t have that much of an impact; an additional ‘e’ on ‘gather’ or ‘withing’ instead of ‘within,’ and a few additional punctuation errors but nothing too major.

One did make me laugh though. On page 451, one of the more casually written pages, George is writing about a character called Karyl, yet the spelling in the book of this character changes to ‘Kary!’ I’m not a hundred percent sure how this happened. The book was written in 1996 so I can only assume the author was using the standard keypad, but the ‘L’ key and the ‘!’ key are fifteen centimetres apart on my laptop keyboard so that’s quite the jump to make.

On page 481 we have the case of the overused description. In this instance, I will assume that most people have seen the series however, one of the characters is killed after he is mean to his sister and the narrative describes him as ‘the man who had been her brother’ far too often, thus it loses its impact.

There were a few instances of out of place narrative as well, one of the most funny being on page 718 where Sansa is confronted by Joffrey, has an emotional breakdown, and then describes his clothing – just like any normal person would do. The book is 780 pages long. I don’t think we need to know what the boy king is wearing in the middle of an intense scene. It would be fine has this been written from an omniscient narrator but we are effectively in Sansa’s head after she is talking about her father being killed. I don’t think she would stop to assess  Joffrey’s current fashion trend.

One more thing that I found puzzling more than annoying was trying to understand how the Night’s Watch works. John Snow joins the Night’s Watch by choice. Most people are taken there because they are given the choice of the Night’s Watch or death. Now, if you choose to join, does that mean you are allowed to keep your pet wolf? I wouldn’t have expected the Night’s Watch to be the kind to allow pets. Certainly no other recruits have this luxury so why is John Snow allowed to keep his direwolf with him at all times? It isn’t even restricted to kennels - it sleeps with him in his room! It doesn’t make a lot of sense to me but I’m sure it’s okay because it’s necessary to drive the story. In case you can’t tell the previous sentence is sarcastic.

I would recommend reading A Game of Thrones even if you have watched the series. I’ve heard the argument previously of ‘there’s no point reading what you can watch on TV.’ But this statement is bollocks at the best times and even more so in relation to these books.

A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin was published by Voyager in 1996. RRP £8.99 (Paperback) 

The version I wish I owned

Thursday, 23 May 2013

Chris Kuzneski - The Secret Crown

I have to say, The Secret Crown is one of the best book I’ve read in a while. The two lead characters are fantastic and the way interact often verges on real conversations – albeit the closest I’ve seen to real dialogue. There are several instances where they go off on tangents that don’t necessarily drive the story but they do develop the characters. Their personalities come across almost straight away which is a difficult thing to do.

The story itself is also pretty solid, although it feels quite short. There is a lengthy action sequence in the middle of the book and no last minute showdown when it really feels like there should be. All in all, it feels kind of... easy. The hardships the characters face are more like mediumships except for the one gunfight.

There is one major writing issue that kept bothering me. There are a few telephone conversations throughout the 465 page book. These conversations are always – as they should be – from the perspective of the main characters. This should mean that we shouldn’t be made aware of the facial expressions being used by the person on the other end of the phone. It feels a bit lazy. If you are going to have telephone conversations in a book, one of the sacrifices you should make is removing this kind of description, especially if you’ve already proved your dialogue is strong enough without it. You can emphasise the feelings of the other character through the dialogue or even the intuition of the main character.

There are a few other minor inconsistencies. During some scenes in an old bunker in the mountains there are several doors that are hard to spot and open. However, we get the impression that these giant stone doors have been opened recently so it doesn’t make sense that our experienced protagonists struggle to locate the door and even more, cannot open them.

Also these doors appear to be made of stone with no handles and there is no description given of how to close them which surely must have happened before our protagonists arrived.

On the positive side, there are also some real gems in the narrative. On page 111 there is a joke about Mother’s Day cards and what greetings are not used in them which not only broke the forth wall but was also quite funny. Towards the end of the book there is a dig at the Twilight saga in context which, as you can probably tell from previous reviews, is always welcome.

