Friday, 28 December 2012

Feed

Title: Feed
Series: Newsflesh #1
Author: Mira Grant
Pages: 571 (paperback)
Published: May 1st 2010
Published by: Orbit

The year was 2014. We had cured cancer. We had beaten the common cold. But in doing so we created something new, something terrible that no one could stop. The infection spread, virus blocks taking over bodies and minds with one, unstoppable command: FEED. Now, twenty years after the Rising, bloggers Georgia and Shaun Mason are on the trail of the biggest story of their lives - the dark conspiracy behind the infected. The truth will get out, even if it kills them.



Zombies came and there was chaos. Then people got over it and began trying to live their lives again. It was bloggers that spread the word of the original uprising, and this medium has taken over much of the media. Georgia and Shaun Mason are two such bloggers who, along with Georgette "Buffy" Meissonier, win a place on the campaign trail of Peter Ryman. They thinks it's going to be the launching pad their career needed, but there's so much more going on than they know...and there are still all those zombies out there too!

This book is a light, humorous look at America trying to carry on with a normal life 20 years after two miracle cures - for the common cold and cancer - join forces, mutate and cause the Rising: zombies. For obvious reasons, the story and humour both were sometimes a little dark, but it was a nice twist on the normal zombie story.

The story focuses on bloggers - who've taken the place of televised journalists - Georgia and Shaun Mason and Buffy Meissonier as they go on the campaign trail. The characters are likeable and most have their moments of brilliance, though it gets a little annoying that we are constantly reminded that Shaun likes to 'poke dead things with a stick' and that Georgia has retinal KA. In the case of the latter I understand that it is a significant, and annoying, part of her life but it seems like we can't go two pages without being reminded of this fact.

George does make a good narrator, if she does over explain things at times; this may be cleverly done and be based in her journalistic roots, but there is an awful lot of showing rather than telling which makes me think it's more the author coming through than George herself. The little snippets taken from other characters' blogs were good, and each did have their own distinctive voice.

The story as a whole was intriguing and very few clues were given as to what was actually going on, keeping you guessing until the characters themselves find out. This was nice in that I was saved being exasperated at the sheer stupidity of characters not realising what was going on when it has been made clear enough for to the reader to work it out, but a little frustrating in that I didn't think there weren't really enough clues to tell you that something was going on until it was revealed. You think it's just going to be about zombies and stuff, and then it's all like *BOOM* now there's this going on too! I would have liked a bit more of a precursor.

This book was a pretty solid 3 stars for most of it. This is, until we reach the end.

The ending made this book for me. There were a couple of twists in the story prior to this point, but the peak of this story was brilliant for it's emotion rather than for its cleverness or inventiveness. A good story was made better by the sheer emotiveness of the writing and, for that reason, I've had to bump it up to 4 stars.


Saturday, 22 December 2012

Ready Player One

Title: Ready Player One
Author: Ernest Cline
Pages: 374 (paperback)
Published: August 18th 2011
Published by: Crown Publishers.


It's the year 2044, and the real world is an ugly place. 

Like most of humanity, Wade Watts escapes his grim surroundings by spending his waking hours jacked into the OASIS, a sprawling virtual utopia that lets you be anything you want to be, a place where you can live and play and fall in love on any of ten thousand planets. 
And like most of humanity, Wade dreams of being the one to discover the ultimate lottery ticket that lies concealed within this virtual world. For somewhere inside this giant networked playground, OASIS creator James Halliday has hidden a series of fiendish puzzles that will yield massive fortune--and remarkable power--to whoever can unlock them. 
For years, millions have struggled fruitlessly to attain this prize, knowing only that Halliday's riddles are based in the pop culture he loved--that of the late twentieth century. And for years, millions have found in this quest another means of escape, retreating into happy, obsessive study of Halliday's icons. Like many of his contemporaries, Wade is as comfortable debating the finer points of John Hughes's oeuvre, playing Pac-Man, or reciting Devo lyrics as he is scrounging power to run his OASIS rig. 
And then Wade stumbles upon the first puzzle. 
Suddenly the whole world is watching, and thousands of competitors join the hunt--among them certain powerful players who are willing to commit very real murder to beat Wade to this prize. Now the only way for Wade to survive and preserve everything he knows is to" win." But to do so, he may have to leave behind his oh-so-perfect virtual existence and face up to life--and love--in the real world he's always been so desperate to escape. 
A world at stake.
A quest for the ultimate prize.
Are you ready?


Wade lives in a digital world, spending the huge majority of his time escaping into the virtual reality of Mass Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game OASIS. He goes to school there, and he spends almost all his spare time looking for the answer to the first clue to a treasure hunt left by the creator of OASIS. The one which will means whoever reaches the end inherits his fortune.

I was very much looking forward to this book. The premise is different, and it intrigued me for this reason. Humanity spends much of its time jacked into OASIS - a MMORPG of massive, world-wide proportions. People have more a life in the digital world than they do in reality. And who can blame them?

You can be whoever you want to be, and travel to any fantasy world that has been built. Upon reading that this included Middle Earth and Discworld among others I instantly found myself fervently wishing that it was actually possible because that would be beyond cool. I loved all the geeky references throughout the book, though I'm not really into video games so a lot of those passed me by. Still, I loved when I recognised a reference. But most of the television and music references were based in the 80s and while I was born in the 80s, I didn't grow up in them so almost all of that passed me by. I think I would have enjoyed this book so much more if it was taking me back to my youth in a way it probably does for slightly older readers.

The characters were all nice enough, but I never really got attached to them. This may be because I never felt they were ever really in any danger because most of the action takes places with their OASIS avatars rather than the people themselves. The central character in particular - Wade/Parzival - never really clicked with me and often I ended up liking the people he interacted with more than I liked him. Something just fell a bit flat, possibly because his whole life was OASIS and this isn't something I can relate to. While this is true for the other characters too, them not being POV characters lessens the effect somewhat I think: you don't see the way this (what basically amounts to) addiction does to them in the same way as you do him.

I loved the first section of the book, with it zipping along at a nice enough pace to keep you reading. However, in the second and third the pace slows a little to build the story somewhat. It was still an easy read, and I was interested enough to want to know what was going to happen, but something not quite tangible just wasn't present for me. The ending was very well done, though there was never really much tension for me - it always seemed like a foregone conclusion so I was never really worried about what was going to happen to any of the characters or what the ending was going to be. Regardless of this fact, I wanted to know how the ending was reached and enjoyed the ride getting there.

A fun read which I'm sure will be incredibly nostalgia-inducing for many people.


