Monday, 22 August 2016

The Wrong Train by Jeremy de Quidt - A Review

It's late at night, a boy runs for the train but on catching it he realises that it's not the one he meant to catch. He gets off at the first possible station he can but doesn't recognise it. After a while an old man and his dog turn up and regale the boy with a story while he waits for a train to take him back.

And so begins one of the creepiest, scariest books I've read in a while.

The stories the old man tells, you see, are of the ghostly and unsettling variety.

As the night goes on the boy gets more uncomfortable with the old man and the old man himself gets slightly more sinister. It's clear from the off that the old man is in charge of the game, indeed all the events and storytelling seem to be leading towards what he refers to as 'my little game'. And when it comes time to play, when all becomes clear - well, let's just say this reviewer had his socks knocked clean off.

The storytelling here is very much of the highest standard, the stories within a story idea works really well and I'm not ashamed to say, the author unnerved me at times. There were certainly several occasions when I could see where he was taking the story and I thought 'NO!! He's not going to do that. I was wrong and he did.

The Wrong Train is aimed at a Young Adult audience but shouldn't be restricted to that bracket. It is not a comfortable read but it is a very good one. This book will be enjoyed by older readers too.

So, in short, I cannot recommend The Wrong Train Highly enough. Go get yourself a copy soon as you can (it's from David Fickling Books)

5* It's been a long while since a book unsettled me like this and I loved every uncomfortable minute of it

Sunday, 21 August 2016

The Call by Peadar O'Guillin - A Review

Imagine, if you will, an Ireland that is cut off from the rest of the world, an Ireland where the Aes Sidhe, the early dwellers in the Emerald Isle who were banished by human settlers have decided it is time to come back. That's what you have in 'The Call' and it makes for a dark, chilling but ultimately rewarding read.

The general gist of the story is that Ireland is now isolated, ever since the day when planes fell from the sky and boats washed up on the shores, all more or less empty. No-one enters or leaves the island. The Aes Sidhe, a kind of Irish fairy folk, have decided it is time to end their exile and are trying to force their way ever closer from their land to this. These fairy folk are not what you might expect though - no tinkerbells here. These are a nasty, vicious race and they are coming for the nation's children.

It is because of this children are sent to special schools where they are taught survival skills so they will be ready when The Call comes.

What is The Call? At some point in each child's life they will be taken, without warning, and transferred to the land of the Aes Sidhe, an horrific, grey land where they have to survive The Hunt. They are gone from this world to that for 3 minutes and 4 seconds but are in the lands of the Aes Sidhe for 24 hours. If they survive The Hunt they are returned to this world, if they are caught they are tortured, disfigured, often (but not always) killed and then their dead bodies sent back. Very few who are Called and survive are without scars both mental and physical.

The schools set up to train the children are brutal places, designed to turn their pupils into warriors that may have a fighting chance. Into one of these schools comes our heroine Nessa. She is not like the other kids as she suffered from polio as a youngster which has left her with weak legs. Some think she should not be there but she is a battler and does what she can to keep up or improve her chances.

Most of the story revolves round the time at school, the interactions between pupils and staff, the training and just waiting to see who will be called next (seriously, they just disappear leaving only a bundle of clothes - they always turn up naked in the AS land - and the surprise never wears off).

Things start to get a bit more frantic though when a fairy hill is discovered on school land, The Sidhe are getting closer, The Calls are getting more regular, sometimes with several pupils going at one time and still Nessa waits till they decide it is time to take her.

I found Nessa to be a quite likeable lead character. Although she has her disability she makes the most of her situation and doesn't get all mopey about life. Quite a large part of the story questions (through some of her fellow pupils) whether she should actually be allowed to be at the school as it is training pupils to survive and it is quite obvious to them that with her disability she will not do so and so should have been 'terminated, at a younger age to allow more resources for those who might have a chance.

I will say that I really enjoyed this book. It is dark, it is unsettling, at times the tortures performed by the Aes Sidhe are downright horrific but above all it is a tale well told.

The Call is classed as YA fiction and would probably appeal to fans of such things as The Hunger Games and Maze Runners. Myself though I would recommend it to all ages (YA and upwards obviously)

5*

Also, a quick nod (and my thanks) to David Fickling Books who published this and were kind enough to supply me with a copy when I asked. They are publishing some cracking fiction, check them out if you get the chance.

