Thursday, 30 September 2010

Looking Back on September, Looking Forward to October

There is more than a hint of autumn in the air as we reach the end of September, and some of the trees are beginning to turn.

September was the first of my themed months - and my theme was one of a historical nature. Here are the reviews I managed:

1) Mistress of Rome by Kate Quinn
2) The White Queen by Philippa Gregory
3) Dissolution by C J Sansom

Only three books in the historical theme, but what occurred to me immediately was the fact that this theme covers an astonishing period - I read novels dealing with ancient Rome, the War of the Roses and the dissolution of the monasteries under Henry VIII. I can definitely see myself doing another historical themed month, because I have the other Shardlake novels on my TBR pile, and I didn't even touch such authors as Simon Scarrow and Elizabeth Chadwick. Look out for another soon!

You were also spoilt with the following reviews:

4) Kiss Heaven Goodbye by Tasmina Perry
5) Unholy Ghosts by Stacia Kane
6) Wicked Appetite by Janet Evanovich
7) Unholy Magic by Stacia Kane
8) The Harlequin's Dance by Tom Arden
9) City of Ghosts by Stacia Kane

A few days back I put it to my readers to pick the theme for October and the votes have been counted. In October I shall be concentrating on mostly Quercus books! I can't promise I won't read/review other books, but the majority will be Quercus titles. I hope you stick around!

Happy reading x

Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Spooks With Spooks

Department 1 - Office of the Prime Minister
Department 2 - Cabinet Office
Department 3 - Home Office
Department 4 - Foreign & Commonwealth Office
Department 5 - Ministry of Defence
Department 6 - British Army
Department 7 - Royal Navy
Department 8 - Her Majesty's Diplomatic Service
Department 9 - Her Majesty's Treasury
Department 10 - Department for Transport
Department 11 - Attorney General's Office
Department 12 - Ministry of Justice
Department 13 - Military Intelligence MI5
Department 14 - Secret Intelligence Service
Department 15 - Royal Air Force
Department 16 - Northern Ireland Office
Department 17 - Scotland Office
Department 18 - Wales Office
Department 19 - CLASSIFIED

Find a top secret briefing concerning DEPARTMENT 19 on My Favourite Books later today.

Proceed with caution!

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Dissolution by C. J. Sansom

It is 1537, a time of revolution that sees the greatest changes in England since 1066. Henry VIII has proclaimed himself Supreme Head of the Church. The country is waking up to savage new laws, rigged trials and the greatest network of informers it has ever seen. And under the orders of Thomas Cromwell, a team of commissioners is sent throughout the country to investigate the monasteries. There can only be one outcome: dissolution.

But on the Sussex coast, at the monastery of Scarnsea, events have spiralled out of control. Cromwell's commissioner, Robin Singleton, has been found dead, his head severed from his body. His horrific murder is accompanied by equally sinister acts of sacrilege.

Matthew Shardlake, lawyer and long-time supporter of Reform, has been sent by Cromwell to uncover the truth behind the dark happenings at Scarnsea. But investigation soon forces Shardlake to question everything that he hears, and everything that he intrinsically believes...

I have had my eye on the Shardlake novels for a little while, beginning with Dissolution - I greatly enjoy historical novels that do more than simply chronicle the events of the time, and murder mystery seemed to fit the bill! Having turned the first page, I found myself instantly caught up in the tale about Matthew Shardlake, gripped by the tight plot and realistic characters.

Sansom writes both lyrically and tautly, with few missteps. The descriptions of the monastery, and Shardlake being trapped within while on the hunt for a killer as snow spirals down outside, felt claustrophobic. Sansom increased the tension and the feeling of terror as the tale unfolded - every character was a source of suspicion, and I was constantly on the hunt for whodunnit.

I loved the way that the historical details were added to the story, woven around the main thrust of the plot. Discussions about Machiavelli, who had just published his novel; marvelling over the double entry being employed by the monks as a new initiative; the new nursing techniques. Sansom made it a joy to find these little gems, which were not the focus of the book, as I have found in other historical novels.

Sansom's characterisation was also very effective - Matthew Shardlake, in particular, is a very realistic character that I empathised with greatly. He is compassionate and clever, but also has many foibles. He sometimes speaks too sharply, and his self-esteem is non-existent. Most of the monks were given three dimensional personalities, with only a couple suffering from weak characterisation.

One flaw I did find (with both characterisation/dialogue) was that many of the characters spoke in a similar fashion with little to differentiate them, which made it hard to follow who was saying what in a conversation that lasted a few pages and where Sansom did not say explicitly who was talking.

I also found Sansom a little too knowing at times, with some of the concepts or thoughts he put into his character's dialogue: "But I fear without the universal church to bind us together, a day will come in this land when even belief in God will be gone. Money alone will be worshipped, and the nation, of course."

C. J. Sansom has brought to life an extremely turbulent period in English history, showcasing the politics and the fear experienced by the common people as they came to terms with the new laws. This is an incredibly strong novel, with an entertaining mystery to be solved by vibrant and realistic characters. I thoroughly enjoyed it and will definitely be picking up more novels about Matthew Shardlake.

Sunday, 26 September 2010

To review...? Or not to review?

Okay, folks, it is navel gazing time again here on Floor to Ceiling Books!

Well, actually, it is time to ask a few questions of those bloggers I read regularly to find out their opinions on the subject.

The subject today is: Reviewing!

I would welcome input from all quarters on this one, just to find out how, where, when reviewing takes place.

My questions are:

1) When do you review a book? Immediately, during, after a few days...? (this question was shamelessly stolen from Friday's Book Blogger Hop: I read a few responses and it intrigued me enough to think about a few more questions in the same vein).

2) Do you review every book that you read? What prompts you not to review a book? Do you feel the obligation to review all advance copies you receive?

3) How do you do your reviewing? Making notes as you read or just sitting down and jotting down thoughts and feelings once the whole thing is read?

I think that's enough!

On my part, here are my answers?

1) I always review a book immediately on finishing it, although I am having the thought that perhaps I ought to let the novel percolate for a little while before spilling all my reactions on paper. Sometimes those initial reactions are the most truthful, but other times, without putting distance between myself and the book, I can sometimes be overly effusive or a tad harsh, which I think I wouldn't if I waited.

