Sep 292014

Knife Of Dreams: Book 11 of the Wheel of Time: 11/12 The Rambling Introduction

So here we are – the last of the Jordan only Wheel of Time books.  This book and three after it – I’m finally getting to the stage where we might get some answers.  I was eager to press on, hoping that once through this I could get to Sanderson’s books, and read about the characters and places I love, without sitting through Jordan’s writing habits.  But burning like a half dead candle, buried in the back of my mind was a hope, kindled by reviews on the ‘net suggesting book eleven was Jordan’s best, or at least, a return to form.

The Review

Knife of Dreams is an excellent book that I found hard to put down.  While it has some flaws, they are more than compensated for by the highly emotional content and the feeling of real progress in the world of The Wheel of Time.

Who would have imagined I’d be writing those words after the last few reviews?  Actually I did.  At least I hoped I would.  I had heard from many people that Jordan’s book 11, the last one he finished on his own before his tragic death, was a return to the quality of the earliest books.  People rated it as one of the best he’d written – so I was holding out for something special and Jordan delivered it.

Knife of Dreams covers multiple plot lines, as with the previous books, but this time, no one is left out.  We have coverage of the three boys (Rand, Mat and Perrin), the three girls (Elayne, Nynaeve, Egwene) and all the threads around them as well (Min, Birgitte, Thom, the White Tower, the Black Tower, the Aiel, the Seanchan, etc.)

One of the reasons the book is so much better than the previous ones, is that each of those story lines is focussed, emotional and also progressive.  Some of the long running activities are finally resolved, some outstanding questions are answered and generally, lots of good stuff happens.  Don’t get too excited, it’s not like Jordan has changed his writing habits, there’s plenty of dress and hair descriptions, and the constant male / female divide to keep you agitated, but it’s as if he realised he really did have to finish this thing, and he couldn’t get away with dissembling any further.

Most of the book is good, but there were some truly stand-out moments for me.  All of these are built from hundreds of pages of ground work in previous books and so when they finally bear fruit, it’s truly emotional.  I’ll discuss them all individually, no spoilers, I promise.

Egwene’s storyline is the epitome of everything she has worked towards.  She demonstrates in spades why she is the true Amyrlin Seat.  Her back-story, all of it, comes together into a single, stiff backed, proud but not haughty approach that wins over hearts and minds.  If you liked the bit in Dead Poet’s Society where the pupils all stand on their desks, you’ll love Egwene’s story line.  I cried, several times.

Nynaeve and Lan.  What can I say!  If you like your heroes bleak and tragic, and if you like your heroism understated and yet as solid as granite, you’re going to enjoy the short thread that these two get involved in.  I cheered, I cried, I read it again, and cheered and cried a second time.  The scenes with these two characters in this thread are without a doubt, my favourite in the entire series so far.  Jordan shows his class, and his skill, once again, weaving threads over 10 books into a single perfect moment.

Rand, ah, Rand al’Thor.  Rand’s thread is pretty short overall, spread throughout the book, but the two major events he’s involved in are both superbly written.  There are battles, massive and small, epic and trivial, there’s loss, tragedy, victory and shock, and it’s all cleverly and beautifully delivered.

Elayne’s story takes up quite a bit of space in the book, but it’s truly epic, engaging, funny and emotionally complex.  Finally we have some progress in her claim on the throne of Andor, and the conclusion to her story lines in this book were again emotional and epic.  I cried (seeing a theme?)

Perrin and Faile.  There was so much here to like, such a clever set of circumstances (more in the retrospective), and I had so much hope for an emotional conclusion, but for reasons I can’t explain and don’t fully understand, it fell flat.  Happy, but not the tear stained sobbing joy I was hoping for.

Mat and Tuon were perfect in book eleven, and the two Tuon PoV’s were superb.  Hearing her refer to him as Toy even in her head was just brilliant, and a clear insight into her psyche.  Mat is great, everyone around him is great, and every story line he touches is great.  There’s a moving moment between him and Thom as well, which offers some hope for the next book.  I had hoped that thread would lead somewhere in this one, but it wasn’t to be (I’ll say no more). Mat might start out a clown, but he’s not going to finish with anything less than the mantle of a hero.

The White Cloak story line takes an exciting step, the White Tower is interesting, the Seanchan are great, those rebelling against the Seanchan are great, ahhh there’s just so much great stuff.

There is, in fact, so much good stuff that I couldn’t stamp out a rising anger towards the end.  Where was this Jordan when he wrote the previous books?  Sure, you can’t have some of the reveals in this book without all the ground work, but the skill Jordan shows here was simply lacking in the previous outings.  You don’t need thousands of pages of ground work to deliver this material, you just need concise, well laid ground work over a few hundred pages to achieve it.