Friday, 14 December 2012

The Ask and the Answer

Title: The Ask and the Answer
Series: Chaos Walking #2
Author: Patrick Ness
Pages: 517 (paperback)
Published: 2011
Published by: Walker Books


Fleeing before a relentless army, Todd has carried a desperately wounded Viola right into the hands of their worst enemy, Mayor Prentiss. 
Immediately separated from Viola and imprisoned, Todd is forced to learn the ways of the Mayor's new order. 
But what secrets are hiding just outside of town? And where is Viola? Is she even still alive? And who are the mysterious Answer? 
And then, one day, the bombs begin to explode...
This second thrilling volume in the Chaos Walking trilogy is a tense, shocking and deeply moving novel about resistance under the most extreme pressure.



Todd and Viola spent The Knife of Never Letting Go racing to reach Haven, hoping there to find refuge from the men of Prentiss Town, Todd's home, and the army issuing from there. But the end of their journey was just one disaster after another, and nothing turned out the way they were hoping. Now, they're in New Prentiss Town, each trapped by the promise of the other. In the last book we saw their relationship develop, and now we're seeing this being used against them.

This book had a very different feel than the last, and was in fact a lot easier for me to read. The last one was all from Todd's point of view, whereas here we also follow Viola's story as we follow the story of the two predominant groups emerging in New Prentiss town: the Ask, and the Answer. Each is fighting for what they believe in and each believes their is the best way, the only way, the world can work. Attacks are made, people are killed, and lies are told.

Though this is still definitely a kid's book, there are some darker themes than the first in the series with racism (against the Spackle - the native species of the colonised planet) and terrorism both quite heavily prevalent in this book. In fact, it was probably this maturation between the two that made it easier for me to read. Running away from a murderous army looking to take over the world isn't something I can really relate to, but racism and terrorism - unfortunately - are things we see far too much of. On top of this, there isn't as much 'noise' (the people of the planet being infected with a virus which makes them able to hear each others thoughts) featured, just making it easier for me not to get distracted by things go on on the next page or whatever.

Neither Todd nor Viola seemed to particularly change over the course of the book; rather, their presence impacts those around them, be it for better or for worse. Davy Prentiss Jr. is the most notable example of this, Todd's presence significantly impacting his life in a way I did not see coming at all. Because this is the first time we've seen them develop relationships that lasted more than a few hours, given the nature of the last book when they were constantly on the move. It was nice seeing them interact with new people consistently, and there are some relationships I'm intrigued to follow and see where they go.

There were some major events going on at the end of the story, and even more than the last one we're left with a cliff-hanger. I'm looking forward to the resolution of the story, and seeing where Todd and Viola end up.


Saturday, 8 December 2012

The Riddle

Title: The Riddle
Series: The Chronicles of Pellinor #2
Author: Alison Croggon
Pages: 512 (paperback)
Published: May 2nd 2005
Published by: Walker Books

Maerad is a girl with a tragic and bitter past, but her powers grow stronger by the day. Now she and her mentor Cadvan, pursued by both the Light and the Dark, are seeking the Riddle of the Treesong. This mysterious Riddle holds the key to restoring peace to her ravaged kingdom and defeating the enemies she is fated to battle. But what is the true nature of those enemies, and of the Riddle? And is Maerad herself the greatest riddle of all?



Maerad is a former slave, freed from her life of thraldom by the magic-wielding Bard Cadvan. He is now her mentor, and together they are trying to solve to riddle of the Treesong, hard when no one even really knows what it is or where to find it. In this, the second part of the Chronicles of Pellinor, we see them traverse vast plains, huge mountain ranges and cross the frigid north all in the search for information, following hints and half-clues.

This book pretty much immediately picks up where The Gift leaves off. Maerad and Cadvan are making their way to Thorold, seeking to escape the wrath of Enkir, and most of the first chapter is the typical 'this is what happened in the last book' reminders. It's a bit cumbersome, but the story soon reasserts itself, and it was nice seeing Maerad especially settle into being a School: for one thing, it wasn't just her and Cadvan riding around in the wilderness. While this is where most of the action takes places, I enjoy seeing the different cultures which Croggon has created in this world, and as far as I can work out the Throldians seem to be something akin to Italian. Loud, boisterous, but passionate and utterly dedicated to those they care about.

And is is here that Maerad finally begins to find herself as a person. She grows into who she is, shielded here somewhat from the dangers that have pursued her thus far. She grows in different ways through the rest of the story, but it was nice to see her just being a young girl here. I've got to say I don't really like the way in which this growth is achieved by the author later in the book. A different device was used than often, and while the events following it make sense, I wish that the trigger could have been different because for me it didn't really seem to sit with Maerad's character as I knew her. Though maybe that was the point. Her past plays a huge part in the way things turn out, and her thought process does make logical sense, I just didn't really like it. It is in this book that she finds her strength, and learns to rely on herself and her own abilities.

We get to see more of Barding in this book, but still not huge amounts. The 'magic' side of things isn't really that prevalent in any of the books, but I think this one especially. Yeah, it's important and plays its part, but there are some books where the characters use it left, right and centre and I sometimes would have liked to see a little bit more. You're told Maerad is learning High Magery, but are given only one example and I would have liked to hear more about the things which are accomplishable with The Gift.

Though the story is a little slow to start with, there are still bits and pieces of things going on, whether it's The Nameless One making his presence felt, Maered accidentally causing chaos with her abilities or things nudging them forward in the quest. It does get going properly eventually, but for me it just wasn't as good as the first book.


Friday, 30 November 2012

I Am Legend

Title: I Am Legend
Author: Richard Matheson
Pages: 162 (paperback)
Published: 1954
Published by: Orion Publishing Group

Robert Neville has witnessed the end of the world. The world's population has been obliterated by a vampire virus, though Neville has somehow survived. As he toils to make sense of it all and protect himself against the hounding vampires who seek out his life force, Neville embarks on a series of projects to discover the source of the plague and hopefully put an end to the vampires.







First things first: this is nothing like the film. At all. They've taken the very very basic plot premise and done with it what they wanted. And the central character's name: Robert Neville. Pretty much everything else is different. The ending in particular, but I'm just going to ignore that.

Now, I love the film. Will Smith is one of the few actors who can pull off that amount of screen time alone. But he isn't really the Robert Neville we meet at the start of the story. True, he is more like the man he grows into, but even then there are differences.

Robert Neville at the start of the book is a broken man. Living alone, surrounded by vampires determined to drink his blood every night. His humanity is clear, and his flawed nature. He cares for his teeth rigorously because he is his own dentist, yet he drinks and smokes copiously. He fastidiously cares about his car, yet sometimes goes days without repairing his house from the damage caused by nightly attacks.

We see him surviving and nothing more. Indeed, barely that at times.

