Tyson Adams

Putting the 'ill' back in thriller

Archive for the category “Book review”

Book Review: Blood Bound by Patricia Briggs

Blood Bound (Mercy Thompson, #2)Blood Bound by Patricia Briggs
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Never do a favour for something as it will come back to bite you.

Mercy Thompson is just your typical small business owner: fixing cars, keeping customers happy, seeing ghosts, dating werewolves, and being asked to do a vampire a favour. The favour involves helping Stephan with a vampire sorcerer, and that goes just as well as you’d expect. With the death-toll rising and even vampires and werewolves powerless against the sorcerer, it looks like Mercy is the only one who can stop evil.

Blood Bound is the second Mercy Thompson novel by Patricia Briggs. Where the first novel had more of a crime novel vibe, this is its own beast. Mercy may be the protagonist, but the world doesn’t revolve around her, so many things happen without her, yet ultimately drag her into the fray. This makes the series quite refreshing and enjoyable for me. I’m looking forward to reading the next instalment.

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Book reviews: Havana Lost by Libby Fischer Hellmann

Havana LostHavana Lost by Libby Fischer Hellmann
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

If a family saga is told about a mob family’s saga, does algebra mean it ceases to be a family saga?

Headstrong teen, Francesca Pacelli, is a mob boss’ daughter living in Havana at the dawn of the Cuban Revolution. Rather than leave for the USA, she falls in love with a revolutionary. Her father takes that news so well that he even sells arms to the rebels to get her back. Good thing she grows up to be a mob boss herself.

When I started Hellmann’s Havana Lost I had been expecting a more standard crime novel. It took me a while to realise that this was going to be a saga stretching from the 1950s in Cuba to modern day USA. Love and tragedy fill the story to the brim, making for an interesting read. But without a protagonist to follow throughout the novel, I felt a little lost. This was partly because I wasn’t prepared for the saga – should have read the blurb I suppose – and partly because there is a lot of setup to the story with Francesca’s character.

So as long as you are prepared for the Pacelli family tale of love, loss, and coltan mines, you should enjoy this.

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Book reviews: you’re doing it wrong… apparently.

curious-male-fifty-shades-meme-good-writing

It is no secret that I like to write book reviews. Except when I’m sleepy. Or if I’m busy. Or if I get distracted by… Where am I?

Anyway, to my mind, book reviews are about helping people find good stuff to read and promoting authors whose work you’ve enjoyed. Of course some reviewers use it as a an opportunity to break away from the internet commenter stereotype and be jerks to others. This can be frustrating for authors and readers, but about par for the course as far as internet comments goes.

Fortunately an author has written a blog post advising people how to properly review books. Because you’re doing it wrong…

As a reader, reviewer, and occasionally sober writer, I don’t think authors should be telling readers what to do or how to do it, so the post doesn’t sit right with me. Actually, a lot of things don’t sit right with me, especially if they aren’t single malt and well aged.

Who are book reviews for?

You might be forgiven for thinking that writing a book review is primarily to flatter the author, or thank the author for writing an enjoyable book.

Book reviews are for prospective readers; to inform those buyers who are browsing the Amazon bookstore, chatting on Goodreads or following on-line bloggers, to decide if they might enjoy the book as much as the reviewer did. 

The first major point is one I agree with: book reviews are for readers. But maybe not the readers the author thinks. Reviews are primarily about that reader and their thoughts. Sure, they may be trying to communicate with other readers and make recommendations, but let’s face facts, it is mostly just about sharing an opinion. Or is that shouting into the void? I can never remember the difference.

My philosophy on book reviewing – helping and promoting good stuff – is probably shared by many, or not, I haven’t checked. But I see it as an important aspect of being a reader and writer. Thanks to the wonders of technology we have access to more books than we’ll ever be able to read, and some of them are worth reading. Sharing your opinion of a book can help others find stories that will entertain them. Personally I’m not a fan of sharing reviews of books I haven’t enjoyed, just the ones I think others will enjoy reading, but negative and positive reviews are both helpful.

The next points:

What to include:

The best single rule to remember is this: Only write about the actual book!

