Saturday, April 19, 2014

Best Books 2014: Surreal Picks & What To Look Forward To

Of late, my reading has leaned towards the surreal (fantasy, horror, sci-fi etc.) which is a good thing as 2014 has already produced some great reads. Below are some of my picks from what I've read and a mention at some of the books I'm really excited about yet to be published.

In no particular order:

Picks of 2014 (to be or already published):

The Girl with All the Gifts Hang Wire The Almost Girl

Murder of Crows (The Others, #2) The Burning Dark Depth Charging Ice Planet Goth

Read the reviews:
- THE GIRL WITH ALL THE GIFTS
- HANG WIRE
- THE ALMOST GIRL
- MURDER OF CROWS
- THE BURNING DARK
- DEPTH CHARGING ICE PLANET GOTH

Now a look ahead:

The Seal of the Worm (Shadows of the Apt #10) Clariel (Abhorsen, #4) Hellhole Inferno (Hellhole, #3)

Broken Monsters The Broken Eye (Lightbringer, #3) Multiversum (Multiversum, #1)

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

First Look: NIGHT TERRORS by Tim Waggoner


Night Terrors (Shadow Watch, #1)NIGHT TERRORS is a ridiculously fun book to read – a concoction of nightmares, detective drama, and the supernatural that stretches the fabric of reality and bleeds surreal through the seams.

Shadow Watch officers/agents Audra (an Ideator, maker of nightmares) and Jinx (an Incubus, Audra’s nightmare made real) are introduced to the reader following the unsuccessful collar of another Incubus causing havoc amongst the general populace.  It is during this episode of violence that a Maelstrom opens up, dredging up monsters and supernatural horrors bringing the Shadow Watch partners out of the shadows and into full light of their superiors and many terrified onlookers. From here a tried and tested detective formula precedes the investigation – yet with a shade of the surreal.

I really like the dynamic of the unpredictable duo in Audra and Jinx, not only does the real life existence of Audra’s worst nightmare work with her day and night (Ideators don’t need sleep, often relying on illegal drugs to maintain alertness) but often saves her from other peoples tormented and ghastly creations. Jinx, being a murderous clown, packs a few big gloved punches (or mallets) to go along with his humour which lightens the mood and breaks-up the procedural nature of their investigation.

NIGHT TERRORS has a lot going for it and I’m pleased that it’s the first in a series focusing of the Shadow Watch as Jinx is one nightmare that I, as a reader, wouldn’t mind reoccurring.

NIGHT TERRORS is due out in May 2014 from Angry Robot. Read more here.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Review: KING OF THORNS by Mark Lawrence


King of Thorns (The Broken Empire, #2)Four years have passed since the Prince of Thorns, Jorg Ancrath forged his place atop a fractured and broken throne won with the blood of his brothers and those who dared to stand in his way. Now, the Price of Arrows threatens all that the newly proclaimed King Jorg has taken. Marching twenty thousand strong to his doorstep, the Price of Arrowshas Jorg’s number but not his thirst and talent for bloodshed. KING OF THORNS pits Jorg against a worthy foe, albeit a mere mortal who just might cut the killing king down to size. Might.

KING OF THORNS is really a novel of two tales. For the better part, the present day battle and attempted take-over of Jorg’s kingdom is secondary to the throw-back chapters of four years prior. Despite the aptly titled, King of Thorns, more than half is a direct sequel to PRINCE OF THORNS with a dedicated and elaborate focus on Jorg forging alliances with other amenable states in the preparation of war some three months after taking the throne. This does well to link the allegiances we see in the present day confrontation and gives context to the relationships between the newer characters introduced across the Broken Empire.

As for the ‘wedding day’ story arc set in the present, as the chapter title suggest, this is a single event of monolithic proportions which, not only provides Jorg with a wife and Queen to his kingdom, but a clever and strong minded companion who aides the war effort in more ways than one. Author Mark Lawrence does a great job at providing some redeemable qualities to his very tainted and horribly violent lead character – the introduction of the bride-to-be helps with that.

Initially I was taken aback by the continued references to the back-story, after all there is a whole book dedicated to the Prince prior to becoming King yet as the novel progresses these chapters became more and more relevant and enhanced the present day storyline.

While the fantastical elements are obvious, the medieval, strategic warfare, and futuristic components add a nice touch to KING OF THORNS, making this one of the more enjoyable and distinct concepts in the genre.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Catching up on crime: ATOMIC CITY by Sally Breen


Atomic CityThis is an interesting book on so many levels. Despite enjoying it there was something that felt a little off. Set on the Gold Coast in Queensland, Australia it was nice to see an Aussie author tackle noir and do it well. I thought the writing was at times poetic and vivid, with the seedy depiction of the sunshine state a real highlight.

One thing that bugged was that the characters just didn’t feel real, more a cardboard cut-out than three dimensional. That said the author did go to some length to make Jade, one half of the books’ focus, a tormented and deeply scarred individual with a penchant for the grifters game, same with the titular male lead ‘The Dealer’ – the foundation for a decent character yet something was just a little off centre.