2) At the moment I am reviewing every book I read. It makes Floor to Ceiling Books a little unfocused in terms of genre at times, I will admit, but I started this blog as a way of recording what I read and what I thought about the book so, under those principles, I am sticking to reviewing everything - good and bad. Having to give a negative review would never stop me from reviewing, but I know others will not post up a review if they hated a book.

3) Sometimes I will dash around the house looking for pen and paper to jot down an immediate reaction to something in a book; I will fold the corner of pages with pertinent quotes; but most often my reviewing is a gush of thoughts and ideas once the whole book is read. This means that sometimes I end up missing things that had occurred during the read, which can be frustrating, but mostly works.

Now...what about you?

Friday, 24 September 2010

October Theme?

In August I decided to begin doing themed months, picked by you, the reader. I will offer you three options and the option that receives the most votes will be the theme for the following month.

In September (although you wouldn't have believed it!) I did an historical fiction themed month. I say this because a surprising amount of other reviews also appeared on my blog, although these had been scheduled from before my decision to move to themed months. I hope you have been enjoying those reviews of novels with an historical bent!

Now, we are moving rapidly towards October and it is time to pick a new theme. I know that a number of blogs around the blogosphere are choosing to go with a horror/paranormal theme for the month of October, thanks to Halloween. Rather than follow the crowd I have picked three themes that hopefully avoid this!

1) Chick Lit (who wouldn't want to plough through some books with pink, sparkly covers in the dark month of October?)

2) Black Library novels (alright, war in the far future might be dark enough for October!)

3) Books published by Quercus (I received a number of books from this lovely publishing house, and would like to celebrate the diverse novels they're currently bringing out).

So, there you have it! Which do you want to see for October?

Thursday, 23 September 2010

City of Ghosts by Stacia Kane

City of Ghosts is the third book about Chess Putnam, as she goes through the business of debunking hauntings. In this novel Chess is drawn into a Black Squad (government department) investigation, bound to silence about her doings. She struggles to work through the meagre clues of the case as danger tightens around her, throwing everyone she cares about into the gravest peril.

I’ll say straight out that I adore this series, but I find that most series tend to have a weaker book. In my opinion, City of Ghosts is that book for Downside Ghosts.

I still greatly love all of the encounters between Chess and Terrible, which are heartbreaking and blisteringly sexy by turn. However, the whole plot dealing with Lauren from the Black Squad and their investigation seems unnecessarily complicated. We have not only the Lamanu kicking up trouble again (after encountering them in the first novel of the series), but also bodies in the street, psychopomps going mad, and a strange character called Mcguinness creeping into the frame.

To handle all of those plot elements in a tale that also seeks to provide a conclusion to very difficult personal relationships is a step too far, in my opinion, and the novel feels too rushed.

Chess’ drug use also takes a massive back seat in City of Ghosts. We’ve seen her dependency increase, especially in the second novel where she found herself blackmailed thanks to the amount she was taking. But here we only see one real instance where it is key to the storyline. I feel like Kane wavered a little in how far to take this element.

With all that said, City of Ghosts is still a superior example of urban fantasy. Kane’s worldbuilding is without peer in this genre, presenting us with the Church and psychopomps, and then the scary Downside where Chess makes her life. The food, the markets, the characters all come to startling life.

I’m thrilled that Stacia Kane is writing further books in the Downside series. The adventures of Chess are deeply satisfying, leaving you feeling real emotion about the heroine. Hopefully we won’t have to wait too long to read more — I will be at the front of the queue.

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Horr... I mean, Fantasycon 2010

On the weekend of Friday September 17th to Sunday September 19th I attended Fantasycon 2010 at the Brittania Hotel in Nottingham.

I like Nottingham. I have fond memories because of attending plentiful tournaments at Warhammer World. I've spent many hours in various bars around the city centre, and found myself at Rock City too many times to count. Nottingham is fairly seedy after dark, the town centre is all over the place and it is too full of students (which I can now say as an old fart!), but I do enjoy going there.

The Brittania Hotel lived up to the image of Nottingham - past its best, too busy for its own good and yet somehow fun to mock gently. My room wasn't too bad (the bed was ace!), although the shower required quantum mechanics to get it both working and producing hot water. Some people told horror stories about their rooms, but anyone who has attended work conferences will have stayed in worse!

Earlier this year I attended the Saturday of Eastercon and had muchos fun. Pretty much on my return home I booked into Fantasycon 2010 and have looked forward to it all year.

First the good: seeing all my great, great friends. These are people I have been chatting to almost daily since I started blogging, and it is amazing to be able to waffle on in real life. So I say a big hello and thank you to: Adam (@ghostfinder) and his wife Sandra, Adrian (@Figures), Liz and Mark (@LizUK and @Gergaroth), Kai (@kaisavage), Paul and his wife Nadine (@PabloCheeseCake), Sharon (@DFReview), Adele (@Hagelrat). You should totally follow all these people on Twitter!

It was also enormously cool meeting some fabulous new folk, like soon-to-be-published author Will Hill *waves*

And I love, love, love being able to meet people in the industry: a shout out to Gavin Smith, James Barclay, Peter F Hamilton, Dave from Abaddon, Lee and Marc from Angry Robot, Juliet E McKenna (seriously, this lady is just the coolest and tells very humorous tales!), Mike Shevdon, Chloe from Tor and Gillian from Gollancz, Alasdair Stuart (he says lovely things about me!) - gosh, and many many more!

Seriously, if I haven't mentioned your name above, then it isn't through malicious intent, it is my crappy memory and far too much alcohol!

A strange highlight was hanging in the dealer's room near the pulp table, crying with laughter over titles and illustrations. Look out for a pulp fiction week soon enough *grin* Who wouldn't want to read a book called 'Space Tug', with a tagline that begins: 'A thrilling tale of work...' Seriously, this is scintillating stuff!

