Sunday, 29 December 2013

The Last Praetorian

The Last Praetorian

By Mike Smith


2 out of 5

Synopsis
Commander Jonathan Radec is a man desperately trying to escape from the mistakes of his past.

Now the owner of Vanguard Shipping, his primary concerns are trying to keep his ships flying and his crew alive. However, the shadowy Syndicate organisation has set their sights on the Commander and his business, having sent a beautiful assassin to kill him. To make matters worse, she’s become the target of his infatuation, much to the dismay of his ex-girlfriend. Recently elevated to President of the Confederation, she’s still very much in love with him and capable of making his life a living hell.

Surrounded by a galaxy beginning to tear itself apart, with enemies on all sides, he’s now also unwillingly tasked with trying to save the Confederation – for which he has little regard. Jon has little going in his favour, except a crew consisting of the elite of the old Imperial Navy, all of whom would fight to the death for him, and a past that possibly makes him one of the most dangerous men alive.

The Last Praetorian is a Science Fiction adventure/romance, which tries to answer the question: “Can you ever find redemption for the mistakes of your past?”


Review
A timeless story of honour, betrayal, love and life. Set nearly a thousand years in the future, the human race has spread across the galaxy, setting up colonies on any habitable planets. Most of which have joined The Imperium (a.k.a. The Empire) for peace and security.
The Praetorians are elite soldiers that protect the Emperor, Marcus Aurelius. Out of these, one is a young commander that can make enemies turn and flee at the mere mention of his name - Commander Jonathan Radec.
This story follows Jon as he is betrayed, and the Praetorians destroyed. The Imperium is on it's knees, and only he can save it.

I'm going to start with the bad stuff with this review.
As you read this story, you are inundated with... not so much deja vu, as downright copycat-ism. It starts with the Gladiator plot, right down to the name of the Emperor. Jon is the favoured Commander of the Imperium army, but they are betrayed and Jon is on the run.
Switch to a bit of Star Wars, as Jon rescues the feisty Princess Sofia, and the pilot and the Princess clash and argue as a spark of romance gradually builds.
I'm sure there were a few others mixed in too, but those were the main two that screamed out and distracted me from the actual story.

The story itself switches from "5 years ago" to "present day". Which was annoying for two reasons: 1) they are both points in the future, so how can one be seen as 5 years ago, and the other picked as present day.
2) I lost track of the two stories that were being told, and it was confusing when something was mentioned (in a way that assumes we already know the facts and details) in the Present story, before it played out in the 5 year story.
It felt like the writer had written these two stories, and simply dished it out one chapter here, one chapter there, without working out how they could help and build upon each other.
As it was, I didn't really understand how or why Jon and Sofia went their separate ways, before she was back and interrupting his next blossoming romance.

The characters were all ok, apart from Jon.
Or to put it more confusingly, Jon was ok, but everyone else made him a dick. How many times did we have to be told that he was absolutely amazing? How many times were we told that he was a fantastic pilot? An exceptional lover? The best-looking guy and swoon-worthy? Bleurgh, I lost count of the bloody times. The funny thing was, if the author had left all of that crap out, Jon would have been all of the above because of his actions. Instead, I'm left with a bitter taste.


The good stuff... yes, there were good things about this book. There were moments when I really enjoyed the story, the interaction between Jon and Sofia, the adventures, Jon's family. His friends in the Vanguard Shipping were pretty cool.
It was frustrating, I felt that if the author had been a little more original in the beginning, he could have written a bloody good book - the talent is there.
Plus, I felt he was trying to cram 2 stories into one, I would have preferred it laid out chronologically.

I'm torn as to whether I would read the rest of the trilogy.

Wednesday, 30 October 2013

The Shadow Reigns - free excerpt

The second part of the Witch-Hunter series will soon be available to buy from Amazon.  Catch up now, with Part 1 - The Shadow Rises.
And get a free snippet of the opening pages of Part 2 - The Shadow Reigns, below. (warning, contains series spoilers from the beginning)

Happy Hallowe'en!


For hundreds of years witches have been persecuted; forced to keep their heads down and conform to laws that we never agreed to.  To be a witch is to live a hunted life; to suffer the stupidity and ignorance of those around you, even though you could outclass them with the simplest spell.
I was born to free the witches from oppression.  I am the Shadow Witch.  I have freed my kin from the so-called justice of the witch-hunters and their Malleus Maleficarum Council.  In one night, the world was thrown into chaos, and for once it was the witch-hunters that were forced back.
We followed our victory with a second.  We pitched the world into darkness, and removed the advantage technology gave our enemies.  The new world has already begun, and in this spiralling darkness, those with magic will finally be able to rise above all others.
Then why do I feel guilt?  Why do I feel doubt?
Ever since the witches told me of my destiny, when I was thirteen and powerless, I have never felt any doubt in my path.  When my powers were awakened seven years later – the witches conducting sacrifices on Hallowe’en to break the ancient spell holding them back – I was even more sure of what lay ahead.
But it is shallow of me to even pretend I do not know the reason that I finally question everything.  Him.  For years I hated the very name Astley, knowing that they were the witch-hunters that killed Sara Murray, the last Shadow Witch; and all its consequences.  I would not be the same if she lived; I would not have to take up this brutal destiny.
I had not planned to fall in love with the current bearer of the name: George “Hunter” Astley.  I ignored the attraction at first; whenever he was around I told myself it was the excitement of playing him for a fool that thrilled me so, not his presence itself.  But after months of secretly savouring each glance, each touch, I wanted more.  I knew from the beginning that our relationship was doomed; I could not stay with him and soon we would be on the opposite sides of a war.  Is it wrong I tried to find a way to keep him with me?  If not for my sake, then for our child’s?
Not that it mattered.  In the end he chose his side, and I chose mine.
I knew that I was expected to kill him when we met again, and I was prepared to do so.  I came so close and failed.  As my knife got past his guard and cut deep into him, I felt a shock of pain stab through me.  It was all I could do to evade his witch-hunters and return home, where I collapsed at my mother’s feet.