But things happen which make him start thinking again. There are quite a lot of biological terms and stuff thrown around in some parts which I won't even pretend to have followed a lot of the time (biology not being my strong point), but it was interesting watching him develop an interest in something.

The conclusions he come to are different and intriguing, and there is a rather amazing twist at the end which is something different from anything I've ever read before. This book is a 'Masterworks' without a doubt.


Friday, 23 November 2012

Kinesis

 Title: Kinesis
Author: Ethan Spier
Pages: 238 (ebook)


When two men break into Leonard Samson’s house, beat him unconscious and murder his six-year-old son, the police arrive to a gruesome scene. But they are shocked to find the mutilated bodies of the two intruders in the front room of Leonard’s house, while he waits in the kitchen with the surviving members of his family.
Clarissa Chapman is a DCI of Psychokinetic Investigations, a new area of police work, instigated after the first genuine case of psychokinesis was discovered, some fifteen years earlier. The Samson case is brought to her attention due to the strange way in which the two intruders were killed. She suspects Leonard Samson is a Kinetic.
All Kinetics are blessed with a gift to move objects with only the power of their mind. But it is also a horrific curse. Within a few years of discovering their ability, they all develop violent insanity and, for this reason, are locked away in specially designed prisons for the benefit of public safety.
After discovering that the authorities suspect him of being a Kinetic, Leonard Samson runs; unaware that the police are not the only ones pursuing him. 
As the days pass by, Clarissa becomes increasingly aware that certain aspects of the Samson case just do not add up...


Leonard Samson is a man on the run for a crime he didn't commit, that he says he was physically impossible of committing because he isn't a PK - someone with telekinetic powers. This book follows him trying to escape the law; Amir Sohal, the bounty hunter, and Clarissa Chapman, the police officer, who are looking for him; and Sean Hagan, an escaped PK convict who is looking for revenge on the woman who caught him.

The beginning of this book was a little bit amazing. I made the mistake of starting to read it on the train, and I'm sure the first two chapters would have had me in tears if I'd been reading it at home. It's heart-wrenching and a bit horrifying, but not too graphic. It throws you in at the deep end emotively, and you can't help but feel for the family you're introduced to in the midst of disaster. The first third as a whole is fast moving and intriguing, though unfortunately the pace isn't kept up and it slows rather after this.

Set in the near future, this is a world where psychokinesis (PK) was discovered to exist around the turn of the millennium. But there is a horrible twist, for those who develop this ability also develop incredibly violent tendencies and go mad, usually within a couple of years of the onset. We're told of some of the early incidences and research in mega info-dumps. Like, pages and pages long. It's disguised as extracts from a text book one of the characters is reading, but not very well. And it's not that exciting. I'm sure there must have been better and cleaner ways of getting the information across. Between this and the slowing of the story itself the middle section of the story struggles.

And unfortunately, there is the same problem with the back stories of the characters. We are entering into people's lives often halfway through some major stuff going on, and all the information is just chucked at us, not even with it being told to someone else - it's literally just...there.

The four central characters are quite good - their motives make sense and they usually make logical decisions. Some of the secondary characters less so, but the story wouldn't move forward so well otherwise. Still, Leonard and Clarissa are the only two you really get any sort of a feel for past the immediate. Amir is all about the hunt, and Sean is all about revenge. That is what they are in the story: nothing else. Leonard you get to know a little, and you can't help but feel sorry for him from the off, whilst you learn about Clarissa's life and all the things she is trying to deal with on top of her job. And from the ending of this book, you know it's only going to get worse from this point in.

You don't really get to see much of the actual PK power in action - understandably, since most people who have are crazy by the time we meet them! - which is a shame, because what you do see is well written and quite realistic. It's something people have to work for, and they don't just crook a finger and send houses flying about. It exhausts them, and can have serious physical affects.

And it was interesting seeing the social effects of the discovery of PK and the mental problems it eventually causes. People with this ability are shunned, and locked up in a high security prison as soon as they are discovered. The ethics of this is obviously questionable, for obviously most of those imprisoned haven't actually done anything wrong at the point they are locked up: does knowing that they are going to become violent give the government the right to lock them up in that way? It would have been interesting to see how the laws about this were brought about, and whether there was anybody fighting this.

The end of this book was very good, and there was a nice, though slightly sad, ending sequence and an intriguing epilogue. I'm assuming it's a series from the ending, and I'll probably keep an eye out for the next one, for although I'm not all that attached to the any of the characters I'm kinda interested to see where the story goes, what the consequences are, and to see some more of this world.

Saturday, 17 November 2012

The Gift

Title: The Gift [or The Naming]
Series: The Chronicles of Pellinor #1
Author: Alison Croggon
Pages: 494 (paperback)
Published: May 3rd 2004
Published by: Walker Books

Maerad is a slave in a desperate and unforgiving settlement, taken there as a child when her family is destroyed in war. She is unaware that she possesses a powerful gift, a gift that marks her as a member of the School of Pellinor. It is only when she is discovered by Cadvan, one of the great Bards of Lirigon, that her true heritage and extraordinary destiny unfolds. Now she and her teacher, Cadvan, must survive a punishing and uncertain journey through a time and place where the dark forces they battle with stem from the deepest recesses of other-worldly terror.

Maerad is a slave, in the middle of nowhere, knowing little of anything. Least of all her own history, her own family. That is until Cadvan stumbles into her life and whisks her off into a world of danger, adventure, and all manner of other things. She discovers she is a powerful Bard, the spell-casters of Annar and the Seven Kingdoms, coming into her power just at the second coming of the Nameless One.

First things first: I love this book. I read it for the first time when I was sixteen and loved it then. I'm re-reading it for like the fifth time now, and I still love it. Though there may be a bit of a 'rose-tinted-glasses' thing going on. But I'm quite happy with that! I've re-read it this time because I was tired of reading new things; I wanted a series I can get lost in, and this does it so well.

Because you can just get pulled into this world, this story. There's always something happening, always some new mystery being hinted at, always some new danger to be escaped. Yes it's an epic fantasy so there is the inevitable fact that weeks of the time covered in the book are spent by Maerad and Cadvan riding around Annar, but these parts are largely skipped over, and those that aren't are used to showing something, whether it be moving the story forwards or showing you more of the intricate world Alison Croggon has built.

Maerad is the central character, and you see her bloom in the first chapters, and grow through the remainder of the story. but she doesn't completely change. The impact of a childhood spent as a slave in a remote corner of the world under a harsh man has obviously had its impact, and while she does overcome some of this, she still has plenty of problems. She doesn't feel like she fits in, and she doesn't always feel comfortable around people. Though, there are several characters which she grows rather attached to rather quickly. I know it's a book and they don't have time to wait around for stuff to develop really, but it does happen a bit too much.