I attended two panels - the one on How Not To Be Published was entertaining enough, albeit a little unfocused, and I came out feeling no envy for all my friends who are trying to get published; it all sounds so incredibly exhausting! You guys write the books and I'll just keep reading them, m'kay? The interview between Peter F Hamilton and Alasdair Stuart was incredibly good - pertinent questions and very candid and thoughtful replies.

Other than that I spent my time in the bar and thoroughly enjoyed myself!

The bad: You've seen my blog post title, and you've probably seen the complaints elsewhere. For the premier fantasy event in the UK, it felt a little too much like Horrorcon Reprised. I acknowledge that the organisers are supported heavily by horror writers, and that a lot of the attendees appreciate this, but I would have liked a great deal more fantasy for my buck. James Barclay, Mark Charan Newton and Juliet E McKenna were virtually the only authorial representatives of a genre that includes a great many more authors. Where were they all? Where were the fantasy representatives in the Fantasy Awards? Where were the fantasy book launches? Why was the dealer's room light on tables by the major publishing houses?

This isn't BAD, just bad, if you see what I mean. I still loved the event and had a blast, but it just didn't seem to be FANTASYCON! Maybe the move to Brighton in 2011 will stir things up a little bit? Either way, I'll still be going *grin*

Finally, have some pictures of the books I hauled home! Apologies for the random books in the background...

First up, here are the books generously given to me by Sharon:

Here are the books I was given free and *ahem* liberated from the banquet room:

Here are the Angry Robot titles I received in preparation for a future themed month:

Here are the few books I actually brought:

And here is a simply awesome picture of the pulp fiction I decided must be mine! Look at the titles! Look at the pictures!

If you get the opportunity to go next year, then take it - I'll see you there!

Challenge FAIL - The Harlequin's Dance by Tom Arden

Ejland, northernmost kingdom of El-Orok, has been torn apart by civil war. The true king, Ejard Red, has been betrayed by the treacherous Archduke of Irion; after a long siege, the king has been captured and his throne seized by his twin brother, Ejard Blue.

In the village of Irion the crippled boy known as Jemany Vexing, bastard son of the beautiful but frail Lady Elabeth, lives in the dilapidated castle with his dying mother and his frustrated and fanatical Aunt Umbecca. Ela - seduced, it is believed, by a common soldier during the siege - is a social outcast, while her dashing brother Tor is a traitor, wanted for crimes against the false king.

Unable to walk, Jem is condemned to a wretched half-life, until he meets a mysterious dwarf...and with his new strength comes a new friendship, with the wild girl Catayane. The Archduke's grandson and the daughter of a blind hermit discover that their love holds the secret to incredible mystical powers.

As the horrors of the Bluejacket regime begin, so Jem becomes aware of his greater destiny, for his is the quest to find and reunite the five crystals of The Orokon. But he is not the only seeker: the evil sorcerer Toth-Vexrah has his own plans and will let no one stand in his way.

The Harlequin's Dance is a quiet book, which has similarities with Gormenghast in terms of setting and social commentary. Arden uses an 18th Century setting, rather unusually, in this, the first of five novels in The Orokon sequence. This enables him to bring in concepts such as novels, muskets and other technological advances that add a different feel to the book in comparison to traditional fantasy.

Also unlike traditional fantasy, although this novel is on the surface a quest for five crystals, in The Harlequin's Dance, Jem doesn't even set out on his quest - or know about it - until the last few pages.

This is a very different style of fantasy, with a fair amount to recommend it. Arden writes with gentle humour, biting satire and ghoulish horror at key moments. The characterisation is sharp and the villains are truly monstrous.

So why do I count this a fail in my book challenge? Probably more because it wasn't my style of book than because it was bad, I would guess, but I do think Arden's novel does have some large flaws.

One of these flaws is the prologue, which details the legend of the god Orok, his five children, and the crystals he bequeaths to each. We saw the crystals scattered, heard the familiar trope that in a time of great adversity the crystals would be brought back together by an unlikely hero, and prepared ourselves for a mighty quest story. And then... nothing happens at all for the course of approximately 430 pages out of 441 pages concerning this quest. It's as though the prologue was attached to the wrong book - instead The Harlequin's Dance was a sort of fantasy version of Tess of the d'Urbervilles. If the prologue hadn't been included I feel as though I might have enjoyed the novel more - as it was I spent most of the time waiting for the "real" story to start instead of appreciating the slow unwinding of Jem's life.

Another flaw is that, even accounting for the naturally slow pace as Arden introduces his character and sets the scene, The Harlequin's Dance is *nothing* but set up. You recall in that summary above hearing about the evil sorcerer? Well, he makes nary an appearance in this novel at all.

The characterisation is excellent, as I mentioned, but this doesn't help when roughly four fifths of the characters are despicable and worthy of disdain and/or hatred. Maybe Arden wrote them a little *too* well, but I didn't actually want to spent much time with them - and Poltiss was by far the worst offender (a character who grows from a boy that murders cats with his own hands to a rapist and murderer - not pleasant at all).

My last point concerns some of the, frankly, disgusting passages that Arden included - I don't know if they're in the novel to shock or to really emphasise the hideousness of the villains, but they sickened and jarred me out of the story to the point that I dreaded what he would say next. Passages such as:

"He rucked up his nightshirt, taking aim at the chamber-pot. The acrid spurtings missed their target, spreading instead in a steaming pool across the patterned rug."


"Polty was so starving that he fell upon the gruel like a ravening beast, slurping and guzzling and scooping with his hands. He lolled back, almost grateful, only wishing there had been more. For a time, until the foul mixture had worked through his guts, and a fresh load of squelching liquid filled his breeches."

disgusted me. If they were in isolation I would probably have been able to cope, but there were many more situations like this.

In summary, I would class this as definitely NOT a diamond waiting to be discovered. It was slow, tiresome and misconstrued by the cover blurb, with only a few redeeming features. I am distinctly unlikely to pick up the second volume, which constitutes an extreme fail when considering the first novel of a five book sequence. Disappointing.

Have any of you read this novel? Would you dispute my review? Did you find more to enjoy?