You can include a very brief outline of the story, but remember the book description is already right there, so consider these points:

Was the story believable, did it keep you engaged right to the last page?

Did the structure of the plot work for you?

If it’s a mystery, was there one?

The characters. Did they seem real, multi-dimensional people?

The author’s writing style. How was it for you?

The first point on this list is, frankly, rubbish. A book does not exist in a vacuum. Well, unless it was taken into space, but why would anyone do that? Unless they are an astronaut, but they’d want the book in the ship with them. Anyway, all art/media is a product of the space it was created in, it has cultural and philosophical underpinnings that are part and parcel. And following on from that, the cultural landscape changes over time and individuals consuming the art/media are going to evolve as a result. So you can’t just write only about the book in a review, you will always bring baggage with you. Want an example? Try watching the original Ghostbusters movie without thinking Bill Murray’s character isn’t just a tad rape-y by today’s standards.

The next points about the story and how it is written are fair enough advice on things you could include. But you could include all or none of those things and still write a good review. The next part is where this blog post gets juicy:

What not to include:

Your possible relationship to the author, however vague.

If you need to reference the author, then use the surname only or call them the author or include their full name. Never use Christian names as it may compromise the validity of the review and some sites will remove them permanently.

Imagine if you saw this review on the latest Dan Brown: Hello Dan love, fabulous book, Five stars!  I expect the vast majority of us would laugh, Dan Brown would most certainly cringe – but most importantly, would this sort of review help you form a decision to buy the book if you’d not read it?

I don’t know about this, I’ve read Dan Brown’s Inferno; I’m not sure he knows how to cringe.

There are two points to unpack here: the first is the idea that your relationship with the author doesn’t have any bearing on a review; the second is the idea that you’re trying to help the author sell books. To suggest that there is a way to refer to an author or that you shouldn’t mention conflicts of interest is wrong. If I like someone I will naturally be inclined to think their book is better than someone whom I don’t know or like. Similarly, if I already like someone’s writing, their lesser works are likely to viewed more favourably than a new author’s work.

It also irks me that the blog is implying that the author is off limits for criticism. That is rubbish. If I know that the book or author is controversial, then that will also colour my review and is worth raising. An example was James Frey’s Lorian Legacies series published under a pseudonym. During my reading of I Am Number Four I noticed several very lazy factual inaccuracies and wanted to know who the author actually was. It was then that I found out that Frey had scammed a bunch of writing students to produce the series. Not only did that colour my (lack of) appreciation of the novel, but it was information I felt other readers should know. Because screw that guy.

This links nicely into the next point about reviews helping to sell books. It is true that book reviews help sell books: who’d have thunk? It is also true that if you want to see more great material from an author one of the things you can do is make sure people know you enjoyed the book. But since when is it the reader/reviewer’s obligation to help sell books for an author? Shouldn’t an author be happy that you bought and enjoyed their book? Well, unless you borrowed the book from a library, friend, or got a freebie. I understand the desire of authors to encourage people to review their book/s, and what it can help do in terms of recognition and thus sales, but a review isn’t about selling a book. The review is about the reader sharing their thoughts on a book they have read. Book store clerks get paid, readers don’t. Worth remembering.

The weather! I’m being tongue-in-cheek here but really, no honestly, there’s no need to mention the weather…

How long the book took to arrive in the post, or that it was damaged. This isn’t the fault of the author – stick to reviewing the book.

Likewise, problems with your Amazon account: It won’t download. This is not the author’s fault and should never form part of a book review.

These next few comments are mainly about Amazon reviews and how people talk about the buying of the book in their review. While it is completely understandable for an author to be frustrated with comments in a review that are unrelated to the story they wrote, this recommendation is not only self-serving drivel, it forgets who the review is for. If someone orders a book from Amazon and the shipment is not filled quickly, or won’t download, or the pricing is ridiculous, or the bonus “massager” didn’t arrive with the romance novel order, then that is a legitimate gripe. Other readers on the Amazon store will want to know this stuff. But even if this wasn’t on the Amazon store, there is legitimate griping to be done. For example, in Australia several major publishers price their ebooks based upon the currently available paper version’s price. So if the hardcover is out, you pay hardcover prices for an ebook. Where else but a book review are you going to express your consumer discontent on this? Well, aside from in a blog post like this one. Or if you are talking to one of the publishers at a writers’ festival. Or if you know someone, who knows someone, who is related to a publisher. If the author was raising the point that there needs to be a distinction made been the store’s service, the publisher’s pricing, and the novels, then that would be something I’d support. Along with free hats. Everyone loves a free hat.

