In my own words, from elsewhere, I am "Slightly geeky, overly cynical and delusional about my own self importance." You can find me here on my blog or here on Twitter

Dec 172013

Hi Readers & Book Fans.

As we approach the end of 2013, I just wanted to write a short post to let you know how things are going, both with the site and in life.

In life, things have been up and down for Greté recently in terms of her health.  She suffers from long term depression (dysthymia specifically) and despite the support and medication there are days, and sometimes weeks, where she is just not able to deal with reading, or writing reviews.  At times, reviews from other folk who contribute will pile up in the background on the site, and Greté’s illness will just prevent her from reading them, approving them and publishing them.

Greté is very much dedicated to the site, and is very much dedicated to getting back and posting some more content.

The website has been Greté’s hobby for a few years, and she is proud of what she has built, and grateful for your readership, support and comments.  As soon as she’s feeling well enough, she’ll be writing reviews and posting them again.  Thanks again for your support and understanding, and here’s to a better 2014.

In closing, here’s hoping you have a very Merry Christmas, and an awesome New Year.

Apr 292013

The City The City is a fantasy tale of intrigue, deceit, hate and revenge, and yet it cloaks all of that beneath a layer of honour, loyalty and love.  The eponymous City is a vast and ancient state.  More than merely a single construct it covers many leagues, and it is at war.  Beneath the City, where the story starts, live the Dwellers, people who make what life they can living in the sewers, and it is here we meet the first characters in the story that is about to unfold.

I am challenged by stories which have many characters, especially when the story is then spread across them.  I prefer a small number of characters on which I can focus and understand in detail.  The City has a dozen or so characters of importance, and early on I struggled with my usual challenge, knowing who to like, who to root for, and who to hate.  Not because it isn’t always obvious what’s going on, but because the story has eight or nine people who could be considered the main protagonists.  The actual tale however is compelling, and that helped me work through my issue and I’m glad I did.  The story moves from character to character, or group to group, each progressing the narrative and revealing a little bit more of the history of The City, or the underlying war and rebellion in which everyone appears to be embroiled.  There are some leaps where things I felt were important happened ‘off page’, and I was sad for that, because Stella’s words are so graceful that I would have preferred to read them first hand, rather than hear them second hand through another character.

Stella’s prose is fluid, interesting and engaging.  Her touch is delicate, and her descriptions are vivid and long lasting.  I am left with a strong visual image of The City in my mind; it’s sprawling landscape and sewer system as much a character in the story as any of the people.  The pace throughout the whole story is even and measured, with only a gentle increase towards the end.  In some ways, I struggled with that, always expecting the story to explode and be driven forward at pace, and always being pulled back.  On reflection, I think it’s intentional, playing back the behaviour of some of the characters, and in particular a game in the story referred to as urquat in which great patience is required.

The City is not a riotous novel of warfare and combat.  There are certainly moments of action, vividly described, but the story is more subtle than that, a deeper reflection of the motivations of the characters, and a slow reveal of the people who inhabit The City and those who wish them toppled.  The characters throughout the story are well rounded, real and solid.  There are touching moments between two specific characters that brought tears to my eyes every time.

Although this is a fantasy novel, there is little magic, and the small amount is revealed slowly over time.  The magic is sinister, and woven in carefully to make sure we know it is powerful, closely guarded and mostly reviled.

Stella’s first solo novel is intelligent, compelling fantasy fiction, with enjoyable characters, and moments of true emotion.  If I could have one thing it would be to have spent longer with some of the characters, to have enjoyed more of the emotional moments with them.  But it is a small desire amongst an otherwise entertaining and enjoyable read.

I find myself left wanting to know more about world, the people, the magic and the Serafim.  The City is like a dance viewed from the outside, where many dancers move in beautiful and unexpected patterns, eventually settling into a final position that is both satisfying and mysterious at the same time.

Caveat emptor: I personally know Stella Gemmell.  My copy of The City was purchased from Amazon.