However, the best bit is the author’s note at the end. Chris shamelessly asks readers to buy 10 plus copies of his book to discuss in reading groups. It is a self-deprecating joke and comes across really well.

To sum up, it’s a solid book, very nearly well written with likable characters and a likeable author. So much so that I ordered his back catalogue when I finished reading simply to learn more about his characters – and he won me over with his author’s note.

The Secret Crown by Chris Kuzneski was published by The Penguin Group in 2010. RRP £6.99 (Paperback)

Saturday, 11 May 2013

Michael McInyre – Life and Laughing: My Story

Life and Laughing: My Story was a Christmas gift from 2010. As stated on previous reviews, namely Frank Lampard’s trip to McDonalds, I do not agree with autobiographies being written by celebrities prior to the end of their career or even their fortieth birthday. Such is the case for Michael McIntyre – at the time of publishing he was the ripe old age of 34.

This is of course okay if Michael McIntyre’s career had died at the end of his 2009 tour. However, the news tells me that this is not the case. 2012 was his biggest year. He played to lots of people a record for performances at the 02 Arena. I can’t find this information in his autobiography. Why? Because it was written before it happened.

He does make a good point towards the end of the 295 page story of his life so far, in that he didn’t write about after he became successful because it is boring to him. Also the audience probably know all there is to know because why would they buy the biography if they didn't know who he was? This should mean that we won’t see a follow on autobiography, but only time will tell.

Anyway, enough of my personal autobiographical opinion and on to the book itself.

The first thing I noticed was the Americanisation of the book. Now after experimenting with my own word processor, it does not pick up criticising as a misspelt word. Nor does it pick up criticizing either. Whereas neither is recognised as a spelling mistake, I believe that McIntyre, as an Englishman, should be using the English version of the word. Incidentally, when publishing this on here, it highlights 'criticising' as incorrect and also misspelt.

During the first few chapters, the book reads as if he is speaking and feels a lot like his stand up material. This is quite entertaining and would have been really good had he managed to keep it up for the length of the book.  Unfortunately he doesn't and the narrative falls into standard prose interspersed with jokes, some of which fail to work on paper.

The first one of these occurred on page 29 when he starts talking about the countdown theme and how Alan Hawkshaw gets paid for every time the theme tune is played.  There are several problems with the attempted joke;
  1. The theme tune is played more than once during the show.
  2. The countdown clock doesn’t reset if a contestant incorrectly guesses.
  3.  I’m going to guess that Alan doesn’t get paid by the second as my other two point lead me to believe that this joke is a joke for the jokes sake to try to funny as opposed to actually being based in truth.
This isn’t the only time this happens. On page 75 McIntyre describes his old home town of Golders Green as having the following shops; C&A, Wimpy, Cecil Gee, Woolworths and Our Price. This joke is aimed at the fact that all these stores have gone out of business. However, just by chance, there is a Wimpy in my home town of Newton Abbot. Wimpy still exists, it has just reduced the amount of stores it owns. I’m being a bit picky here but my point is that whereas these jokes would probably work as part of a sketch, when they are on paper, they do not work as well as they otherwise would.

There is another example of this when he tells about his wedding on page 257. He says there are no horses coming to the wedding, but they have a horse drawn carriage to take them away from the chapel. It’s another technicality but I would expect a little bit more thoughtfulness to go into this seeing as the author is one of Britain’s best comedians.

Not even Michael McIntyre can make interior decorating funny. He still tries though on two occasions and, in my opinion, fails. It feels a little too much like filler that is trying too hard to be funny.

That said, there are a few golden moments, one of which stood out to me but again, I think it’s poorly placed in a novel. On page 100, McIntyre makes reference to the Andrew Sachs, Jonathan Ross, Russell Brand saga by saying, ‘I’d like to add that Andrew Sachs, who played Manuel, is a very fine actor and I’d like to wish him and his family well,’ following on from the events of October 2008. It is quite funny but wouldn't be relevant in ten years time as, I think, many people would not know what this was referring to and as such, it would no longer be relevant.