I have been recovering slowly for a month now.  I cannot explain it, there is no physical wound; I can only guess that what was inflicted on him rebounded to me.  None of the witches can explain why, but some theorise that the child links us – we can only guess what powers he or she shall inherit.  In which case, if this is true; I shall withdraw as much as possible until it is born, and hope the spell breaks.



One



Little Hanting was a picturesque village in the English countryside. Quaint bungalows and farmhouses fanned out from the church hall, with its perfectly manicured green in front of it. Not that the grass could be seen; fresh snow had again fallen the previous night, coating everything with a perfect whiteness. All it needed was children with mittens having a snowball fight, and the scene would be idyllic.

But Little Hanting silently suffered. The inhabitants had all been evacuated when the village had been the setting for a decisive battle. Now all the homes lay eerily quiet, save for the ones that had been temporarily taken over by soldiers. They sheltered from the cold and waited – waited for answers and for their next move. They would huddle around the fireplaces, casting glances in the direction of the local manor house.



Hunter drifted in a haze of painkillers and nightmares. He saw the flash of the knife a hundred times, Sophie’s hazel eyes, and the pain that tore through them both.
The scene would change, and it was Hunter’s first day at University, and Brian was coming to tell him that his father was dead. Charlotte should be here to comfort him. Where was Charlotte?
When Hunter was awake… lucid was hardly applicable. He lay in his bed, staring at the high ceiling, with all its familiar cracks. Or he would turn his head to observe the dark drapes that someone opened and closed with the passing of day and night. Huh, probably the same someone that fed the fire in his bedroom to stop it being too cold.

Not that Hunter cared, the cold was numbing, and combined with the morphine, opium – whatever drug they managed to dredge up, it was a good haze. It stopped him having to think as much. Or at least, it kept his thoughts strangely disconnected from himself.

So this was what it was like to wallow. Hunter had never been much of a wallower: not when the witches had killed his father; Brian; Charlotte… Hunter was a witch-hunter, as they all had been. It was accepted as fact that you would lose friends and family, that you yourself would be a target. To be a part of the Malleus Maleficarum Council, to protect the people from the violence of witches was to invite that violence onto oneself.

But the pain of the past was nothing compared to what he was putting off feeling now. It wasn’t as if Sophie had died – although Hunter wished she had. No, it had been worse. The woman he loved had turned out to be the Shadow Witch. It sickened him to think of the nights spent together, the caresses, the half-asleep conversations. And the days when he had never doubted his trust in her as a colleague and a friend. How could she have acted so innocently and seemed so honest when she had just killed his old mentor and closest friend?

Before, grief had only driven him harder to fight back against witches. Now Hunter felt confusion over his life’s work in eradicating witches. He had fallen in love with one, and now she carried his child; and Hunter had recently discovered his own magic-like abilities.

Hunter had thought Sophie mad, and looking for a loophole when she had sworn that he was different from his fellow witch-hunters.

It was something that Hunter, and every MMC worldwide took for granted that, in a family of witch-hunters, each generation would become more adept. By the 3rd gen they could perceive spells being cast, and were immune to some magic; as well as being stronger and faster. As an unheard of 7th gen, Hunter Astley had been revered by the MMC. How little everyone (including himself) knew that he would evolve into a magic-wielder.

Which left him with the question: should he use his new talents in this war; or should he copy the fabled Benandanti and kill himself for being a witch?

He had no answers, and the thoughts just swirled incessantly in his head while he tried to numb them.



The only thing that broke the cycle of monotonous thought was mealtimes. Usually someone left a coffee on his bedside table in a morning, although chances were that it would still be sitting there, stone-cold, by midday. And then someone would bring him some lunch.

This irritating someone came in the form of Hunter’s best friend, James Bennett. He was a pretty average guy – average height, average brown hair and eyes. He was a little more intelligent than most. But this 1st gen witch-hunter was the truest and bravest person that Hunter knew. Oh, and James also had an invaluable knack for putting up with Hunter on a daily basis. Hunter couldn’t remember a time when James hadn’t been there for him.

Which included bringing him meals while Hunter was injured, it seemed. Hunter was never very hungry, and would have left the unappetising food if James hadn’t stayed. Not that James was watching and making sure his friend actually ate something. No, it just so happened that mealtimes coincided with James having found something interesting in the Astley library, and brought up one old book or another to get Hunter’s opinion.