Monday, 20 September 2010

Unholy Magic by Stacia Kane

In Stacia Kane’s second DOWNSIDE GHOSTS novel, Unholy Magic, Chess Putnam is pulled between two cases: the official Church investigation of the possible haunting of a celebrity, and the serial murders of prostitutes in Downside. She soon discovers that there is a dangerous sort of magic at work, and is forced to walk a fine line trying to balance all the elements of her life and work.

“Self-destruction was one thing, but she was turning into a one-woman wrecking ball.” In this book Chess is falling into an appalling addiction, but tries to convince herself that she is still merely a user. Her drug use compels her to keep visiting Lex, even though she knows she has to finish things with him to become a true part of Terrible’s life.

I found Unholy Magic desperately hard to read — at the same time as I wanted to shake Chess and try to force her to find help, I also wanted to sob with her as her life came crashing down around her. There was one particular graveyard scene between Chess, Lex and Terrible that I almost had to skip past, it was so powerfully written and haunting.

Kane succeeds admirably in writing a completely believable relationship between Chess and Terrible. It whispers into life as they begin trusting each other against all the odds, and grows as Chess realises that Terrible is much, much more than just the enforcer of drug lord Bump. This is not a relationship based on looks or immediate attraction; it grows and develops in an entirely realistic manner. Everything else in this novel takes second place to what is occurring between Chess and Terrible.

Which is a shame, because the plot is unpredictable and gripping, pitting Chess against an extremely chilling magic user. After reading certain scenes in Unholy Magic, I almost wanted to leave the light on at night!

I did have a slight problem with the middle part of Unholy Magic, where the storyline seems to skip along a little in places and doesn’t flow. This does coincide with the part of the novel where Chess’ drug addiction grows and threatens to consume her, so I put it down to the increasing disorientation of the main character, rather than a downturn in the quality of Kane’s work. It can, however, be confusing to read and follow.

Stacia Kane is writing a series that transcends the urban fantasy genre and should be read more widely. Her prose is excellent, characterisation and dialogue superb. This novel is bleaker and darker than the first, with a climax that leaves me longing to read City of Ghosts. I can’t recommend the DOWNSIDE GHOSTS highly enough.

Sunday, 19 September 2010

Dying? Or Diversification...?

Alright, this is going to be a short post, but I am hoping it might generate some discussion.

At Fantasycon this afternoon I listened to a talk with Peter F Hamilton, who was asked his opinion on whether science fiction is actually dying.

His response is that it is not so much dying as diversification. Alright, "space science fiction" is becoming rather a lost art, with Hamilton and Alastair Reynolds two of those who are pushing it forwards. However, science fiction is embracing as diverse authors in terms of subject as Chris Wooding, Ian McDonald and Tony Ballantyne. All science fiction authors; all writing very different types of science fiction.

What struck me is that the same could be said for fantasy. Epic fantasy in its traditional form is fading. We no longer see the Tolkien clones. Instead fantasy has been diversifying for many years. Have we ever said that fantasy is dying? Or have we reached out to all those authors writing fantasy - from China Mieville, to Joe Abercrombie, to Brandon Sanderson - and included them under the same banner.

Why is it that science fiction is said to be dying (by some) but fantasy doesn't receive the same criticism, when both genres are merely following the same path of allowing different aspects of SF/F to be included?

Please discuss!

Thursday, 16 September 2010

The White Queen by Philippa Gregory

1464. Cousin is at war with cousin, as the houses of York and Lancaster tear themselves apart... And Elizabeth Woodville, a young Lancastrian widow, armed only with her beauty and her steely determination, seduces and marries the charismatic warrior king, Edward IV of York. Crowned Queen of England, surrounded by conflict, betrayal and murder, Elizabeth rises to the demands of her position, fighting tenaciously for her family's survival. Most of all she must defend her two sons, who become the central figures in a mystery that has confounded historians for centuries: the missing Princes in the Tower.

I want to put this review in context: I've read what I consider to be the very best piece of historical fiction concerning The War of the Roses in the form of The Sunne in Splendour by Sharon Kay Penman (in fact, I listed this book as probably my all-time favourite book); and I have read previous novels by Philippa Gregory and not been too enamoured of them. With that in mind, it is no real surprise that I found myself disappointed by The White Queen.

The events themselves - true historical events - leave the reader agape. The idea of a widow transfixing a crowned king to the point that he would go against all his advisers and marry her for love is just incredible. At that time in history marriages were used to ally countries, especially between royalty - and Edward IV went against all convention when he married Elizabeth Woodville in secret.

Add to that the quarrels, the betrayals, the battles, the sorrow, and, above all, the mystery of those two little Princes - the heirs to the house of York - and you have a tale fit to entrance anybody. And other authors have certainly managed to make this story of the War of the Roses absolutely gripping.

So why hasn't Philippa Gregory, in my opinion?

My first complaint is the matter of witchcraft. I'm happy to accept that Elizabeth considers herself a descendant of a goddess - there was a great deal of paganism even once Christianity had been taken on board. What I am not happy about are the situations where Elizabeth and her mother influence events through the use of their witchcraft. These were HISTORICAL events! Henry Tudor's fleet was prevented from invading through bad weather - this was not due to witchcraft. I disliked the sensationalism of witchcraft being added to a novel that already had plentiful situations that could be taken with a pinch of salt, but that actually happened.

My second complaint is due to the repetitive nature of several sections of the novel, such as all those occasions when Elizabeth had to watch Edward ride to war. Yes, I know that this happened, but I felt each occasion read in a very similar way. The same happened while Elizabeth was in sanctuary and kept thinking about her two sons, and what might have happened to them.

My third complaint is of a technical nature. I have not read another author recently who used adjectives so flagrantly. Edward smiled boyishly. Elizabeth's mother spoke gently. Elizabeth herself said her words firmly, sadly, softly, you get the idea. It got to the point where I almost found myself laughing, and I don't think Gregory ever intended that reaction!

My fourth complaint is also technical. Most of The White Queen is written in first person, which is effective and allows us to really get to grips with the character of Elizabeth Woodville. However, the period where Elizabeth is confined from public events by staying in sanctuary, Gregory needed to find ways to convey the information about what was occurring elsewhere - and the ways she used I found very clumsy. Sometimes she merely switched to third person instead; sometimes she put the information into Elizabeth's dreams and made it part of the witchcraft aspect that I disliked so much; and sometimes she used messengers, which was actually the most effective, but was used to the point of being repetitive. I think Gregory should either have made it all third person or all first person.