Spoilers: giving away crucial parts of the plot and therefore spoiling it for other readers, e.g. I’m glad Susan was dead by chapter three.

Copying and pasting the entire book description – please dont.

And the worst of all: I haven’t read it yet… so one star. Why on earth do sites allow these ‘reviews’ to remain?

Some people really hate spoilers, others love them, others still are ambivalent, others still still will hunt you down and kill you with your own keyboard for posting them. As such there is an etiquette to posting spoilers in a review. If you are an undefeated Muay Thai fighter with a decent ground game, then you can post whatever spoiler you like. If you are anyone else, you can post spoilers as long as you warn people you are going to do it. Then people can read or skip the spoilers to their heart’s content, assuming the Muay Thai fighter hasn’t ripped their heart out of their chest for posting a spoiler.

I’m not sure I’ve ever seen someone post a book review that includes a copy and paste of the book description. If this actually happens then it is either a compliment to the blurb author for capturing the book perfectly so as to act as an appropriate review, or someone needs to learn how to type their own thoughts.

The final point is about the dismissive one star review. Now some people, such as the blog post author, complain about these sorts of reviews are not legitimate. Nonsense. Books have a cover, a blurb, the reader might have read other books by the author, etc, all of which can be more than enough information for the reviewer. For example, let’s say that someone has written a book – fiction or non-fiction, it doesn’t really matter – that claims climate change is a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese, NWO, Zionist Bankers to something something profit-gravy-train. Do I really need to leave a long and extensive review once I’ve read the book? Or can I just point out that it is nonsense? Is that not legitimate comment?

Now these have all been relatively minor gripes to quibble with. Fun fact: Quibbles are the Earth equivalent of Tribbles. Bonus fact: the most famous Quibble currently sits on the next president of the USA’s head.

st_troublewithtribbles

Quibbles and Tribbles aside, let’s talk about complaining about book reviews not being done the way you want when you yourself don’t review books. There is that inspiring – or is that insipid? – quote about being the change you want to see which applies here. The author of the blog post has exactly zero book reviews on their site, not counting the promotion of reviews of their own novels. The author’s Goodreads page has no books listed as having been rated or reviewed. Do as I say, not as I do. I mean, sure, that isn’t demanding at all.

In summary, it’s best to be thankful for readers writing reviews, even the bad reviews.

 

Book review: Finders Keepers by Stephen King

Finders Keepers (Bill Hodges Trilogy, #2)Finders Keepers by Stephen King
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Enter a world where people obsess over books that aren’t Harry Potter. Of course it is a fictional world.

Peter Saubers’ family is having a tough time of it. The GFC has hit hard, his dad was hit hard with a car, and the arky-barkies might tear the family apart. Then he stumbles upon a literal treasure chest: stolen money and notebooks from the late John Rothstein – a reclusive author in the mould of JD Salinger. Of course, the man who killed for those notebooks, Morris Bellamy, has a wee fixation on Rothstein and his character Jimmy Gold, so not even a life sentence will stop him coming for Peter Saubers and his treasure.

I’ll be honest, I was going to give up on this book. If it hadn’t been written by Stephen King I probably would have. This is the second novel in the Bill Hodges trilogy, and Bill doesn’t show up until a third to half-way through the novel. That is part of what makes this novel frustrating. It takes a long time to set things up and get the plot moving, with that first third or more acting as back story that you’re not quite sure has a point to it.

But the final third of the novel redeems this ignoble start in a taut and suspenseful manner. Definitely not one of King’s better works, but if you can get past the waffly back story, this is an okay read.

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Book review: Killfile by Christopher Farnsworth

KillfileKillfile by Christopher Farnsworth
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

There are times that I’m glad people can’t read my mind: I’d hate to have someone else humming The Proclaimers.