Twice a day. Every day.

Today was a little different. James sat with the typical book on his lap, and the non-typical red pointy hat on his head.

Hunter shot him a few looks, but today James was staying quiet. Hunter dutifully finished his soup and the last of the bread, pointedly putting the bowl aside to state it was empty.

“Why?” Hunter asked simply.

“Why what?” James returned innocently, looking up from his book.

Hunter sighed. “The hat?”

“Oh, that. I thought it’d annoy your mum.” James replied with a shrug. “And it’s my birthday. One of the soldiers found this and thought it wa’ funny.”

That made Hunter sit up and pay attention. “What? It’s the end of January already? Oh shit, I’m sorry James, I forgot. It’s just… it’s been a blur, I lost track.”

James shrugged again, but Hunter noticed the mischievous glint in his eye. “Hey, it’s fine. We’ve all been preoccupied with somethin’ a bit bigger than my birthday. Besides, I distinctly remember you saying that if you forgot my birthday, I could have that bottle of ’82 Chateau Gruard Larose that’s in your cellar.”

“Oh, I said that, did I?” Hunter tried to keep a straight face.

“Yep, absolutely.” James replied sincerely, pushing the reading glasses back up his nose.

“Ok, so I get the hat. What’s with the glasses?”

James looked a little surprised at the question. “Dunno, I just find it easier reading with them. Maybe the witches did some damage when they beat the crap out of me. Or maybe I should just admit I’m getting old.”

Hunter snorted. “Twenty-five is not old. Oh, sorry, twenty-six now. Happy Birthday.”

“I thought they made me look more intelligent.” James continued.

“Well you couldn’t look any less so.” Hunter returned quickly.

James looked ready to throw his book at him, but seemed to think better of it. Instead, he got to his feet.

“Well, you seem back on form, Hunter. So perhaps you’ll think about getting your arse out of bed. We’ve a war to plan. And we could do with your help in keeping Mrs Astley in check.”

Hunter groaned, more at the mention of his mother than impending war.

“And you might want to shave.” James added, eyeing the scruffy attempt of a beard his face was sporting. “Or not. I could be the handsome one, as well as the smart one.”


With a chuckle, James turned and finally left.

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

Nadine Christian Interview

Nadine Christian

http://www.nadinechristian.com
Author of:

  • Remember Love
  • Quintal's Return (The Bounty's Retreat #1)
  • Home Again, Home Again (The Bounty's Retreat #2)
Following on from the review of the first in the Bounty's Retreat series: Quintal's Return, Nadine Christian has taken the time to answer a few questions for this blog.



1) First of all, a major factor in your book is the Island itself, was it always your aim to promote Pitcairn in your work?
Well, it started off as a way to introduce my island to readers if I'm honest. I wanted to share what it's like to live here, with a little fictional oomph to mix in to the scenery. I'm glad you found both worked!  Unfortunately Yeti-man is a fictional character darn it all! 

2) What was the inspiration behind the Bounty's Retreat hotel? (ie the economic importance)
We don't have a hotel/motel here. We do homestays for our visitors, and we love it, but wondered what would happen if we did have a hotel here. Not only would it be an economic boon for the island as I said in the book, but it would change the whole face of how we lived!

3) Was there any real-life influence in creating Kate and Bryce? (I agree with Susan - I'm sending my partner for training!)
Oh well -- the men here are built to work, so that's pretty true to life. The women however are no wall-flowers. Kate I think is a bit of me -- I think I'm focused and tend to want to get things done. It gets in the way of seeing the big picture sometimes!

4) You have built a strong, ensemble cast, do you have any favourites among them, and why?
I loved Jack. He was a complete arse. He was fun to write. In that sense, Bobby was even more fun to write when I had him chewing Jack out!

5) Will we see any of these characters in the sequels?
Yes, Kate, Jen, Felix and Bryce are woven through the next two. Home Again, Home Again is the second in the series and that's due out 1st November!

6) As a self-confessed "late bloomer", when did the writing bug kick in?
Forty huminah huminah. After the last kid got out of nappies and I was thinking -- what next! LOL

7) As a writer, what do you need to kick-start your muse?
Oh boy. It could be anything. Something someone says, a dream, looking out the window at the expanse of the South Pacific even!

8) Has your family and community been a support to your writing?
Very much so. They didn't quite understand why I spent so much time in front of the computer at first, but they all clamour to read my next novel now!

9) Which writers have influenced your career?
Stephen King. The KING of horror. Love him. Wish I could write scary like he does. Nora Roberts for her 'lovin!

10) What advice would you give to prospective writers?
Write. Write. Write. It's all crapola until the first draft is done. Editing and re-editing makes it a novel! Join a critique group too --they are worth their weight in gold!

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Quintal's Return

Quintal's Return
The Bounty's Retreat - book 1

Nadine Christian


5 out of 5

Synopsis
A new job, a new love…and someone out for revenge.

Hotelier Kate Quintal and her sister Jen are hired to run a new luxury hotel on Pitcairn Island. Anticipating only the hard work that running the new facility would entail, a burgeoning romance with the burly and handsome Bryce Brown is the last thing she expected. With a new love and the success of the island’s new tourism endeavor, life seems sweet. 