The book is very targeted in that anyone who is a big fan of Michael McIntyre would want to read it and for this, it is very good. However, as a writer, he goes off on a lot of tangents and this makes the book hard to follow in places. However, it did encourage me to re-watch his Royal Variety performances, which allowed me to forgive the few writing faux pas’ he makes in this book.

Life and Laughing: My Story by Michael McIntyre was published by The Penguin Group in 2010. RRP £20.00 (Hardback)

Saturday, 16 March 2013

R.A. Salvatore - Servant of the Shard

Servant of the Shard is meant to be the first book in a series of three books, which is why I was perplexed that the very first word of the prologue is ‘he’ like it assumes some kind of prior knowledge to something that has happened  before the story has started. In fact, the entire opening of the book reads like this. So much so that I did a little research into the author and discovered that this trilogy is preceded by five other series’, set in the same world, that follow on from each other.

My main issue with this is that if you are going to have several series that follow on from each other, there should be a brief summary in the beginning of the book to inform the uninformed reader of anything they need to know to enjoy the story. Stephen King did this with his epic fantasy, The Dark Tower and it majorly helped me, especially when I waited a few months before reading the next book in the series.

Another issue with reading this as a first book is that there are a lot of characters with weird fantastical names and they are all introduced at the same time. This made life very confusing for me. I am only a simple minded man and to accommodate lots of new names at the same time was very challenging for me.

By page 6 of the 369 page fantasy extravaganza I had finally established who everyone was and their place in the world (no easy task,) and could move on to bashing the narrative. There is overdone dialogue description where the author over emphasises the calmness of one character’s talking. Had there been a preamble detailing the previous books and this character’s specific traits, this might not have been necessary. However the phasing of, ‘he asked calmly – too calmly,’ is a lazy way of describing the difference in character.

Page 17 is littered with over written sentences, one such example being, ‘taking no obvious note of her arrival at all.’ This style carries on throughout the novel, so much that I stopped making note of anything after page 24.

There were two other things that bugged me before this point (bad things happen in twos in seems.) ‘Life in the Dark Lane’ is the title of chapter two and while this is clichéd, it is also out of context in this particular fantasy where cars do not exist.

On page 24, one paragraph is written from the perspective of two different characters which again makes for confusing reading as well as poor layout and sentence structure.

After this point I stopped making notes, put all my issues with the story aside and discovered that the book actually gets better as it goes along. Salvatore has got a lot of skill when it comes to writing complex action sequences. Even though there is a lot going on, they are quite easy to follow and he manages to build suspense without foreshadowing future events or character death.

Also as a final note, I am pleased that the book actually features a crystal shard which uses its holders as servants. Finally, we have a book with an appropriate title!

Servant of the Shard by R.A. Salvatore was published by Wizards of the Coast in 2000. RRP £5.99 (Amazon Paperback)

Allan Pease - The Ultimate Book of Rude and Politically Incorrect Jokes

Why did the dead baby cross the road?

That is a politically incorrect, rude and insensitive joke. It is also nonsensical so that would explain why it is not in Allan Pease’s collection of jokes. At least it would on the outside. There are a lot of ‘jokes’ in this book that fit the criteria of not making any sense, and some not even in their own context.

What does it take to circumcise a whale? Foreskin Divers.

If someone can explain this joke and why it is funny, please post a comment below. If it is in fact a reference to four skin divers, it is simply a terrible joke.

Some are not even rude or politically incorrect and following on from my previous review this makes the title somewhat misleading. To be an ultimate book of politically incorrect jokes, I would expect to be reading lots of jokes that are quite offensive.

Instead this book plays it safe in most respects. Apparently it is okay to make sexist jokes towards both men and women, the French, Greeks, Irish, Gays and Jewish people. However there are several notable minorities missing from this list so does this mean that going into all of them will be taking it to far? In the same light is it not okay to include any of the more inappropriate jokes that circulate the internet on sites such as sickipedia? The difference is that sites like sickipedia are opposed to quality control and anyone can contribute. Therefore I would expect an ‘ultimate’ book to have a least a few of the more offensive ones cherry picked from these locations.