The pacing was generally very good, although the prologue was tough going in parts, and it took me a while to warm up in the early chapters, but once I was in, I wasn’t getting out, and every chapter had something to enjoy.

Knife of Dreams is a great read, you won’t want to put it down, and if you’ve made it this far in the series this book is a pay off that you both deserve and need.

Bring tissues.

The Kind of Retrospective

No spoilers this time, I promise.

I had read nothing about this book in advance, and knew only one tiny spoiler which covered a single paragraph near the end of the story.  So what do I have to reflect on?  Let’s get one thing straight – Robert Jordan was an excellent and talented author.  While I might decry some of the books, it’s impossible to deny his skill and his success.  I could never emulate him, and the series, whatever happens, will retain a near legendary status.

However, even the best of people have bad days, or in Jordan’s case, bad years.  Had I still been reading as the books were released, Knife of Dreams would have made me furious.  Because it’s so very good.  Furious that Jordan (in my personal view) wasted so much paper in the previous books when he should have been delivering KoD level quality all along.  For every paragraph in KoD that has an emotional scene, or progresses the story, there are literally chapters in the previous books in which nothing happens and you feel nothing for anyone present.

So my abiding memory of KoD will be that it was both brilliant and infuriating in equal measure, and that I’m just glad I wasn’t still trying to plough through the series as it originally came out.

The Angry Spoilers

There are spoilers here, for the book and possibly for the series.  Stop reading if, somehow, you’ve never read these books before.

Seriously, spoilers.

The whole Perrin rescues Faile while Faile rescues herself took too long.  Far too long.  When it finally resolved itself, it had lost much of it’s emotional urgency.  There were some nice touches, and the final scenes before the battle were emotional, but only one or two sentences (when Perrin drops the knotted string, and when Tam and the Two Rivers boys arrive).

I know what Jordan was doing.  Rescuing Faile is the goal, but the Pattern is ensuring that Perrin destroys the Shaido, forms an alliance with the Seanchan and learns plenty about them in the process, destroys most of the Prophet’s men, along with a number of other elements.  That’s all nice and clever, and the rescue is clever, but it felt laboured.

We hear the wolves, but never see them, Aram’s death is wasted, we don’t get a scene showing us the horror of ~400 collared Wise Ones, etc.  Maybe that will be covered in the next book.

Frankly, I feel churlish moaning about it – because those scenes were surrounded by plenty of awesome moments with Rand, Mat, Nynaeve, Lan, Egwene, and compared to previous books, the rescue scene was fantastic.  It just felt too sterile, and maybe looked weak against the rest of the strong action sequences.

But it makes a change to be angry about that, and not about 90% of the rest of the book for falling flat.  Knife of Dreams is anything but flat.

Rating: ★★★★½ 

Book Information
  • Author: Robert Jordan
  • Series: The Wheel of Time (11)
  • Genre: Fantasy
  • Buy on Kindle (UK)Buy from Amazon (UK)

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Sep 262014

Broken Homes (Rivers of London 4) Broken Homes is the fourth book in Ben Aaronovitch’s Rivers of London series.  I’m not sure if he’s actually using that series name, but Amazon and various other sites are, so I guess I will.  It could equally be called the fourth DC Grant book, which is probably more accurate.  Although the Rivers certainly make appearances in each of the books, their influence wanes and waxes, where Peter Grant is the central character.

The series is essentially a supernatural police procedural, with DC Grant forming a third of the police unit within the Met that investigates ‘weird stuff’, along with Nightingale (his boss) and Lesley, his ‘it’s complicated’ friend and colleague.  The Folly, which is their base of operations is home to them, a dog, and Molly, a slightly sinister housekeeper. It’s best not to argue with Molly in case she eats you.

The rest of the cast is made up of normal police officers (normal in the sense that they aren’t magical, their personalities are often far from average), a range of magical and non-magical bad guys, various supernatural entities who may or may not be goblins, river spirits, gods and demons and a sinister arch-nemesis, the Faceless Man.

It’s common in Urban Fantasy for there to be something to investigate, a long running arc which may or may not be linked, and one or two other weird things going on which all magically come together at the end, and Ben’s approach is no different.  The story starts with a mixture of crimes, not all of them obviously related, and an ongoing investigation in the identity of the Faceless Man.  As the tale progresses, links appear to start to form and as Peter digs deeper and deeper, both the danger and the connections increase.