Cadvan is Maerad's dour and taciturn rescuer. You don't really get to know him, but only because of the way the character is rather than any failing in the writing, and by the end of the book you understand his reticence completely. But he's still awesome. He has this whole fire and ice thing going on, he can be quite reticent around people (though warm and friendly in the right situation), but you really would not want to get on the wrong side of him. And in my head he's David Tennant, which is never a bad thing.

There have been some negative comments saying this book is too like Lord of the Rings, but Tolkien is the father of modern fantasy, and I can't imagine there are many epic fantasy books about that you can't find his influence in. Yes, there are some things that are very similar - the two that stand out being that both have fortressed 9-tiered cities built around a cliff (Minas Tirith and Norloch) and a Dark Lord making a second attempt at power - but the substance of the story is vastly different, and keeps you reading. Which is all that really matters.


Friday, 9 November 2012

A Job From Hell

Title: A Job From Hell
Series: Ancient Legends #1
Author: Jayde Scott
Pages: 374 (ebook)
Published: May 11th 2011
Published by: Aurora Press


The moment Amber starts her summer job in Scotland and sets eyes upon Aidan, her fate is sealed. Summoned by an ancient bond, she can never love another. Lost in the woods one night Amber enters Aidan's deadly world when she unknowingly participates in a paranormal race and promptly wins the first prize...a prize worth killing for.


In a world of forbidden love, ancient enemies, legends and rituals, nothing is as it seems and no one can be trusted. Life will never be the same again, unless she enters the Otherworld. But to do so, Amber must die...


We join Amber just as she arrives in Scotland to begin a job as a housekeeper. A job she is totally unqualified for and she's pretty sure she only got because her brother, Dallas, lied on the application form. Queue her meeting a series of stunning attractive individuals *ahem* vampires *ahem*, including her employer Aiden. Oh, what are the chances! She soon finds herself to be awful at her job, but instead accidentally wins a prize which puts her in danger from the entire paranormal world. Apparently.

We don't really see this...at all. Most of the danger she ends up in seems to stem more from the fact that she's involved with Aiden.

Gah.

There are so many things that annoy me about this book. So I'm not going to go into it too much, otherwise it'll just turn into a rant.

It has all the cliches of a paranormal romance, and all the characters are quite flat. The lead - Amber - is supposed to be all strong-willed and adjusts to the idea of vampires/demons etc. very quickly, yet gets talked into stealing some jewels in about 30 seconds flat. She can't make up her mind about Aiden (gorgeous vampire cliche - check!) and seems to go from absolutely-hating-him-and-she's-going-to-leave-and-she-never-wants-to-see-him-again-and-she-just-wants-to-have-her-old-life-back to letting him kiss her and melting into it (kissing cliche - check!), also in about 30 seconds flat. And this happens about 12 times. Then she has periodic weird moments when she's all like SASS! which don't really fit with the way she acts the rest of the time.



Then, the editing wasn't great; Amber's brother's name is Dallas; the author, character and book settings are all British yet American words for stuff (diapers, college instead of university, parking lot) kept appearing; Amber's parents are all like "yeah 17-year-old daughter, totally go live in Scotland for two months. We're not even going to make sure you get there ok or anything!"; and there were quite a few plot holes/inconsistencies in regards to the special abilities of the vampires.

There are a couple of saving graces in this book, in that some of the secondary characters are quite interesting (namely Cass, and I think Blake has the potential to be an interesting character, or an interesting device at the very least) and there are a couple of funny moments.

I got this book because it had been recommended to me loads, and was free. I don't really understand all the rave reviews, and wish it hadn't been free so I wouldn't have been persuaded to get, and therefore read, it.


Friday, 2 November 2012

Son of Ereubus


Title: Son of Ereubus
Series: Guardians of Legend #1
Author: J.S. Chancellor
Pages: 310 (ebook)
Published: October 21st 2010
Published by: Rhemalda Publishing

Since time immemorial, Man has lived in fear of losing his soul to the darkness of Saint Ereubus. For generations, the Ereubinians have wielded that power and ruled like gods. Three thousand years ago, Man irresolutely placed his faith in a mythical world. That world, Adoria, now holds Man's final hope. As the last stronghold of Man is threatened, the fates of three strangers become forever intertwined and everything they once believed will be irrevocably changed as they discover... Their time has run out.


This book confused me. In so many ways. For the first, like, third I had no idea what was going on. You're thrown into this world without any explanations for anything, and this annoyed the hell out of me. I think Chancellor was trying to put you in the middle of the action and be all mysterious, but I just ended up confused. I kinda get the feeling she was trying to avoid major info-dumps, but info-dumps are very useful if they're done well. You do get most of the information eventually, but it just would have made the reading a lot easier if it had come a bit sooner.

But then you kinda eventually get to the point where you understand more, and it found its pace and got good. Actually, it got really good for a while in the middle. The end wasn't quite up to the same standard, and I think it finished in quite a weird place, but it was much more readable than the first part of the story. The problem with the ending was that it wasn't really there...the author had just picked some arbitrary point in the story to finish rather than there being an actual sort of ending. It just stopped.

Aside from this, the story is quite good. It's an interesting idea (I think...I'm still a little confused in all honesty) once it gets going, though there's a little too much foreshadowing of things to come without actual events happening. And there are some definite, though I'm not sure whether they were intentional, religious undertones. Winged people (Adorians) fighting forces of darkness who steal the soul; you've got the Adorian (angel) Gabriel, the Archorigon (Archangel) Michael, and Seth makes an appearance too. Maybe it's coincidence, but I don't know.

Even though the idea was good, the writing itself annoyed me at times. I can't quite put my finger on why, but it did. It was just...little inconsistencies in the text and jumps in the narrative made it a bit difficult for me to read at times. Like, when someone was sitting at a table and somehow a guy knelt down in front of her, but then two seconds later was leaning on the wall behind her. I sometimes had to go back and re-read sections to try and work out what was being talked about because it wasn't at all clear.

I liked all the characters. Ariana was strong-willed and I quite liked her sense of humour, although I wasn't such a fan of the relationship between her and her brother, Michael. He in himself was fine, but they fall into the brother/sister relationship awfully easily considering that he's like 30 and she's 21 or something and they didn't know the other existed until a few days/weeks previously. Plus, if you didn't know, a couple of their interactions could quite easily be read as them being lovers rather siblings. He touches her lips to shush her, cradles her to his chest; stuff like that. And towards the end he started calling her 'dear heart'. This is a term of endearment which I abhor, though I have no idea why. So you know, not really a fan of that appearance. I liked Garren's journey, and think the torment of confliction he was going through was well written. The change you see in him between before (though there really isn't a lot of this) and after he meets Ariana is quite significant and very sudden, but you don't really get to see that much of them together which I would have liked more of. I think the change would have made more sense if there was a bit more grounding to it. And I so think some secret's going to come out about Koen...I'm just not entirely sure what.