So, why are things suddenly falling apart? Who is trying to sabotage the hotel, and why? Kate finds herself fighting, not only for her job, or her heart…but her life.

Review
The sisters, Kate and Jen Quintal are relocating to their parent's home of Pitcairn Island, where they are running the hotel that will make or break Pitcairn's tourism trade.  The small community of Pitcainers are depending on them to do a good job, and nothing else counts.
Until romance and revenge complicates matters.

I wasn't sure what to expect when I started reading this book - would it be a mystery, with a little romance thrown in, or vice versa.  I was pleasantly surprised to find that it was both, but also something written lightly, with humour; and still serious where it counts.
The plot itself is not too taxing, its a pleasant story that just leads you along, with no twists or surprises.

The characters were fantastic.  Kate was the serious business woman, that eventually gave in to the fact that there was more to life than getting the hotel up and running.  She's intelligent, fun, and very likeable.  She quickly gains the trust and respect of those around her.
Bryce... well, yeti man is reliable and goes out of his way to help and be professional... and be passionate when it counts.
It is obvious who the bad guy to this plot is from the start, the author never tries to hide their feelings or intentions.  Celia was a fabulous scheming villain, and when she finally makes her move, I found her plots smart, calculating and actually amusing.

But aside from the main characters, the supporting cast were flawless.
Kate's sister Jen is a perfectly witty companion.
We are treated to meeting Bryce's friends, who all welcome the Quintal sisters without question.  Everyone felt real, and fun, and hands up for a whale tooth!
If that wasn't good enough, I was half way through the book when the cast ensemble suddenly swelled with the arrival of the first guests.  In a short space of time, Christian managed to flesh out these new characters and weave them into the story effortlessly.  I think Bobby was my favourite.

But the part I will take away from this book is the love the author has for Pitcairn Island.  On every page, Christian has expressed the beautiful views, given a background to what it is actually like to be on the Island that is more than stats and figures.  And most importantly, she has conveyed a strong sense of community, without for one second letting it become sickeningly sweet.

So yes, I would recommend this book.

And while I wait for the next in this series, I will start saving for a trip to Pitcairn!

Goodreads link
Amazon.co.uk

Wednesday, 21 August 2013

The Fall of the Misanthrope

The Fall of the Misanthrope: I bitch, therefore I am

By Louise Wise


5 out of 5

Synopsis
Valerie Anthrope is a cut-throat business woman and happy being alone.
She answers to no-one. She's The Boss.

But enter Ellen in the guise of her fairy godmother wanting to make the
world rosy and smelling of marshmallow. How can Valerie cope with this burst of
sunshine? It gets worse, Ellen has a nephew who's equally chirpy, but he thinks
it's Valerie taking advantage of Ellen and sets out to take her down a peg or
two!

Review
Valerie Anthrope is content with her life. It's logical, and ordered, and has no soft edges. She doesn't need her time wasted with friendships, she'd much rather spend it improving her business.
Long time do-gooder Ellen Semple has decided to be Val's self-appointed fairy godmother and make her life better; with a little help from Lex, Ellen's nephew, who just so happens to be the most eligible bachelor around.


Ok, so the prologue was a little unexpected. We get to meet Valerie as a young girl, get a glimpse of her family, and get a little psychological background. But then there's a rather scary lady, and all I could think was - you can't say that to a kid!
Then we get into the main section of the story, meeting Valerie in her mid-twenties, making her monthly visit to the graveyard where her parents and her brother are resting. Which quickly and efficiently sets the scene for Miss Anthrope.
We are treated to a quick review of her employees at work, the hard-working and faithful Tim; and the waste of office space Paul. They have worked for Valerie for a few years now, but she has always maintained a maximum distance from them, refusing to socialise, or allow any familiarities.
Which is a shame. Because as the story goes on, it's really sweet how Tim has long seen Valerie as a daughter, he understands her need for independence, but still cares for her.

Ellen may be getting closer to retirement age, but nothing slows her down. After years of travelling the world, helping the poorest people, she know wants to help people closer to home. She's quirky, confident, and full of a bubbly energy that is as irritating as it is lovable.
She thinks she has found an easy solution, as she assumes that Valerie's struggles are all financial; so she drags in Lex, who happens to run a large department store that's thriving, to make up a contract with Val's company.
But money isn't an issue. It turns out that Valerie is just on emotional lockdown.

This story held no surprises in way of romantic plot, it plays out exactly how you think it'll play out: emotionless bitch + lothario = rocky road leading to happy ending.
It was fun following Val and Lex, the flirtations and the magnetism between them.
I have to say I was a little disappointed how quickly Lex changed from keeping an emotional distance from the women he screwed, to suddenly proclaiming that he was in love with her. But he made up for it by his actions later in the book.

That was all ok.
What makes this better than ok was the supporting characters. Tim was a star throughout, and I was so glad for his own little happy ending. Then there was Paul and his wife, who are portrayed with casual disdain to begin with, but turn out to be really sweet.
I would have liked Gemerald to be in a little more, she seemed a pretty wise character.
And of course Boots, so tiny, yet played such a big part in making those first cracks in Valerie's tough fa├žade.