Eventually, things explode at the end, with dramatic and tragic consequences.

I was surprised how little magic there was in the third book of the series, given the focus in the first two was more aimed at the supernatural side of the world.  Book four makes a return to that focus, with plenty of police work, but equally significant amounts of mystical and magical actions.  There’s an excellent section with the most obvious and overt use of magical power in the series so far, where Nightingale finally gets to let rip, and this alone would be reason to read the book.

The pace is well judged, and the story builds tension throughout, I was constantly expecting things to go south but when they finally did, I was surprised at the direction it took.  On reflection, I shouldn’t have been – which is always a good sign.  The hints were there, and in the back of my mind I’d formed the connections, but it wasn’t until I read the words that it all clicked in to place.

Ben’s characters are so very real; they leap from the page.  The dialogue is simply sublime, and he doesn’t pull any punches to make his characters softer or more likeable.  His use of a strongly mixed race and mixed gender cast is second to none in the urban fantasy arena; although he uses those racial and gender differences in the story, they are well blended, sensible and useful, rather than merely being there to tick boxes.

It’s not all perfect however.  Sometimes the book feels like a series of events strung together, which of course most books are, and yet with Ben’s I can sometimes see the joins.  It’s not a serious issue, the dialogue and the plot eventually win out, and I can’t put my finger on exactly why it feels like this, but it’s not as smooth as say Dresden or the Felix Castor series, both of which are similar in style to Rivers of London.  There was a lengthy section in the book about the Rivers of London celebrating the arrival of spring, which was sort of interesting but I’m not sure it drove the story forward at all, and I could have lived without it.

Those two minor points aside, Broken Homes is back on par with the first book in the series.  It was enjoyable, easy to read, gripping and exciting.  It’s left me looking forward to the fifth book, and there’s not much wrong with that.

Rating: ★★★★☆ 

Book Information
  • Author: Ben Aaronovitch
  • Series: Rivers of London (4)
  • Format: Paperback
  • Publisher: Gollancz
  • Genre: Urban Fantasy
  • Buy on Kindle (UK)Buy from Amazon (UK)

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Sep 252014

Maybe This Christmas (Snow Crystal trilogy) Brenna Daniels has been in love with Tyler O’Neil forever. After an accident ended his champion downhill skiing career he returned to Snow Crystal, and Brenna finds it harder and harder to work alongside him. Tyler is focusing on bringing up his teenage daughter Jess and coping with the loss of his career, but when circumstances force Brenna to move into his home he finds himself  thinking thoughts about his best friend that could ruin their friendship.

This is the final book in the O’Neil trilogy and I must say I think it is the best one. While all three books are stand alone, one of the reasons I enjoyed this so much is the way we have grown to know and love Tyler through the previous two books. I would therefore recommend reading the previous ones to develop that deeper connection with the characters but it isn’t essential!

I love the setting of Snow Crystal and can very easily imagine myself there – although I would definitely be in a cabin with a log fire rather than skiing. The imagery through the writing was really well done.

Tyler feels he is struggling with his teenage daughter and I loved the way their relationship developed. I also had a good chuckle at the embarrassment he felt when he realised why Jess needed to go to the store urgently. Tyler is also struggling with the loss of his skiing career, which in turn has an impact on his relationship with his daughter who wants to do nothing but ski.

Brenna is a character who comes across as confident in some situations but in actuality has very low self esteem and issues dating back to high school. Tyler being a man of course is oblivious to all this, and never thinks to compliment her on what she is wearing to boost her confidence. She is also very passive and allows people to rail-road her even when the situation makes her uncomfortable. Fortunately she does start to grow a set after she downed tequilas with the girls.

Of course the rest of the Snow Crystal family are in the book as well (including the dogs), and it was great to catch up and to see the resort doing so well after nearly closing the year before (I know it’s just a story but still…)

The ending for this book is so romantic, one of the more romantic ones I have read and a very fitting end for this couple. I loved the ending, loved it :)

Christmas is a great time for romance and I love it. If you love romance too, you will love this book – read it snuggled up in a duvet on a cold winters night and prepare to be transported to the snowy mountains of Vermont.

Book Information
  • Author: Sarah Morgan
  • Series: O'Neil Brothers (3)
  • Format: Paperback
  • Publisher: Mills & Boon
  • Genre: Contemporary Romance
  • Buy on Kindle (UK)Buy from Amazon (UK)

Rating: ★★★★★ 


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Sep 252014

Crossroads Of Twilight: Book 10 of the Wheel of Time: 10/11 The Rambling Introduction

I have very definitely never read this book before.  Also, I’m pretty sure I’ve not read (to any serious extent) the chapter summaries.  As such, it’s the first book in the series that I was actually ‘excited’ to read, in my current re-read.  I was interested in re-reading the previous ones, because I love many aspects of the story, but this is the first one that was going to feel new.  It’s hard giving honest reviews of books you’ve read a few times, simply because so much is wrapped up in previous readings and expectations.  It’ll be nice to be able to review this one without any pre-existing experience.