For example;
I was doing my secretary up the arse last night when my wife caught me.
‘You can’t do this to me!’ she said.
‘I know,’ I replied. ‘That’s why I’m doing it to her.’

This is only a slightly offensive one but over the course of the 276 pages, I would expect a lot more offensive jokes of this nature and worse - and a lot less whale foreskins.

I think that maybe the problem is more with society than the book itself.  It was published in Great Britain and the nature of the general English population is that they are easily offended and will actively look for things to complain about. People have forgotten that jokes are exactly that – jokes. Jokes are told to get a reaction from an audience. If you find racist jokes funny, that doesn’t mean you are a racist. If someone takes these jokes seriously, it raises more concerns about the reader than the teller.

However, the disclaimer in the front states, ‘Send complaints or abuse emails letters to’ so clearly Allan isn’t that bothered if he offends people – so use more offensive jokes! And remove the ones that don’t make sense!

So in summary, it is a mediocre collection of jokes, some of which are really funny and others which are not.  The ones that don’t make sense annoy me but mainly because the title states Ultimate book of which is very misleading.

The Ultimate Book of Rude and Politically Incorrect Jokes by Allan Pease was published by Robson Books in 2001. RRP £6.99 (Paperback)

As of 15 March 2013 this book is now referenced on Allan’s Wikipedia page.

James Becker - The Nosferatu Scroll

One of the most important things about a book is that the reader can identify with the characters involved. However, there are certain ways a writer can prevent a reader from doing so even if they design a really good character and this is exactly the case with James Becker’s Chris Bronson.

Of all the surnames there are to chose from, including making up new ones, I do not understand the decision to name the main after one of Britain’s most notorious criminals – complete with a matching first initial. He is also referred to throughout the book as Bronson and he is a policeman. I found it impossible to picture anything but a bald guy with a cheesy eighties moustache as Bronson was gallivanting around Venice.

There will be more on Chris Bronson’s skill set later, but for now let’s discuss the actual writing. The first few chapters hammer out a load of semi-relevant information in the form of dialogue from Bronson’s wife, Angela.  My main problem with this is that it stops being dialogue and reads like non-fiction. There is no characterisation to the paragraphs; they just run as uninterrupted dialogue for pages at a time. I would have forgiven this had Bronson said something at the end like, ‘Sorry darling, I stopped listening about 3 pages ago.’

There are small problems with the characterisation of everyone throughout the book. On page 125 when some random dudes have a woman prisoner, they haven’t said anything to her for the entire time she has been captured. Then, all of a sudden, it what appears to be a complete change of character, one of the dudes turns around and starts antagonising her.

The dialogue problems also continue throughout. A lot of the conversations are very wooden with little characterisation from either party. It makes for very uninteresting reading.

Around chapter 31 I started to become aware of a few problems with the pacing of the novel. Some parts which feature a lot of moving through different locations pass by in a few sentences and other parts, such as unnecessary conversations and information based dialogue get dragged out. I was quite shocked in this chapter especially because I almost didn’t notice that we had skipped a really long journey and passage of time.

Chapters are written from a few different perspectives.  One such perspective is the captured girl mentioned earlier. All these chapters serve to do is remind us that she was captured and is still captured and is being held captive. They don’t add anything to the story other than to remind us that she is in trouble and that something potentially bad is going to happen to her later. If nothing happened later, there would be no point to the story. There is far too much forewarning in these sections – we know something is going to happen and we do not need to be reminded of it every five minutes.

Moving on to problems with the story itself – one of the other characters is captured later on and kept alive to complete a translation. However the captors point out that they have translated some of the text themselves so would know if she was doing it wrong on purpose. At this point, it seems the only reason to keep her live is a device to drive the story.