John Smith is a specialist who helps wealthy clients with tricky problems. He has a talent for hostage negotiations, corporate espionage, and gleaning people’s deepest secrets thanks to his ability to read minds. Who’d have thought that reading people’s minds would turn his latest job into a death sentence.

Killfile is the first novel I’ve read from Christopher Farnsworth since his excellent Nathaniel Cade series went on hiatus four years ago. I read the Nathaniel Cade series back to back and loved every second of those supernatural thrillers. Killfile was similarly enjoyable with the paranormal thriller element pitched nicely into the realms of corporate espionage and CIA interrogation programs.

Also, as a scientific skeptic (i.e. scientist who hears all the kooky claims and demands evidence) it is always fun to read the conspiracy claims in a more rational format. Dusting off MKUltra and utilising it as a plot point in fiction rather than an outlandish conspiracy tickles me in all the right ways.

Chris’ novels continue to be highly enjoyable reads.

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Book Review: Cry Wolf by Patricia Briggs

Cry Wolf (Alpha & Omega, #1)Cry Wolf by Patricia Briggs
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Do werewolves smell of wet dog when they are in human form?

Anna is having a tough week. After breaking up with her old pack she moves to the middle of nowhere with a guy/wolf – Charles – whom she has only just met. Then when a rogue wolf starts attacking people, she has to help Charles track it down before it exposes the pack. But is it really a wolf?

Cry Wolf is another werewolf series from Patricia Briggs set in the same universe as the Mercy Thompson series. After being won over by the Mercy series, I decided to give Alpha and Omega series a read. So I started with the Alpha and Omega novella and I am still scratching my head as to why it wasn’t just included as the first few chapters of this novel. If you intend on reading Cry Wolf, do read Alpha and Omega first. Or don’t: I’m not your mother.

This was quite a hard book to rate/review. It was an enjoyable read, but the breaking of the story between the main novel and the introductory novella throws out the narrative a bit. The romance between an abuse survivor and a really old life-long bachelor as the central plot is interesting, but it does tend to wander as the other events of the novel occur. At times I felt the story was just happening with no real point or destination in mind, but it felt like things tied together in the end. And for a Patricia Briggs story set in the same universe as the Mercy Thompson series it is going to draw comparisons. Whilst I’d recommend this book (and novella), it isn’t as good as Mercy and her adventures.

My recommendation is that you’ll enjoy reading this to sate your hunger for werewolf stories when you run out of Mercy Thompson novels to devour.

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Book Review: Summer Knight by Jim Butcher

Summer Knight (The Dresden Files, #4)Summer Knight by Jim Butcher
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

If blasting rods and staffs are standard wizard fare, what do they use for euphemisms?

Harry Dresden is having a bad day, or is that week, month, and year? His girlfriend has been semi-turned into a vampire, it’s raining frogs in the park, a ghoul is trying to assassinate him, the vampire Red Court want to torture him to death, the Wizarding White Council are tempted to let the vampires have Harry, the Winter Court of faeries want him to investigate a murder, he has no money, and his house is a mess. Oh, and a war is about to start if Harry can’t find the killer; so there’s that as well.

This is my first foray into Jim Butcher’s much vaunted Dresden Files series. Summer Knight indicates that there is a lot to like about this Harry’s world. The story could be described as an urban fantasy thriller: with thriller being a selling point for me. Butcher doesn’t shy away from piling on the hardships for Harry to overcome, and keeps the action coming thick and fast. I’m honestly wondering why I took so long to dive into this series that has been repeatedly recommended to me.

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Book Review: The Shepherd’s Crown by Terry Pratchett

The Shepherd's Crown (Discworld, #41; Tiffany Aching, #5)The Shepherd’s Crown by Terry Pratchett
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

“YOUR CANDLE…WILL FLICKER FOR SOME TIME BEFORE IT GOES OUT – A LITTLE REWARD FOR A LIFE WELL LIVED…YOU HAVE LEFT THE WORLD MUCH BETTER THAN YOU FOUND IT…NOBODY COULD DO ANY BETTER THAN THAT”

Tiffany Aching has a lot on her plate. She is the witch of two areas, she has some big boots to fill after the passing of Granny Weatherwax, and trouble is brewing with the elves. The elves love a bit of mischief, and with the passing of Granny Weatherwax, the barrier between their world and the Disk is weaker. With iron and steam now coming to the lands, they want to strike before they lose a place on the Disk. Only the Witches and Nac Mac Feegles stand in their way.