The Review

Brandon Sanderson defended book 10 in a blog post he wrote.  He noted then, in 2008, that the book had received a score of around 1.5/5 on Amazon.  He went on to describe why many people didn’t enjoy the book, and to try and explain why he did.  So that you can avoid reading this review if you like – I’ll tell you where I stand before we get going.  At best, this is a two star book.

Crossroads of Twilight takes place just before, in parallel with, and just after the events in book 9.  Massive book 9 spoiler coming up.  At the end of book 9, the climax of that story pretty much, Rand cleanses Saidin.  He does it using the two huge sa’angreal.  Using them is like a beacon to everyone in the world who can channel, so even the female channellers know something is going on, even if only the men realise what it achieves.

In this book, we get the stories of Mat, Perrin, Egwene and Elayne (all separate threads), and in each of them, there’s a moment where they all realise some huge amount of channelling is going on.  We also get a short bit of story around Rand as well, clearly post-cleansing.

I don’t really mind how much real time passes in the story, as long as the story makes progress.  The problem with book 10, like several of the previous books, is that the plot seems mired in it’s own complexity and we don’t make any progress.  Oh, there’s manoeuvring of epic proportions within several groups, and a few small steps in various plot elements, but nothing significant really happens overall.

You really, really, have to love the political aspect of the Aes Sedai at this stage, or the history of Andor, to get any joy out of those story lines.

People seem to think the complaints about the book hover around the way Jordan tried to incorporate the cleansing in other character’s story-lines.  To me, it’s neither here nor there.  I don’t dislike it, but I don’t think it was brilliant either.  The point is that it would have been achievable even if the plot actually made serious progress at the same time.

So we have Jordan’s long-winded prose.  His desire to describe every camp-site again and again even if you know exactly how they look.  If you leave one group of people for a few chapters, when you come back they’re all described for you in explicit detail once again.  To that we add complex political and social manoeuvring that never actually affects the overall story.  All surrounded by emotionally stunted characters.

Seriously, what’s not to hate?

There are some amusing moments with Mat and Tuon, but for me, that whole relationship is flawed, I assume Tuon is going to announce she knew this was coming because she’s read a prophecy or seen an omen, but it’s just too insane for it to work.

The most frustrating part of the book for me, are the Aes Sedai.  There are 5 groups of Aes Sedai (rebels, tower, Rand-sworn, Cadsuane-posse, Aiel-apprentice) and each is split into further factions.  That’s politically very interesting, but it must encompass about 50 or 60 characters you have to remember.  When you’re dropped into another conversation in the White Tower between a bunch of Aes Sedai it takes you most of the 10 pages spent discussing their dress code just to remember who they are, even if you can remember.

I’m not good enough with names to do that, and I felt having a character card for each of them that I filled in as I went was a little bit over the top.  It might be intriguing but it’s so heavily wrapped in useless words that it’s impossible to engage with.

Jordan truly lost himself with this book.  He lost sight of the point of reading.  For enjoyment.  There’s little enjoyment to be found in Crossroads of Twilight, and nothing of note.  You could skip this book entirely and miss almost nothing of events in the world.  Given this is the first book I hadn’t read anything about, it’s disappointing to confirm it’s also one of the worst.

The Retrospective

Some quite nasty spoilers here for the series to date and this book.  Be warned.

I haven’t read this book before, so the retrospective is going to focus on how it stands up so long after it was written.  I think Jordan accepted that the book didn’t work as well as he’d hoped, and it was pretty much universally panned by critics.

After such a long build up, and a promise by Jordan that the series would end around book 12, people expected at this point for story threads to be coming together, nearing their end.  However, the book showed no signs of that and instead we got the following,

  • Mat – making almost no progress physically or mentally in his escape from Ebou Dar
  • Perrin – making almost no progress in rescue of Faile
  • Egwene – making almost no progress in her siege of Tar Valon
  • Elayne – making almost no progress in her claim on the crown of Andor
  • Rand – having one idea, and in the space of 6 paragraphs confirming a deal with the Seanchan

I don’t understand how Jordan’s editor at this stage could read book 10 and think it was good and okay to publish.  It only confirms my worst fears, that Jordan’s editor (I believe it was his wife, I could be wrong) was not objective enough, and/or not strong enough to guide Jordan to properly edit his work.