So now I'm confused as to whether I want to carry on reading the rest of the series. There were good points and bad. I'm just not sure which wins out at this point...

So much confusion!



Friday, 26 October 2012

From Man to Man

Title: From Man to Man
Series: Wroge Elements
Author: D. E. M. Emrys
Pages: 25 (ebook)
Published: October 15th 2012
Published by: Four Branches Publishing

‘I’ve traded my old enemies for just this one…’ The axe thundered home. ‘I miss the old ones.’


Every man has a past, none more so than Draven Reinhardt. Abandoning his old life to settle down as a villager, he struggles to fit in, let alone hold down a job. When opportunity offers the much needed coin, Draven is torn between a promise and a purpose. 

But, what’s one last job if you’ve already got blood on your hands?

‘From Man to Man’ is the story of how one man can change – or not – for the best. Prequel to the upcoming novel ‘It Began With Ashes’, the short (6400 words) story introduces the reader to a world of suspense, intrigue, and action.

I received a free copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review.

This introduction to 'Wroge Elements' and the writing of D.E.M. Emrys was short, but sweet. While we don't learn much about the world, there are bits and pieces of hints. A mercenary guild. Widespread fighting. Racial tension.

Draven is trying to live an ordinary life, but he can't find a job that fits with his temperament, or rather he can't find a new job having left his old one behind. His thoughts intersperse the text a lot more frequently than most things I've read, but it worked. He isn't a talker and the short, sharp thoughts fit well with the tone of the book as a whole. And he's funny! The book's not at all long, but I found myself rather amused on a number of occasions by the things he thought, and I especially liked the way he compared people to animals.

The writing itself is rather wonderful. The descriptions are imaginative and the some of the ways we are given information is nicely different. There was a couple of times when words or phrases were repeated in close proximity which bothered me a little, and a lot of the characters aren't named, so there are a lot of 'the stranger', 'the blacksmith', 'the herdsman' which I also wasn't really a fan of. It's ok to some extent, but I wasn't a fan of it in general. Of course these are likely to be a matter of personal taste and not exactly the end of the world!

After the short story From Man to Man we are given a preview of the first chapter of It Began With Ashes, the up-coming novella set in the same world. The writing's still great, and we're given a bit more back-story to the history of the world and quite a tantalising ending to the prologue. I'll definitely be on the look out for the release of this book!


Friday, 19 October 2012

Different Seasons

Title: Different Seasons
Author: Stephen King
Pages: 688 (paperback)
Published: November 1st 2007 (first published August 29th 1981)
Published by: Hodder

Each of the four stories, markedly different in tone and subject, present a journey: Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption is a tale of an innocent man who devises an exciting escape from prison; The Apt Pupil is the story of a golden schoolboy and an old man with a hideous past who join in a dreadful union; in The Body, four young boys venture into the woods and find life, death and the end of innocence and The Breathing Method is a macabre story told in a strange club of a woman determined to give birth…no matter what.




This book contains four novellas written by Stephen King: Rita Heyworth and Shawshank Redemption, Apt Pupil, The Body, and The Breathing Method. They are four very different stories (though there are some nice little links between them, as often pop up in King's work) but all well written, and very enjoyable.

Rita Heyworth and Shawshank Redemption is amazing - it's Shawshank! Andy Dufresne is sent to Shawshank Prison for the murder of his wife and her lover. He says he's innocent, but then so do a lot of people in there. We follow his life through his fellow prisoner - and later his friend - Red. The way it was written jumped around a little which I'm not a huge fan of, but makes sense in the medium. It's interesting to see the original and the stories are pretty much the same, though I've got to say I think I prefer the way the ending was reached in the film. This is probably because I saw the film first (and several times) and so in my head that's the way it's 'supposed' to be. And I think I read the whole thing in Morgan Freeman's voice!

Apt Pupil was completely engrossing and quite chilling. A teenage boy unearths a terrible secret about an old man, and his actions drastically change both their lives in the following years. They get enmeshed in this tangled relationship of mistrust that neither can escape because of its very nature. You see the way their relationship impacts them and changes them, and the ultimately disastrous outcome. Wonderful read.

The Body was a bit different. It follows four young boys as they go to look at a body in the woods: Gordy and his friends Toddy, Vern and Chris tell their parents they're going camping in a nearby field, but instead follow the train tracks up to where they've heard the body of a missing kid is. Not  a lot really happens, and I struggled a bit to get into it, but still liked it overall. The interactions of the 12-year-old boys were done well, though maybe it's a generational thing but their language seemed particularly foul for their age.

The Breathing Method was probably the creepiest of the stories in this collection. And the one which leaves the most unanswered. An old man goes to the meeting of his club a couple of days before Christmas and hears - as traditional - a story of the unnatural. We go back and see how he came to be a member of the club and some of the mysteries surrounding it. I found it a little annoying, namely in that tories are begun and never finished, and the mystery surrounding the club is hinted at but never really touched on. I would love for there to be more about this one! Unfortunately, there isn't anything that I can find...

All these books are enjoyable, and most of them wonderful in their own way. A great collection of short stories, and a nudge to me to read more short story collections.


Saturday, 13 October 2012

Read-A-Thon, October 2012

In just 2 and a half hours, I shall be starting on another read-a-thon! Woo! Last time I was all organised and knew which books I was going to read and everything, but I haven't quite got that far yet...I still have time! It'll totally be fine! And while I thought I was going to be free for the entire 24 hours, that may not be the case any longer, so we'll see how much reading I can get done around potential other plans.

Good luck to anyone else joining in this time! :)

----------------

So, with just a few minutes to go, I'm getting ready! I have two books lined up, and I'll see how I get on with them.

1. A Dance with Dragons 1: Dreams and Dust by George R. R. Martin (A Song of Ice and Fire #5.1)
2. Different Season by Stephen King - 4 short stories which I figure will break up GRRM nicely.

So, off we jolly well go!

----------------

A little over two hours in, and I'm 109 pages into DwD...only 516 to go! I'm enjoying it so far. It's got all the good characters back who were missed out of A Feast for Crows, though it is a little confusing to remember that this runs in parallel with that and we've actually gone back to follow them. Still, a good read so far!

----------------

Short food break coming up now! I've made a bit more progress with DwD and I'm up to 154 pages. There are quite a few new people being introduced and the locations are jumping around all over the spot so it can be a little confusing at times, but still enjoying it. None of the story lines have particularly grabbed me this time round as of yet, but the end of the Daenerys' last chapter has got me intrigued a little.