This was Terry Pratchett’s final instalment in The DiskWorld novels. There will be no more. As such, I really wanted this to be better than it was. Unlike other novels in the series, this lacked the levels of humour and satire you would expect from Pratchett. Where he was normally brilliant, this was only okay. Of course, okay for a Pratchett novel is still better than most novelists could ever hope to achieve.

AT LAST, SIR TERRY, WE MUST WALK TOGETHER.

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Book Review: Nemesis Games by James SA Corey

Nemesis Games (Expanse, #5)Nemesis Games by James S.A. Corey
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Let’s split up, we can cover more plot that way.

With the Rocinante in desperate need of repairs, Holden and the team take the chance to spend some time apart and do their own things. That goes swimmingly for them all. Between ships going missing, someone dropping rocks down the gravity well, people trying to blow them up, and the start of another war, they start to wish they’d never left the Roci.

Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck (James SA Corey) have excelled themselves. In a series that has managed to serve up stories that don’t head in the direction you expect, here is a novel that takes the series in a direction you don’t expect. In hindsight, the plot for this fifth instalment is a logical one for The Expanse universe now that the Stargates have opened up a ‘goldrush’, but it wasn’t the step you expected. I expected to be covering the wave of frontiers people in their wagon-trains to the stars, but instead we cover the repercussions of that social change. A nice little twist. It was also great to have the entire Rocinante crew be viewpoint characters in this novel. For characters that have been with us from the beginning it was about time to get to know them all properly.

The only real downside of this novel is that I can’t just pick up the next instalment in the series to continue the adventure. I have now caught up. I have to wait 3 months for Babylon’s Ashes to hit the shelves. Guess I’ll read the novellas while I wait…

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Book review: Cibola Burn by James SA Corey

Cibola Burn (Expanse, #4)Cibola Burn by James S.A. Corey
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

“I’m gonna need to shoot that guy at some point,” Ahhh, Mondays.

Book 4 of The Expanse series has Holden and the Rocinante crew sent to a new solar system as UN Negotiators. Displaced Belters have taken up residence on a newly discovered planet through one of the Stargates (they’ll always be Stargates to me), only to have an RCE research vessel arrive, necessitating Holden and Amos to smooth things out. They get along as well as you’d expect, but their conflict is the least of their problems.

Cibola Burn thoroughly impressed me. At a stage in the series where the quality would usually take a nosedive, James SA Corey has managed to keep it onwards and upwards. Part of this is giving us a great villain in Murtry; someone who is the antagonist but not necessarily the bad guy. The other part is that Corey’s plots are much more extensive than you initially expect. I’ve seen other reviewers complain about this aspect, in that the story starts off headed in one direction but ends up going somewhere else entirely. But I see this as a strength and a justification for a novel that cracks 600 pages.

I enjoyed Cibola Burn more than Abaddon’s Gate – although it was still a great read – and there are no signs that this series will rest on its laurels. I started the next instalment, Nemesis Games, immediately after finishing Cibola Burn: that should tell you everything you need to know.

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Book review: Tier One by Brian Andrews and Jeffrey Wilson

Tier One (Tier One #1)Tier One by Brian Andrews
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

If an operator isn’t wearing 5.11 Tactical clothing are they really an operator?

Tier One are the elite SEAL Team on the black side of ops. They are too good for their own good, as they manage to piss off the wrong terrorists: the kind that hold an explosive grudge. Now former Tier One SEAL, Jack Kemper, must become intelligence operative John Dempsey and take out the terrorists before they strike again.

Brian Andrews and Jeffrey Wilson have created a taught and realistic military thriller in Tier One. Much like other ex-military authors (Chris Ryan and Andy McNab being two of my favourites) they pepper the novel with details and perspectives you just don’t get from other authors. This is both the strength and weakness of the novel.

