Tuesday 29 September 2015

Always A Dancer and other stories by Steve Lockley (a review)

Always A Dancer is a very good bunch of short stories that covers all bases in what I would want from a ghost story/horror collection. What made me pick it up in the first place? Three things

     1) I'd not read anything by this author before and I like to try something new

     2) It's by Fox Spirit Books who I always trust as a quality publisher

     3) The cover art (really liked this imagery that goes with the title story)

As for the stories, not a bad one among them but several stuck in my mind more than others. Among these;

     Always A Dancer - the title story and something of a supernatural, other-worldly tale. The kind of story that makes you wonder what is happening but the ending, when it came, was a thing of completion and, I guess, beauty in it's own way.

      Funny Weather - The next story after Always A Dancer, this was a totally different change of tack. A tale of remembered youth with creepy gypsies, the kind I guess people of my age remember. A good sense of underlying nervousness ran through this. Not a comfortable read

     Wassailing - A very 'English' tale suited to a cold winters night by the fire. Basically 'what happens when a townie buys a house in a small English village and wants to fit in. A very creepy tale and possibly my favourite.

    The Last Frost - Another turn of pace and style with this Ghost Story. I didn't see the ending coming but when it did it very much felt right.

    Imaginary Friends - Just because we all secretly love a Creepy Clown story - and Mr Bobo, for me ranks up there with Pennywise and the Killer Klowns From Outer Space. And again the ending really caught me out.

As I said, these were the stand out stories for me but the others were all of a good and decent standing. A quality collection and I will certainly be looking out for more from this author.

Just what the Autumnal evenings need                                                                                9/10

Monday 21 September 2015

Caledonia by Amy Hoff - A Review

Police Officer Leah Bishop is not in a good place in her life until the morning she wakes, hung over once again, to a knock on her door. The messenger on her doorstep gives her a letter/job proposition from Caledonia Interpol. In no time at all she is leaving Edinburgh and heading to a new life in Glasgow...........and 'new life' could be the understatement of the decade.
On arrival in Glasgow she is met by Detective Inspector Dorian Grey (yeah, THE Dorian Grey in all his Victorian finery) and he introduces her to Caledonia Interpol, the equivalent of the Faerie Police. They need her help as both a Police Officer and as something of an expert in Scottish Folklore. There is a serial killer murdering Faeries and they believe it is a human.

Caledonia Interpol is full of creatures from Scottish Myth and Folklore but don't be put off by the mention of Faeries - these are certainly not Tinkerbell and co.

The Glasgow of 'Caledonia' is the gritty, dark underside, the seedy bars, the characters a mix of the fantastical and the local 'neds' but the mix works well. Leah fits into the team fairly quickly but still has moments when it is obvious she is slightly blown away by meeting what she thought were just the stuff of stories.

So, in short - a police procedural with Faeries and Monsters but when you get into it, it is a lot more than that. This is a story that draws you in, that leaves you wanting more* and that makes you want to believe. There is a quote on the front that  "Fans of Neil Gaiman, Gail Carriger or Nicole Peelerwill want to take notice...." and, while I am not familiar with the works of Carriger or Peeler, I would certainly compare it favourably to Gaiman's 'Neverwhere'.

Highly Recommended


* Caledonia is also an online series, links below

Sunday 20 September 2015

A Prospect Of War (An Age Of Discord Novel Book 1) by Ian Sales - a review

This is how I like my Space Opera!!!

A universe in the depths of civil war, a shady bad guy threatening the throne and a 'low born' hero Casimir Ormuz who just might be the one to save the day.......yup, I'll have me some of that.

I'll be the first to admit I worried this book may be a bit too heavy going for me (Ian's Apollo Quartet books I found very 'tech heavy' but manageable as they were novella length - aPoW is a whopping 650 pages). I was wrong to worry. Although this is a bit of a slow starter once the pace picks up this novel fair rattles along. Plenty of swashbuckling action and heroics make this a hell of a ride for the reader once you're into the flow of the story.

One thing I got from this book is that Ian Sales certainly knows his stuff when it comes to Sci-fi and Sci-Fi technology but doesn't feel the need to prove to the reader how clever he is. There is plenty of futuristic tech type stuff, sure, but also a colonial feel to it as well. The fighting isn't all done with Super-Massive Photon Cannons and lasers that can decimate a small town in seconds. Here our heroes get down and dirty with hand-to-hand style combat.

The World Building works for me too. I like a Universe that feels believable and that is certainly the case here. When I was 10 I remember my mum taking me to the cinema to see Star Wars for the first time. This book was the literary equivalent, to me, of that. Starts off steady and grows into something that's just a bit more than special.


Wednesday 16 September 2015

Today's Postal Delivery from Pigeon Park Press

Earlier this year I got up the courage to go to my first Convention type event - Edge-Lit 4 at the Quad in Derby. I'm glad I did too, it was a great day out, met lots of people I'd only met online before and lots of people were met for the first time too. (As an added bonus I came away with a backpack full of books - but people who know me would say that would have been a given anyway).

Among the many new friends met that day were Heide Goody and Iain Grant, owners of Pigeon Park Press and co-authors of the Clovenhoof series. These books hooked me from the off, the back blurb made me chuckle (and I do like a good chuckle) and the stories sounded like fun. My thoughts, initially, were 'this could be very much like Tom Holt in style' and I was not wrong. (The first of the books 'Clovenhoof' is reviewed a few posts back on this blogsite).

