Tuesday, 30 November 2010

I Have A Secret To Tell....

....from my electrical well (kudos if you know *that* reference!)

It's time to confess something.


I don't like zombies (and I'm not about to end that sentence with "...I love them!" Again, kudos if you know the reference - I have Ashes fever and I'm not apologetic...)

I. Don't. Like. Zombies.

I don't understand the attraction. The only zombie film that has kept my attention is Shaun of the Dead and that is all about the Simon Pegg factor. I don't read zombie books.

I like my creatures of the night sleek and deadly, or animalistic and wild. Vampires and werewolves are my choice of monster.

The shambling gait, the longing for brains, the inability to communicate with zombies - all of this makes for a poor antagonist to a tale, in my opinion. I sort of get why people would find them terrifying, in terms of the fact that they can't be reasoned with and will simply keep coming until you can't prevent them from tearing flesh from your limbs - but it just doesn't capture my interest.

So, if you can suggest just one zombie-related book to change my mind and allow me to see why zombies are so terrific, please drop me a comment! I will pick three of them to read and let you know whether I have been convinced. I look forward to your responses.

Pic courtesy of Pulp's Comics.

Monday, 29 November 2010

Academ's Fury by Jim Butcher

Academ's Fury by Jim Butcher is the second novel in the Codex Alera sequence, featuring Tavi, a young man who has been taken under the wing of the First Lord of Alera and provided with sponsorship so that he can train as a Cursor. In the course of this book, the Alerans discover the threat of the Vord, a race of shapeshifters governed by queens who aim to destroy all life in Alera. Tavi discovers that his lack of furycrafting (the ability to manipulate natural forces) is a boon in the fight against the Vord, and he steps to the fore to try and push them back.

Ugh, well, that summary took me around twenty minutes to write. Strikes me I don't want to be writing this review. Not because I didn't enjoy the book - in fact, I romped through it and immediately picked up the third book in the series. I like my high fantasy heroism, but this novel prompted me to ask the question on Twitter: "Should I write a review of individual books in a series or just provide a wrap up of the entire series?" Fact is, this review will read much like the first in the series (which can be found here).

Academ's Fury is heavier on the political intrigue and moves much of the action to the city of Alera. There is more romance and more heroism. But there is also a greater feeling of D&D to this one - it feels like a mission written by a games master for a group of role players. For instance, the Vord came mostly out of nowhere - we sort of saw them in the first novel, but they were just called the croach or wax spiders. Suddenly in this book, they are the Vord and they have the capability of destroying all life. The fact that the Marat (eternal foes of the Vord) didn't recognise the Vord in the first novel is explained away glibly by the fact that they are shapeshifters and therefore unrecognisable. I found all of this completely unsatisfying.

The characterisation is again the greatest part of Jim Butcher's writing. I loved the gentle romance between Amara and Bernard, and Kitai the Marat maiden is inspired - a sort of blend of Aviendha from the Wheel of Time series and Arya from A Song of Ice and Fire. Tavi is a very likeable hero indeed.

But with that said, this novel felt more "empty" than the first. The cliches were definitely cliches, rather than fantasy tropes used well. Kid with lack of powers finds a way to defeat his enemies; woman decides to work with the enemy faction to protect her family, even though she despises them; heroes save the day in the end. It felt very light and, although I'm not looking for gritty, I wanted more depth than this.

Ha, I've just discovered why I should be writing this review - in the process of writing it, I've found out that I actually didn't like it as much as Furies of Calderon, which opened the series. I still enjoyed a great deal about it - the furycrafting, the female characters (who are as gutsy, sly and interesting as the men), the Marat race and the Canin (which sort of remind me of the jackal-headed warriors from Ancient Egypt). Speaking of that, I also liked the soft world-building which borrows greatly from ancient civilisations such as the Romans in the form of legionares. But I struggled against the easy nature of it - the fact that I knew people wouldn't die, the fact that everyone essential would be rescued from peril in the nick of time. There was little tension or drama due to this, and therefore Academ's Fury had little impact.

Consider this a mixed review. If you read and enjoy Furies of Calderon, you will end up reading this book. It is doubtful, however, that you will be able to remember many individual details soon after the reading process. (And my conclusion is that I always need to write reviews in order to make sense of how I really feel about a book!)

Sunday, 28 November 2010

Ultramarines the Movie

It has been a weekend of movies for me! On Saturday I headed up to the Big Smoke for a film day with friends Liz and Mark (from My Favourite Books) and Alex Bell (author extraordinaire). We kicked the event off with The Princess Bride (classic, funny, romantic, perfect fantasy fare), then embarked on both red wine and Serenity after a spot of lunch. Although not as good as the series Firefly which preceded it, Serenity is excellent viewing - plus Alex had never seen it, and I always enjoy bringing it to more people's attentions.

Next The Spiderwick Chronicles (amusing, light-hearted and with a real folklore feel) and finally Hot Fuzz (stunningly stupid but so damn funny). A great day's viewing, I think you will agree. Much red wine was consumed, and Casa De Jager was the perfect venue!

But this post is mainly about the events of Sunday...

Thanks to the generosity of Nik and Dan Abnett, I received a much coveted ticket to the pre-release screening of Ultramarines the Movie in the Odeon, Shaftesbury Avenue. Me and Mark spent the entire train trip to the screening trying not to bounce with excitement *grin*.

I confess I haven't been following the build up massively (Mark is entirely different - he has been watching the trailer to death!) but the idea of watching a proper space marine movie was SO brilliant: massive superhumans clad in power armour, wielding death with chainsaw and bolter.

The excitement built right from the queue, but it was really when we were sat in the auditorium waiting for events to kick off that I had to pinch myself. Everyone was so friendly, chatting and laughing and anticipating the movie we were about to see. I've decided I rather like pre-release showings!

So... to my review of the movie:

Let's start with the awesome! The screenplay was right on the money - at times a little cheesy, but with fist punching moments of brilliance. Dan Abnett has written a classic war film, but added in fantastic Warhammer 40K touches which let you know exactly what you are watching. It has the feel of a Horus Heresy novel in tone - mostly dark and grim, but with flashes of humour that were handled superbly.

The score was also excellent - ominous and awe-inspiring by turn; never over-powering but lending a real atmosphere to the film.

Some of the rendering was superb, in particular the demons. They were genuinely chilling, and looked exactly as I imagined they would from the figures produced by Games Workshop. They moved fluidly and added real menace to the proceedings.

Now to the good... In general, the look of the film was beautiful, if inconsistent. I loved the little geek touches - the warhammer was brilliant, the weapons (chainsaws, flamers and bolters) were as realistic as futuristic weapons can be, and seeing things like Landspeeders on screen made me squee a little inside.

Now to the poor: The film was slight in plot, which was disappointing considering the stories available from the background of the Ultramarines. Although I admire the fact that the film was able to bring in the talents of people like Terence Stamp and John Hurt, I found Sean Pertwee's voice too distinctive to really engage with the character he portrayed - admittedly this was a fault of mine, rather than that of the film! At times the animation work felt a little "cheap".

However, the biggest fault of the film is that it was far too short! This is a great thing! I could have watched it for hours more, and will be rewatching the film once I have my copy in hand. There is something extremely special seeing Space Marines brought to 'life' and I think any fan of Warhammer 40K will find something to enjoy here. A decent effort, and I hope the people involved will be able to build on the success of the first.