And then to make it great - when I picked this up, I thought it was going to be a fun, light read. And it was. And then you got caught up in the characters, caught up in Valerie's journey, and before you can back out, you are living the emotions along with her.
This book appealed to me because I will be the first to admit that I am an emotionless bitch; so I was shocked by exactly how much this hit a nerve with me, and I do admit to actual crying!
If that isn't worth 5 stars, I don't know what is.


Goodreads link
Amazon.co.uk

Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Water

Water (Akasha #1)

By Terra Harmony


1 out of 5

Synopsis
*Mature Content*
Elemental powers in the palm of her hand...and it won't be enough to save her. When Kaitlyn Alder is involuntarily introduced to a life of magic, she becomes part of an organization hell-bent on saving the Earth. Just as her new-found life holds promises of purpose, romance, and friendship, the organization divides and a rogue member holds Kaitlyn hostage. Now one of the most terrifying men the human race has to offer stands between her and Earth's survival.

Review
*Spoilers*
Kaitlyn is just your average, troubled young woman. After losing her parents, she's never stayed put in one place, never felt the need to connect with people.
Then after an avalanche, she regains consciousness on an island where she is to learn the truth about all those little coincidences that niggle away at her. Like the fact that wherever she goes, natural disasters follow - could it really be here causing them?

I was sold on the synopsis, and many high reviews. A woman finding out she can control the elements? Sounds cool, and right up my street. I admit that I had a sudden flash back to "Captain Planet and the Planeteers" (I always wanted one of those rings as a kid), although I realise that this is a much more grown up version.

I normally start my reviews with a few good points... but this book pissed me off too much for me to remember any... Don't get me wrong, it's well written, and I would let others give it a try because they may love it. I just didn't.

It starts with a someone getting caught in an avalanche. With it being in first person, and that person being right in the thick of it in the very first sentence, we don't get to know much more than the fact that they were stupid enough to go snowboarding without telling anyone.
Chapter two has them waking up in a plain room, that they immediately want to escape. Why she wants to escape it, I have no idea. I would have assumed that the average someone who's just survived an avalanche and wakes up in an unknown room would hang around and wait for some answers, before deciding what to do. But no, with only a couple of flashback memories of her parents that do not explain any pathological need to be free, or fear of enclosed spaces, Kaitlyn makes a big effort to break a window and scrambles out, gaining a new collection of cuts and bruises.
Then suddenly she'd surrounded by half a dozen guards that have been ordered to detain her. At no point is there any attempt by the opponents to talk to her so no one gets hurt 
(because they are all on the same side). No, it's just straight into hand to hand combat. In which Kaitlyn wipes the floor with them all. *cough* I know that her strength is enhanced by the island, but seriously, a couple of sentences about where Kaitlyn did her martial arts previously, or how pleased her trainer would be if he could see her now, would make it easier to buy. We're still left in the frustrating place of her being just a somebody, with no experience to dictate why she would act like this.
Shawn is on the scene for a second, before he's marked as the bad guy that's going to betray them. He immediately wants to inflict pain on Kaitlyn. But you know what, the story does go on to give some of his background and why he is that way. So that is believable.
Then Micah pops up. Even though he's the one that subdues her, and takes her to a lab, and is still part of this suspicious place - he's ok because he's hot. By Chapter 6, they've already kissed and are sharing a bed. Kaitlyn still hasn't decided if she trusts the whole place yet, but Micah's ok. Blah.
The story drones on and on for a while. It's all interminable, really. Lots of training. Lots of Micah. Lots of scary looks from Shawn. Mild explanation. I was bored out of my skull with reading Kaitlyn's snarky opinion of everything. It was a relief when it switched to 3rd person every now and then, to get in those extra info dumps.
And then there was more Micah... for a girl that claims to be totally independent, she's sure gotten clingy quick, and doesn't seem to mind one bit. The rest of the story really just seemed to get in the way of the Micah adoration.

Anyway, action finally happens, and they get to go on their first mission!
They get to present leaflets to hotel owners on the benefits of using recyclable water bottles.
No, I didn't make that up. People with superpowers, and they're doing that? I would say that's a waste of time management, get some of the normal humans to do that stuff, assign something in their skill bracket.
Then they have to go experiment with releasing extra nutrients to phytoplankton in the sea. Ok, mildly more interesting.

Then we get onto the rape scene that seems to divide opinion so much in reviews. Personally, I sit on the fence. I'm not a fan, but I understand that sometimes it sets the scene and drives the plot.
But what does bug me is that Kaitlyn seemed to kick up more of a fuss over Micah's psuedo-rape during training, than actual rape from Shawn.

After that, I quit. I couldn't take any more. It's the first book that I could not finish this year. I got to 86%.

I just... don't get it. What is this book supposed to be? A romance, with the necessary plot movements thrown in? I definitely wouldn't class it as an adventure. It did often feel like a lecture on ecology, with a bit of voodoo thrown in to make it fiction.

Okay, I'm going to stop now.


Goodreads link
Amazon.co.uk

Wednesday, 7 August 2013

Spell Struck

Spell Struck

By Nicole J. Fawcett


4 out of 5

Synopsis
Rhiannon Grey is a detective in a hectic police headquarters. She’s also a witch, in a society that’s learned not to think too highly of the supernatural, and her boss is a two thousand-year-old vampire. Rian has discovered the hard way that trouble is always just around the corner.