Other than that, The White Queen is relatively competent and reads well. I'm sure that at least one of my complaints is merely a matter of taste and won't even rear its head when another person reads the book, so they are left with a tale rich with historical spectacle. Gregory does pay good attention to historical details, showing with ease aspects of medieval life such as food, clothing and attitudes.

I enjoyed The White Queen to a certain extent, but anyone with an interest in this period should really be picking up The Sunne in Splendour instead. I find that this novel hasn't changed my mind about Philippa Gregory's writing - I consider it rather tired at times, and end up skimming pages. Having said all this, the cliff-hanger ending of The White Queen will make me pick up The Red Queen, and I'm interested to see whether Gregory can achieve the tough objective of writing the same period from a completely different voice.

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Wicked Appetite by Janet Evanovich

Janet Evanovich is the well-known author of the Stephanie Plum series of books, and here she begins another series that edges firmly into the paranormal arena. Elizabeth Tucker lives in Marblehead, just north of Boston, and makes cupcakes for a living while living in the house bequeathed to her by Great Aunt Ophelia. Her life is perfectly pleasant but very ordinary when two men walk into it and proceed to turn it upside down. One is Wulf and he is a Bad Man. The other is Diesel, our Alpha Male, who explains to Liz that she is an Unmentionable and has to help him search out the SALIGIA stones (so named because of taking the first initials for the Latin names of the Seven Deadly Sins). Wulf is also looking for the stones and so Liz is caught in a race against time to discover their whereabouts.

I was really looking forward to Wicked Appetite when I first heard about it – I thought it sounded amusing and exciting. Disappointingly, the reverse is true. It is very often extremely unfunny and there was not a hint of excitement to be found within the pages.

I enjoyed a few things in the book – principle amongst them the description of Liz’s cupcakes, mostly because it made me hungry to eat some of them. Another large benefit was the slightness of Wicked Appetite, which meant I didn’t have to endure it for too long.

There was very little other than that to enjoy. The plot was preposterous; the manner in which it was explained to Liz was paper-thin; the characters were barely two dimensional, let alone three. I couldn’t tell you anything about the motivations of Diesel, Liz, Glo, Wulf and any of the rest of the cast of characters. What’s more, thanks to the frivolous manner of writing, I couldn’t have cared either.

The “humour” was quite often tiresome, rather than funny – I use as an example the monkey Carl. Now, the first time he “gives someone the finger” I did find myself smiling at the idea, but on one page it happened no less than three times. At that point I just wanted to shake said monkey and throw Wicked Appetite across the room.

But I did persevere to the end, although it took all my patience: and I was not rewarded by the climax to this book. It was boring, there was no sense of tension or threat to any of the characters, and I realised (to my horror) that it left a set-up for more novels in this series.

Wicked Appetite can be equated to eating candy floss – seems like a good idea at the time, but leaves you unfulfilled and with a great sense of disappointment.

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

Unholy Ghosts by Stacia Kane

Unholy Ghosts is the first book in the Downside Ghosts sequence and introduces us to Chess Putnam. She lives in a world where Church and religion has been pushed aside in favour of the Church of Real Truth, because of an uprising by the undead in the form of ghosts. Chess is in the employ of the new Church, helping to judge whether complaints about haunting are true or not, since it has become lucrative business to try and con the Church. When Chess picks up a new case, she finds much more than she bargained for — especially when she also finds herself dealing with rival drug gangs and her dangerous attraction to her dealer’s ruthless enforcer.

Stacia Kane has written a tautly-paced, gripping and, above all, unique urban fantasy novel. The idea of a new world where ghosts can kill and where having the wrong tattoos brings a death sentence is brought to life with delicate touches in a prose that drives the story along.

Her heroine, Chess, is far from the usual kick-ass know-it-all. She has many foibles, the main one being her drug dependency, which weakens her at key moments and puts her in dangerous situations. It could be all too easy to decry Chess for her stupidity, but instead Kane writes her in such a way that you are able to empathise, if not to understand. In a literary genre that is crowded with supernatural beings and heroines who are joining the monsters, Chess stands out as being all too human.

As noted, the pacing is perfect — the mystery of what is happening with the Chester Airport (where Chess is investigating a possible haunting) slides into place piece by piece. Moments of pulse-pounding terror and excitement are followed up by quieter periods where the characters are built up into living, breathing, three-dimensional entities.

The world-building is also very strong, from the descriptions of the drugs that Chess relies on to the back alleys of Downside to the wonderfully quirky dialect of the Downside residents. By the time you close the last page, Downside feels like a real place — albeit one you definitely wouldn’t choose to visit after dark!

In fact, the only parts of the world building that are a little underdone are the magical rituals and power words that Kane employs, although the use of psychopomps — dogs and birds that escort the souls of ghosts to the City where they are all kept — is especially intriguing.

I’d also like to give praise to the secondary characters in the novel, especially, of course, Terrible and Lex, the two men who Chess is attracted to. Lex suffers from having less screentime and seems a little less interesting than Terrible, but both definitely play their part in making this novel entertaining. Oh, and the moments of intimacy are sexy as opposed to cringeworthy, which is always a bonus with this sort of book!

Stacia Kane has upped the stakes for all those writing in the urban fantasy genre — Unholy Ghosts is gripping and brilliant. I can’t wait to read the next.

Monday, 13 September 2010

Kicking Off Book Blogger Appreciation Week

Back in June I registered for Book Blogger Appreciation Week, and put Floor to Ceiling Books forward for a few of the awards. I wasn't longlisted for any of these, but, regardless, this week is still my opportunity to join in all the festivities that surround BBAW!

On this first day we've been invited to talk about our first treasure i.e. the first book blog that we discovered (if we're new to the blogosphere).

My first book blog, which I return to constantly, is Graeme's Fantasy Book Review. I love Graeme's blog - he is down-to-earth, constantly enthusiastic, slightly flustered now with the recent arrival of his new daughter Hope, and as far from a book snob as you can imagine. As long as the novel features speculative matters, he will read and review it. He is candid about why he doesn't like books, he froths at the mouth for everything zombie, and is generally an all-round nice guy.