Friday, 26 November 2010

Dark Tower Readalong: The Gunslinger Part 2

Wow, that week sped past, didn't it? Seems five minutes ago that I was writing the first post in this readalong series! You can catch up with said first post here.

Today we'll be looking at chaplets six through fourteen (about 30 pages).

Remember, spoilers will be encountered from here in on - you have been warned! I just wanted to make an additional comment regarding spoilers. Please don't be afraid of listing spoilers in your comments - just mark them out as spoilers and I shall either skip or read as I see fit. I have never minded having a book spoiled before I read it (I even knew who would die in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince before I cracked open the first page). For me, it's not so much what is happening as how the author gets you there and how they write about it. So don't fear spoiling my reading experience! With that out the way, let's get down to it...


The woman tells the gunslinger about Nort, the man who approached him in the bar asking for gold. He died in front of her bar, and the man in black had something to do with his revival. The gunslinger asks her - Allie - about the man in black.


The man in black arrived the same day that Nort died. Allie has an odd discussion with him during which he drinks good whiskey. It culminates in him bringing Nort back to life. Allie wonders whether Nort knows anything of what has happened to him in the afterlife. The man in black leaves a note for Allie telling her that if she says the word 'Nineteen' to Nort, he will give her the answers she is desperate for.


The gunslinger asks if this is all, and advises Allie to pretend the number nineteen no longer exists. She asks if he is leaving in the morning - she wants him to stay a little longer.


In the morning the gunslinger asks Allie what lies to the southeast - she is scared, and says that she only knows about the desert. The gunslinger thinks he knows why the man in black is heading that way.


The gunslinger goes to talk to the hostler about what lies beyond the desert, but doesn't get any clear answer. He knows the hostler hates him for being an outsider.


Sheb, the piano player, bursts in on Allie and the gunslinger while they are in bed and tries to kill the gunslinger. He has his wrists broken for his troubles. The gunslinger recognises Sheb from his past. Allie realises that the gunslinger was once in love, but he refuses to talk to her about it.


The gunslinger attends a church service and watches the preacher declaiming The Interloper, also called High Lord Satan. He suspects that the preacher has been infected by some dark magic of the man in black.


The gunslinger seduces information about the preacher out of Allie.


Allie and the gunslinger both realise their time together is coming to an end, as she serves him breakfast on the fifth day.


Overall, I just can't get over the quiet sense of desperation and loneliness within this book. Life on the frontier, dangerous and bitter. King evokes the sense of this with wise choice of words, such as yellow, grit, rusty. The only real difference to this slow unwinding of details is when we finally see the man in black - this passage glitters dangerously in comparison.

He realised he was afraid of the desert ahead.

This might be why the gunslinger dwells in Tull for a few days, rather than the draw of Allie. When we first meet the gunslinger, he has been within the desert for a while and, looking back on it now, in that first instance the gunslinger has a different "feel". He suffers from dizziness, and muses on the nature of reality - whereas in Tull he seems more focused and dangerous. Maybe there is something in the nature of the desert that will send a man to madness?

I actually want to wrap King's prose around me in a hug! It is so perfectly chosen at times:

He looked like wire clothes hangers all wrapped and twirled together. You could see all the lights of hell in his eyes, but he was grinning, just like the grins the children carve into their sharproots and pumpkins, come Reap.

That passage gives us another hint about the culture of the land - seems they do celebrate a version of Halloween but call it Reap instead. Reap gives it an otherworldly feel - makes it sound more dangerous.

Finally a hint of the horror that King is known for in the following passage!

Then he puked, and it was black and full of blood. It went right through that grin like sewer water through a grate. The stink was enough to make you want to run mad. He raised up his arms and just threw over. That was all. He died in his own vomit with that grin on his face.

Allie is terrified of telling the gunslinger about the man in black - her reluctance is understandable given what she sees and how he treats her.

I just want to pull out various sentences that give rise to a curiosity about the desert and what lies beyond it - we are being driven to wonder about this. Sentences include: "...the clouds flew across it, as if they had seen something horrifying in the desert wastes where they had so lately been" and "The clouds all go that way. It's like something sucks them-" and "The smell of the desert was clear in the air. Almost time to move on."

Tull really is a place of sinners! Not only do we have NortKennerly: "...lying by the window with a bottle in one hand and the loose, hot flesh of his second-eldest daughter's left breast in the other..." Maybe this is why the preacher has come to Tull?

In fact, there is a feel of death about Tull. This is linked through from Allie's fears of menopause and old age - "a condition which in Tull was usually as short and bitter as a winter sunset" - to the fact that the townspeople celebrate frantically at Nort's wake. As the man in black says:

"It excites them. He's dead. They're not."

The man in black is weird and creepy, from his wide grin to the words he says. Mention of the world next door indicates again that there is more than one world or dimension in this story. The 'magic' that he performs on Nort is eerie, with the lunging and the howling, "pouring over Nort's body like water poured from one glass to another and then back again."

The letter that the man in black leaves for Allie is just as strange - but also horrific:

You want to know about Death. I left him a word. That word is NINETEEN. If you say it to him his mind will be opened. He will tell you what lies beyond. He will tell you what he saw. The word is NINETEEN. Knowing will drive you mad. But sooner or later you will ask. You won't be able to help yourself. Have a nice day!

*shudders* That is some unimaginable temptation. Is the man in black the devil, the interloper, the Lord High Satan?

There is another hint in the scene between the gunslinger and Kennerly that we're dealing here with some post-apocalyptic world. Kennerly talks about "mutie oxen" which seems to be short for mutant oxen. Either mutated by some terrible disaster or through gene technology - or maybe simply magic? Not sure what we're dealing with in this world!

I'm finding some of the descriptions rather distasteful albeit realistic - am I just being a sensitive soul?

"That Allie's pretty nice when she wants to be, ain't she?" The hostler made a loose circle with his left fist and began poking his right finger rapidly in and out of it.

Another reminder of just how dangerous the gunslinger is:

He brought the knife down with both hands, and the gunslinger caught his wrists and turned them. The knife went flying. Sheb made a high screeching noise, like a rusty screen door. His hands fluttered in marionette movements, both wrists broken.

And then another little reminder of the sheer history that we have yet to find out - King definitely isn't in the mood to baby his readers along and go all exposition-heavy! The gunslinger has met Sheb before, when the gunslinger was just a boy, in a place called Mejis. Who is Susan? I suspect she is going to become pivotal - the girl that the gunslinger loved.

The next scene concerning the church service and the preacher-woman is heavy with symbolism and foreshadowing, it feels to me. The preacher-woman has come from the southeast, out of the desert, and seems to have an enchantment of the man in black within her - something to trap the gunslinger in Tull. She mentions LeMerk or LeMark, which resonates with the gunslinger - he has filed it away for the future, so we shall as well, since I reckon it could prove to be important.

And we finish this section with another of those loaded sentences that King does so well:

He only saw her once more alive.

Doesn't that give you a sense of dread?

Right, over to you guys - I've talked for way long enough! What have you picked out from this week's section? What interested you? What didn't you like? Any thoughts very welcome!

Book Blurbs - how do you like yours?

People within publishing houses work long and hard on the book blurbs that are designed to draw you in. Authors struggle over every word in order to make their book stand out.

Some stand out for all the wrong reasons....