As much as I found this novel to be an enjoyable and fast paced read, it also overused expository military details, and presented clichéd terrorist characters. For me this held the novel back from being a great novel to merely good. Other readers may find the details interesting, or think that terrorists really can be simply defined as “shitheads” à la Fox News, and enjoy this novel more, but it is still an entertaining read.

NB: Thomas and Mercer provided a review copy for my reading pleasure.

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Book review: Firefight by Brandon Sanderson

Firefight (Reckoners, #2)Firefight by Brandon Sanderson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Ever wonder what Waterworld would have been like with supervillains in it? Yeah, me neither.

In the second instalment of The Reckoners, David Charleston has become Steelslayer: killer of Epics. Which means that Newcago, whilst freed from tyranny, has regular visits from Epics intent on killing Steelslayer. The Reckoners discover that the ruler of Babilar (Manhattan) has been sending these assassins, so they go to confront Regalia, an Epic from Prof’s past. Because that will end well.

Firefight is an interesting sequel to Steelheart in that the first book was about revenge, whilst this novel was about trying to understand your enemy. In fact, it even flirts with the idea that evil can’t be addressed with killing but instead requires compassion. Pretty heady stuff for a YA novel. Don’t worry, there are fights, guns, and even some swords in the story too.*

This was an enjoyable read. If anything it had more humorous similes (or is that metaphors?) that were such a welcome feature of the protagonist’s narration. I’m looking forward to finishing the series with book three: Calamity.

*Can’t sneak the moral indoctrination in without a bit of violence to hide it.

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Book reviews: No Safe Place by Matt Hilton

No Safe Place (Joe Hunter, #11)No Safe Place by Matt Hilton
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This review wasn’t able to be submitted as it was stolen by a guard dog. I swear, it really happened.

Joe Hunter is back in the game and ready to be bashed and shot, and possibly paid. This time Joe is hired to protect a young boy whose mother has just been killed during a home invasion. But the boy’s father knows there is more to the death than that – hint: revenge, it’s always revenge – and Joe suspects so as well. Of course, Joe decides to dig into what is really going on, even if his police friend Bryony would prefer he wouldn’t.

In the interests of full disclosure, I received a copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review. You know it will be an honest review because it was only a book and not accompanied with whiskey.

No Safe Place is Matt Hilton’s eleventh Joe Hunter novel and it did not disappoint. I’ve been a long time fan of the Joe Hunter series, and of Matt’s other works. His writing is well paced, packed with vivid fight scenes, and has compelling plots. This instalment particularly interested me because I noted that there was more of the Northern England language flavourings to the writing than I’d previously noticed. This could be because after ten novels in a series editors concede you are allowed to write whatever the hell you want. They can’t make all of their writers sound like they come from the same place forever.

Looking back through my reviews for the rest of the series I note that I frequently used the term “gritty thriller” and rated them 4 stars. Not much has changed. This is another very reliable, entertaining, crime thriller; add it to your To Be Read pile.

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Book Review: Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson

Steelheart (Reckoners, #1)Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I wouldn’t make much of a supervillain. My weakness is chocolate. And quality whiskey. And a beautiful guitar. And a great novel. And…. this would make a long list of things to kill me with.

Steelheart is the first book in the Reckoners series by Brandon Sanderson. David was only a child when the Epics (supervillains) appeared. He also has a secret: he saw the greatest of the Epics bleed. The supposedly invincible and invulnerable Steelheart is now the Dictator of Newcago and David wants to avenge his father’s death at the hands of Steelheart.

After enjoying the Mistborn series I have been trying other Sanderson book series, expecting more great novels from him. I struck out with The Way of Kings, which could best be described as using 100 words when 10 would suffice, but Steelheart promises an exciting series.

Leaving aside the (acknowledged) improbable superpowers and raised middle finger to physics, the novel manages to be engaging and intriguing. In this David versus Goliaths tale there is plenty of suspense and fear that the heroes may not triumph. The series is intended as a Young Adult adventure, but YA is the new A must read, so don’t be put off by that.