As mentioned earlier Bronson has very specific skill set. One such skill is the art of aikido which is explained to us in the middle of an action sequence. The only reason for this is because Bronson needs to use this skill to survive. Similar occurrences happen throughout the novel, if Bronson needs to do something, the author gives him the necessary skills to do so with a quick history of why he is able to do it. At one point he needs to use a gun so it is brought to our attention that he used to be in army. After this I was half expecting him to come face to face with a lion – but he would be okay because of that year he spent as part of the circus as a lion tamer.

There are several other irritations, too many to mention all of them at this stage so I’ll mention two more that really got under my skin.  At the end of one chapter, Bronson is asked to if he can confirm whether or not a dead woman is his wife. His response is, ‘Yes I can.’ This is expected, he should know what his wife looks like. But surely if anyone is ever in this position where they are asked if they are able to confirm whether the dead person is their wife, the response would not be, ‘yes I can,’ and then stop talking.

The last one comes near the end where there are two girls are captured together - one of them is English and the other is Italian. The Italian knows a little English. Now in my experience, when someone says they know a little English, they know the basics. I wouldn’t expect someone with limited knowledge of a foreign language to know what the translation for taser was.

It seems that Becker, throughout the 466 paged of the novel, will give his characters the necessary requirement to make his story work with very little effort on his part which is attributable to very lazy and predictable writing. I managed to predict the ending to the letter and I am very rarely able to do that which is a not a good sign.

Despite the many, many points I’ve raised I still sort of enjoyed it, although the best bit was the author’s note in the back which taught me a lot about the history of vampires. Wait, I’ve just thought of another irritation! The book is called The Nosferatu Scroll and this would indicate that there is an item in the book of that name. However, Nosferatu is not even mentioned until the author’s note which makes the title of the book almost completely meaningless.

The Nosferatu Scroll by James Becker was published by Bantam Press in 2011. RRP £6.99 (Paperback)

Friday, 15 February 2013

Robin Cook - Terminal

I’m annoyed at myself for putting off this review for as long as I have.  However, now my significant other has finished reading it too I found myself in a position to revisit a book that left me sitting on the fence over whether it was good or not.

Overall the book is pretty decent. It tells a solid story and balances the research aspects with character development as well as telling a fictional tale involving mystery, love, and science. However there were moments, several in fact, where I wanted to throw the book at the fictional characters’ heads.

The first one occurs on page 16 where the one of the characters is seemingly very pleased with himself for not having an alcoholic drink for three days. This may just be my age though. Terminal was written in 1993 so daily drinking may have been the norm. However, three days without an alcoholic drink – not so much of an achievement. It’s only a small gripe and it’s more about the words used than the character himself.

The next one is small as well, but there is also a technical issue with it. The sentence on page 20 reads, ‘Staff at the Forbes Cancer Centre was...’ where ‘was should be ‘were’ as ‘Staff’ is plural. It’s this kind of mistake that should stop me reading and would certainly have stopped a publisher from considering the novel for publication if it was submitted now.

Next, on page 23 we have overdone dialogue description. ‘“Great!” Sean said sarcastically.’ It is perfectly clear from the conversation preceding this sarcastic comment that Sean is being sarcastic in a sarcastic kind of way. I would expect it to be there if the dialogue did not make the sarcasm clear. But it does. Sarcastically.

By page 58 I had lost count of the many different character perspectives the story had been written from. Generally, I don’t have a problem with changing perspectives. Robin Cook breaks them down in different chapters however the chapters are not very long which made it difficult to get into. After this initial onslaught of different perspectives, it then settles down to a constant three or four, but by that point I’d forgotten about the initial others – which makes me wonder. How important can they be?

Page 199 introduces us the Miami police department who are depicted as slow, unkempt, careless and not really that bothered about the situation they have been called out to – much like every other police officer in the history of fiction, where the fiction was not written by former members of the police force or alternative public servicemen. My point is that it is becoming very clichéd to have bad policemen show up in fiction and be bad at their jobs. It would have been less detrimental to the story to sum the scene up with one line and move on.

On page 210 we are introduced to a character named Tim who has one line. Who the fuck is Tim and why should we, the audience, give a shit about his one redundant line? He may have been introduced before but if I can’t remember him at this juncture then his name is insignificant.