This one made me laugh. A lot. I mean, there might have been some unattractive snorting!

Alison Wells is no ordinary woman. Born with super-natural powers, she can never make love to a man without putting him in grave danger. But when her special vision reveals a glorious muscled man soaring overhead on mighty wings, she feels an overwhelming attraction she cannot resist - even as he tells her: 'I have come for you. Your blood belongs to me'. Kerrick is a vampire and a warrior who has fought his hunger for a woman's love for the past two hundred years. As a Guardian of Ascension, he is sworn to protect Alison from the death vamp armies who crave her blood and her power. But Kerrick has cravings of his own - a forbidden longing to open his heart and veins to Alison. To share his blood...satisfy his thirst...and seal their fates forever.

*giggles* I mean, just seeing it there again has got me going *snort*

From first to last sentence this just gets it so wrong.

Is this the fault of the book or the book blurb? Would you read this book?

A Classic is Being Destroyed As We Speak!

The Classics. Books we're are supposed to revere and adore. Characters that have stood the test of time. Beautiful, lyrical language.

However, in most cases, our first encounter with these beloved books is during English Literature class - we pick over every word, analyze them to death, write essays ad infinitum on the character motivations and WHY the author used that particular word at that point.

And the classics are thereafter pretty much destroyed for you. That first experience often colours your desire to read anything else deemed to be a "classic".

I've read woefully few classics. I'm yet to read anything by Austen OR the Bronte sisters, can you believe? I haven't read Wuthering Heights or Crime and Punishment or any book by Charles Dickens. It is a huge gap in my reading.

The two novels particularly ruined for me were Tess of the d'Urbervilles and A Handmaid's Tale.

I was interested in whether other people had the same experiences as I, and asked Twitter which novels had been destroyed for them. Here are a selection of the replies:

@Laughablefellow - A-Level ruined A Handmaid's Tale for me - picking over its corpse for 6 months!

@benhunt - All of Hardy. It was The Woodlanders specifically but since then I can't bear any Hardy.

@Pallekenl - Not so much destroyed as squeezed dry: Pride and Prejudice. I loved that book, must have read ten times. And after writing an essay on it I just never could read it for pleasure anymore. Kept analyzing.

@Danacea - Joseph Conrad's "Heart of Darkness". Was like wading through swampy treacle. Blech!!

@JonCG_novelist - A Level English utterly destroyed Hardy, G Elliott and Chaucer. Shakespeare survived, just...

@sfbook - Animal Farm, I still shudder when that book (or even the author's name) is mentioned.

@ghostfinder - School totally destroyed Shakespeare for me. Utterly loathe anything to do with it now.

@trukkle - Of Mice and Men, Lord of the Flies, Shakespeare. Many poems I thankfully can't remember right now were ruined forever too.

What are your experiences with the classics? Do you love them? Loathe them? Are you disgusted at the gaps in my reading? If you were to nominate just one classic I should read, which would it be?

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

It'll Be 2011 Before We Know It! #1

We're only a month or so away from the end of the year, and many of the publishers have already released their first half 2011 catalogues. I get a great pleasure from anticipating forthcoming novels (even with the horrendous TBR pile that exists in my house already) and so I thought I would bring you a series of posts with links to the aforementioned catalogues and my own picks from them. We'll share - I'll tell you mine and you tell me yours!


Here is the catalogue for Canongate.

Two books instantly jumped out from this catalogue for me, those being:

The Last Werewolf by Glen Duncan

A veil of melancholy has fallen over Jacob Marlowe. He's the last of his kind. Hunted by his enemies and haunted by his past, he's worn out by centuries of decadence and debauchery, and by the demands of his lunatic appetites. He decides to submit to the authorities at the next full moon. But as Jacob counts down to suicide, a violent murder and an extraordinary meeting plunge him straight back into the desperate pursuit of life. Gory and sexy, The Last Werewolf is a thrilling take on our relationship with the wild side, what it means to be alone and the transformative possibilities of love.

Bed by David Whitehouse

Mal is different from other kids. Part-prophet, part tyrant, he runs rings around his family and friends and dreams of changing the world. But as he grows up he experiences an extravagant metamorphosis. Recounted by Mal’s charming younger brother, Bed tells of the rise and dramatic fall of Mal and those around him. Enchanting, enigmatic and unforgettable, it captures brotherhood, romance and parenthood, and explores how love always has a price. Bed also asks what it is we need to get out of bed in the morning.

I've read I, Lucifer in the past by Glen Duncan and I like his subversive, dark comedy so I am looking forward to this book. The blurb to Bed sounds interesting!

Orion Fiction

This is the full catalogue for Orion, so includes Gollancz etc, but in this first post I'll just be dealing with Orion Fiction!

These are my picks:

Postcards From the Heart by Ella Griffin

Saffy feels like she has it all: a great job and a gorgeous boyfriend, Greg, who she is sure is about to propose. Greg's best mate Conor has two children with the love of his life, Jess, yet she refuses to get married. So, for these four friends, it seems their happy endings are playing hard to get. Everyone's keeping secrets and it will take some tough questions, and even tougher answers, to find out what they really want.

The Secret Shopper Affair by Kate Harrison

Best mates Sandie, Emily and Grazia thought they'd be friends forever. But they reckoned without the dividing effects of men and money. Shopping guru Sandie is happily pregnant, but facing an unusual battle with her boyfriend's mother. Bitter Emily has been banned from having a second child by her boyfriend, and faces a new temptation. Grazia must decide whether to give up on her career for a new, needy lover. Can they reconcile their differences? Or is it time to shut up shop?

Lord John and the Scottish Prisoner by Diana Gabaldon

Diana Gabaldon brings back one of her most compelling characters: Lord John Grey - soldier, gentleman, and no mean hand with a blade. Set in the eighteenth century, Lord John's world is one of mystery and menace. The strands of his secret and public lives weave together, to capture the tormented and courageous career of a man who fights for his crown, his honour, and his own secrets.

The Breakers by Michael Marshall

Bill Moore has it all: a high-income job, the perfect home and a loving wife. But then he is sent a business card - blank except for the word 'modified'. He dismisses the seemingly random event until the word begins to pop up in other places. Bill soon finds out, in the most terrifying way, that his life has become the subject of a sinister and deadly game...

Bringing Up Scarlett by Annie Sanders

Alice McLean is living the life she always dreamed of: no ties, no constraints and no worries. But her charmed existence is about to come to an abrupt end. Her best friend and husband have been killed in a car crash and Alice is now the legal guardian of their young daughter. So begins a journey that will force Alice to reassess her dreams, as she realises that sometimes the greatest adventures are the ones you never thought of taking...

Anything that caught your eye in these two catalogues? I will bring you my picks from Orbit, Quercus, Gollancz and Simon & Schuster in forthcoming editions.

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Furies of Calderon by Jim Butcher

Furies of Calderon is the first book in the Codex Alera sequence by Jim Butcher, best known for his urban fantasy series The Dresden Files. Here we meet Tavi, a young Aleran boy who has been orphaned and raised by his aunt and uncle. Unlike everyone else who lives in Alera, Tavi is unable to furycraft - that is, use the elemental furies to assist him in work and battle. Tavi stumbles across a plot to bring the Marat tribespeople - cannibals and mortal enemies of the Alerans - sweeping through the Calderon Valley, destroying the steadholders and moving against the First Lord of Alera. When he meets Amara - a spy and Cursor for the First Lord - he is drawn into an epic adventure, racing against time to bring help to the steadholders.