Rating: ★★★★☆ 

Book Information
  • Author: Stella Gemmell
  • Buy on Kindle (UK)Buy from Amazon (UK)

Feb 132013

It’s that time of year again, when Hollywood celebrates it’s own achievements.  Yes, it’s The Oscars (or the 85th Academy Awards).  As usual, many of the films up for awards are book adaptations, so I thought it would be worth having a look at some of them.

Life of Pi Life of Pi (by Yann Martel) is variously described as indescribable, and unclassifiable.  It has also been described as un-filmable, but I think many screenwriters these days simply take that as a challenge.  The book was rejected many times before finally being published, but the movie has drawn instant acclaim and already won a slew of awards.  Many of those awards are technical in nature, because the film looks incredible, with sublime special effects.  At the Oscars, the movie is again up for several technical awards, as well as Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay, as well as giving Ang Lee a shot at Best Director.

Argo: How the CIA and Hollywood Pulled Off the Most Audacious Rescue in History I’m a little confused about Argo, it’s either based on The Master of Disguise: My Secret Life in the CIA by Antonio J. Mendez and Malcolm McConnell, or it could be based on Argo: How the CIA and Hollywood Pulled Off the Most Audacious Rescue in History by Antonio Mendez and Matt Baglio, or maybe it’s a mix of both.  I’m not sure if the latter book was actually written alongside the screenplay or not.  Anyway, the film (directed and starring Ben Affleck) is up for or helping to provide a good number of awards this year, including Best Picture, Supporting Actor, Editing, Music, and Adapted Screenplay.

Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln Despite my initial expectation that Lincoln was just based on history, it turns out to be based on Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln written by Doris Kearns Goodwin.  Again, up in multiple categories including Best Picture, I suspect this will be the vehicle for an Oscar win, in Actor in a Leading Role, for Daniel Day-Lewis.  You read it here first folks.

The Silver Linings Playbook The Silver Linings Playbook is adapted from the debut novel (of the same name) written by Matthew Quick.  In loose terms, it’s a romantic comedy, but is also realistic look at the challenges thrown up mental health, both for sufferers and those around them.  This film is up in Best Picture, but also gives many of the cast a chance at acting honours in all four of the categories (supporting and leading actor and actress).

Les Miserables (Classics) Technically, Les Misérables is based on the musical.  But since the musical is based on the book, it’s in the list!  Also up in the Best Picture category, it will be a miracle if it wins.  There have been 9 or 10 musical winners of Best Picture, the last being Chicago in 2002, and the one before that was Oliver! in 1968 – as you can see, it’s going to be a challenge.

The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists! (or Pirates! Band of Misfits! in America), is loosely based on the book of the same (UK) name by Gideon Defoe.  In line for Best Animated Feature Film, it’s actually pretty good.  I recommend the film, but I’ve never read the book!

There may be other films in the various categories adapted from books (Beasts of the Southern Wild is adapted from a play, so I didn’t include it, likewise The Sessions is adapted from an essay), but those are the ones that jump out at me most.  Enjoy!

Jul 172012

Something weird is going on, and I can’t decide if it’s a scam or if people are being given bad advice, or a single agent is behaving oddly.  BookThing has received four review requests in the last few weeks, all in July, and all with exactly the same boilerplate format.  In each of them, the author name, book name, and a few of the words are different, but the overall message is virtually identical.  Each request offers to send out a review copy (in PDF) of the short story (around 8000 words).  Each also includes a link to Image Shack which hosts a picture of the book cover.

Here are three of the e-mails, I’ve taken out the author name, and the book title, but left everything else intact.

Example 1

I am [author name removed] and I write Vampire Romance Thrillers
and was wondering if you might be interested to receive a Review
Copy of my new book.

The title is "[title removed]", [series removed] series.

This is a short story of over 8000 words for easy reading.

Even though it's short, I am confident that you will love the 
plot and characters!

Several reviewers have given me rather positive and encouraging 
feedback and I hope you will enjoy it as much as my other 

Here's the awesome book cover:

[url removed]

Thanks for your time.

I would be grateful if you could review my book and post it 
on your blog.

[author name removed]
Example 2

This is [author name removed]. I write Fantasy short stories 
and novels and was wondering if you might be interested to 
receive a Review Copy of my new book.