There are a few other small technical errors that caught my attention. There is over-repetition in one page, incorrect work usage on another – they aren’t big mistakes but they are catching my attention which kind of ruins the story.

So in summary, Terminal is a good book. It’s not going to set the world on fire but it’s not God awful. It’s just a shame that some careless writing ruined a few quality moments.

Terminal by Robin Cook was published by G. P. Putnam’s Sons in 1993. RRP £4.99 (Paperback)

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Robyn Young - Brethren

Walking home blind drunk from a night out resulted in the purchase of this book. It is not a good idea to have a 24 hour Tesco on the route home from the local club. Well, for me anyway. Especially with change in my wallet.

However, unlike the many other things I’ve bought when I haven’t had complete control over my sense, Brethren is actually far from the worst. Or the mostly costly (Amazon has had an adverse affect on my bank balance over the years.)

Brethren takes us back to the crusades and follows the main protagonist Will Campbell through his young life. The first strikingly strange thing is Will’s name and how he is surrounded by other characters with far more historically general names than his. For example, his best friend is Garin de Lyons, his mentor Owein and a few other friends. Basically he is the only character with a generic surname like Campbell.

The main problem with the book is its length of 653 pages. There are many sections of the book which give bits of history that are unnecessary to the story. It really takes away from the story and character development when you are removed from it for a long irrelevant history lesson.

It seems that Robyn Young is more interested in writing about the history of the crusades as opposed to developing her characters and their individual stories. If I wanted to learn more about the crusades I would have picked up a non-fiction book.

One of the most interesting parts of the story is the relationship between Will and his love interest Elwen. They develop a secret love at a young age. Inappropriately young some might say, and it very interesting to see how their relationship affects Will’s anger levels. Unfortunately, tying in with the history stuff above, there isn’t enough of their relationship on paper, which is a real shame.

After their young love comes to end though, Will Campbell’s mood develops more swings than a children’s play park. At the start he is confident slash arrogant with his approach to becoming a knight. Then he becomes insanely angry due to his circumstances and then depressed but also angry and then back to happy in the space of a few pages. I don’t think this is a character flaw but more a problem with the language used surrounding his moods. This more generally happens with characters in action scenes where the words describe them as pretty much dead yet somehow they claw their way back to victory. Despite the fiction, it takes away from the believability of the characters.

That aside the book has some enjoyable moments. It kept me entertained enough to see it through to the end – and not just because I’m wired that way. Despite the history breaks it was good to see the young characters develop over the duration.

Brethren by Robyn Young was published by Hodder and Stoughton in 2006. RRP £6.99 (Paperback)

Saturday, 12 January 2013

John McShane - Heath Ledger - His Beautiful Life and Mysterious Death - John McShane

I picked this one up shortly after Heath Ledger’s death in 2008. I also found a shirt from a University night out where people thought it was appropriate to write ‘I hate Heath Ledger’ all over my back. It was during the season of bad taste but just to clarify; I don’t hate Heath Ledger. Just this book.

The first few pages give a history of Australia dating as far back as 1982 which pre-dates Heath by 150 years. This is unnecessary padding for a book that is only 279 pages long. Also did you know that a man called Charles Harper set up a school for his own kids in 1896? You do now! Again it has no bearing on the life of Heath Ledger put at least it adds an additional paragraph to the book.

Another problem surrounding the length of the book is its publishing date. It was published in 2008, the same year as Heath’s death, and before the success of The Dark Knight and The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus was fully known. The book was rushed to make money, something that I don’t hold in high regard as per my review of The Short Second Life of Bree Tanner. This is worse because it tries to cash in using a man’s death as a selling point.

That’s my main problem with it, now for the nitty-gritty. The first small error I noticed was on page 8. It was only a double space but these sorts of punctuation errors continue throughout the book – another sign of rushing.