The plot revolves around Jade and her attempts at luring members of the opposite sex into her world of scams and cons. For the most part she’s successful but quickly shows her devil may care attitude when switching sides to hook up with a prominent underworld figure, leaving The Dealer alone with his thoughts of past capers and romanticisms.

From that point forward, the reader learns not to trust her narrative nor The Dealers as jealously boils over and versions of the truth become skewed.

I give this 4 stars on Goodreads but not with confidence. The premise and poetry enough to satisfy me despite the lack of character depth.   

First Look: TROLL MOUNTAIN (episode 3) by Matthew Reilly


Troll Mountain: Episode IIIWarning spoilers of episodes 1 and 2 ahead! 



I also plan on writing a blog post about my final thoughts of TROLL MOUNTAIN as a complete story, but first here’s what  thought of the third and final instalment in Matthew Reilly’s YA Fantasy adventure:

The final chapters of TROLL MOUNTAIN see Raf, our young and brave protagonist face off against the Troll King’s champion in battle he surely has no chance of winning.

Picking up where Episode 2 left off, the reader is thrown into the action – something author Matthew Reilly is renowned for. The confrontation between the Troll champion and Raf is smartly written with Raf using his smarts rather than brute force (of which, someone of his stature would not have much of) as he fights for his life and the lives of the people in his village (those in dire need of fresh water and the elixir). His companions are put to the peripheral, as the book shifts perspective to Raf’s plight following the early episode’s character building.

This is perhaps the most up-front instalment that conforms to the YA stereotype, not in a bad way. As Raf deals with his violent confrontation he also must learn humility to go along with his bravery. Characters from the earlier chapters of Episode 1 reappear, forcing Raf’s hand at learning important life lessons.

Episode 3 did feel a like the weaker of the instalments, but I think that’s primarily attributed to the journey having been walked and the characters being developed, leaving only the closure to the story to tell – which in itself is good and reads as lengthy action sequence.  

Overall, TROLL MOUNTAIN is a sold YA fantasy read that has engaging characters pitted against formidable foes set amongst an interesting place-setting.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Review: HELLHOLE Awakening by Brian Herbert & Kevin J Anderson


Hellhole Awakening (Hellhole Trilogy 2)IT DOESN’T END!

I think the Hellhole series is off to a great start. The worlds are interesting, the universe deep, and the characters well formulated and plotted. What let the initial two books down, however, is each doesn’t read as a self contained story. I get the need for continuity, but having read in excess of 500pgs per instalment, as a reader, I want some return on investment.

Sounds harsher than I’m meaning it to be; I gladly give AWKAKENING and its predecessor 4 stars out of 5 on Goodreads, the books themselves are a great form of escapism in a well defined sci-fi setting that warrants many more stories set in this vast fictional landscape. I just think the author’s could’ve written the books with more emphasis on closure rather than cliffhanger.

You can read my review of HELLHOLE #1 here.

SPOLIER ALERT for HELLHOLE #1

HELLHOLE ended with a declaration of war with AWAKENING set up for a large scale confrontation between the Crown Jewel planets and the deep zone planets. Diadem Michella, Escobar Hallholme, and Ishop amongst others against General Adolphus and his alien Xayan race is epic within itself yet the added mystery of an anonymous space craft scanning Hellhole and the planets’ slow awakening added even more drama and chaos. There’s a lot to take in, and to the authors credit, they make it easily readable. This is one sci-fi series reader can enjoy rather than have to work to read.

Much like HELLHOLE, AWAKENING doesn’t give full closure to the story arc. Whilst I walked away satisfied, I would’ve liked less of a tease for the next instalment and more of a clear ‘end point’ to this book. Perhaps it’s more a criticism of my own impatience rather than the authors themselves – they have me craving what happens next. Mission accomplished in that respect.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Review: INK MAGE by Victor Gischler


Ink MageINK MAGE opens in dramatic fashion, thrusting the reader head on into a world of warfare and violence. Blood is spilt, heroes are felled, and the homeland of Rina, soon to be Dutches by virtue of her father’s murder, is overrun by the invading Parranese.

Author Victor Gischler’s deep dive into the surreal results in a fast paced fantasy that envelops the reader in a fantastical shroud of magic, monsters and mystical lore from start to finish. Rina’s initial battle alongside the devastating violent and protective Kork in the early stages of the book sets the tone for strong character development and provides a pathway cut through the meaty flesh of invaders towards her first tattoo, spawning the adventure and creating the legend.  

Double crosses and questionable allegiances ensue as Rina seeks help from all manner of unlikely sources to rid her homeland of its conquering guests (including gypsies). Aided by a likeable cast including Alem and Tosh, Victor Gischler ensures INK MAGE remains fresh by virtue of varying perspectives and allowing for respective telling of events through differing eyes. This allows for the blend of magic/warfare/and traditional fantasy quest elements to merge seamlessly into the broader tale.

I had the luxury of reading INK MAGE as a single volume and I’m glad that was the case as the pace of story made for a quick read – in serial format, I would’ve been too impatient waiting for each instalment.

I’m keen to see where Victor Gischler takes this series next.