This time, trouble is called Griffin King, a fifteen year old runaway whose strangled corpse is found floating in the river. He’s not the first street-kid to vanish recently, or to turn up later, very dead. When Rian starts to suspect he was a witch, too, and that his magic led to his death, her investigation turns into a personal crusade. 

No one seems terribly concerned about the fate of a few disappeared urchins, though. And when a series of brutal murders starts panicked speculation about a nest of vampires, Rian’s boss has other things on his mind.

But Rian won’t be distracted. Not by bureaucracy, not by murder, and certainly not by her dysfunctional private life. Her family think she’s going to end up dead; her friends think she’s going to end up dead lonely; and her lovers are dead frustrated . . .

Review
This is set up in an alternative Britain where witches and vampires, and all manner of creatures are real, and openly live alongside normal people. I found it very easy to slip into this world, to accept all the rules and movements that were set up.
Witches are widely accepted, by law. But they can still cause tension, fear and apprehension in normal people on an individual scale. Some see magic as something to be praised, others see it as something to be hidden.
So add into that the SIST - the Supernatural Investigations Special Team, a branch of the police that employs witches. They have to work twice as hard to maintain a good reputation within the police force; and they have to fight to keep their cases, so Vice don't take the best ones...

I really enjoyed this book. After growing up watching Morse, Lewis, Midsommer Murders, and many others, I have an appreciation for detective stories; and this one trickled out just enough information and misleadings to keep me guessing the whole way along. I was so proud that I worked out who the big bad was as soon as they showed their face, but I have to admit that [spoiler]David Howarth had me fooled all along![/spoiler]
And of course it being set in Yorkshire, I loved the Britishness of it.

It only stopped being a 5 star for me, because I felt that it was a good detective story, then a good paranormal story, then had a romantic story. It all came together well at the end, but occasssionally in the build-up it felt a little disjointed.
Oh, and euros. Why euros?


Goodreads link
Amazon.co.uk

Monday, 29 July 2013

The Prince's Man

The Princes Man (The Five Kingdoms #1)

By Deborah Jay


5 out of 5

Synopsis
Think James Bond meets Lord of the Rings. Award-winning fantasy, THE PRINCE'S MAN, is a sweeping tale of spies and deadly politics, inter-species mistrust and magic phobia, with a touch of romance. 
Rustam Chalice, hedonist, dance tutor and spy, loves his life, never better than when he's bedding a gorgeous woman. So when the kingdom he serves is threatened from within, he leaps into action. 
Only trouble is, the spy master, Prince Halnashead, teams him up with an untouchable aristocratic assassin who despises him. 
And to make matters worse, she's the most beautiful woman in the Five Kingdoms. 
Plunged into a desperate journey through the mountains, the mismatched pair struggle to survive deadly wildlife, the machinations of a spiteful god - and each other. 
They must also keep alive a sickly elf they need as a political pawn. But when the elf reveals that Rustam has magic of his own, he is forced to question his identity, his sanity, and worse, his loyalty to his prince. 
For in Tyr-en, all magic users are put to death.

Review
Tyr-en is one of the Five Kingdoms, and prides itself on being the most educated and civilised.  But even in a country run by noble Families (all ranked by land and wealth), not everybody is acting honestly.
The closest relative to King Marten, Prince Halnashead, is in charge of security and recruits those best at playing the game of subterfuge.  Two of his best agents are Charmer and Dart must work together to discover who is behind a plot to usurp the throne.
Rustam, also known as Charmer (no further explanation needed) is a talented dancer, who is confident in himself and in his unswerving loyalty to Halnashead and Marten.  He never feels out of his depth, and his only real worry is making sure his appearance remains perfect.
Risada, our assassin Dart, is on the surface a respectable lady of the Second house.  She keeps herself distant from the rest of the nobles, hardened by a constant fear and worry for her younger brother, and a desire to finally find her parents' killer.

The story initially revolves around the splendour of the noble houses, where the game is much more subtle, while they hone in on their suspects.  But when they find things are on a bigger scale than they could have imagined, they suddenly finding themselves in the wilderness as they try to both escape their enemy and find new allies.
Jay paints a vivid world, that we are treated to in this dangerous adventure that tests our heroes to every limit.  Including having them question everything they had ever taken for granted.
Rustam's trials and changes are most clearly portrayed.  He was a very effective spy, but he develops some very useful extra skills, as well as throwing off the shallow persona and actually taking time to think about the world around him.
Risada stays true to herself, and to her friends the whole way through, but it is clear that the adventure has also opened her mind to possibilities she never considered.

I loved all the extra characters that were around, either in the background, or just coming forward for a chapter or two.  They were all convincingly strong and well-written.
Princess Annasala; Betha; Leith - Jay has a knack for writing strong female characters.
And of course, we can't forget Nightstalker!

There were a couple of niggles I had with reading this story that stopped the flow a little.  I found the section in the mountains, and the repeated troll problem a little long; I just wanted them to get to Kishtan.
Also I found it unclear how old Lord Melcard was, he kept being described as a handsome man, with dark features, always very reserved etc.  I got the feeling that he was slightly older than Rustam and Marten etc.  But then there was the reveal that the elf had been captive for possibly 30 years or more, which would make him twice that if he had been the one to do the capturing.
There was also a small issue with the format of the text.  Whenever an Italic thought was used, the font of the whole paragraph was larger.  I thought my eyes were playing tricks at first.