Ever since reading David Eddings, I have wondered why no other author has managed to capture the same warmth and wholesome adventure in a novel. But now I have stumbled on the Codex Alera. Perfect reading for winter's days and good family reading, besides, Jim Butcher has written high fantasy with heart and heroes.

I actually wrote a blog post concerning the use of the word cliche - since Furies of Calderon seems to be one big cliche. Orphaned boy - check. Magical system - check. Tribespeople linked to animals - check. All of these ideas have been done before. Many other authors have taken this tropes and tried to turn them upside-down in some attempt to try and avoid the word cliche. The strength of this novel is that Jim Butcher has embraced the tropes and cliches and concentrated instead on themes and characters.

The over-riding theme, which Butcher explores extremely well, is that of one person and one event making a difference. This whole novel starts because of one minor event - Tavi is asked by a young girl in the steadholding to steal her some flowers. Because of this he is unable to bring his sheep in. Because of this he and his uncle end up going out and stumbling across a Marat raiding force. Because of this Tavi encounters Amara, and is drawn into an attempt to bring word to Garrison, in order to protect the steadholders of Calderon Valley.

The theme is done extremely well - the interlocking events can all be seen to stem from that one small decision. It does lead to some occasional heavy-handed plot development, as Butcher seeks to bend all events to fit his theme, but overall he handles it effectively.

I also thoroughly enjoyed the characterisation. These are fully-fleshed and developed characters, with real motivations. They are dutiful, sulky, arrogant, sneaky, powerful, and many other attributes. We do not have the grit and shades of grey brought to characters by someone such as Steven Erikson, but there is a depth to these characters that I enjoyed. Amara and Tavi carry the story incredibly well - both of their subplots were of equal interest, and I never felt tired of reading about them.

There was a danger concerning this magic system that the characters would seem all-powerful and that their ability to manipulate furies would take away from their characterisation. They could have become empty magical constructs. So I was impressed that the fury magic system remained an entertaining side note to the plot rather than all-encompassing.

This book will not be for everyone. Some people will be unable to see beyond the cliche, or over-use of fantasy tropes. For me, though, it was a breath of fresh air in the current environment where we have swearing, and blood, and sex and realism. This is high fantasy at its very best, suitable for children and incredibly wholesome. I would equate it to apple crumble and custard *grin* Thoroughly recommended for those who hark back to David Eddings with fond memories.

Monday, 22 November 2010

Passion #4: Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Here we go again with another of my major passions! I arrived late to Buffy the Vampire Slayer. When it was first shown on TV, I scoffed at the silly name of the main protagonist and decided it was some kind of teenage "comedy", so I decided to bypass it. When I reached university, Season 3 of Buffy had just started and my flat were very into it. I sat and watched the first episode and found myself utterly gripped by the characters, the dialogue, the emotion. I also spent half the time saying 'Who's that?' or 'Where has that naked man come from, who is he, why are you all surprised to see him?' My housemates were extremely patient, and one of them gave me Seasons 1 and 2 to watch so that I could get myself all caught up. And that was where my love affair began.

I have tried to follow other series (like Charmed, and Smallville, and, more recently, Chuck and BSG). While I have enjoyed them well enough - except Charmed.... - none of them held the same draw for me. None of them seemed to combine the same humour and darkness, and relationships and passion. The central pairing of Buffy and Angel in the first few seasons was inspired, and I longed for them to find peace with each other, even while I knew it could never happen.

Anyway, I thought I would showcase my top five Buffy episodes with stills from the show and my favourite quote. And I would invite you in the comments to share your own favourite episodes. It goes without saying that The Body and Once More, With Feeling are amazing, but they're so often listed as favourite episodes that I tried to present some different ones. Oh, and these five are in no particular order! It was hard enough to narrow down five I loved, let alone then try to put them in some kind of order and pick an absolute favourite *grins*

1) Passion - Season 2

I can't say a lot about the events of this episode without giving spoilers to those who haven't seen it. And I wouldn't want to spoil this explosive episode for ANYONE. When I watched it my jaw was almost permanently dropped. It was one of those episodes where you realised that life in Sunnydale actually was dangerous. The emotions displayed were so powerful - Anthony Stewart Head, in particular, did a stunning job.

Quote of the episode:

Buffy: It's so weird. Every time something like this happens, my first instinct is still to run to Angel. I can't believe it's the same person. He's completely different from the guy that I knew.
Willow: Well, sort of, except ...
Buffy: Except what?
Willow: You're still the only thing he thinks about.

2) Lovers Walk - Season 3

Spike was always one of my favourite characters, so any episode heavy on the Spike goodness was just fine with me. This one resonates with me particularly, because of the situation between Buffy and Angel - insisting that they're only friends, when everyone but them realises that their passion is unchecked.

Quote of the episode:

Spike: The last time I looked in on you two, you were fighting to the death. Now you're back to making googly-eyes at each other like nothing happened. Makes me want to heave.
Buffy: I don't know what you're talking about.
Spike: Oh, yeah, you're just friends.
Angel: That's right.
Spike: You're not friends. You'll never be friends. You'll be in love 'til it kills you both. You'll fight, and you'll shag, and you'll hate each other 'til it makes you quiver, but you'll never be friends. Love isn't brains, children, it's blood -- blood screaming inside you to work its will. I may be love's bitch, but at least I'm man enough to admit it.

3) Hush - Season 4

Alright, so I didn't include The Body or Once More, With Feeling - but there was NO WAY I could not include this episode in my favourites. It is simply remarkable, from the creepy Gentlemen to the lack of dialogue to the wonderful score. Joss Whedon always enjoyed pushing the boundaries and I believe this is one of his finest hours across everything he's worked on.

Quote of the episode:

Obviously there is not a great deal of dialogue to pick from in this one - in fact, one of the very funniest parts of Hush is where Buffy mimes staking a vampire several times. You try it now, if you haven't seen it, and tell me what it looks like *chortles* #childish I did find an amusing exchange though:

[At Giles's apartment, Xander and Anya are arguing about their relationship.]
Xander: If you don't know how I feel about -
Anya: I don't. This isn't a relationship! You don't need me. All you care about is lots of orgasms.
[The others are silent with disbelief.]
Xander: OK... remember how we talked about private conversations? How they're less private when they're in front of my friends?
Spike: Oh, we're not your friends. Go on.
Giles: Please don't.

4) Fool For Love - Season 5

The first of two from Season 5 - this one deals with flashbacks into Spike's history (remember how I said I rather liked his character? *grin*), and shows his encounters with the two Slayers he has killed in the past. I loved the flashbacks (although Angel's dodgy Irish accent is constantly painful) and I loved the element of vulnerability brought to Buffy's character in this episode. Beautiful work between Sarah Michelle Gellar and James Marsters, as usual.

Quote of the episode:

Flashback Spike: Death is your art.
Spike: You make it with your hands, day after day.
Flashback Spike: That final gasp. That look of peace.
Spike: Part of you is desperate to know: "What's it like? Where does it lead you?"