The Angry Spoilers

No spoilers, but plenty of anger.

Every time Jordan described the perfectly in-line cook fires in the cavalry camps, I wanted to murder someone.  Every time Jordan told me the same thing about the same people over and over again, I wanted to burn the book.  Every time someone ground their teeth, smoothed their skirts, pulled their braid, thumbed their knife blade, or made any quality of bow, curtsey or knee that wasn’t quite perfect, somewhere, a unicorn died.

Rating: ★½☆☆☆ 

Book Information
  • Author: Robert Jordan
  • Series: The Wheel of Time (10)
  • Genre: Fantasy
  • Buy on Kindle (UK)Buy from Amazon (UK)

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Sep 242014

The Winter Lodge (The Lakeshore Chronicles - Book 2) Jenny’s lived her whole life in Willow Lake, finding safety and warmth running her little bakery. Until one winter she loses everything in a devastating house fire. Sifting through the ashes she finds a chance for a different life…

I really enjoyed this contemporary romance by Susan Wiggs – the first book I have read by this author. The protagonists Rourke McKnight and Jenny Majesky share a history which is explored at various points within the book. I  liked the way we were taken back and forth as their past was revealed bit by bit, just enough to keep you wanting more.

There are various recipes throughout the book which I didn’t really take much notice of and skimmed over after the first couple not being much of a baker, but if you enjoy making cakes I am sure they are very interesting.

While Jenny and Rourke are the main characters there are lots of other characters who have things going on in their lives and I am looking forward to reading more in this series of books.

This book is not just about the romance, it’s about finding who you are and what you really want when everything has been pulled out from under you. I did experience many emotions and yes, I cried!

Jenny and Rourke are both a tad irritating at times and at some points in their past I wanted to shout ‘get a grip!’ Ultimately though, you cannot help rooting for them and of course there is the required happy ending.

I will definitely be looking for more books in this series.

Rating: ★★★★☆ 

Book Information
  • Author: Susan Wiggs
  • Series: Lakeshore Chronicles (2)
  • Format: Kindle
  • Publisher: Harlequin
  • Genre: Romance
  • Buy on Kindle (UK)Buy from Amazon (UK)


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Sep 222014

Winter's Heart: Book 9 of the Wheel of Time: 9/12 The Rambling Introduction

Ah Winter’s Heart.  the ninth book, there’s no going back now.  If you’ve made it this far, there are so many questions you need answering that you know you’re going to go all the way.  Even if it means walking the last 10 miles barefoot across broken glass.  Which is good, because in the back of your mind there’s a voice telling you that’s exactly how painful it’s going to be.

The Review

Winter’s Heart is the 9th book in the Wheel of Time series.  The primary story threads this time focus on Mat, Rand, a little bit of Perrin, Elayne, and Nynaeve.  They have all pretty much split up by this point, with some of them crossing paths, but all of them getting some time on their own.  There’s no mention of Egwene other than a brief visit.

Rand’s story is engaging, thrilling and moving in parts.  Mat’s story is both funny and sad, and in one moment very moving.  Nynaeve and Perrin are what they always are.  Elayne’s plot is engaging, but other than some brief flickers of life, it felt dry and forced to me.

As with other books in the series, book nine feels like 600 pages of build up and 7 pages of climax.  It’s a familiar pattern now with Jordan, but it no longer holds the magic like it used to.  There’s just not enough in the final few pages to justify the extended story before it.  What happens is huge, momentous, it’s just the delivery is too distracted, too fragmented to do it justice.  It’s a real shame.

Character-wise there are some excellent moments.  We finally see what Verin has been up to, we discover some startling things about a bunch of other characters and we learn some new things about the One Power.  Mat shows once again that he has a heart, and Rand shows that his is turning into ice before our very eyes.

I still can’t decide if the relationship between Rand, Elayne, Min and Aviendha is a stroke of amusing genius or some kind of weird wish fulfilment on Jordan’s side.  At least it finally comes to a head and gets ‘resolved’ during Winter’s Heart, which cheered me up.  I hated all the confusion and doubt, and some of the scenes are worth reading.  However, Jordan still uses more words than necessary and ruins what could have been a good moment with repetition.

I could read an entire book filled with nothing but Rand and Lan going on adventures together.  We could call it ‘Rand and Lan go on some adventures’.

Winter’s Heart is neither amazing nor terrible, it once again delivers some interesting developments hidden among too many words, far too many adjectives, and more skirt smoothing than is good for anyone.  Read it because you have to, not because you want to.