Can’t wait to read the rest of the series and see how the handwavium works.

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Book review: Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith

Child 44 (Leo Demidov, #1)Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

In Russia serial killer not Russian.

Child 44 follows MGP – Russian police- security officer Leo Demidov. Leo tows the party line until circumstances force him to accept that crime does actually does exist in the Soviet Union. Leo is the only person interested in bringing a prolific serial killer to justice.

I’d heard many great things about Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith. It won a pile of awards, even being included on the Man Booker long list, and became a must read for crime fiction fans. You know there is a ‘but’ coming. I like my buts big, and I cannot lie.

But Child 44 annoyed me. The story itself is well told. The characters are interesting. The antagonist is based on the real serial killer Andrei Chikatilo. Those points didn’t stop the nagging at the back of my brain. The premise is a great example of a nagging point. If the Soviet Union didn’t believe there was crime, let alone murder, after the revolution, then why the hell did they keep crime statistics? And there were no serial killers in… Oh wait, there are 9 acknowledged from Russia alone in the 20th Century.

The problems don’t stop there, of course. The usual Russian tropes are rolled out like an “In Russia” joke. I’m not really in a position to judge how valid any of these tropes are, nor how accurate a portrait of post-WW2 Soviet Union Tom paints. But when I’ve read Russian authors in the past their novels didn’t give the sense of place that Tom does. This really did feel like a British author’s take on what the Soviet Union was like based upon those Cold War films they watched as a kid.

Another minor problem I had with the book was the way it dragged scenes out. This was meant to be about creating tension and suspense, but all it did was annoy me. My annoyance on this point may have been driven by my heightened sense of “vodka to wash down amphetamines… really?” moments from the novel.

If you can get past the generic tropes, this is a book worth reading. I’m sure I would have rated it more highly if I hadn’t read a few Russian authors and seen a few Russian films to realise how much of a Western view of the East this novel is.

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Book Review: Snow Angel by Badger Jones

Snow AngelSnow Angel by Badger Jones
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

What if your Guardian Angel is watching you right now? Yeah, better close that other browser tab. You know the one.

Alex is a bum. His daily adventures revolve around stomping through the snow to buy the best “bang for buck” beverages after begging for money. And then he meets his Guardian Angel who is a huge fan of his lifestyle. Oh, and apocalypse. Gotta avoid another one of those.

In the interests of full disclosure, my friend Badger wrote this novel. He didn’t offer me financial, reciprocal, nor sexual favours for a favourable review: the bastard.

There is a lot to like about this novel. There is a hard reality to the main character’s life as the supernatural intrudes upon the tale. There is humour combined with a grittiness throughout. But I also found myself wanting the novel to advance a little faster. It wasn’t laboured, it’s actually quite fast paced, but it felt like I was having to sit still for too long as Alex wrapped his head around what was happening. Although, this is often the risk with the loser anti-hero; you can get annoyed at them.

In other words, give it a read.

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Book Review: The Lost Island by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child

The Lost Island: A Gideon Crew Novel #03The Lost Island: A Gideon Crew Novel #03 by Douglas Preston
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

What did the one eyed monster say to the art thief….. Wait, this isn’t that sort of novel.

Gideon Crew has been tasked with stealing a page out of a rare and valuable Book of Kells in order to uncover a map. Like any good map, it leads to a treasure worth killing for; something Google Maps really needs to work on. To follow the map Gideon needs a sidekick who knows ancient Greek and the tale of Odysseus. Off Gideon and Ami romp to find the McGuffin.

Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child rank somewhere on my favourite author list, since I’m a fan of their individual novels and their joint Pendergast series. So I was somewhat disappointed in my first outing with the Gideon Crew series. This isn’t a bad book, but it isn’t good either.

Normally the usual “historical artefact can save/doom the world” trope is deftly handled by Preston and Child. They wrap enough interesting characters and plotting around the improbable to make it all work. But the minor characters weren’t that interesting and Gideon was not a character I connected with. You could probably replace Gideon with an amorphous blob of sentient putty and I’d have been more engaged. And you need this engagement because you have to ignore how ludicrous a race of cyclops are – seriously, just wouldn’t have evolved: not plausible at all.

