Monday 31 August 2015

The Black Country by Kerry Hadley-Pryce (Salt Publishing) - A review

Maddie and Harry are a couple, but right from the off you get the idea they are only a couple 'for the sake of it'. Neither are particularly likeable - and that works well for this creepy, quite unsettling at times, novel. The general gist of the story is that Maddie (an estate agent) and Harry (a teacher) attend a party where they meet Jonathon Cotard. He seems a much better prospect to Maddie (he's basically everything Harry isn't). As they drive away from the party Maddie and Harry argue, lose control of the car and hit someone. It's not really a spoiler to say that someone is Cotard. In a panic they flee the scene.

And that is where the story really picks up.

The story is told by an untold figure (for the sake of this review I shall call this person The Narrator). It could be anyone but is obviously someone who knows both the lead characters. The Narrator guides you through events, leaving you feeling like a helpless watcher as the lives of Maddie and Harry, both past and present are revealed and unravelled. You watch as past events catch up and tangle up with the mess that is their present situation and you keep on watching, despite how uncomfortable it may make you feel. You may put the book down for a while but you'll be back before too long. You'll want to keep on watching.

I found this to be an intriguing tale right from the off. I like a good mystery, trying to work things out before the end. The Black Country had me guessing right up to the reveal more or less. The characters of Maddie and Harry worked well - they were not nice people to start with and their development throughout the story didn't make them any better but the bickering and sniping made them quite real. The real star though is The Narrator, a character who could be anybody (you'll probably change your mind a few times, just like I did), who can, with just a few words, throw your ideas and expectations as to where events are leading straight out the window.

This is an addictive book that deserves to be up there with the likes of Gone Girl and Girl On The Train it's as good, if not better, than both. A dark and unsettling read that leaves you feeling like a voyeur of a car crash relationship (where you wouldn't look away even if you could), I really enjoyed it - 9/10 stars

Monday 24 August 2015

Biblia Longcrofta by Simon Marshall-Jones - a review

There are many places in fiction that stay with the reader long after the story is finished - Gormenghast Castle, The Shire, Narnia and suchlike. Well, you're going to be adding Longcroft to that list in the very near future, a remarkable creation from Simon Marshall-Jones (SMJ). Longcroft is a city that may well exist in a parallel universe (there is an explanation of just where it is and how it works but I'll leave the fun of finding out to you). It is one of those places where you never know what is round the corner, anything could happen and probably will.

Biblia Loncrofta consists of 6 short stories set in Longcroft and 2 slightly longer stories set in our world that stand alone. The 6 Longcroft stories are interweaving tales that can also be read as a single story. The tales tell of Simeon, a tattooed wanderer who arrives in Longcroft with not much memory of his journey, the people and creatures he meets (and oh, believe me, there are some wonderful creations here - my favourites being the Sisters of the Hooks) and the fantastic city of Longcroft, in a mixture of Sci-Fi, horror, fantasy and metaphysics. I am loathe to say much more, you really need to read this yourself.

After the Longcroft stories we have the two stand alone stories, 'Feathers' and 'Leaves'. I thought SMJ might have peaked at this point (the Longcroft stories really are that good) - I was wrong. These may be even better.

Feathers is the tale of a man who wakes to find a feather on his pillow. A tale of 3 parts, the first half tells, alternately of what is happening 'now' and how he got to 'now', the second part is..........oh, you don't really think I'm going to spoil it for you do you?

And what can I tell you about the final story in this gem of a collection? Suffice to say this is a story that may well break your heart. A beautiful end to a wonderful collection.

Now, normally I'd be finished about here but not today. Today I have to take a bit of time to mention the writing style of SMJ. Now, I've known SMJ for a few years through Facebook and his (rather excellent) Spectral Press. I knew he could write but I didn't know he could write this well (to be honest I didn't know anyone could. The style and choice of words is wonderful, the images those words produce are vivid mind pictures worthy of the glorious story they tell. It is the literary equivalent of a 3 Michelin Starred chef cooked meal where the words are not so much written as caressed onto the page and from the page into your mind where they will stay for a long, long time.

Reading Biblia Longcrofta has been an absolute joy and I look forward to the day that SMJ and the publishers Ticketyboo Press announce a second volume.

Under normal circumstances I would have given this 10/10 stars but, to paraphrase Gary Compton "my blog, my rules" - so, and this may be a first on this blog............

11/10 stars

Wednesday 12 August 2015

High Voltage by Anthony Price - A Review

I first discovered Anthony Price through his novel 'The House of Wood', a creepy and well told horror story, a year or two ago. Since then I have been keeping an eye out for something new from him since then. A couple of months ago I received an email from Anthony - at last, a new book from him. Would I consider reviewing it? Well that must have taken me all of two seconds to decide on my answer.