Taking a break from DwD, I've also started Different Season. The first story is Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption, the inspiration behind the film (which is amazing!) and which seems to be a pretty fair adaptation. They've simplified it some - as far as I remember - and the book seems slightly more disjointed than the film was, but enjoying seeing the story as it was originally written. 82 pages down, 51 of Shawshank to go.

And thanks for the cheerleading! Appreciate it very much :)

----------------

Done with Shawshank, which was good, but I think the ending to the film was better. It was more interesting, and all the wrapping-up stuff didn't seem to take half as long. Back to DwD for a bit now, but evening plans have presented themselves, so I'm off out soon! Shall be resuming reading upon my return hopefully.

Happy reading everyone else!

----------------

So, this read-a-thon has been a bit of a fail...hopefully next time I'll have a clear day! In the meantime, I have two books to finish...

Friday, 12 October 2012

Lockdown

Title: Lockdown
Series: Escape from Furnace #1
Author: Alexander Gordon Smith
Pages: 273 (paperback)
Published: August 3rd 2010
Published by: Square Fish


Furnace Penitentiary: the world’s most secure prison for young offenders, buried a mile beneath the earth’s surface. Convicted of a murder he didn’t commit, sentenced to life without parole, “new fish” Alex Sawyer knows he has two choices: find a way out, or resign himself to a death behind bars, in the darkness at the bottom of the world. Except in Furnace, death is the least of his worries. Soon Alex discovers that the prison is a place of pure evil, where inhuman creatures in gas masks stalk the corridors at night, where giants in black suits drag screaming inmates into the shadows, where deformed beasts can be heard howling from the blood-drenched tunnels below. And behind everything is the mysterious, all-powerful warden, a man as cruel and dangerous as the devil himself, whose unthinkable acts have consequences that stretch far beyond the walls of the prison.
Together with a bunch of inmates—some innocent kids who have been framed, others cold-blooded killers—Alex plans an escape. But as he starts to uncover the truth about Furnace’s deeper, darker purpose, Alex’s actions grow ever more dangerous, and he must risk everything to expose this nightmare that’s hidden from the eyes of the world.


Alex is a school bully turned petty thief. He and his friend Toby break into people's houses and steal cash and electronics, namely for the kick it seems. Until one night it all goes wrong, and Alex is framed for murder. He soon finds himself on the way to Furnace Prison for young offenders. A prison staffed by incredibly strong men; men with gasmasks attached to their faces (something like this being the image I had in my head for this); and all run by a man with weird eyes. Escape is impossible.

I quite enjoyed this; it wasn't a particularly difficult read, though not as creepy as I was expecting based on the blurb, and the descriptions of the emotions of the main character - Alex - were generally done very well. My one complaint in this area was that Alex seemed to adjust to prison life a little too easily. He gets into the swing of everything very well, and in places it felt like he was acting like he'd been there a lot longer than he had. Other descriptions weren't so good, unfortunately, and they often felt caricature-ish. Over-exaggerated architecture and characters were unbelievable, with the Judge who sentences Alex and the description of the outside of the prison particularly standing out in my mind in this respect.

I'm quite intrigued as to what has happened for the world depicted here to end up the way it has. We're told that after a riot by teenagers where hundreds of people were killed they introduced a zero-tolerance policy on young offenders, but this seems very extreme for the circumstance and I get the feeling that something more is going on. In general the story goes nicely with good pacing, though a few plot holes. He also has a tendency to forewarn when something is coming rather than it just happening. Like, "It was the worst thing I'd ever seen, up until four days later at least." Then just carries on the with the story. These little asides seemed a little pointless to me, and means you know Alex survives because he's obviously narrating from the future so there's less tension.

The escape plan which Alex comes up with is quite ingenious, though I have to question it's feasibly quite heavily. Minor spoiler: I've never tried knotting rubber gloves, but I can't imagine it's easy, or air-tight. And of course the other kids knew you were up to something - you think they didn't notice you 'sneaking' around all the time?!

I'll probably keep an eye out for the next book being on sale or something. It ended on a cliffhanger so I'm intrigued to see what happens next but not overly or anything.

Oh, and a minor point which bothers me a bit: the main character is called Alex. As is the author. I don't know why this feels slightly wrong to me.


Friday, 5 October 2012

The Night Circus

Title: The Night Circus
Author: Erin Morgenstern
Pages: 490
Published: May 24th 2012
Published by: Vintage Books



In this mesmerizing debut, a competition between two magicians becomes a star-crossed love story. 

The circus arrives at night, without warning. No announcements precede it. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not. Within nocturnal black and white striped tents awaits a unique experience, a feast for the senses, where one can get lost in a maze of clouds, meander through a lush garden made of ice, stand awestruck as a tattooed contortionist folds herself into a small glass box, and gaze in wonderment at an illusionist performing impossible feats of magic. 

Welcome to Le Cirque des Reves. Beyond the smoke and mirrors, however, a fierce competition is underway - a contest between two young magicians, Celia and Marco, who have been trained since childhood to compete in "a game," in which each must use their powers of illusion to best the other. Unbeknownst to them, this game is a duel to the death, and the circus is but the stage for a remarkable battle of imagination and will.

Prospero the Enchanter is left with a package. His five-year-old daughter whose mother has just committed suicide, and whom he didn't know existed until that moment. When he learns that she has inherited his talent for 'forcibly manipulating the universe', he gets in touch with a man and suggests they have another competition. The man adopts - somewhat - the orphan Marco, and begins training him with by own methods. The venue for this competition? The Night Circus. This leads to an awe-inspiring circus full of wonders beyond the imagination, and an impact on the lives of countless thousands of people.

I love this book. You know those books that you start reading and just know that you're going to love within a matter of pages? It was one of those for me. The writing and imagery was absolutely beautiful, and the sheer inventiveness of some of the attractions at the circus was wonderful. The magic was understated, and something which you could almost believe could actually exist. It doesn't make the user all powerful and has its limits.

Snippets of the circus seen through the eyes of a visitor are interspersed through the story, and it is this which opens the story. We get to see something of it before understanding what it really is, what it is being used for. And it's enchanting; my biggest disappointment about this book is that I can't actually go and see all the things that are described.

The central characters are Celia Bowen and Marco Alisdair, both raised with magic according to the way their mentor believes best teaches it. One almost purely through physical practice; the other grounded in theory, words, symbols. Opposites, yet set to compete against each other in a contest of endurance.

Of course, this does mean that this is their whole lives. At least that we see. Never seeing any other aspect of either of them, they do feel a little one-dimensional. But then, Celia lives in the circus and Marco helps run it. It could be that there isn't anything else to them really, as closely twined they are with it and given how they've been raised. Even with this possible caveat, it still would have been nice to see a little more depth. And the same holds true for many of the other central characters: you feel that the circus is all there is too them, and there are never really any hints at anything more. Some of the more peripheral characters - the ones not so directly involved with it - escape this which was nice.

