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


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!