Tuesday, 2 August 2016

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by J.K. Rowling et al - A Review and possibly some general thoughts and meanderings.

So, the Midnight hour between Saturday and Sunday came and went and another chapter in the life of Harry Potter and friends is upon us. When I first heard it was coming out, but would be in script form I wasn't sure if I would bother with it. It's not a 'Harry Potter' book in the form we are used to, it's only 'based on' an original story by J K Rowling and plays are so hard to read - you only get brief descriptions, stage directions and the spoken words.

And the doubts in my head will have lasted about 2 seconds - of course I would be getting the new book. IT'S HARRY POTTER!!!!

And, yes, I will be hoping to see the stage play - again, IT'S HARRY POTTER!!!!

So, Sunday lunchtime saw my better half and I in Waterstones, and Café W (renamed Potterstones for the day). We had excellent food, Harry Potter themed buns and I left clutching HPatCC and eager to make a start on it.

I guess you want to know if it was worth the excitement, well, for me at least, I'd say yes. The story starts 19 years after the end of Deathly Hallows and although we have a new cast of characters in the Potter/Weasley/Malfoy kids there are enough of the original cast around to make it feel like familiar ground. Things are not good between Harry and his youngest son Albus - quite a bit of 'teen angst' going on, how do you live up to your famous father's reputation when you think you are always going to be in his shadow, that kind of thing. The resultant adventures revolve round a good bit of time travel and trying to 'do the right thing'

For me the time travel thing is where it all fell down a bit but as this is a series aimed more at younger people I guess I can let that slide. The paradox stuff just threw me out of the story a little at times (if A happened, then B happened, C couldn't have happened even though it did). It didn't take much for the story to draw me back in though.

The story is very much what you would expect from Harry Potter so if you liked the original books and can get your head around the script format there is nothing to stop you really enjoying it. There are plenty of nods to the original series so some knowledge of events is useful (especially Goblet of Fire). The story feels very much like an expansion of the Potterverse, a continuation of the story, if you will, not, as some people have said, "a blatant cash grabbing venture".

If anything, the book has made me even more keen to go see the stage play at some point. I was entranced by Harry and co right from Philosophers Stone, each new volume added to the wonder and now, with Harry Potter and the Cursed Child we have been given another slice of the cake - and it is good cake. Not perfect but not far off.

In the last few days I believe J K Rowling has said that "this is it for the Harry Potter series". I hope she changes her mind because it seems like there is plenty of life left yet in The Boy Who Lived

4/5 stars

Thursday, 21 July 2016

New Pompeii by Daniel Godfrey - A Review

Part Science Fiction, Part Fantasy, part Thriller, this all adds up to one heck of a ride. The fact that this is the author's first novel makes it even more impressive.

The general gist of the story is that NovusPart, a large energy company have discovered a new technology that allows them to bring matter from the past to 'the now'. They have started by bringing citizens from Pompeii (hey, it's not a spoiler, the clue is in the title) forward and housing them in the replica New Pompeii. They do not know they have left 'original' Pompeii but some are starting to guess something is not quite right. Into the mix comes our hero Nick Houghton, research ,student, who is brought in as NovusPart's Historical Advisor. His actual recruitment seems a tad shady but he is just happy to be a part of something this big.

As a second story strand Kirsten Chapman 'wakes' in her bath only to discover she has been murdered.

As a general rule I am not a big fan of 'Michael Chrichtonesque' Sci-Fi Thrillers but New Pompeii certainly changed my mind on that. The way the author described both New Pompeii and it's occupants felt believable. It felt very much like seeing it through Nick's eyes which, for this reviewer is just how it should be.

The 'Kirsten' chapters added a lot of mystery to the proceedings. It is obvious her 'death' had a big part to play in the storyline but right up to the reveal I wasn't sure just what it would be.

If I had to find a downside to things it would just be my ignorance of historical terms, which I had to look up sometimes (but, hey, I've learnt stuff now so not that much of a downside really)

As for the characters - Nick was nerdish, Kirsten puzzled and the big chiefs of NovusPart just the right shade of 'big business sinister'. They all worked well for me.