As I said, the first novel (tHoW) was firmly in the Horror Genre but with High Voltage the author has gone into YA/Superhero. The story is, in essence, an 'origin' story concerning our hero Kellen Amos and how he becomes the masked vigilante Voltage. To a point it's pretty formulaic at times (he's struggling at school, has a hopeless crush on a beautiful girl who is dating the school's sporting superstore, he has a chubby, dorky friend) but that doesn't make it dull. Again, as you come to expect from these kind of tales there is a laboratory accident which leads to Kellen being able to control electricity (hence the vigilante/superhero name Voltage) and store it for when he needs to use it in his fight for good. A good bit of time is spent learning what he can do and how he can make use of his 'gift' before he gets down to the business of crime solving.

The crime in question is the theft of an ancient Egyptian staff from the Zygonia City Museum which could well be a powerful artefact (but what else would you expect it to be really?). The whole thing with the vigilante superhero, museum artefact robbery, the city of Zygonia and gang of bad guys with a villainous boss  reminded me very much of Batman (the Adam West version from the 60's) at times but I've always been a sucker for this kind of Superhero saga so, as you may have guessed I really quite enjoyed it.

This is book 1 in the Vigilante Chronicles, I don't know what the next book will hold. Will it be more of Voltage's adventures or a new 'vigilante'? One thing I do know is I will be looking forward t  it when it comes out and you will find a review here.

A good summer read for the Young Adult in your life (and then you can borrow it when they're done), pacey and well written


Thursday 6 August 2015

Memory, Sorrow and Thorn

Is there such a thing as The Day That Changed Your Reading Life? Maybe not for everyone but there certainly was for me. I've been a reader for as long as I can remember (there's even a rumour that I was born a day late because I had one more chapter to read) and fantasy was always my favourite genre but it was always stuff like Eddings and Brooks until one fateful day (it was a Thursday - I'd just got paid) in 1988. I finished work, and, like most Thursdays I ended up in Waterstones.

Usually a trip to Waterstones would have involved wandering round the Fantasy and Sci-Fi section dithering over what to get but not this day. There, on the display table was The Dragonbone Chair by Tad Williams - a book I'd never heard of by an author I'd never heard of. The cover art (boy, wolf, small eskimo like person) got me even before I'd read the back of the book, and it was huge (trade paperback edition). So, saw it, bought it, started it on the way home. Up to that point no book had gripped me, transported me to other lands quite the way TDC did.

The story started off well enough, bringing the land of Osten Ard and it's inhabitants to life but where it stood out was the actual feeling of being there, being a part of it. What really sealed it though was the character of Pryrates, quite possibly the most evil person in fantasy fiction for me. One scene in particular, where he killed a puppy just because he could, just to make a point, still bothers me to this day. I hate Pryrates and I always will. The fact that he is just a character in a book is testament to how good the writing is. Through the first book our hero Simon goes from scullery boy to hero in waiting and is put through the mill a bit in the process. The cast of characters grows and young Andy (well, I was 21 but still, that's kinda young) gets to the end of TDC and is listening to the radio when Phillip Schofield interviews Tad Williams. He finished by dropping out that he'd loved the book and had somehow managed to get his hand on (what I guess was) an uncorrected proof of book 2. To say I was jealous would be an understatement.

Anyway, time went by and eventually (1990) The Stone Of Farewell (TSoF) appeared and it was all I had hoped for and so much more. Another trade paperback edition and another amazing cover. The story picked up just where it had left off (with a helpful little synopsis of what had gone before at the front). Our heroes were spread around, new characters appeared and it did what it needed to do - namely getting everyone and everything set up for the grand finale that was to be book 3. Slightly older Andy finished TSoF and started looking out for Book 3.

It was to be a long wait. Tad was making readers wait long before Robert Jordan and George R R Martin even considered it.

I remember that Waterstones in those days used to have a board of some sort behind the tills where they would put up release dates of books. I used to ask when book 3 would be out and it was always 'no date yet' until one day in 1991 the board was changed. The magic words were there for all to see

              To Green Angel Tower - Tad Williams (date I can't remember) 1993

Being my useful, helpful self I pointed out they'd put the wrong year. They pointed out that they hadn't - it really was 18 months + away. Time dragged.

But eventually the day came and I turned up at Waterstones with my pennies expecting a big book - but not that big a book. It. Was. ENORMOUS!!!! The artwork was the best yet and it was a hardback copy. The thing weighed the same as a medium sized dog, the print was quite small, but oh, the story! Quite possibly the most engrossing, absorbing and, at times, emotionally moving book I have ever read. The one point that really sticks out for me though is that this was the first time I had experienced 'properly being there'. When Elias met Josua at the foot of The Stone Of Farewell for the declaration of battle (if that's what it was) I felt I was watching events unfold, spying if you like, from a hiding place behind a bush. Not just reading about it, living it. It is an experience I have not often had since.

That series still holds up today, so if you haven't read it yet do so the first chance you get . You won't be sorry