You know from the start where the relationship between Celia and Marco is going, but it isn't thrust in your face. It's barely present for most of the book, and when it is it's rather understated. Between the physical distance between them and the constraints of the competition, they don't spend a lot of time actually together, and we don't see all that they do but I liked it. In some ways, they don't fall in love with one another, but with the things they make for the competition. I read another review which said they didn't believe in their love story because there was nothing to it - they felt that they'd fallen in love just because, and to make the story work, but I can't disagree with this more. They get to know each other through an abstract medium, and this is the basis of their relationship rather than anything physical. On top of this they are magically bound together, and I think this may have something to do with it. There are hints that this isn't the first time emotions have come in the way of a competition, so it wouldn't surprise me.

The story flows along nicely, if a little slowly at times. Only in that there are periods where nothing of vast import happens, so there is nothing to tell. The chapter titles are all underscored with a date so you know how long has passed, but since I, in general, tend not to pay too much attention to chapter headings I think I'm probably a little ignorant as to how long had passed, not helping when it came to the second story line included which was set out of sync with that of Celia and Marco's. The competition they find themselves thrust into was a little slow-paced, and there wasn't ever a sense of urgency until the end, and even then only briefly.

But then this isn't the kind of book that grabs you and drags you along with it. It more takes you by the hand and invites you to explore.

Kind of like Le Cirque des Reves itself, I suppose.

Plus it contained the word 'discombobulated'. Extra marks for awesomeness!



Friday, 28 September 2012

Prophecy of the Flame

Title: Prophecy of the Flame
Series: Prophecy of the Flame #1
Author: Lynn Hardy
Pages: 373 (ebook)
Published: November 20th 2011
Published by: Resilient Publishing

In a blinding flash of light, five strangers are yanked from this world and thrust into a land of sorcery as they are granted the looks and abilities of the people they were playing. This band of wannabe heroes soon discovers that having the powers they have always dreamed of, does not make life a dream come true. The Crusaders of the Light struggle to form a cohesive band as they blend twentieth century technology with the supernatural powers of this new world, fighting to liberate the kingdom of Cuthburan from the evil horde threatening humanity. Battle is also waged within Reba, an ordinary housewife who has become the most powerful mage on the planet, as she struggles to remain true to her wedding vows. Drawn against her will to the arms of Prince Alexandros, Reba must choose marriage toa handsome prince in a magical world or returning to the husband she left behind.

Five strangers are live-action role-playing when they are yanked from Earth to an alternate dimension to help fight a hoard of demons. In the process they are transformed into the characters they were pretending to be, both physically and in terms of ability.An interesting concept poorly written basically sums up my opinion of this book. The blurb intrigued me but the story and the writing let it down for me.

Now, I don't really know anything about live-action role playing, so I can't really comment on the start of the book as I have no real reference point as to how it all works and if it all works out slightly conveniently, well it's a book and stuff like that happens. It was upon their transportation to another world that I began to have problems.

There was no 'argh, we've been transported to another dimension!', 'argh, it's completely changed the way we look!', 'argh, we suddenly have all these abilities we were only pretending to have!', 'argh, what the hell is going on!' freaking out at all. They all very calmly accepted what was going on. As I mentioned, they were changed physically to represent their characters, some growing or shrinking by several inches, if not feet. First issue: they would not physically be able to make their bodies work in these conditions. Their brain is used to working with certain expectations of their bodies and they would all be falling over all over the spot if this had actually happened and would have trouble walking never mind being able to practice fighting within a matter of hours. But you know, suspension of disbelief...I'll go with it as a first problem - and one quite often overlooked in fiction when people switch bodies or what-have-you.

That they've all suddenly acquired various magic/fighting skills is far too convenient. There is no learning curve (necessary to the story as there isn't enough time to have them learn but poorly explained away) and they're all instantly ridiculously proficient and have full control of their abilities. Archmage Reba - the POV character - is the most powerful mage ever apparently, and there is no problem she can't fix instantly and with apparently very little effort. There is no getting to grips with her abilities, no mistakes, and only one instance of her trying something that doesn't work straight off. Seriously?!

I think it was this that bothered me the most. She can create anything from anything with a few rhymes. At first there is at least the limitation of it bringing on migraines but then boom, perpetual healing spell cast and there's no problem. Public speaking a problem? Another spell - she's the best orator in the world! She's forgetting stuff? Perfect memory! She's fighting? Super strength! Walking just too darned slow? Flying! Oh, and while she's at it why not give herself better boobs and eternal youth! I get this was Hardy trying to make it so we can identify with her ("Yeah, she's super-powerful but she still worries about normal stuff!") but it just felt ridiculous.

And because of there being no problem she can't solve, the story just felt superfluous. Why spend all this time preparing for a big battle when she could just wander off and blast them? For me it never really felt like anyone was in any real danger so there was no tension. It basically felt like there were a series of problems thrown up simply for Reba to solve.

A spell (shockingly!) means they instantly understand the language, and apparently know the names of things that have no equivalent in English, though only sporadically. Name of the castle? Fine. Name of the stone the castle's built of? Nope, got to ask what that is. Names of the demons (which no one had seen a day earlier, yet all of which now have names which everyone knows) - fine.

Reba is given a maid. But she's more than just a maid! She's basically also a prostitute for Reba's pleasure. Why on earth they'd assume she was a lesbian/bi is never explained, and it certainly doesn't seem to be the norm. Then the maid gets all offended when Reba turns her down! I didn't see the point of this at all.

One positive was the emotional trouble Reba is in. Married back in our world, she is confronted by a very handsome and quite lovely Prince in the new one, and I think Hardy did a good job as she fights to resist his advances, making her position quite clear but wondering what is happening back home. How long she's been gone, what her husband is doing, and what will happen if she can never find a way back.

This aside, there are a few problems with the writing itself. Weird metaphors ("she shook off the unwanted feeling like a coyote shaking off morning dew" - what the...?) and weird turns of phrase (people don't move things - they manipulate them; a simple response is said 'by rote'; 'so-and-so meet so-and-so' is the formal introduction performed by the king) both made this very difficult for me to read. I'd keep stopping to wonder at her weird choice of words. It feels at times like she's used a thesaurus and randomly picked a word without checking that it actually works in the context. (Bringing to mind the episode of Friends where Joey 'Baby Kangaroo' Tribbiani does the same thing.) And in several lists commas were replaced with semi-colons which was mildly annoying more than anything else.

And there was a picture of a horse at the end of every chapter. I have no idea why. Horses were barely mentioned. This confused me quite a lot.