But overall, a bloody good read, with adventure and plenty of amusing turns.  I can't wait for the next in the series!

Goodreads link
Amazon.co.uk

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Beautiful Creatures

Beautiful Creatures (Caster Chronicle #2)

By Kami Garcia & Margaret Stohl


2 out of 5

Synopsis

Lena Duchannes is unlike anyone the small Southern town of Gatlin has ever seen. She struggles to conceal her power and a curse that has haunted her family for generations. Ethan Wate finally meets the girl who haunts his dreams. On her birthday, she must choose good or evil. In a town with no surprises, this secret could change everything.

Review
A part of me wishes I hadn't read any reviews before reading this book. There are a few constant themes in the reviews - that it's very long-winded; Ethan acts like a bitchy high school girl; and he spends so much time slating the clearly less intelligent people around them.
And it's all true. But I kinda think that if I hadn't known these faults before opening the book, they wouldn't have annoyed me as much as they did.

It is a very long book (nearly 600 pages), and I found it hard to keep going, and did put it down several times, wondering if it was worth picking up again. The first half of the book is a blur, in the 300 pages, I couldn't tell you anything that happened. Oh, apart from a broken window, there was a broken window.
The second half was better, things started to pick up. There were interesting revelations, and some action. But with the repetitive denials from Lena, and the equally repetitive half-optimism from Ethan; I kinda wanted Lena to actually turn Dark, an apocalypse looked appealing.

Over the course of the book, there was no point where I felt anything for the young couple that were in love before first sight. Strangely enough, my favourite part was when Link had his dreams come true and became a rock star, with a hot girl/Siren on his arm.

I don't think I'd recommend this book to my friends, but I definitely wouldn't dissuade anyone from reading it.

Sunday, 21 July 2013

Stitch

Stitch (Stitch Trilogy #1)

By Samantha Durante


4 out of 5

Synopsis
Her heart races, her muscles coil, and every impulse in Alessa's body screams at her to run... but yet she's powerless to move.

Still struggling to find her footing after the sudden death of her parents, the last thing college freshman Alessa has the strength to deal with is the inexplicable visceral pull drawing her to a handsome ghostly presence. In between grappling with exams and sorority soirees - and disturbing recurring dreams of being captive in a futuristic prison hell - Alessa is determined to unravel the mystery of the apparition who leaves her breathless. But the terrifying secret she uncovers will find her groping desperately through her nightmares for answers.

Because what Alessa hasn't figured out yet is that she's not really a student, the object of her obsession is no ghost, and her sneaking suspicions that something sinister is lurking behind the walls of her university's idyllic campus are only just scratching the surface...

The opening installment in a twist-laden trilogy, Stitch spans the genres of paranormal romance and dystopian sci-fi to explore the challenges of a society in transition, where morality, vision, and pragmatism collide leaving the average citizen to suffer the results.


Review
The story starts with torture and solitary confinement.

Then we suddenly wake up with Alessa, a perfectly normal young woman that is in her first year of college.  She might be a bit of a loner, withdrawn from the social hub that is her sorority house.  She spends her time revising and working on papers, and generally does well in all her tests.  Perhaps a little more unusual, is the fact that she keeps seeing a ghost of a boy.  These ghostly visits become an obsession as she digs into the history of this town to find out who he is.  Then the question arises - can Alessa save this boy and his family from his fate.
The story starts as a teen drama/paranormal romance, then it suddenly swings into the future dystopian genre as it is revealed that nothing is as it seems - Alessa is not who she seems, and even she does not know.  Her enemies have installed a "Stitch" in her mind, which cuts off certain memories, leaving them to be replaced with whatever her captors have designed.

I downloaded this for free from Amazon a while ago, and it sat on my kindle while I worked through my reading list.  When I got to this book, I had completely forgotten what it was about.  I had forgotten that it was supposed to be a dystopian story, and I enjoyed what I thought was a college story about a ghost and a mystery that needed solving.  So the twist of the story, that Alessa wasn't really a student, and the college is rigged with cameras and the setting for something much more sinister.

When Alessa starts to remember, and reality breaks through it was a bit of a scrabble to catch up and try and learn about the world that Durante has created.  It felt a little like two separate stories that were snapped together.  Both were good, but I'm looking forward to book 2, where I'm hoping we get to concentrate on the rebel movement in Paragon.

Goodreads link
Amazon.co.uk

Thursday, 11 July 2013

The Humans

The Humans

by Matt Haig


4 out of 5

Synopsis
The critically acclaimed author of The Radleys shares a clever, heartwarming, and darkly insightful novel about an alien who comes to Earth to save humans from themselves.

“I was not Professor Andrew Martin. That is the first thing I should say. He was just a role. A disguise. Someone I needed to be in order to complete a task.”

The narrator of this tale is no ordinary human—in fact, he’s not human at all. Before he was sent away from the distant planet he calls home, precision and perfection governed his life. He lived in a utopian society where mathematics transformed a people, creating limitless knowledge and immortality.