The title is "[title removed]", [series removed] series.

This is a short story of over 8000 words for easy reading 
and won't take much of your time.

Nonetheless, I am confident that you will find the plot and 
characters intriguing!

Some readers have given me encouraging feedback after 
reviewing the book and I hope you will enjoy it as well!

Here's the book cover that I commissioned an artist to design:

[url removed]

Thanks for the time.

I would be truly grateful if you could review my book and post 
it on your blog.

Awaiting your reply!

[author named removed]
Example 3

I am [author name removed], a horror thriller writer and was 
wondering if you might be interested to receive a Review Copy 
of my new book.

The title is "[title removed]", [series removed].

This is a story of over 8000 words for easy reading. 
Nonetheless, you will find the plot intriguing and I know you 
will love it!

Here's the book cover:

[url removed]

Thanks for taking time to read this email.

I would be truly grateful if you could review my book 
and post it on your blog.

Hear from you soon!

[author name removed]

As you can see, despite them being subtly different, they’re all the same message, delivered in the same format.  Are other book review blogs getting these?  Other review sites for things other than books getting similar stuff?  I can’t decide if it’s some weird scam, or just some misguided or badly advised authors using a completely generic boilerplate e-mail from some common source.

In any case, it doesn’t increase their chances of having their stuff read, because I trust the PDF’s about as much as I trust a Bond villain.

Lastly, why the magic 8000 words?

May 272012

Sorry the post is a little bit late, but we’ve consulted with Fizz the Book Guardian who has pulled the following two names out of her little cat-hat, in the Larissa Ione give away.

Sam – wins the first prize pack (all 5 books in the Demonica series)

Amanda J – wins the second prize pack (all 3 of the Lords of Deliverance series)

Grete will be in touch via e-mail soon to get your mailing addresses.  Sorry for those who didn’t win anything this time.  Congratulations to those lucky enough to be chosen at random!

Apr 122012

I was going to write a long article with deep research, insightful commentary and earth shattering conclusions, about whether book covers actually matter.  However, that sounded like a lot of bloody hard work, so instead I read a bunch of other people’s posts, articles and blogs on the issue.

This comment from A Capital Wasteland, sort of sums up my the starting position on the whole cover issue.

The first thing I heard about Lilith’s Brood was a disclaimer: don’t judge this book by its crappy romance novel cover. A naked woman covering her breasts with her hands, under white sheets.

But this is a classic science-fiction trilogy, I thought to myself. I must persevere!

Surely we shouldn’t have to persevere, a book cover should entice us, welcome us in, demand our attention, not put us off or mislead us.

Doug Geivett presents a view I’d not really thought about much, about enjoying book covers for their own sake, as art.  Clearly that’s not all he has to say,

When I say I’m pleased by the cover art of a book, I mean that it gives me pleasure. This is more difficult to explain. And the pleasure induced by a particular cover may be diminished or it may be intensified by the effort to explain its special appeal.

Sadly, Cover Matters doesn’t appear to have posted much content after a flurry of posts in 2010, but the small number of posts do cover a comparison between UK and US covers, which I find fascinating.  One specific comment captures the essence of a cover for me,

I find the cover fascinating, mostly because it sends a vibe of 19th century England that I am quite curious to explore.

Covers should drive curiosity, they should invite and entice!

The Book Smugglers have a really interesting (and somewhat depressing) article on covers with regard to Whitewashing, which you should check out.  The site also has a whole series of article relating to book covers, which you can see here.

I found this post over at Type M for Murder interesting, giving us the view of an author published by quite a well known publisher.

I know it’s wrong of me to say this … but when I first got a peep at my book cover for A VICKY HILL EXCLUSIVE! I cried.

It just wasn’t how I had imagined it to be at all. Even worse, I had no clout because it was my first book and as a lowly debut author …

There’s an increasing amount of conversation about book covers now that the number of self published books (both print and ebooks) is on a massive rise.  Authors who self publish often won’t have the funds to commission a good cover or the skills to create their own.  Writers don’t necessarily make artists and designers.  I have no doubt we’ll see a continued rise in the abstract cover, which hides an awful lot of sins but might not entice a lot of readers.  I have no doubt we’ll also see an astronomical rise in the number of ‘how to create a good book cover’ books and websites (not all of them designed with the author’s benefit in mind).