[Flashback Spike snaps Nikki’s neck]
Flashback Spike: Even you. The only reason you've lasted as long as you have is you've got ties to the world... your mum, your brat kid sister, the Scoobies. They all tie you here, but you're just putting off the inevitable. Sooner or later, you're gonna want it. And the second- the second - [Both Spikes clap their hands together inches from Buffy's face]
Spike: ... That happens... You know I'll be there. I'll slip in... have myself a real good day. Here endeth the lesson.

5) The Gift - Season 5

There were some very high points in Seasons 6 and 7, but part of me thinks that this episode is the *perfect* ending to Buffy the Vampire Slayer. It is fitting and moving - and I cry every damn time. Incredible performances across the board, and a killer finish. Just wonderful TV.

Quote of the episode:

I couldn't have picked anything else but this...

Buffy: Dawn, listen to me, listen. I love you. I will always love you. But this is the work that I have to do. Tell Giles… tell Giles I figured it out. And, and I'm okay. And give my love to my friends. You have to take care of them now. You have to take care of each other. Dawn, the hardest thing in this world… is to live in it. Be brave. Live… for me.

If you've watched Buffy, then you'll already have your reasons for loving the series. If you haven't watched it, I'm sure you have good reasons. But if this is a series you've just never got around to picking up, then please do it. Season 1 can be a bit rough at points, but once they hit their stride in Season 2 it is amazing viewing. Even the bad episodes are better than 90% of what is being put out most of the time.

Go on - share your favourite episodes, or characters, or lines of dialogue!

Friday, 19 November 2010

When did cliche become a naughty word?

I have just been settling down to some quiet reading of my latest book (that being Furies of Calderon by Jim Butcher) and, as is my wont, was jotting down some immediate thoughts as they occurred to me.

One point that I made about the book - and will explore properly in my review - is the fact that this novel follows a lot of fantasy cliches. The problem is, I realised, that, having said I thought it was cliched meant then having to justify the fact that I still liked the book DESPITE the cliches. Not because of the cliches. And then it hit me:

When did "cliche" become a naughty word?

These days, if I state a book is cliched, this often directly translates into tired and unimaginative. However, a cliche can make a book feel fun and comfortable.

For instance, one of the said cliches in this novel is that of the orphaned boy destined to go onto big things. Big fantasy cliche. For some, enough to make them turn away from Furies of Calderon! But why would they automatically dismiss the novel and why does the word cliche now feel so negative and as though we are talking a book down?

So... feel free to discuss? Have you noticed this new negativity? Do you think that a cliche can only be a bad thing in a book? Or are cliches merely tried and tested story formulas that work?

Comments please! And happy reading :-)

Dark Tower Readalong: The Gunslinger Part 1

Welcome one and all! Roll up to the Dark Tower Readalong - all welcome. Every Friday I will be posting my detailed thoughts and commentary on a section of the Dark Tower, starting with The Gunslinger. Now, some idiot (not me, definitely not me) declared proudly that it would be one chapter per week - and then I actually checked the book this morning and found it involved what I shall now refer to as chaplets - the smallest chapters in the world. So, in the revised edition, I am going to be tackling the first five chaplets - which comes out at approx 30 pages. Be warned, I shall be quoting from the book and shall not hold back on spoilers - please don't read on any further if you don't want your reading experience completely spoiled!

With each section I shall first summarise the key events and, following this, will provide my commentary.

Without further ado, let's kick off the first part of the Dark Tower Readalong...


The gunslinger pursues the man in black across the desert, reaching the point where his quarry had camped and musing on the fact the remains of the campfire are still cold. He knows he is closer to the man in black.


The gunslinger suspects that he has reached the last dwelling, but he comes to another hut where he discovers a blue eyed man weeding a stand of corn. The blue eyed man asks the gunslinger if he is alive or dead. He also says that he thought the gunslinger's "kind" were gone. It is revealed that the man in black is a sorcerer and passed through sometime between two weeks and two months ago. He is exhausted and falls asleep as the man, Brown, cooks for him.


Brown wakes the gunslinger and tells him his mule has passed on.


The two men sit after dinner has been consumed and talk about the fate of a town that the gunslinger travelled through. The gunslinger wonders if Brown is but an illusion, a trick of the man in black. He debates killing Brown, but ends up telling him about Tull.


We flash back to Tull and the gunslinger's arrival in the town. He is treated with suspicion. When he asks some kids to direct him to a local cafe, only one is brave enough to talk to him. When he enters the bar, he orders rich food and is able to cow one of the bar thugs with no more than a few words. While he is eating, the gunslinger is disturbed by a man who speaks to him in the High Speech - he asks the gunslinger for some gold and receives it. While this is occurring the bar empties of trade. The heavily scarred female bar owner accuses the gunslinger of driving away her customers - when the gunslinger asks for knowledge about the man in black, the bar owner names her price as him "scratching her itch".


"The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed."

As opening lines go, it's pretty damn powerful. If someone just gave you that line, you (if you're anything like me) would have a multitude of questions. Who is the man in black? Who is the gunslinger? Why is one pursuing the other? Why is he fleeing into the desert?

Unlike other authors, King doesn't immediately move to describe the gunslinger. At the end of the section I've completed here, we still don't know the name of the gunslinger. We still don't really know why he is chasing the man in black. We only have hints about who the man in black is.

Instead, King shows us the land these strange men - hunter and hunted - are racing through. The desert is presented as barren, with only the deadly devil-grass (a drug of sorts, that can be smoked or chewed) changing the nature of the featureless plain. We learn a little about the situation in this land - there used to more people travelling roads through the desert; there are Manni holy men and followers of the Man Jesus, so at least two religions; the gunslinger's title and clothing gives an extremely strong Western flavour to the book.

"His hat was gone. So was the horn he had once carried; gone for years, that horn, spilled from the hand of a dying friend, and he missed them both."

Mystery atop mystery. What horn? What friend? Clearly the back story here is extensive.

Although I find myself mystified by what is going on, I am being irresistibly drawn into the tale thanks to King's language which evokes an old and tired land that God has deserted and doesn't divulge anything about the main protagonists.

The gunslinger is a remote and resigned character - feels like the Man With No Name. In fact, he is the archetypal nameless man from Western films. "There would be water if God willed it, even in the desert."

In these first few pages, as well as hearing about the gunslinger's horn and dead friend (and his father's guns) we also learn about a momentary lapse, a dizziness that makes him feel adrift from the world. Not sure if this will prove to be important going forward, but probably worth pulling it out.

"It spoke of a man who might straighten bad pictures in strange hotel rooms."

This line is a little jarring. Up until this point, we have only a very nebulous idea of the world in which the gunslinger lives. It seems either a time in history or possibly post-apocalyptic, but here we have mention of hotel rooms! It throws out all of my preconceived notions. Also, how autobiographical is this statement!

I like the harsh humour that jumps out: "The huddles had degenerated into single dwellings, most inhabited by lepers or madmen. He found the madmen better company."

This mention of a taheen is quite chilling - a man with a raven's head. While I dwell on the taheen, let's address the fact that King is using quite a number of words that feel authentic, but aren't real. I like the flavour that they add, but my copy of the novel doesn't have a glossary so in most cases you have to guess what is meant. Don't get me wrong, it is usually quite easy to tell from the context of the sentence, but a glossary might have proved helpful.

This might come across as a little dumb, but I did not realise that chaplet two actually took us back in time to before the gunslinger started out into the desert. Chaplet three and four continue on directly from two - but then five takes us back in time again to before the gunslinger reaches Tull. This structure is a little bewildering to begin with, but then feels very natural as you begin to be immersed in the tale.