Who is your first treasure?

Roald Dahl Day!

Today - 13th September 2010 - is Roald Dahl Day! It is the 5th annual day celebrating one of the world's best loved storytellers. Children and adults alike have read and enjoyed his numerous books; they've been turned into films and TV series; and his novels still crop up on all those lists of 'Best' books.

Click on Roald Dahl's website for a full list of what is going on today, but here are a few teasers:

* Every year, there’s a Roald Dahl City Read at the heart of the Roald Dahl Day celebrations. This year, it’s grown bigger than ever and taken over a whole region to become the Roald Dahl Black Country Creative Challenge. Every man, woman and child in the region will be encouraged to read Roald Dahl’s MATILDA during September 2010.

* The “Everything You Wanted to Know About Roald Dahl” roadshow - staged in association with the award-winning Roald Dahl Museum and Story Centre - gives hundreds of schoolchildren in five locations the chance to pose fiendish questions to Roald Dahl experts and surprise VIP guests! This year, the five event locations will be Cheltenham, Dublin, Fife, Stratford (East London) and Wolverhampton.

* Anticipation of the Royal Shakespeare Company’s new musical version of Roald Dahl’s MATILDA – book by Dennis Kelly, music and lyrics by Tim Minchin, directed by Matthew Warchus – which opens at the RSC’s Courtyard Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon on November 9th for a 12-week run. For more information, go to

* On Sunday September 12th, there will be a Roald Dahl Day event at the RSC as part of the Roald Dahl Black Country Creative Challenge.

* Quentin Blake, former Children’s Laureate and Roald Dahl’s principal illustrator, will appear in a special event at the RSC in Stratford-upon-Avon on December 4th.

* The third annual Roald Dahl Funny Book Prize, which awards prizes to the funniest children’s books of the year - in two age categories; picture books and books for older children. The award was set up by Michael Rosen in conjunction with Booktrust. Michael will again chair the judging panel – which this year includes comedienne Shappi Khorsandi, author Philip Ardagh (a winner in 2009), illustrator Bruce Ingman (a winner in 2009) and children’s books expert and author Nicolette Jones. The shortlist will be announced on September 17th; the winners on November 17th.

* On Saturday September 11th, there will be a Roald Dahl Funny Book Prize event at the National Theatre, featuring Michael Rosen, Philip Ardagh and other special guests. For more information and to book tickets, please go to

* Great Missenden, where Roald Dahl lived and wrote, will provide a focus for festivities, with a day of special events on September 12th at the award-winning Roald Dahl Museum and Story Centre. There’ll be MATILDA themed storytelling, village trails, craft activities, magic, face-painting, behind-the-scenes tours of the Roald Dahl archive AND, courtesy of the RSC, an opportunity to find out more about their forthcoming production of Roald Dahl’s MATILDA.

* On Sunday September 12th, there will also be a special opening of Roald Dahl’s garden at Gipsy House, Great Missenden, in aid of Roald Dahl’s Marvellous Children’s Charity (formerly the Roald Dahl Foundation). The garden, which will be open from 11:00 am – 5:00 pm, is full of delights including Roald Dahl’s iconic writing hut and Danny’s gipsy caravan. Admission to this event is free, with voluntary donations to Roald Dahl’s Marvellous Children’s Charity gratefully received. This event will be attended by several Roald Dahl Nurses – specialist children’s nurses funded by the charity.

* 70 branches of Waterstone’s stores nationwide will be staging Roald Dahl Day events throughout September.

* The Birmingham Stage Company production of Roald Dahl’s classic tale GEORGE’S MARVELLOUS MEDICINE - is on tour throughout 2010 and arrives at Swansea’s Taliesin Arts Centre on September 14th. For more information on the tour, go to

* New publishing: STORYTELLER: ROALD DAHL by Donald Sturrock is the first ever authorised biography of Roald Dahl, written with exclusive access to his private papers, manuscripts and hundreds of newly-discovered letters. Published by HarperPress on September 2nd. For further information, please contact Helen Ellis at HarperCollins on (020) 8307 4250.

* New publishing: For the very first time, THE TWITS – Roald Dahl’s most hilarious and anarchic story, is being published with full colour artwork by Quentin Blake. Published by Puffin Books on September 2nd. For further information, please contact Tania Vian-Smith at Puffin Books on (020) 7010 3058.

* New publishing: Puffin Books is also publishing WILLY WONKA’S WHIPPLESCRUMPTIOUS ANNUAL – the first EVER Roald Dahl Annual, bursting with story extracts, games, puzzles, a guide to Gobblefunk and ideas to make and do. Published by Puffin Books on August 5th. For further information, please contact Tania Vian-Smith at Puffin Books on (020) 7010 3058.

* New publishing: For the first time for many years, the COMPLETE collection of Roald Dahl’s works for children will be available in beautiful new hardback editions. Published by Puffin Books and Random House Children’s Books on September 2nd. For further information, please contact Tania Vian-Smith at Puffin Books on (020) 7010 3058 or Kelly Tapper at RHCB on (020) 8231 6648.

* New publishing: As part of its 70th anniversary celebrations, Puffin is releasing a “Designer Puffin” edition of Roald Dahl’s classic JAMES AND THE GIANT PEACH, designed by British sculptor Anthony Gormley. A limited numbered edition of 1000 are being published on September 2nd, priced at £100 each.

* Roald Dahl in Welsh: 2010 marks the publication of the 10th Roald Dahl book, in Welsh. Y Twits will be launched on Monday 13th September, Roald Dahl Day 2010 and will form part of the Welsh Roald Dahl Day celebrations centred in Cardiff Bay. For more on the Welsh versions of Roald Dahl’s books, visit or visit

How do you plan on celebrating Roald Dahl? Will you be re-reading any of his classic novels? Which is your favourite?

Sunday, 12 September 2010

Mistress of Rome by Kate Quinn

Orphaned by Rome's savage legions, Thea, a slave girl from Judaea, has learned what it takes to survive. She knows only violence until a chance meeting with gladiator Arius offers a shred of tenderness. But their bond is severed when Thea is sold again, condemned to rot in squalor.