One thing that should be obvious with covers, is that you’re never going to put off an existing fan with a bad cover.  Once I’d read a few David Gemmell books they could have sold them with pictures of dog shit as the only cover element, and I would have still bought them, and still loved them.  Much like using pictures of diseased lungs on cigarette packets won’t stop smokers from buying them (the hope is they’ll put off new smokers), the aim of a book cover should be to grab new readers, or at least, new buyers.

My personal main beef with book covers, are those which make the books specifically look like cheesy TV series which I have no interest in.  This (currently) appears to apply to 90% of the paranormal romance and too much of the urban fantasy genre.  I’ll be honest, it also appears to apply more commonly to US covers than UK covers.  Maybe I’m not the target audience anyway, but in many cases I’m sure a good read is hiding behind a book cover I just can’t get past.

For example,

Unshapely Things by Mark del Franco.  This might be one of the best urban fantasy novels out there, but the cover screams ‘cheap cable TV series’.  I picked this up a couple of weeks ago when looking for something to read, but I’ll be honest, I didn’t even get past the cover to read the blurb on the back.

How about this,

It just makes me think of a cheap, late night cop drama that I’m never going to want to read.  I don’t want to detract from the book or the artist who did the covers, this isn’t a complaint about those, it’s just that the picture doesn’t call out to me and tell me anything I like about the potential read.  Of course, I have other issues with some book covers, but I’ll maybe save those for another post.

Can we conclude anything?  Well I’m cheating because I knew before I started this article how I would finish it.  For me, book covers do matter.  They matter because of the old adage that a picture is worth a thousand words.  The cover of a book says, here I am, read me and this is what you will experience within my pages.  I am a book of mystery and intrigue, or a tale of sexual delight, or a story of war and heroism.  We use the cover as shorthand, so we know what kind of world we are about to inhabit, what kind of emotions we hope to feel.  Book covers do not just appeal to our eyes, they must appeal to our soul.

Apr 112012

I really enjoyed Rivers of London, the first book in this series, and I had pretty high hopes for Moon over Soho, the second outing of DC Grant.  DC Peter Grant does for London Coppers what Dresden did for Chicago Private Investigators.  In Rivers of London Grant discovers that he’s got hidden talents of the magical variety, luckily for him, there’s a special division of the London Metropolitan Police that covers that kind of thing.  However, it turns out it’s a one man band, so when DC Peter Grant joins he doubles the size of the entire department.

Moon over Soho picks up a short while after the first book and deals with the repercussions of the case DC Grant solved.  However, our protagonist doesn’t have to wait long before he’s involved in a new investigation, and the continued development of a case that started in the previous book.  I do like the way Ben Aaronovitch ties the books together, these are clearly part of a broader story.  However, despite that, and despite the case being quite interesting – I really struggled through the first two thirds of Moon over Soho (well, perhaps 3/5ths).

The case revolves around mysteriously dying Jazz musicians, and as well as having quite a sluggish pace, DC Grant fails early on to spot the massive white elephant in the room.  It’s sometimes okay for authors to pretend their protagonists are dumb, and sometimes it’s enjoyable for readers to shout ‘he’s behind you’, but DC Grant isn’t stupid.  It felt entirely out of character that he didn’t spot the critically important elements in the investigation, where-as the writing made it entirely obvious to the reader.  I’m skirting the subject, because I don’t want to spoil the book too much if you do read it, but essentially within a few moments of meeting a key witness in the case, it was obvious to me what was going on.

Not the fine detail, that gets worked out at the end (more on that in a bit), but certainly the broad brush-strokes of what was happening.  I took no pleasure in finding out I was right, and I didn’t enjoy watching Peter stumble around building up a picture of something that should have been crying out at him very early on.  Either Ben didn’t realise readers would pick up on it so easily, or he had hoped to introduce some element of feeling worried for Peter.  Sadly, I just spent most of the first part of the book being angry.  It felt like Aaronovitch was using Peter’s stupidity or blindness as a plot device.