Add to this that Heide and Iain came across as really pleasant people (again, I wasn't wrong), their table had sweets and I got a Pigeon Park Press pen - good times.

A few weeks ago they contacted me and asked if I would be interested in reviewing the 4th book in the series, Hellzapoppin' - I didn't need to be asked twice. The book has Hellzapopped through my letterbox this morning (with a fun looking little card game based on the characters too), and very nice it looks too.

From the back

   "The fourth novel in the Clovenhoof series, Hellzapoppin' is an astonishing comedy featuring    suicidal sea birds, deadly plagues, exploding barbecues, dancing rats, magical wardrobes, King Arthurs American Descendants, mole-hunting monks, demonic possession and way too much seaweed beer."

So, if you are looking for a good chuckle and a good story all in one place look up Heide, Iain and Pigeon Park Press

Tuesday 15 September 2015

Let's Give Female Fantasy Writers The Recognition They Deserve

This may be a short post, it may not, it is being written on the fly so please bear with me. The reason is quite simple. I do not feel female writers of fantasy fiction are being given the recognition they deserve and that needs to change.

Over the years female authors (and I'm just sticking the fantasy genre here) have had to resort to such things as just using their initials (J V Jones for example) or adopting a non-gender specific name (Robin Hobb). Now, I understand this may have been the authors choice but my point is, it comes over as if the publishing world is saying "These books would sell more copies if buyers/readers thought the author was a bloke."

Well, I call Bullshit, on that. When I first read Robin Hobb's Farseer books my first thoughts were not 'a bloke wrote this' or 'a woman wrote this, but 'bloody hell, this is a good book'. I found out later that Robin Hobb was a pseudonym for Megan Lindholm and it made not one bit of difference whatsoever. Still a brilliant series whatever the gender of the author.

When you go in a bookstore, have a look at the display tables in the fantasy section, you'll more than likely find the majority of the authors on there are male. Female authors need a bigger push in bookstores - they write some bloody good stuff.

My question to you, I guess, would be "are you more likely to pick up a book by a male or female author when you go to a bookstore for a random book?" Or does it not matter?

And my challenge to you, for October, is to give some of your reading time to a female author, preferably not one of the 'bigger' names but, hey, your choice. (And post a review - don't forget that).

Do you have a favourite female Fantasy Fiction author? If so, tell me who, and while you're at it, tell everyone else too. If you are an authoress of Fantasy Fiction, feel free to get in touch, post on here if you wish.

My final word - they say never judge a book by it's cover, I say never judge it by the authors' gender either. Judge it by the quality of the writing and the storytelling. You might just get a surprise.

Thursday 10 September 2015

Witches of Lychford by Paul Cornell

In a little village in the heart of the English countryside a supermarket chain is planning to open a new store. The locals are divided, some want it, some don't. What very few of them realise is that their is a much deeper, darker threat to them all than a few local stores closing down. It is up to three locals to save the village (and possibly the world!) but can they put their differences aside and work together?

Witches of Lychford is urban fantasy moved out to the countryside (so maybe Rural Fantasy - hey, maybe we've just started a whole new genre!!). It isn't a long story but also doesn't feel novella like in size. The main characters each have their moments and enough time for some backstory and development. All in all Paul Cornell has done a grand job here. If I had to make comparisons I'd say it's in the same league as Charles de Lint at his best. An ideal  book for a cold Autumn night.

I really, really hope that Mr. Cornell will take us all back to Lychford sometime soon, there are more stories to be told, I'm sure

8.5/10 stars

Sorceror To The Crown by Zen Cho - a review

Magic in Regency England - sound a familiar setting? If you are a fan of Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell then you really need to get your hands on a copy of this.

Zacharius Wythe is England's Sorcerer Royal, the leader of the Royal Society of Unnatural Philosophers, but at a time when magic levels are failing and the Fairie Realm is blocking supplies his is not a good position to be in. Add to all this the fact that he is African, may or may not have killed his mentor and has a faction of The Society plotting against him........no, certainly not a good time to be Zacharius Wythe.

All is not lost though as, while visiting a school where girls are being taught how to 'not practice' magic (magic at this time solely to be used by men) he meets Prunella, an orphan who may just have discovered the greatest thing to happen to magic for hundreds of years. All they have to do is face racism, sexism, plots and hostility around every corner and all will be well with the world but if they team up and work together, well, you never know, they might just do it.

At the time I started reading this book our book club (Waterstones Fantasy and Sci-Fi book club, Orchard Square, Sheffield, 1st Thursday of every month) decided that this month's book would be Strange and Norrell so I decided to read both books at the same time, a compare and contrast if you like. I'm glad I did as Sorcerer To The Crown is a much better book than S and N. I wouldn't say the characters in Sorcerer are nicer, more not as horrible and certainly more believable. The London of Sorcerer is much more London-like and Fairy Land and it's inhabitants - well, they were an absolute joy. I guess the big difference for me between Sorcerer and S and N is the writing. I always thought Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell felt like it was written in the style of the time it was set which made it difficult to get on with at times, Sorcerer To The Crown has a much clearer prose style.

According to the author bio this is Zen Cho's first novel - I certainly look forward to reading more from her