Tuesday 22 April 2014

Yoshiko and the Gift of Charms by Julia Suzuki (a review)

Several months ago I received a message on Twitter asking if I would consider reviewing a YA/ Middle Grade novel featuring dragons as the main characters. I considered this for all of 2 minutes and (thankfully!) said yes . The result of this conversation was an envelope popping through the letterbox a week or so later with this gem of a book in it.

So, the story - In the Land of Dragor, over the mountains live  7 Dragon Clans. The great war is over and the dragons are separated from mankind. In her cave the dragon Kiara lays a 'strange egg'. The strangeness of the egg is that it is multi-coloured not the usual 1 colour egg.

From the off-set it is clear that Yoshiko is different. As you would expect from this kind of story, when Yoshiko goes to Fire School to learn the craft of being a dragon he finds both friends and enemies. He is not the most confident of dragons and at times is bullied by others. Again though, as you would expect, Yoshiko has a secret destiny which may lead to him becoming a great dragon.

This book stands a lot of comparison with the likes of Harry Potter (Fire School is more or less Dragon Hogwarts) but it is also its' own story. Younger people will love Yoshiko and I think older people will too. I see this as the sort of story parents will read to kids and then carry on reading for themselves once the littlies are asleep.

I also have to say the book itself is a really well produced thing. There are certain books it is a pleasure to own and I have to say this is one of them

4/5 stars (with an extra star for the physical book itself)

The Carbon Trail by Catriona King (a review)

A man finds himself in a shower, in a bathroom. There is a lot of blood. It is not his, but he has no idea of who's it is......or who he, himself is!!!

The man, it turns out, is Jeff Mitchell, a research scientist working with a new form of carbon. He has a wife, a child (neither of whom he knows) and very little clue as to what is happening or why.

All through the story bits of information are drip fed through as Mitchell finds bits of his memory coming back but, and here's the catch, some of the memories that are coming back to him don't seem to be his! Add to mix the fact that he has been under surveillance for 9 months, his boss wants to make deals to sell his research to foreign powers and Mitchell himself is (was) planning to double cross his boss and give the research elsewhere and you have yourself a fantastic read that may well keep you reading well into the dark hours of the night.

I found this to be a really clever story, lots of twists and turns and even when things start to come together it is not obvious how things are going to end.

Catriona King is the author of the Marc Craig/ Belfast Murder Squad series and The Carbon Trail sees her move to new characters and a new setting (New York). As with the Marc Craig books the characters are well developed, the kind you can actually care about. This is a big, ballsy thriller that brought to mind the works of Dean Koontz and Michael Crichton. With this book Catriona King has really upped her game (and the bar was set at a very high level to start with)

4.5/5 stars

Thursday 10 April 2014

Stuck On You by Jasper Bark (a review)

This short novella starts with a bang (well two really) and doesn't really stop till the last page.

Here's the back story, Ricardo is travelling from Arizona to New Mexico to buy artisan gifts for his girlfriend to sell back home. Now, Ricardo is a bit of a ladies man so when he meets Consuela, a young Mexican who needs to get back over the border to America, there is only one way this is going to end. The rub here is that Consuela is smuggling something in her stomach that they have to get to the buyer.

On the journey they flirt until they have no option but to pull up and 'do the deed'. Unfortunately while they do they are struck by lightning, which kills Consuela and leaves Ricardo stuck inside her, as her muscles have contracted in death. Will Ricardo be able to survive long enough to be rescued (and how will he explain This to his girlfriend?). What was Consuela smuggling in her stomach?

This is both an erotic and disturbing little tale, but trust me, it's a bloody good read. Good horror isn't meant to be comfortable and Jasper Bark does a good job of making the reader as uncomfortable as possible.

4.5/5 stars

Wednesday 2 April 2014

Moribund Tales by Erik Hofstatter (a review)

A bit of a mixed bag this one. It's a collection of short stories (9 over about 50 pages).

The collection starts off well with INTERNAL ABDUCTION, a slightly predictable but still enjoyable "body horror" tale. This is followed by LAST STRAW OF HUMANITY, a "creature in the cellar" story that didn't finish as I thought it might.

For me, the best of these stories were TEARS OF REPENTANCE, a historical tale of love and vengeance, and INFANTS FINGERS (more vengeance with added deception). INFANTS FINGERS is the only tale in this book that isn't told in the first person, and, in my opinion, is better for it.

The last two stories, ON THE EDGE OF THE MARSH and AFFECTIONATE CADAVER,  both left me feeling a bit short changed, but not in such a bad way. I just wanted more from the story. "MARSH" had an interesting set up that ended without answering all my questions - the story had real potential and I would very much like to see an expanded version. This felt very much like a sample chapter.

AFFECTIONATE CADAVER, again, could do with being longer. The story is horrible (in a good way - one of those that makes you uncomfortable, as a good horror story should!). And the main character is a truly vile person. A cracking end to the book.

All being said and done, this is a decent little collection of stories at just the right kind of length for a coffee break. I will be looking out for more from this author.

3.5/5 stars