The Retrospective (partial)

Mild spoilers!  Well, maybe not so mild.  You’ve been warned.

Only half a retrospective this time, since I don’t think I’ve actually read the whole book before.  What I have done, is read chapter summaries, and maybe some snippets from the book.

When I started Winter’s Heart I was sure I’d read it before.  After all, it’s the one where Rand cleanses Saidin.  However, two pages in it was clear I had no clue what happened in the prologue.  A few chapters in and it was clear I’d never read the whole book.  However, every now and then a page or two would be familiar, a conversation, an event, something would trigger a memory.

I either read this book while I was very drunk, or I read snippets of it without reading the whole thing.  The latter is more likely, the former is probably wiser.

So it was a curious mix of ‘yes, yes I know that’ and ‘Wait, really?’  Some questions I had were answered, such as what Verin was really up to, and some events were true surprises, such as the four way bonding of Rand and his Girls.

It’s clear then that this was the point previously where I just gave up on the series, and stopped reading it properly.  I may have scanned summaries for one book after this one, but probably not in any detail and so we’re arriving at the point where there might not be a retrospective at all.  Virgin territory.  A hundred thousand adjectives all crying out for attention for the first time.

I’m not sure how good that news is, to be honest.

Despite the lack of having read it before, I still found myself skimming some pages.  I don’t need to read about the dress of every woman in Ebou Dar, nor about the moustache of every man anyone ever meets.  I don’t need to hear about skirt smoothing, or dry hand-washing, nor about smooth faces and the lack of sweat.  I just want to get to the meat, and wish Jordan would stop serving peas and carrots over and over again.

The Angry Spoilers

No spoilers really, just the sad lurking memory of them from the past, when I cared enough.

As with the previous book, there’s not a lot to get angry about in Winter’s Heart, which I guess is good news.  The annoying characters continue to be annoying, but they’re slightly tempered now, and there isn’t as much glaring stupidity that there was at one time.

The only thing I can get worked up about is that when this whole bloody thing started, it felt like it was going to be ‘The Story of Rand al’Thor’, but has turned out to be ‘The Story of everyone around Rand al’Thor which sometimes includes bits about Rand as well’.  I wanted to read an epic fantasy with Rand at the centre, but Jordan’s story is too big for that and so despite being The Dragon Reborn, so far, he’s been only one of many parts, and not always the most interesting.

Rating: ★★★☆☆ 

Book Information
  • Author: Robert Jordan
  • Series: The Wheel of Time (9)
  • Genre: Fantasy
  • Buy on Kindle (UK)Buy from Amazon (UK)

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Sep 202014

Whispers Under Ground (Rivers of London 3) Whispers Under Ground is the third book in the Rivers of London (or DC Peter Grant) series.  The book sees familiar characters DC Peter Grant, Nightingale (his boss), Stephanopoulos (his other boss), Seawoll (his other, other boss), and Lesley, who’s face he ruined, work together to solve another mysterious crime in London.  This time, there’s been a murder on in the London underground and if DC Peter Grant isn’t careful, he might have to do some real police work.

Ben’s prose is punchy, witty and very easy to read.  His insight into both the mind of DC Grant and the workings of various London authorities is entertaining and laugh out loud in places.  DC Grant is great, and he feels amazingly real.  There isn’t any cliché here or a feeling of made up emotions.  Peter is honest, embarrassing, offensive, offended and emotionally stunted in all the right places.  His interactions with those around him are a master class in observational writing, and frankly, I could read pages and pages about Peter doing little other than going shopping.

Thankfully, Aaronovitch gives Peter just a little bit more than that to do.  As is traditional with urban fantasy there’s a ‘background arc’ and the actual police case to be getting on with.  Both are engaging, to some degree, although neither was rivetingly interesting.  The murder case is about some people we don’t really know, or get to know much, and the background arc is a little thin on the content.

However, the introduction of a couple of new characters (an FBI agent, and someone from the British Transport Police) give Peter and Leslie some excellent material to work with, and generate a load of excellent banter.

The whole book felt rather gentle, there’s no great surprises, and although there are a few moments of genuine peril, overall it was a much more relaxed investigation than either book one or book two.  The magical content is pretty low as well, with the primary focus being on the police procedural aspect and actually pounding the pavement as it were.  I didn’t miss the supernatural elements, and there’s still enough to make it fantasy rather than a crime drama, but I do wonder about the overall direction.