The taheen claims to be looking for a place called Algul Siento, or Blue Haven, or Heaven - you'll have to excuse me pulling out this very random line! I'm used to over-analysing every last sentence of Steven Erikson, so it has become second nature to take out lines that might end up being important at a later stage!

I love the raven Zoltan who belongs to Brown, with phrases like: "Screw you. Screw you and the horse you rode in on."

This is an interesting exchange between the gunslinger and Brown:

"You're a gunslinger. That right?"
"Yes." [...]
"Thought your kind was gone."
"Then you see different, don't you?"
"Did'ee come from In-World?"
"Long ago," the gunslinger agreed.
"Anything left there?"

Just a couple of things to mention from the above - the first is that by calling the gunslinger 'your kind' it sounds as though he isn't quite human. The second is the use of In-World - this could be a country. It could be another planet. It could be another dimension. It could be many things, in fact, and I'm guessing it's something we'll find out as we get to know the gunslinger.

Almost immediately afterwards we find out that the man in black is a sorcerer - "among other things". Doesn't this make you even more intrigued about who he is and why the gunslinger is chasing him?

The gunslinger is suspicious and always on edge. He trusts Brown but knows he is vulnerable to the dweller. He wonders whether the man in black has cast an illusion and set him a trap. "It wasn't beyond possibility that Brown was the man in black."

One thing that springs out from the gunslinger's encounters with Brown and the people of Tull is that he is an enormously dangerous man:

"I don't want nothing from you, gunslinger, except to still be here when you move on. I won't beg for my life, but that don't mean I don't want it yet awhile longer."

In chaplet five (the last part of this readalong today), we go with the gunslinger to Tull. The first aspect of this chaplet that jumps out at me is the fact the gunslinger can hear a honky-tonk piano playing 'Hey Jude' by The Beatles! This just gives me more confusion about the fantasy world we're travelling through...

In the town of Tull, the inhabitants treat the gunslinger with both fear and disdain. We have the cliche of the gunslinger stepping into the bar and having all go quiet - this is such a key moment in many western films, and King wrote it well - up to and including the gunslinger's quiet ordering of food and his intimidation of a bar thug.

From this typical western environment, we then slide sideways into the fantasy aspect of it by meeting Nort - the devil weed abuser who has been brought back to life by the man in black. The mysterious Nort speaks to the gunslinger in the High Speech of Gilead:

"The High Speech. For a moment his mind refused to track it. It had been years - God! - centuries, millenniums; there was no more High Speech; he was the last, the last gunslinger. The others were all..."

With that rather intriguing little addition to the chaplet, I think we'll draw this to a close. My over-riding impressions so far are a maddeningly slow drip of information; mysterious and impressive back story; and an extremely harsh but realistic world.

Now over to you! What did you think of these first five sections? Can you answer any of the questions I've posed? Did you get more from the passages than I did? Have I missed anything glaring? I would love some feedback on the structure of this post as well, being the first - want it done differently?

Happy reading, and look forward to you joining me in the comment section!

Thursday, 18 November 2010

A Different Sort of Review - Night of Knives by Ian Esslemont

Once again, having finished a book on the Tor Malazan Re-read, I bring you my overall thoughts of the novel. Here are my feelings about Night of Knives by Ian Esslemont:

This first encounter with Esslemont’s side of the Malazan world has sure been a bumpy ride. For every Temper there was a Kiska, basically *grins*. I don’t think I need to re-emphasise my dislike of the young naive character. She was an effective tool in Esslemont’s hands to help any info-dumping go smoothly and feel realistic, but, by all the Gods, she got annoying damn quickly.

My over-riding impression of the novel is that is was basically a novella to start with, and got padded out to fit a novel length. There isn’t a great deal of real action here, in terms of moving along the story, and the biggest scene by far is the ascension of Kellanved and Dancer, but I found myself rather confused about it rather than thrilled.

At times the prose was weak when it should have been exciting, with clumsy exposition and characterisation.

With that said, I did enjoy a lot of what was on show here. I loved the horror aspect of the novel - something that we haven’t seen from Erikson in the same way. Anything involving Temper, especially the flashbacks with Dassem and the final showdown between him and Jhenna, was just brilliant. I also enjoyed seeing an entirely different perspective of Tayschrenn compared to Gardens of the Moon - I join other people now in finding him entirely intriguing. Definitely more to come.

My favourite character from Night of Knives was definitely Temper - from his grizzled resignation to his flash of pride to the potential of what is yet to come. How about you? And why?

In summary, this will never be my favourite part of the Malazan series, but I have not been deterred from Esslemont’s future works. I think this was a slightly simplistic read in comparison to Gardens of the Moon - however, I do firmly believe that Esslemont can only improve going forwards, and I’m looking forward to Return of the Crimson Guard when we hit that as part of the re-read.

So, onto Deadhouse Gates.... I am apprehensive, pleased, excited, and already confused :-p

Jump! by Jilly Cooper

Jump! is a sprawling bonkbuster of a book set in the glitzy and dangerous world of jump racing. When Etta Bancroft's husband Sampson dies, her bolshy children move her to the tiny village of Willowwood. She struggles to come to terms with her new life, and is bullied relentlessly by her children. One cold night Etta discovers a little Thoroughbred filly, lost and beaten, and takes her in, naming her Mrs Wilkinson. Mrs Wilkinson and Etta develop an unshakable bond, as the filly becomes a renowned racehorse and leads Etta into the world of syndicates, racing and controversy.

Surrounded by a vast cast of characters, the central story is that of a mare who gave Etta back her life.

I unashamedly adore Jilly's books. They are huge, untidy, gossipy and fun. When I settle down with one, I know that I will spend half my time bewildered by the many different names and who is bed-hopping with whom. I also know that I will be scooped up into a world where Jilly examines relationships, social considerations and class differences.

I thoroughly enjoyed the pairing of Etta and Mrs Wilkinson in this novel. They provided some structure to the book and gave the opportunity for Jilly to explore all matters jump racing. With both knowledge and passion, Jilly included subplots involving trainers, owners (including syndicates), jockeys and stable lads and lasses. Her clear thrill in racing can be seen in passages showing the excitement of race day - especially the biggest race of all, the Grand National.

The tale itself was rather cliched - poor, downtrodden horse and human find love and companionship, and come back against all the odds to win races and find love. However, I find myself not minding this, since it is a commonly used story (I've read similar from other books by Jilly, to those written by Fiona Walker, right through to the Black Stallion novels by Walter Farley). The skill lies in how this story is presented.

Jilly shows rare skill in presenting relationships from all walks of life - from bullying, to infidelity, from temporary passion, to love. I also enjoyed how she updated herself in this novel - let's not forget that Jilly is now a lady of 73 (sorry, Jilly!) and yet here there was a wonderful subplot involving a gay vicar and his discovery that his crush returns his love. Jilly even popped in a gay sex scene. She has also embraced technology, with mentions of Internet, mobiles and iPods. Seriously, my grandma would not be able to write with such knowledge about these matters, and I have great admiration that with every book Jilly adds modern flourishes to keep her stories from sounding dated.

I also adore the way that Jilly presents the animals. All of them have simply brilliant characters (in fact, it is often easier to tell apart the animals than the humans) and it was the sad moments involving the horses that had me close to tears!