I doubt I’ll return to the Gideon Crew series and will instead stick with Preston and Child’s other (superior) works.

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Book Review: Abaddon’s Gate by James SA Corey

Abaddon's Gate (Expanse, #3)Abaddon’s Gate by James S.A. Corey
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When most people die in space from sudden deceleration you’d think they’d install some airbags in spaceships. Safety first!

The third Expanse novel by James Corey sees Holden and his crew being manipulated into starting an interplanetary war. Since they now have a Stargate – I assume that name isn’t trademarked, or at least the Goa’uld won’t blast me for using it – the interplanetary war threatens to become an intergalactic war. Although war isn’t the correct term for advanced intelligences fighting people, the correct term would be genocide. Let’s see Holden talk his way out of this one.

Abaddon’s Gate was another great instalment in the Expanse series. The core characters are back and continuing to be grown and layered. The new viewpoint characters are also interesting, although they aren’t anywhere near as cool as Avasarala, a character that won’t be topped any time soon. The story also went in directions I wasn’t expecting, mainly due to the complex layering of plots. I’m tempted to call this the most ambitious of the Expanse novels so far, but my memory could just be on the fritz.

I’ve seen a few other reviews that suggested events and characters were a little too conveniently manoeuvred into place. I’d say the opposite is true and indicates that people will have to pay attention to the story and character developments. Some people clearly got a little lost.

Cibola Burn should be interesting now that they have the Stargate system to explore. I’m sure humans will try to make a mess of that somehow.

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Book Review: The Promise by Robert Crais

The Promise (Elvis Cole, #16; Joe Pike, #5; Scott James & Maggie #2)The Promise by Robert Crais
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

If a professional thief pretends to be a terrorist does that mean they blow all of their money in a public place?

Well, Elvis Cole would have found that funny. Bite me.

Elvis Cole and Joe Pike are back and this time they have been hired to investigate a missing person. Somehow that missing person leads to black market arms deals, murder investigations, Homeland Security mole hunts, thieves and terrorists. We also get to see some more of Scott James and his dog Maggie. Narration from the POV of the dog: go on, buy the book right now.

It has been a while since I’ve picked up a Robert Crais novel. I loved his early Elvis Cole novels but when he moved away from the humorous tone later in the series I lost interest. Fortunately I decided to check back in to see what was happening with Cole and Pike. This was a terrific read, with plenty of twists and turns, and is crammed full of interesting characters. The only negative I have is that the humour of the early novels is still taking a back seat. There are some Cole moments, but that aspect has been dialled right back, something I continue to miss with Crais’ writing.

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Book Review: Hell’s Super by Mark Cain

Hell's Super (Circles In Hell, #1)Hell’s Super by Mark Cain
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Hell is being surrounded by famous people, apparently.

Hell’s Super follows Steve Minion, the only non-famous person in hell as far as I can tell, as he tries to fix all the problems that come up in hell. Whether it be replacing a broken light bulb on the sign leading into hell (Abandon all hope ye who enter here), or stopping a civil uprising, Steve is tasked with fixing the problem because he sucks at fixing things: it’s hell, it’s his punishment. His sidekick is Orson Welles and he is dating Florence Nightingale: enough said.

I picked up Mark Cain’s Hell’s Super as it promised to be a novel in the vein of Terry Pratchett or Good Omens: some satire, some straight laughs, some silly fun. It had those elements but for me it rarely rose above mildly entertaining. Having recently re-read Good Omens, a book Hell’s Super is compared to in the back cover blurb, I can safely say that the Pratchett and Gaiman novel is not being knocked off the Best Novel of All Time podium any time soon. Too much of the humour and plot relies on utilising famous people and irony (especially in the punishments) to be classed as Pratchett-esque satire and humour. It also didn’t help that the plot twists were obvious given the setting.

That said, this is an entertaining novel with enough humour to amuse. I think the comparisons drawn to Good Omens, Terry Pratchett, and Douglas Adams in the blurb set up too-high an expectation for me. Knowing that, you may enjoy it more as a result.

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