The end is rather simple, and delivered pretty much out of the blue.  There’s plenty of supporting material, but if you could figure out the detail in advance, then it was too clever for me.  It’s not an issue, because without the legwork it wouldn’t have been there, but it’s certainly not the climax to a long and thrilling chase, for example.

In the end, Whispers Under Ground is a book about DC Grant, and along the way he solves a murder with the help of some other interesting people.  It’s engaging, witty, and absolutely well worth reading, but it’s not going to bowl you over with suspense.

Rating: ★★★½☆ 

Book Information
  • Author: Ben Aaronovitch
  • Series: Rivers of London (3)
  • Format: Paperback
  • Publisher: Gollancz
  • Genre: Urban Fantasy
  • Buy on Kindle (UK)Buy from Amazon (UK)

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Sep 192014

On Friday 12th and Saturday 13th of September, I headed down to Leighton Buzzard for the 2014 Festival of Romantic Fiction. I had a fantastic time and met lots of lovely authors and came away with a whole new list of books to check out.Bernadette O'Dwyer, Bella Osborne, Terri Nixon

I arrived on Friday and the first event I attended was Girls Night in with the authors Mandy Baggott, Jane Lovering, Jill Steeples and Rowan Coleman.  They each did a reading which even had (very good) singing from one author, and then they answered questions. All I can say is if there is a zombie apocalypse, keep your grandparents away from Mandy and if you have a diary, hide it from all of them! There was also pink fizz and cakes – a lovely start to the evening.

I then moved over to the author party (while not being an author this party was for all festival goers honest!), despite being there on my own I was made to feel extremely welcome there, especially by Mandy Baggott, Rhoda Baxter, Rachel Lyndhurst and Linn B Halton. After more wine it was time for bed.(L-R) Carmel Harrington, Katie Fforde, Liz Fenwick, Fiona Harper, Tracey Bloom (and of course George Clooney!)

Saturday I attended three events – the first was an afternoon with authors Fiona Harper, Tracy Bloom (who also bought George Clooney with her), Liz Fenwick, Carmel Harrington and Katie Fforde who all did readings and answered questions.

I then headed off to afternoon tea and had a lovely time chatting with the authors at my table and listening to readings from some of the award nominees. Every author I heard a reading from made me want to buy their book! Good job I have a birthday coming up – Amazon vouchers for the win!

It was then time to go and get ready for the awards evening which had some great dancing and singing from a local theatre school before the awards began. The award winners in the categories voted for by Romance Readers were

  • Best Romantic Read – One Step Closer to You by Alice Peterson
  • Best Historical Read – The Dress Thief by Natalie Meg Evans
  • Best Short Romance – Taming Her Italian Boss by Fiona Harper
  • Best Ebook – The Oyster Catcher by Jo Thomas
  • Best Author Published Romance – Christmas Yves by Nicola May

Caroline Raynor

There was also a new talent award chosen by professional authors and a publisher, this years winner was Caroline Rayner with Catherine Meadows as runner up – I might add they were both on the same table as me for afternoon tea, as was Fiona Harper so clearly I am a lucky charm ;)

After the awards, canapes and of course wine, Mandy, Linn, Kate and myself went for a curry only to find the restaurant was shutting and they turned us away – 11.15 on a Friday night, unheard of! Instead we headed to the kebab shop before heading to bed.

I had a fantastic time but was very surprised at the lack of regular readers like myself there, it was primarily authors. Having said that everyone was so friendly – as an example –  Saturday morning I was sitting by myself in the bar when Kate Nash noticed me on my own and recognised me from the day before as being with the festival. She then promptly introduced me to two authors sitting at the next table – Terri Nixon and Glynis Smy who were only too happy to chat and made me feel very welcome.

Mandy Baggott, Rachel LyndurstI know the organizers are desperate for more readers to attend and I can’t understand why they didn’t. As a big romance reader I was thrilled to find this event in the UK and will definitely be going again. Maybe next year we can get more readers to attend. Out of interest, what would other romance readers be looking for at a festival like this, what would make you want to go?




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Sep 192014

The Path Of Daggers: Book 8 of the Wheel of Time: 8/12 The Rambling Introduction

I started writing this introduction and realised I was really writing the retrospective, so I had to start again.  The Path of Daggers is the shortest of all The Wheel of Time main series books (at ~226,000 words).  It made it to number 1 on the New York Times hardcover fiction best seller list, the first of The Wheel of Time books to do that.  Given how low I rated some of the books before this one that’s quite an achievement.  I think at this stage, pure weight of numbers of people who need to know what happens next probably had a lot to do with it.

Given both my memory of the book and the low reviews on Amazon, I wasn’t really looking forward to it – let’s see how it faired.