I have a few negatives that I want to pick up on, however. After being so impressed with Jilly's take on relationships, I was not happy to have a couple of sex scenes that verged on rape, including one involving a foursome where a participant was being forced into joining in. I found it unnecessary - sure, include rough scenes with some bullying to emphasise the nature of some characters, but virtual rape is tough to read in any book, let alone one where it doesn't actually add to the tension of the novel.

I felt fairly uncomfortable as well with some of the work that Jilly did involving Pakistanis and Al Qaeda (I will leave you to wonder how she encompassed this into the world of jump racing!) Rafiq was a great character, and it is clear that Jilly is not racist in any way - and in fact was trying to present Muslims in a good light - but it felt so tacked on to the rest of the story. This included the rather cinematic ending, which had a bomb thrown in for good measure! It was simply preposterous.

All in all, I loved this book. It was rough and ready at times; some subplots didn't work at all; and there were *far* too many characters (even for a Jilly book!) but it was warm-hearted, exciting and romped along at a lovely pace. Mrs Wilkinson and Etta were a lovely central pairing and their story made me smile on many occasions. A whole-hearted thumbs up from me.

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

The Dark Tower readalong

I have been dearly loving the Malazan re-read that I do for Tor. Looking at the books chapter by chapter, and discussing all the mysteries, foibles and quality writing with knowledgeable others is one of the highlights of my week.

So I have decided to do a readalong on my own blog. I am hoping that you will come over and comment, that you might read along with me?

My choice is The Dark Tower series by Stephen King. It is complete, dense and quirky (from what I can tell). Some love it. Some hate it. Whatever happens, I'm sure it will offer up plenty of discussion.

I don't want to burden myself with too much each week, so I am planning one chapter/commentary to be posted each Friday - the first coming this Friday.

Looking forward to your comments and your support!

I Simply Can't Resist These Covers....

We're playing my rather snide game of sniggering at inappropriate book covers again. I can't help myself. I feel mean. And wrong. But this one just leapt out at me!

I mean, what's going on with the naked fun and the horse in the background?

Rather than just let you snicker away, I'm going to ask you to re-title this book! What would you call it? Your reward is my laughter *grin*

Seasonal Reading

It's November, and past Bonfire Night, so pretty much all the retailers are now thinking about Christmas. We have trees twinkling in windows, mince pies on display - and, for the first time that I can remember, an absolute glut of Christmas themed women's literature. I have never seen anything like it!

Here are a few of the books on offer:

1) Twelve Days of Christmas - Trisha Ashley

2) Falling for Christmas - Debbie Macomber

3) The Christmas Cookie Club - Ann Pearlman

At the moment these three novels are riding high in the bestseller lists, and are being pushed through many different outlets (including the big supermarket chains).

Personally, the idea of reading wonderfully Christmas themed novels sounds wonderful as the nights draw in, the Christmas pudding gets made and I start lighting candles to warm my room with the rich scent of cinnamon. Perfect literature!

But how very seasonal! Imagine reading these same books lying on a sun lounger in the summer, sipping cocktails. Impossible, non? Snow and mince pies and Christmas trees are just not what you want to read, right?

The trouble with this new trend is that the books are simply not relevant at any other time of year, so their shelf life is impossibly short. Summer novels dealing with sunny islands and cool drinks and hot men are still relevant in the winter - in fact, I love reading them during the dark nights to remind myself that I will soon see the sun again.

What do you think of this trend? Foolish? Fun? Would you consider reading a Christmas book in the summer? I would love to hear your opinions on seasonal reading!

Guess the Book Cover #2

Okay, since you're all so clever and got yesterday's effort within minutes, here is another attempt. This one will probably be far too easy as well! Anyway, guess the cover, leave a comment, just for fun, no prizes - y'all know the score...

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

ConJour 2011 - Richard Morgan Announced!

I am pleased to announce that, joining the other guests announced for ConJour 2011 is none other than Gollancz SF/Fantasy author RICHARD MORGAN.

This is the talent who brought us the world of Takeshi Kovacs, won the Arthur C Clarke award in 2008 with Black Man (known as Thirteen in the US), and moved to fantasy with the highly acclaimed The Steel Remains. Many fantasy readers are anticipating the release of The Cold Commands, due in 2011. I adored both The Steel Remains and Altered Carbon.

We are delighted that Richard Morgan will be joining us in Leeds - get your tickets booked now!

Just For Fun - Guess the Book!

Alright, I thought this could be quite a fun little quiz for all my readers! I have cropped a snippet from a rather famous fantasy book cover and I'd like you to tell me which one it is. No prizes, just the thrill of knowing how ace you are...

Have fun!

Monday, 15 November 2010

Formidable Female Protagonists #3 - Moiraine Damodred

So we come to the third entry in my semi-regular series about the Formidable Females that can be found in fantasy literature. I stole the idea from Cybermage (with his blessing), and so far have looked at Polgara the Sorceress and Alanna the Lioness.

It is definitely time I picked someone from the Wheel of Time. The timing is good, considering Towers of Midnight has recently been released. And, honestly, with the number of strong women written by Robert Jordan, I had a wealth of options. I know that many people opine that Jordan wasn't able to write a decent female character if he tried - but, when you look at it, the women in his books are easily the equal of any man. They bicker, argue, tug braids and smooth skirts. They manipulate and often cause more ructions than they're worth. However, they have power, status and ability. They are clever, strong and compassionate. It wasn't so much a question of trying to get just one woman to talk about - it was a matter of thinning down the pack that includes Nynaeve, Aviendha, Siuan, Elayne, Min, Faile.... (and that doesn't even touch on the many secondary characters - the Wise Ones, the Aes Sedai, the nobility, the farmgirls...)

But really, there was just one option. This woman has made waves from the moment she stepped onto the page. She is short but has a towering personality. Despite not appearing in the majority of the books, her effect has been felt through all of them. This formidable female is Moiraine Damodred - related to nobility, Aes Sedai of the Blue Ajah, and guide to the Dragon Reborn (when he lets her!)

Here are some reasons and quotes as to why Moiraine fits the description of formidable female:

1) Moiraine is hard and determined

"The Dark One is after you three, one or all, and if I let you go running off wherever you want to go, he will take you. Whatever the Dark One wants, I oppose, so hear this and know it true. Before I let the Dark One have you, I will destroy you myself."

2) Moiraine is pragmatic but compassionate

"Death cannot be healed, Rand. You are not the Creator."

3) Moiraine knows her duty

"I have given my life to finding the Dragon Reborn, finding Rand, and seeing him ready to face the Last Battle. I will see that done, whatever it requires. Nothing and no one can be more important than that."

4) Moiraine has a sense of humour - sometimes...

"If you watch the wolf too hard, a mouse will bite you on the ankle."

5) Moiraine can be hot-tempered

"Rand al'Thor is a mule-headed, stone-willed fool of a... a... a man!"

I loved Moiraine from the first moment she stepped onto the page - she is mysterious, manipulative and majestic, and definitely worthy of her place in this series on formidable female protagonists.

Would you have picked Moiraine? If not, which of the women from the Wheel of Time would suit a place in this series? Who else would you enjoy reading about?

Sunday, 14 November 2010

Passion #3: Hockey

So, here is my second go at writing a blog post that reveals a little bit more about the blogger behind the blog.