Years later, a singer known as Athena betrays no hint of her troubled past. Catching the eye of the Emperor himself, she is swept into a world of decadence and depravity. But althought Domitian fears betrayal from every side, he is unaware that the greatest threat lies next to him - a slave girl who has come to be called the Mistress of Rome...

It's hard to know how to review Mistress of Rome. On the one hand, I swept through it in one day, finding the prose to be simple yet effective and the historical details vivid. On the other hand, I felt that it came across much as a soap opera programme or chick lit novel would - light, easy-to-read, with larger than life characters and ultimately forgettable. Although I enjoyed the novel, I don't honestly see it staying with me for very long.

One factor that struck me while reading Mistress of Rome is how fantastical it seemed - when I thought on this, I believe it might be because of how long ago the time period being represented was. We know sweeping details of the Roman Empire - who ruled when, military campaigns, political machinations - but the real nitty gritty details and the secondary historical figures (those that didn't impact on history) have been lost, and hence the novelist needs to flesh out the missing elements.

The fantastical side to Mistress of Rome was not helped by Quinn including a character who could supposedly see the future.

However, my knowledge of ancient Rome and the period of Domitian is confined to historical fiction rather than solid research of my own, so I am definitely not an authority on whether Quinn's novel is historically accurate or not.

I did love the character of Thea/Athena - she was strong, righteous and very readable. Equally I detested the character of Lepida (Thea's mistress when we are first introduced to the slave, and her ongoing nemesis) - Quinn's writing here was extremely effective, since we are supposed to despise the decadent and spiteful woman. In fact, all of the characters leapt off of the page, and were a massive strength in Quinn's debut novel. She wrote them with great assurance, and, if some of them were a little too black and white at times, they were never less than entertaining.

I marvelled at the attitudes and actions of Emperor Domitian - he was marvellously complex: dignified and despicable by turn. If Quinn's tale truly revealed any part of the truth of his life, then he was a man to be feared by those close to him.

The representation of the gladiatorial games was rich with detail and very enjoyable to read. These were my favourite parts of the novel - well, that and the fabulous descriptions of Lepida's wardrobe!

Mistress of Rome is gossipy, with scandal, glamour and plenty of action. At its heart is a love story with depth and passion. As you can see, it is a mixed up novel that I genuinely enjoyed it and would recommend the novel to others - but only as a fun read, as opposed to something that will stay with you past the last page.

Saturday, 11 September 2010

On Matters of Tie-In Fiction and Audiobooks

Subtitled: Gav Thorpe beats Dan Brown!

As stated by Civilian Reader this isn't an actual fight between the Black Library author and the multi-million-book-selling author (although a smackdown between them could be entertaining - I think Gav would fight sneaky!)

Rather it pertains to this nice little chart:

The audiobook of Gav Thorpe's Raven's Flight (an release *only* in audiobook format) has beat off competition from many best-selling authors to become the biggest-selling audiobook of 2010 so far. And not by an insignificant amount either! Take that, Dan Brown!

I find this interesting on a few counts:

1) This is tie-in fiction! Something that many readers look down on and seem to despise. Clearly there is a great demand for this style of fiction, as demonstrated by the sales of the audiobook.

2) Black Library are being talked up as bringing out some excellent audiobook titles, with quality production values. Music, sound effects, decent narration - all contributes to a decent listening experience. This is reflected by the fact people have gone out to purchase the Black Library audiobook titles, and they have been receiving some sterling reviews.

3) In the case of Raven's Flight, it is a story that fits into the ongoing Horus Heresy series but is ONLY available in the audiobook format. It has not been brought out in a print run as well, which I think has helped to drive sales.

Interesting, non?

What are your opinions on audiobooks in general? Do you like them? And has anyone listened to Raven's Flight? Does it deserve the number 1 spot?

Friday, 10 September 2010

Kiss Heaven Goodbye by Tasmina Perry

Alex Doyle, Miles and Grace Ashford and Sasha Sinclair are toasting the end of their exams with a decadent vacation on the private island of Angel Cay. The whole world is at their feet when a horrible tragedy threatens to ruins their lives. Kiss Heaven Goodbye explores the repercussions of that fateful night as the four go on to glittering careers - will their dark secret ever come to light?

Kiss Heaven Goodbye is the perfect beach read - five hundred odd pages whip past before you know it as you're sucked into the lives of the four privileged students and watch how they become successful. Perry uses an excellent format - showing us first that twenty years down the line the secret is about to be uncovered, then taking us back to that night and introducing us to Miles, Grace, Sasha and Alex. The rest of the book uses dates as chapter headings to show time unfolding, which meant reading compulsively in the knowledge that, however right their lives might be, everything is about to come crashing down.

My main complaint with this manner of dipping in and out of the characters' lives over twenty years is that often key events would be skipped over and we'd simply be shown the aftermath. I think at times Perry used this technique almost lazily so that she wouldn't have to write difficult scenes - much easier to show a fait accompli.

I also found it far too cutesy that in the book a film being premiered was called "By Midnight", the novel that Perry has released under the nom de plume Mia James. We also visited Highgate Cemetary in this novel, which features prominantly in By Midnight. To most of Perry's regular readers, this won't have any impact at all so it is far from a negative point but it jumped out at me.

Kiss Heaven Goodbye is as predictable as you would expect, although Perry threw up a successful curveball at the end which, I have to confess, I didn't see coming and that I enjoyed immensely. It's always nice to be surprised by this sort of novel!

All in all, Kiss Heaven Goodbye was a blistering read - fast, sexy and glamourous with larger than life characters. If you're heading on holiday, you can't go far wrong packing this novel. Perry knows how to write the perfect beach read.

Thursday, 9 September 2010

Feeling Challengy?

I always like book challenges - usually they help to expand my reading material and I have discovered some new authors. I am currently embroiled in the Bravest Challenge courtesy of one Sam Sykes, but that did not stop me picking up another gauntlet!