But all of this is suddenly threatened when an earthly being opens the doorway to the same technology that the alien planet possesses. Cambridge University professor Andrew Martin cracks the Reimann Hypothesis and unknowingly puts himself and his family in grave danger when the narrator is sent to Earth to erase all evidence of the solution and kill anyone who has seen the proof. The only catch: the alien has no idea what he’s up against.

Disgusted by the excess of disease, violence, and family strife he encounters, the narrator struggles to pass undetected long enough to gain access to Andrew’s research. But in picking up the pieces of the professor’s shattered personal life, the narrator sees hope and redemption in the humans’ imperfections and begins to question the very mission that brought him there.

Review
This is the story of a superior race interfering with a mathematical discovery on Earth to halt human progress.  Because humans should remain shackled to their own little planet and leave the rest of space in peace.
So they infiltrate the human world by sending one of their own in the disguise of a Cambridge professor.  He has a simple task - to destroy all information of the discovery, whether it lies in the files of a computer, the pages of a notebook, or the brains of the professor's loved ones.
But another mission raises it's head unexpectedly - it is the perfect opportunity to observe these un-evolved humans, to learn there patterns and was, and why they cluster together in families.  Why there is beauty in music, and why peanut butter tastes good.

This is a very sweet story at heart.  Oh, it is surrounded by plots and murder, lies and betrayal.  But at the centre of it is an outsider that considers himself superior to humans, discovering that the value of human life is not always in the mathematical and scientific discoveries that are news-worthy on a galactic scale.  It is love, compassion and connection.  It is helping overcome bullies; it is taking the time to enjoy life, and notice the smaller things.

"The Humans" is a very easy book to read, a little too easy sometimes - I did often wonder if the numerous chapter breaks and page-long chapters were there to bulk out the book.  It often felt like there was filler and spaces, where the book could have been condensed down to a much thinner copy.
Which was evidenced in a very long list: "Advice for a human" that our main character writes to his son.  And all 97 points are written down.  But you know what, at least 95 of them made me smile.

Definitely a feel-good book.

Goodreads link
Amazon.co.uk

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Hetaera: Daughter of the Gods

Hetaera: Daughter of the Gods

J.A. Coffey


3 out of 5

Synopsis
*Mature Content*
She was the original Cinderella....Doricha is twelve when her father is murdered by a roving band of Greeks. Betrayed by a jealous priestess and sold into slavery, headstrong Dori loses her most valuable possession-her freedom. She hopes that one day she can truly be free, but not even Aesop, her mentor, can protect her. The harsh world of classical Greece has little use for the minds of women, and she finds her body traded to another owner, who transports her to a new life of luxury and political turmoil in the faraway deserts of Egypt. All she has to do is be beautiful, all she has to do is love him, and she will be kept safe. The problem is, Dori doesn't want to be kept--by any man. Not even the god-king Amasis, Pharaoh of Egypt. 

From the ancient Thracian temple of the Bacchae to the exotic lands of Egypt where political intrigue coils like a nest of asps, Dori learns that fulfilling her father's dying wish is not about bands around her wrists so much as it is bands around her heart. Based on persons and historical events of 26th dynasty Egypt, HETAERA fictionalizes the life of Doricha/Rhodopis--a most extraordinary woman who changed the world. 


Review
Doricha is a young girl, destined to join the priestesses that honour Dionysus - the Bacchae.  But her world is thrown into torment as her Thracian village is attacked by Greeks, the young girl watches her father killed, and kills a man to escape.
The story follows her life from then on, shifting from one place to another, never feeling like home.

Hetaera is a story that sweeps across the ancient world of Greece, Thrace, Egypt, and all the countries that surround them.  It honours and respects each of these places and their customs, Coffey has painted a very real scene through which our heroine moves.
The Cinderella reference is a mild one, used to good effect.  It does not feel like Doricha's tale was forced to fit the bones of the fairytale; but when similarities crop up, it is enough to make you smile.

But not quite five stars for me.  It is very well told, but it was very hard to get into.  I know that the life of a girl whose father is murdered, followed by the betrayal of her priest and priestess tutors, followed by years in slavery isn't going to be a "nice" story.  But I felt that it was all dark, without light; and without that contrast, it took on a monotony that was hard to push past.  It is definitely one of those books that you need to be in the right mood to read.
The strength of the book hung on the shoulders of Doricha.  Unfortunately, I did not like the lead character for the most part.  I found her unyielding and selfish.  She was incapable of accepting her position, and unwilling to change it.  For years.
It was only when she hit her lowest point and arose as Rhodopis that I began to like her.  She suddenly had purpose, and saw those beyond herself.  The second half of the book flew by, because all of a sudden I couldn't put it down, just to see what happened to Rhodopis.
Luckily the first half of the book featured my favourite character, Aesop.  He was smart, and strong, and willing to stand for what he believed right, in a way he knew would make men listen, not rebel.


Even though the Pharaoh of Egypt is mentioned in the synopsis, and does play an important role in the story; he does not actually feature until the very end.  I felt that the anticipation of waiting for him to appear in the story did overshadow what went before.

Goodreads link
Amazon.co.uk