However, I stuck with it, the rest of the case is still engaging, the dialogue and writing is still witty, and in general, there was enough to keep me interested and carry me through to the final third of the book.  Which is a pretty good thing, because that’s where Ben hit his stride and the story really gets going.  As with the first book there are really 2 or 3 cases going on here at once, and Peter slides between them as required.  When the pace begins to accelerate in the later section, we see some characters in a new light, get to experience some truly powerful magical demonstrations and watch DC Grant cause untold mayhem (again).

I like the introduction of real Police behaviour in this book (and the last), and it’s good to see that being blended with the magic, rather than just ignored because it’s inconvenient.  Overall Moon over Soho was worth the effort, there’s some character progression, further twists to the overall story arc, and enough laughs, smiles and chuckles to get through the pain.

The book ends as it starts, with Lesley, and a startling revelation.  Hopefully the third book will be more consistent, and show more respect for the ability of the main character.

Rating: ★★★☆☆ 

Book Information
  • Author: Ben Aaronovitch
  • Series: Rivers of London (2)
  • Buy on Kindle (UK)Buy from Amazon (UK)

Mar 312012

A young girl discovers hidden powers which will ultimately exile her from her home.  A young boy discovers a strength he had been told he did not possess.  Dark terrors mount an assault in the dark and old oaths are stretched to their limits. New alliances are forged, hidden truths are rediscovered and an entire world is at peril.

The Heir of Night is a high fantasy saga with strong echoes of The Dragonbone Chair (Tad Williams) and Assassin’s Apprentice (Robin Hobb).  Our protagonist is the young Malian, only heir to the Keep of Winds and daughter to the Earl of Night.  Her soon-to-be companion is the boy priest Kalan, shunned and mistrusted as are all priests, by the Derai people.  A brutal assault on their home puts their friends and family in danger, tests the very mettle of the Alliance to which the Derai belong and proves an ancient evil is still abroad and seeking destruction.

The main book of The Heir of Night (~450 pages in the paperback) is split into three sections, and the whole novel covers only a short period of time (something like 10-12 days).  Each of the three parts in turn covers a specific event and each has a very tight focus.  While the scale of the story is epic, the individual set pieces are very personal and detailed.

The world setting is interesting and gripped me pretty quickly.  I like the layers and complexity that Helen Lowe has filled the land with, and in a short time she manages to convey a detailed and rich heritage that leaves me wanting to know more.  The prose is excellent and rich, easily conveying the bleak world that surrounds the Tower of Wind.

The characters that inhabit the land however, too often take second place in terms of depth to the world itself.  It’s not easy to develop characters when only a few days pass in the actual story, but I would have liked to have seen earlier events have a more visible impact on the character behaviours.  The characters are not shallow, but they inhabit clearly defined moulds that you will recognise quickly; the restless princess, the shunned hero-in-waiting, the dour and stern but loving father, the mysterious and magical minstrel.  It may be that this helps get a grip on the story early, there are certainly a lot of characters and a lot of backstory to pick up.  Having easy to recognise roles does help with that, but I would like to see the characters stretch and develop more in the second book.

I’ve hinted that this book has echoes of other fantasy books, and frankly which high fantasy books don’t riff on the ring quest or the fellowship?  In The Heir of Night the influences on Helen’s world and characters early on is very clear, Hobb and Williams with additional wafts of Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time and maybe even a little David Gemmell.  At first, I was worried those lingering memories would overpower the story, but Helen manages to lift the world and characters just high enough to break free and present her own tale.  As with character depth, I’m hopeful the second book in the series can stretch that distance even further.

Overall, the story is engaging and interesting.  The Wall of Night (part 1) is the strongest of the three parts.  It is dramatic, engaging and triggered a real emotional response in me at the end.  Storm Shadows (part 2) is more reflective and subdued, as is fitting for the middle part of any story, but picks up pace at the end and answers a few more questions about the world.  For me though, Jaransor (part 3) missed the right pacing.  It was too slow, almost lethargic, and needed a much greater sense of urgency and fear injected.  It resolves well and furthers the story, but it just didn’t have the pace or impact the end of a book needs.