One of my other passions is hockey - that would be field hockey for all the Canadians/Americans and anyone else who reads my blog and is more familiar with ice hockey. Ha, the thought of me trying to play hockey *at the same time* as skating is just TOO scary!

An ex-boyfriend played and invited me to go along and watch some of his matches. In the course of doing this I met some of the ladies from Portsmouth & Southsea hockey club, who were having trouble pulling together enough women to fulfil their league fixture. I had never played hockey before - not even at school - but they invited me to stand on the pitch with a stick to make up the numbers. Before I knew it, I was getting involved in the match, going along to training, being picked regularly for the team (even when there were more than enough players for the team) and buying my own stick and kit. The boyfriend became an ex, but the hockey remained.

I now play every week during the season (although have been out for the last five weeks with a torn calf muscle) and I adore it. To the point where the Saturdays during the summer months feel empty without it! I have also done a little bit of umpiring, play indoor hockey and attend hockey festivals with my team. I've been both the ladies captain and the mixed team captain.

Of course, the social side is almost more important than what happens on pitch! We go out regularly as a club - men and women together - and drink maybe a little too much... Pub golf doesn't help that!

Here is a picture of our mascot doing what he does best:

Eeyore comes on tour with us and went to Lanzarote this year when I and three girlfriends headed out there for a week's holiday.

Hockey is one of the best things I ever started. It keeps me fit; I get to meet and spend time with tremendous people; and there is nothing like hitting a ball to get those stress levels down! It can be dangerous, I know - I've seen some pretty nasty injuries while playing, experienced some myself - but I couldn't stop playing now. I love my club, and the fact that getting together and having fun is more important than the results (although that doesn't stop us being ultra competitive when we get on the pitch) is a massive bonus. If you haven't tried it, then maybe look up your local club and give it a go?

If you have any questions about hockey, I'd love to answer them!

Friday, 12 November 2010

Lex Trent Fighting With Fire

This is not a book review - unfortunately, since I can't wait to get my hands on the second Lex Trent novel by Alex Bell.

But I can bring you the artwork for Lex Trent Fighting With Fire, and it's simply gorgeous! I am loving the dragon - and those eeeeeviiil rabbits have me curious as heck.

What do you think of it?

The Snowman by Jo Nesbo

The Snowman tells the story of Harry Hole as he becomes embroiled in a sinister serial killer case. Norway is not known for its serial killers, and Hole has a lot to prove to the rest of the police department to ensure that they believe they are dealing with multiple murders. Assisted by mysterious new detective Katrine, Hole can feel the tension ramping up as he tries to solve the case before the snows come - and The Snowman kills again.

Well, after reading the three books that composed The Millennium trilogy, I was looking to continue my Scandinavian crime reading stint and decided to pick up the new Big Thing in the form of The Snowman by Jo Nesbo. It was similar, but only to the extent that both works deal with serial killers.

On the plus side, The Snowman is tauter and far less bloated. The story whips along with little clues and red herrings littering the work and leading you towards the inevitable conclusion. In fact, this novel might be worth a re-read - just to check all the details that form part of the clues.

On the negative side, we have a far less charismatic hero in the form of Harry Hole - we're back to the usual stereotype of alcoholic maverick detective, who is determined to solve the case to the point of obsession and losing all of his friends and family.

One thing is very clear: we are not dealing here with a nice story. The Snowman is a terrifying plot device to use - something that is usually so innocent and free from horror. I don't think I will ever, ever want to make a snowman again, especially not after reading passages like this:

"The snow in the garden reflected enough light for him to make out the snowman down below [...] At that moment the moon slid from behind a cloud. The black row of teeth came into view. And the eyes. [...] The pebble-eyes were gleaming. And they were not staring into the house. They were looking up. Up here."

*shudders* Other people might find sections like that a little ridiculous, but for me it brought out all those nightmares you have as a child. Adding in real passages of terror, where the unseen killer commits his murders, just increases the fear factor for me. I had to have the light on last night after reading this into the wee small hours. And I had to keep checking to convince myself that the snow hadn't started to fall.

It was a fairly disposable read, however. Having mentioned a re-read above, I don't think this is a book I would pick up again. It did the job effectively, but it won't stay with me for too long and I didn't like or empathise with many of the characters. In a way, it is incredibly routine, with only the snowman angle lifting it out of the doldrums of mediocrity.

In conclusion, a decent enough way to spend a few hours. And I do feel a necessity to post this picture now:

Thursday, 11 November 2010

Lest We Forget...

The eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month.

IN FLANDERS FIELDS the poppies blow

Between the crosses row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

John McCrae

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

1 star Amazon Reviews

There has been some discussion recently on 1 star Amazon reviews and what they should be for - both Speculative Horizons and Fantasy Book Reviewer posted about it.

Sometimes 1 star reviews are necessary.

Check this:

And the link to the page.

Amazon needs to get this (excuse me) shit off their site.

Who Loves Horrendous Book Covers?

I do!

Now, here is the description of this book: Participating in an ancient spell, Laura Sullivan is amazed when the half-naked man of her dreams is promptly deposited in her home, and Laura is forced to teach Connor, a ninth-century Viking, how to adapt to the modern world.

So far, so historical romance.

Here is the cover chosen to show this tale...

What do you think? Something you'd pick up? *snicker*

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets' Nest by Stieg Larsson

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets' Nest is the third book in the acclaimed Millennium trilogy, and completes the tale of Lisbeth Salander. In this novel we find her recovering from the events at the end of the second book, facing trial for attempted murder and various other counts. Mikael Blomkvist knows that she is innocent, and, in fact, is the victim of a conspiracy that goes to the very top of government - can he prove her innocence before she is locked away?

That little summary does not do justice to the sheer detail of plot in this novel. We are introduced to various characters within secret police departments, within SMP (the newspaper that Erica Berger moves to), within the criminal fraternity. We are shown subplots concerning revenge, romance and money. You certainly get bang for your buck here!

My biggest complaint about the two prior books in the trilogy was the extreme slow-burn start of both. In this novel we pick up the events immediately following the end of book two, so Larsson hits the ground running. I loved the way the plot built and knitted together - but I have a new complaint. Instead of the slow burn start, we have two instances of about 20 pages each within The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets' Nest where the plot slows to an absolute crawl as Larsson stops to explain the formation of a secret government department. Even given that I was desperate to find out what would happen to Lisbeth, I almost put the book away at these two periods. Slow, dull and dry.

It is hard to say whether this is Larsson's writing or the translation his original manuscript was given - but I've heard that the translation is deemed to be above par, which means the fault goes to Larsson.

In spite of this, I found the novel a fitting and exciting conclusion to this massive, sprawling trilogy. There are some real fist-punching-the-air moments. Lisbeth Salander becomes more... human. We see her interacting with more people in this book, both online and in real life, and her dark humour yet serious demeanour are displayed to great effect. I make no secret of the fact that she is one of the very best heroines I have read in recent times. It takes real skill to make readers care for a sociopath who refuses to take help from people and has zero social skills.

The fact is that if you read the first two books in the trilogy, you'll be picking this book up. If you discarded The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo in the first fifty pages, you won't be touching this with a barge-pole. BUT I write this review for anyone who is considering picking up the first book in the trilogy. Do it. Work hard through those first two hundred pages. The pay-off is unbelievable. These are three of the most entertaining novels I've read this year and they absolutely deserve the acclaim.