The Review

The Path of Daggers is a bit like someone you know, who you don’t like spending time with but you can’t really describe why.

The book, as we have come to expect now, flits about with many different PoV’s and many different threads.  The main groups are still, Nynaeve & Elayne (Nynlayne as I will call them for a while), Rand and whoever he drags with him, Perrin and Faile (Peraile from now on, although Failin might make more sense), Egwene and the rebels and then a bunch of also rans.

Mat doesn’t make any appearance in the book, which given my irritation with him in the last one, might not be a bad thing overall.

What we have in The Path of Daggers is a small collection of events, described in conflicting amounts of detail.  A walk through the woods for a few Aes Sedai might cover 10 pages, covering their complete thoughts and conversations about almost everything.  A battle between Rand’s forces and say, a large group of enemies might be tossed out in 30 words or less.  What Jordan chose to focus on at this stage is legendary in its annoyance factor, but if you’re not used to it by now then you’ve not been paying attention.

The actual events themselves are certainly interesting for the most part.  Nynlayne use the Bowl of Winds and have a run in with an enemy they’d rather not meet again.  Egwene manipulates the rebel Aes Sedai until she gets what she wants.  Peraile go after the Prophet and have some fun doing it.  Rand, well, Rand has some of the best scenes but essentially consolidates his position from the last book and then puts the boot in at the end of this one.

The problem is that we don’t need to hear the thought processes of every character involved in every one of those actions, as a stream of consciousness.  It’s just dull.  I’ll admit, I wasn’t in a good mood when I read the book, but I’m trying to remain objective.  I have absolutely no doubt that Jordan could, and should, have condensed the last three books into a single novel.  It would have had better pacing, and delivered a much better story.

However, Path of Daggers isn’t as bad as some of the books before it, and it wasn’t as frustrating as it could have been.  There are some good scenes, with Perrin, Rand, Egwene and Elayne all getting moments that are enjoyable.  Some of the bit part characters reveal stuff, and there’s some ‘mystery’ with the One Power going on.  Those good scenes balance the tedium and The Path of Daggers comes in at just around an average read.  Hardly any progress, but not so offensive that it sticks in the mind.  The worst thing a piece of art can do is leave you disengaged, neither loving it nor hating it.  A Path of Daggers is just bland.

The Retrospective

Here be spoilers!

There’s a theory that the Wheel of Time book you dislike most is the first one you had to wait for.  I can’t remember if The Path of Daggers was the first one I had to wait for, but I do remember being really unhappy with it when I first read it.  It was slow, nothing happened and there was no progress in the overall story.

I’m not sure now, that that is a fair assessment of the book.  It reads okay, and while not a lot happens, there are certainly some story-progressing events, it’s just that they’re wrapped up in so many useless words they’re not easy to remember.

I wasn’t expecting the book to be so bloody bland.

I’d forgotten most of the big events in the book to be honest, remembering them only vaguely and as they started to unfold, but none of them were a real shock even then.  Rand and Min are the best thing in the book, and I had forgotten how good she was for him.

I was waiting all the way through for Dashiva to betray Rand so it was a surprise when it turned out not to be just him at the end.  I think I remember how that plays out but it must happen in the next book since it didn’t in this one.

I want to be more passionate about the book, but I can’t.  It’s like a naughty school child you’ve given detention to 30 times already.  They’re never going to change, they don’t care, and there’s nothing you can do to improve the situation.  This book was like that – it just is, it exists, and in order to read the next one you must read this one first.

The Angry Spoilers

One minor spoiler, wafer thin, nothing really at all to worry about.

In order to be angry, you need passion, and there’s no passion to be found in A Path of Daggers.  Bland page follows bland page, where the actors we’re used, to carry out the same actions they’ve carried out in previous books, with pretty much the same outcome.  Even momentous events such as the use of the Bowl of Winds are surrounded by so much adjective laden junk that by the time it happens you no longer care about it.

I can’t help but think that Jordan wrote some of the books by sitting down every day, writing 1000 words, and then when he’d written 230,000 of them, he stopped, spell checked it, and handed it in.  There’s no sign of an editor here, no sign of someone asking him to keep the story tight.  It’s just a stream of words.  He may have had amazing notes, and he certainly had a plan, but his journey towards appears to be based on just putting one word after the next until it happens.

Rating: ★★½☆☆ 

Book Information
  • Author: Robert Jordan
  • Series: The Wheel of Time (8)
  • Genre: Fantasy
  • Buy on Kindle (UK)Buy from Amazon (UK)

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