Here is the challenge:

So, we're trying to find those "diamonds in the rough". And while we know this won't work out best for everyone, as a collective, maybe we can find some really good stuff that no one has read.

Consider yourself challenged.

If you have a blog, let us know and we'll link to you when you get a review up of your challenge book. If not, give us a comment or an email and we'll post about it.

Sounds good, non? Find full details of the challenge and information about other books here.

For my challenge I have picked the following book:

Here is the blurb:

The god Orok gave to his five children crystals of surpassing beauty, to be embedded in The Orokon to ensure the harmony of life - until the dark god Koros stole his crystal and plunged the world into chaos and despair. In the village of Irion the crippled boy Jemany Vexing, bastard son of the beautiful but frail Lady Elabeth, lives in the dilapidated castle with his dying mother and his fanatical Aunt Umbecca. Ela, seduced, it is believed, by a common soldier, is a social outcast, while her dashing brother Tor is a traitor, wanted for crimes against the false king. Unable to walk, Jem is condemned to a wretched half-life, until he meets a mysterious dwarf ...and with his new strength comes a new friendship, with the wild girl Catayane; their love holds the secret to incredible magical powers. As the horrors of the Bluejacket regime begin, so Jem becomes aware of his greater destiny, for his is the quest to find and reunite the five crystals of The Orokon. But he is not the only seeker: the evil sorcerer Toth-Vexrah has his own plans and will let no one stand in his way.

Traditional epic fantasy at its best!

So, I will be working away at this book behind the scenes to tell you whether it is, in fact, a diamond in the rough. Wish me luck!

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

Welcome Back To Me!

You might not even have noticed my absence!

However, for the last week, I have been here:

Drinking these:

And reading lots and lots of books. Well, five, to be exact. You will see reviews of those shortly.

As regular readers of my blog will know, I am now conducting theme months. The theme for September is Historical Fiction! You will see reviews of some other books during September, since I have a few scheduled to go from before I decided to move to theming my reading, but the majority of books featured on Floor to Ceiling Books in September will be of a historical bent, starting with Mistress of Rome by Kate Quinn.

So! Welcome back to me! Hope you all missed me loads - I certainly missed you :-)

Thursday, 2 September 2010

Guest Post: Third Book Ennui

While I am away on vacation I am pleased to welcome Andrew Reid to my humble blog! I hope he looks after it in my absence *grin*. Andrew has a blog My God, It's Raining and can be found loitering on Twitter as @mygoditsraining.

Hello all!

Just to warn you right off the bat, this post isn’t going to be a book review. Instead, I thought it’d be interesting to bring up something I’ve started noticing in my reading habits: something I’ve noticed, and have been wondering if it happens to anyone else.

I’d like to call it Third Book Ennui.

People have a thing for threes, especially when it comes to stories. The three-act structure of narrative (setup, confrontation, denouement) intuitively makes sense to us, and is easy to express and understand. Likewise the format of a trilogy – in fantasy literature a triumvirate of books is a fairly commonplace phenomenon. I’ll not say it’s the template; there are many excellent standalone fantasy books out there as well as series that run beyond even the author’s original expectations. Nevertheless, there are a lot of trilogies.

What I’ve discovered over the past year or so of reading is that more and more often I’m just not motivated to finish reading them. I pick up the first volume in a set of three, read it, enjoy it immensely and then either rush out to buy the second or check to see when the release date is. Then, when I read the second book, something odd happens; I lose interest. The motivations and goals of the main characters seem to sag, to lose momentum, and with that my investment in them fades. I no longer want to know what happens at the end because I no longer care about what’s happening to them right there and then.

Now that would be fine if it was with just one series. If that was the case I could blame the author and claim that their skills were not worthy, or myself for being incapable of seeing into the heart of the text. Unfortunately it seems to be happening more often than not.

To give an example; while reading the Engineer Trilogy by KJ Parker, I could put my finger straightaway on the problem that, for me, killed the second book for. The titular engineer of the series, Vaatzes, is a man with a plan – a plan that requires a lot of people to die for the sake of his revenge. Now that’s fine in the first book, because he makes a plausible offer to the people he will use as pawns in his machinations, and they, quite reasonably in the circumstances, take him up on it. In the second book, though, everyone has reason to be wary of him, primarily because he’s just got a lot of people killed (albeit indirectly). Even the author knows this, and hangs a terrific lampshade off the fact by having characters muse in dialogue to one another and him that wow, this sure is a great opportunity to orchestrate events and the doom of a whole country to satisfy his own ends. Instead of yanking his intestines out with a hook, the supporting cast plod along like simpletons, happy to feed themselves into the wood chipper of his destiny.

Just looking quickly at the incomplete trilogies on my bookshelves, I have the following: two books of The Quickening Trilogy by Fiona McIntosh, two books of the Night Angel Trilogy by Brent Weeks, two books of the Dark Magician Trilogy by Trudi Canavan...I was going to say two books of the Twilight Reign by Tom Lloyd but a quick check on Amazon tells me it’s now four books.

I won’t go into the particulars of each case, because this isn’t intended as a review of them; it’s just an observation of my reading habits and a growing sense that the trilogy seems to be failing me as a reader. What is it about them that means I can’t bring myself to finish?

Perhaps it’s just me being fickle and over-analytical. Long gone are the days when I could read Polgara the Sorceress and actually enjoy the story as opposed to sitting grinding my teeth at how mind-buggeringly smug the eponymous enchantress is. That said, I still endure the Lord of the Rings trilogy every year or so with nary a grumbled word about the time Sam and Frodo spend plodding past pools of polluted water on their way to Mount Doom – although I do skip the songs.

Thankfully, though, it’s not as bad as it could be. Fantasy trilogies have yet to go the way of Hollywood, where a successful standalone title results in a trilogy spawning out to “satisfy demand” – although whether satisfaction is intended for the fans or the investors is hard to define. There are a couple of examples of this in speculative fiction (*cough* Ender’s Game *cough*) but they are sufficiently few and far between for me to rest easy about it.

For the moment, at least.

Enormous thanks for that Andrew! Please give Andrew lots of lovely comments - do you agree? Disagree? Which trilogies have you not managed to finish thanks to general apathy?