While I’m going on about unnecessary wording, the first chapter is called ‘Sea, Surf and Gene Kelly.’ However there are no references to surfing or Heath’s enjoyment of it. It seems to be written on the concept of, ‘Surfing is associated with Australia... and Heath Ledger is Australian... I know! Let’s use Surf in the chapter title!’ Brilliant.

On page 52, an entire sentence is repeated. The whole page is Heath’s quotes but a little editing wouldn’t have hurt the book. And I doubt he said exactly the same thing word for word. In fact while I’m on the subject, quite a lot of the book could have been pulled directly from the internet. This is probably a good thing though as when the author decides to write his own narrative, it is either Australian history or stuff like this, ‘Heath and Heather... the names seem to go together well,’ which is an astute and pointless piece of prose. Pointless piece of prose... that goes together well too Mr McShane.

On page 201 the author uses two quotes that give Heath two different ages. Even though they are quotes from other sources, the author could at least have proof read the articles before publishing. It could also be a typo made during transposing, but again, a proof read would have sorted this. It’s just more laziness.
That’s it for my problems with the author. There was one other thing that annoyed me slightly. When Heath is talking about working on the set for A Knight’s Tale he says that the crew used bottles of Evian water to pour over the actors to keep them cool. This seems to me like a huge waste of money. Why not just use normal water for the purposes of keeping people cool?

 That said there are some good points to the book. There are many quotes and inferences from Heath’s life that are quite interesting. My personal favourite was, ‘If you make decisions based on society’s opinions, you’re going to make boring choices.’

The book also increased the size of my DVD collection so some good definitely came out of it!

Heath Ledger – His Beautiful Life and Mysterious Death by John McShane was published by John Blake Publishing Limited in 2008. RRP £7.99 (Paperback)

Paul Hoffman - The Left Hand of God

I bought this book on my travels from a W H Smith at Birmingham train station and I’m ashamed to say I have been responsible for most of their book sales at train stations across the country. Despite buying it at a train station I didn’t get around to reading until a holiday last year which has lead to it being one of the most dog-eared books I own.

I will start by saying this is one of the best books I’ve read in a while, to the point where I didn’t write that much about it.

The story is original; the world it’s set in is dark and bizarre but not to the point of it not being believable and the characters are fascinating.

The main protagonist, Thomas Cale, is a young boy raised in a monastery type place by some unfriendly religious extremists called Redeemers. These Redeemers are training all the boys to fight for them in the name of some kind of super Redeemer person and expunge all ‘evil’ from the world.

Cale accidentally kills one of these evil Redeemer dudes and then has to run away, but takes some friends with him because it would be a pretty boring story if he ran away on his own.

One of the best things about the boy is the way in which the boys talk to each other. They have just escaped from a bunch of mad religious dudes but because of their training (I’m guessing) there is no fear and they start taking the piss out of each other, to the extent of making Mum jokes. This was a great way to relieve any kind of tension that was building up and I found myself laughing out loud – and a bunch of Turkish people giving me strange looks.

The humour continues throughout the book and it’s not just the kids that are in on it. Later on there is a conversation between two high ranking officials in one nation where they are discussing getting rid of Cale to which one of them says, ‘He’s a jinx like that fellow in the belly of the whale,’ to which the other responds, ‘Jesus of Nazareth?’

Again, I was in fits. I know the world is some kind of warped version of our own and this could well have been the case, but if it is, why does official number two ask the question if not just to make me wet myself in public?

This brings me on to another point about the way the novel is written. The dialogue is exceptional. Characters can talk for pages at a time without the need to direct who is saying what and it what way. The dialogue does all the work so narrative is not required. This is quite a skill, especially when there are more than two people involved in a conversation.

I reviewed my negative points and found that I was trying far too hard to find continuity errors and things that didn’t make sense.  I found the only noticeable mistake (which probably isn’t even worth mentioning) on page 248 where the narrative talks about ‘good and back luck.’ So a spelling a mistake. A spelling mistake is the only criticism I have out of 498 pages of narrative. There are probably more mistakes in this 584 word review.

The Left Hand of God by Paul Hoffman was published by Michael Joseph in 2010. RRP £6.99 (Paperback)