I enjoyed this book a heck of a lot and wouldn't be surprised to see it on beaches and in airports all summer. Will it be filmed? Of that I have no idea but somebody, somewhere should take a chance on it (Oh, if only Mr. Spielberg read my blog)

Full marks to Daniel Godfrey for a very interesting and fun read - V/V stars

Sunday, 10 July 2016

Oddjobs by Heide Goody and Iain Grant - A Review

The Apocalypse, the end of the world as we know it, is coming............

It will happen this Friday.........

In Birmingham (UK)

(unless new girl Morag Murray and colleagues can prevent it)

That is the general premise in this latest comedy horror/crime novel, the first in a new series, from Clovenhoof creators Goody and Grant. There is a secret government agency whose job is keeping the general populace unaware of the threat by the other-worldly Venislarn and Morag is starting her first day with them having been transferred from the Edinburgh branch after an 'incident'

As with the Clovenhoof books (of which I am a big fan) there is a lot going on in this book - wannabe amphibian gangster chavs, telepathic curry, an upstairs neighbour with way too many cats, fish porn, Ancient Gods and that aforementioned Apocalypse (due Friday) but it 'doesn't feel like a busy book. Considering all that is happening the story is well paced and holds together really well. The Venislarn are all kinds and varieties of grotesque, Morag and her colleagues range from cute and slightly ditzy to super serious and the side characters are a comedic delight. Also, as a setting, the city of Birmingham works really well

How would I describe the style of the book? Let's just say that if Tom Holt and Robert Rankin sat down to discuss writing a book with H P Lovecraft I think they would be more than happy to come up with something half as good as this. I hope Oddjobs brings Goody and Grant the success they deserve and look forward to more in this series.

Oddjobs was an absolute delight - 10/10

Saturday, 2 July 2016

You Were Never Really Here by Jonathan Ames - A Review

This novella (94 pages) dropped through my letter box yesterday morning. As is usually the case with Pushkin Vertigo books, the blurb made it sound really promising. It is now 5 hours or so since I finished it and I still don't quite know how I feel about it.

The story is a fairly straightforward one - the daughter of a senator has been taken and put into the sex trade, he has a lead and hires Joe, ex Marine, ex FBI to get her back. The thing is, Joe has seen things that have left him damaged. He is the typical 'hero type', loner, broken, violent and his back story explains the reasoning behind his ways quite well. I think the problem I had was that the story was too short and could have been easily expanded a little. Also, Joe, as flawed as he is, comes across as a bit of a psychopath at times and by his final actions here seems to be on a darker path that probably will not end well for him, but we may never know as the story ends with the job only half done.

Good points - punchy prose, brutal violence and a lead character that could carry a series (apparently it is soon to be a feature film starring Joaquin Phoenix).

Bad points - the story felt too short and ended too abruptly with the job only partly done, almost as if this is just a teaser trailer for the main event to come

3/5* - I enjoyed it enough but felt slightly cheated at the final page

Tuesday, 28 June 2016

A Family War by Stewart Hotston - A Review

This was an interesting read. For me Science Fiction can go two ways - tech heavy (which usually turns me away) or tech light (which I tend to quite enjoy). Thankfully, although there is a good bit of future technology in 'A Family War' it is not at the expense of a story well told.

The set up is a future Earth where business rules and the technologically enhanced Oligarchs are the top of the tree. The Oligarchs are scientifically enhanced humans with almost Godlike powers and our heroine, Helena, is one of them. The world is on the verge of a new World War and the only hope of preventing a possible genocide is a small child, which Helena must find.

Where the story really comes alive here is the world in which the reader is taken, obviously future earth but still close enough that the possibilities are plausible. The rich get all they can afford while those without struggle on. The differences in class are notable but Helena may have to overcome these differences if the world is to survive.

I will say that not all character motives are clear (which is a good thing) but once things start to drop into place the reader may need to re-evaluate the way they thought the story was going.

The good points - fast paced story, believable and not too complicated technology, good and vivid world building populated with interesting characters

The bad points - my only real gripe comes back to the technology, it did get slightly repetitive at times but that wasn't to the detriment of the story so I'm happy to let that slide.

As a first book in a series 'A Family War' sets things up nicely for further volumes (which I will certainly be looking out for) and the fact that this is a debut novel, well, that leaves me quite excited for Mr Hotston's future. The Big Time beckons (and please, somebody, make a movie of this)

4.3/5