The Heir of Night is a good read, with some very interesting world concepts and a hint of much more complex things to come.  It struggles to, but eventually does break free of its influences, and although the last part finishes too slowly, the first two are well paced and emotional.  Well worth reading, and I am looking forward to the publication of the second novel (The Gathering of the Lost).

Rating: ★★★½☆ 

Book Information
  • Author: Helen Lowe
  • Buy from Amazon (UK)

Mar 302012

Orbit have re-released 6 of David Gemmell’s Drenai books with brand new cover art.

You can read the press release here on the Orbit website.

A quote from that press release,

To celebrate Gemmell’s legacy, we’ve reissued the classic Drenai novels that orginally earned him his reputation as a master storyteller. All six novels have gorgeous new covers courtesy of our designer Sean Garrehy and the talented illustrator Tim Byrne, who together have perfectly captured the grittiness of Gemmell’s books. In addition, two of the biggest names in modern fantasy – Brent Weeks and Joe Abercrombie – have given their seals of approval.

I think the covers look fantastic and reflect the gritty realism that David brought to all of his work.  If you’ve never read David Gemmell before, then check out my post on why you should.  If you have read Gemmell and are looking for something similar, check out this brief list.

Mar 012012

Over the last few days I picked up and put down two or three books from Grete’s insane to-read pile, reading the first 10 or 15 pages, trying to find something to peak my interest. I tried a little bit of sci-fi, a little bit of fantasy and even some survival horror. However, it took only six pages of Rivers of London to know that I was hooked and that this was the lucky winner in the ‘what will Tony read next’ competition.

Ben’s writing is engaging, clear and easy to read.  His characters are rich from the outset and get more complex as the story goes on, and his take on London Urban Fantasy (should be a sub-genre in its own right) is both unique and compelling.

The book is populated by solid, realistic British coppers, and if Ben hasn’t worked for the police it would seem he certainly has someone on the inside (or, he’s good at research, but that didn’t sound as exciting).  The police procedure elements of the story were interesting and provide a good backdrop to the drama.  They ground the tale in a believable reality, despite the very rapid introduction of ghosts, wizards and other mythical beings.

Our main protagonist, Constable Peter Grant, discovers very early on that he can see ghosts and sense magic, which is just about all that saves him from a life stuck pushing paper around in the worst part of the police force.  He, his friend and fellow copper Lesley May and England’s Last Wizard, Inspector Nightingale, embark on a dangerous murder investigation where the felon is clearly not playing by the same rules.

Although the introduction of magic and ghosts happens quickly, Ben doesn’t dwell on people accepting or disbelieving it all.  Instead, we get a stoic acceptance that this kind of thing goes on, and if it goes on, it has to be handled, and if it’s going to be handled, then the Constabulary should be the people to handle it.

The pace is solid, and builds nicely towards the end.  There are really two stories going on here, the crime that Peter and Nightingale investigate, but also, the topic the book title alludes to.  The involvement of modern day living representations of the rivers of London is unique and one of the things that sets this book apart from what could have been a pastiche of Felix Castor or Harry Dresden.

Throughout the tale we are given hints of a dark past for magic and an agreement, and hence room to grow the back story.  We also get clear hints that Inspector Nightingale is more than he appears to be.  We barely scratch the surface of the mystery of the Folly and its even more mysterious maid, Molly.

Added to all of this, Ben Aaronovitch clearly doesn’t shirk away from putting his major characters at risk, and I’ll say no more than that so as not to spoil anything.

I described this book on twitter as “like blancmange with a severed finger in it – light and fluffy but filled with gore“.  The scenes are vivid, the magic is believable, the characters are engaging, rich and well thought out, and there are some really clever scenes.  Rivers of London is a superb example of what urban fantasy is all about.  You will not be disappointed.

Rating: ★★★★¼ 

Book Information
  • Author: Ben Aaronovitch
  • Series: Rivers of London (1)
  • Buy on Kindle (UK)Buy from Amazon (UK)