Definitely not a series I'll be continuing with. Or a book I'll ever read again. Or a book I'll be recommending to anyone. Ever.



Friday, 21 September 2012

Little Dorrit

Title: Little Dorrit
Author: Charles Dickens
Pages: 848 (paperback, with some extra stuff at the beginning and end)
Published: April 1st 2009; originally published 1885-1857
Published by: Vintage Classics

Amy Dorrit’s father is not very good with money. She was born in the Marshalsea debtors’ prison and has lived there with her family for all of her twenty-two years, only leaving during the day to work as a seamstress for the forbidding Mrs. Clennam. But Amy’s fortunes are about to change: the arrival of Mrs. Clennam’s son Arthur, back from working in China, heralds the beginning of stunning revelations not just about Amy but also about Arthur himself.

Amy Dorrit lives with her father in a debtors prison, hiding the fact that she works for their living and that her older brother and sister work (or attempt to) to support themselves. He is something of a broken man, once prosperous but now without a penny to his name and dismayed by this fact. Then Arthur Clennam returns from working with his now-deceased father in China and finds her working for his mother. His interest is piqued...and he's not the only one. Soon, an unexpected revelation vastly changes the fortunes of the family. All of this takes place on the backdrop of Victorian England, and with the usual array of slightly mad characters seen in Dickens novels.

So, the BBC did an adaptation of this a few years ago, and I watched it maybe 18 months ago. Now the BBC is pretty good at this kind of thing (Pride and Prejudice with Colin Firth, anyone?) and I really enjoyed it. Of course, I'd never read the book so I didn't have anything to compare it to, but still. I liked the characters and the story, and it was very easy to watch.

Maybe it's because I already knew the story - so minimising the suspense of 'what's going on? What's going to happen?' - but I struggled a little to keep going whilst reading it. Part of this may be due to Dickens' writing style. There is quite a lot of description and lists and lists of whatever is going on around the characters: food stuffs, things they can see, what people are wearing etc. There is also quite a lot of superfluous description in general, and chapters relatively regularly started with pages and pages of description of where they were based. Yes, this is good in some ways, but in a book this long it becomes a bit difficult after a while.

I've not read much Dickens, but in this book he did something I'd never come across before. Most of the time, we would follow characters around and their actions would be narrated in the standard fashion. Speech in speech marks and all that. But this time, for one character it was more written from the point of an invisible presence or something. People's actions were described, and it was said that they made comments about one thing or another, but the actual interactions weren't really given. I'm sure there's a technical term for it but I don't know it. Now, I didn't like this, and luckily it only occurred in a minority of chapters, but I still didn't like it.

The characters themselves were wonderful, many of them complete with their own little annoying quirks (you know you all have your own!) and you got a real feel for them and to grow to care about (or dislike, as appropriate) many of them. Little Amy Dorrit is sweet and self-sacrificing, always doing what she can for others before thinking of herself. She cares for her father immensely, and does everything she allowed to for him. Her older brother and sister - though her brother isn't really present all that much - are quite the opposite. They think only of themselves and how to achieve their own ends, though Edward doesn't seem to have quite the same capabilities when in comes to succeeding in this as Fanny does. There is also Amy's uncle, and seeing their relationship in particular is lovely, as you get the feeling that he is the only one who truly understands and appreciates all she does, whatever their circumstance in life.

There were a number of quite amusing secondary characters who had their own roles to play, and the Circumlocution Office (a branch of the government which works towards perfecting how to not do things) is a wonderful parody of the government system even now. I suppose something never change!

The story, though long, is quite interesting. There is a good deal of mystery surrounding a couple of people, their actions and motives, and while some things come as a complete surprise, you can work out a couple of things.

Interesting story with good characters, but there was maybe just a little bit too much extra stuff around it all.


Friday, 14 September 2012

Run With the Horsemen

Title: Run with the Horsemen
Author: Ferrol Sams
Series: Porther Osbourne Jr. #1
Pages: 422
Published: August 28th 1982
Published by: Peachtree Publishers

A boy's account of growing up through the rituals of life on an ancestral farm in middle Georgia between the big wars. It is a rueful, humorous story of the people in one rural county, but the telling cuts so deep it breaks through to the universal. Reminiscent of To Kill a Mockingbird, Tom Sawyer, and The Catcher in the Rye, "Run with the Horsemen" is the powerfully moving and delightfully endearing story of Porter Osborne Jr.'s journey to adulthood.


It's deep-south USA during the Great Depression. Porter Osbourne Jr. is just doing his best to grow up among all the other stuff going on. Ambitious and intelligent, but also a consummate (thought not always intentional) trouble-maker, he's lives on a cotton plantation with his parents, sisters and much of his extended family, never mind the coloured people who work the farm with them. This books follows the first 15 or so years of his life.

I'm not entirely sure exactly at which point I began to love this book. It's just a series of stories - with a slightly unsatisfying end, at least up until the point where I was told it was the first in a series - about a boy growing up on a farm in Georgia during the depression. That's it. Just...stuff that happens to him, troubles he faces (and gets himself into) and him growing up.

But I do know why I love it. It is, I think, pretty much entirely because of the character of Porter Osbourne Jr. - most commonly referred to in the narrative simply as 'the boy'. He is determined and intelligent and kind-hearted, with quite a strong mischievous streak running through him which provides much entertainment for him and others, but also getting him into trouble on occasion. His father says something at the end of the fist chapter which I think sums him up brilliantly: "He's not a bad boy. He minds well. I just can't think of enough things to tell him not to do." But for all this, he is principled: he stands up for what he believes is right no matter what, and that is because of his parents.

You don't see much of his mother. She is present but not central, but he obviously loves her and she has done a wonderful job of bringing him up 'proper'. When it comes to his father, he teaches him some very good lessons but is very flawed. The start of the book put me in mind of To Kill a Mockingbird namely because of the setting I believe, but now I think about it, Porter Osbourne Sr. is similar to Atticus Finch, but a less perfect version. He does his best to bring up his children well and give them freedom to grow and learn, but he has some quite significant flaws of his which inhibit this somewhat, and he is a lot more absent that Atticus.

Each chapter is a self-contained little story and while some of them are better than others, all of them are enjoyable. Of course, with this comes the problem that most of the time, though the writing is engaging, there is a natural breaking point at the end of each chapter as whichever little story is wrapped up. Unfortunately, this makes it all too easy to put the book down at the end of each chapter, and is probably a lot of the reason why it took me as long as it did to read this book. On top of this, the very southern accents of the coloured staff made it difficult at times to understand just what was being said. I have minimal experience of this accent, so it may be that this is less of an issue for those who are more used to it, but it was a little difficult at times. 

Still, overall a very good book.