Monthly Archives: October 2014

Review of Sherlock Holmes: Gods of War by James Lovegrove

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Anyone who has read this blog for a while will know that I really enjoy Lovegrove’s writing – see my review of The Age of Odin here – so I was intrigued when I came across this offering on the shelves. I also happen to be a fan of Arthur Conan Doyle’s short stories, though it was a while ago when I read them. I love the way his bluff, good hearted doctor is the mouthpiece for the complicated, haunted genius of Holmes. So – does Lovegrove’s addition to the Holmes’ canon pay due respect to the original, while adding fresh exciting stories?

godsofwarIt is 1913 and Dr Watson is visiting Sherlock Holmes at his retirement cottage near Eastbourne when tragedy strikes: the body of a young man, Patrick Mallinson, is found under the cliffs of Beachy Head. The dead man’s father, a wealthy businessman, engages Holmes to prove that his son committed suicide, the result of a failed love affair with an older woman. However, Holmes quickly discovers that certain aspects of the case simply don’t add up – not helped by the hostile attitude of the local constabulary. But when someone attempts to murder Dr Watson, the stakes are raised to a shocking and unexpected climax…

I’ve fiddled around a bit with the blurb, but that sums up more or less the gist of it. Lovegrove’s rendition of his main protagonist, Dr Watson, is pretty much pitch perfect. There is more than a nod to the language and phrasing of the time while keeping it suitably streamlined for modern tastes, which takes a degree of skill to pull off. I also liked Watson’s occasional gusts of annoyance at Holmes’ erratic behaviour, and his fond reminiscences of some of their earlier adventures.

Though both men are now in their twilight years, this is a full-blooded adventure involving desperate clifftop chases in thick fog, kidnapping, murder and attempted murder – several times. So does Lovegrove pull this off? What we don’t want is the Frost scenario where poor old David Jason, overweight and clearly unfit, once more is seen to be running down young men more than half his age and in their physical prime. Fortunately Lovegrove is far too canny to fall into such an obvious hole. In fact, Dr Watson spends a great deal of time grumbling about how he really isn’t up to all this excitement – and is made quite ill by his adventuring. I also liked the notion that Holmes’ housekeeper, Mrs Tuppen, feeds him quantities of a homemade concoction that sounds suspiciously like slippery elm, amongst other things, which has him on his feet again in next to no time.

Some of their exploits strain plausibility – but then, so did some of the original stories. What I love about this tale is that it starts quite slowly, steadily accelerates and doesn’t let up until the end. Which I didn’t see coming. I’d worked out who had done it, but not exactly why or all the ramifications. As ever, Lovecraft’s clever, nuanced plots has extra layers that resonate and I’ve found myself thinking a lot about this story, despite having now read a couple of other books in the meantime.

I shall be looking out other books published by Titan Books in this series – George Mann and Guy Adams are other contributors, also strong, skilful writers whose work I admire and enjoy. And treat upon treat – I’ve also discovered that James Lovegrove has written another Sherlock Holmes book – The Stuff of Nightmares. How can I resist?
9/10

Review of Breed by K.T. Davies

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Well this is fun! I encountered the author at Fantasycon. She is cool, charming and funny – I had a hunch she was a good writer. And I was right.

After being chased by a dragon, tricked by a demon, almost killed by a psychopathic gang boss and hunted by a ferocious arrachid assassin, Breed’s life really takes a turn for the worst…

breedI’m not going to continue with the rather chatty back cover blurb, and in case you think I’ve already given away too much of the story with the above sentence, know that all that happens in the opening section… Yep. Davies writes with the brakes off. This is an OTT protagonist who has been brought up on the wrong side of – well, everything, really. Breed, unsurprisingly, has Mother issues as his isn’t exactly brimming over with fond maternal feelings for her part-human son.

Here’s a thing – my enthusiasm for anti-heroes has somewhat waned. So how did I get on with Breed? Initially I thought I might have a problem, but Davies is far too canny to ringfence Breed as a mere grotesque with no moral compass. We learn of his vulnerabilities as he is pitchforked in the middle of his full-on adventure – not that he wears his heart on his sleeve. In fact, I’m not even sure he has a heart… But the humour certainly lightens things up and there isn’t an ounce of self-pity in his characterisation. Additionally, he doesn’t undertake his quest alone – along the way he picks up several companions.

The first is a scholarly priest, Tobias. I don’t think I’m revealing too much if I let on that they don’t meld all that well as a team. The tension between the pair of them creates all sorts of enjoyable tension and comedy, as well as pulling the story forward. The second companion is a revolting vagrant who is happy to answer to Breed’s name for him – Tosspot. Surprisingly, this mismatched trio, with another character also thrown into the mix, manage to more or less muddle their way through most of the plot, before events overtake them.

While the storyline follows the classic epic Fantasy narrative – a quest to find a particular artefact with great power for good or evil, Davies’ choice of protagonist and his happy band puts quite a different spin on this setup. Most other books featuring anti-heroes and starting with an epic fantasy scenario soon deviate into something else. However, Breed holds true to the classic epic fantasy trope, which gives the story an interesting twist right at the very end, which I absolutely loved.

All in all, this outrageous, riotous blast of adventure delivers in all the ways that matter and I am eager to read the sequel – soon as you like, please!
9/10

High Fives…

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Today I’m not blogging about my latest enjoyable read, for a change. I’m blogging about blogging, because this is my 555th post. And if your jaw isn’t dropping – mine surely is.

post-milestone-500-1xI haven’t written all those blogs, as I also reblog articles and reviews that I’ve really enjoyed and think my readers might also like. But even so, this year I have already written nearly 80,000 words on articles and book reviews. Come to think of it – mostly book reviews. I started up Brainfluff back in 2010 when someone suggested as a writer, it would be a good idea to establish a blog – so what to write about? It probably won’t come as a shock if I reveal that I don’t lead the most exciting life. Which is just fine by me… I had far too an eventful childhood, teenage years and twenties. Routine and a steady existence where I know what will be happening next week and the week after that gives me security and the freedom to let my imagination roam wherever it wants.

However, it does mean that my life isn’t crammed with noteworthy incident. Not that it’s boring – I spend a chunk of time looking after grandchildren and I also teach Creative Writing at Northbrook College, both of which are fulfilling and enjoyable. But my students and family are entitled to expect their conversations and interactions with me kept private. And while I read a number of historyoftheworldexcellent, well written blogs by the likes of Vivienne Tufnell and Mhairi Simpson about their personal reactions to the world around them – I simply don’t have the knack of writing about myself in such a generous, open manner.

However when not writing, I read. So far this year I’ve read 119 books and started another 20 I didn’t finish. And when I close a book for the final time, I often feel buzzed and a little sad my time in that world has come to an end. These days, that means writing about my feelings and reactions to it and posting it on my blog. While I don’t have a problem with negative reviews – provided they don’t descend into a personal rant they can be very useful to the reader – I find it far more enjoyable and easier to write about a book when it fills me with enthusiasm. In fact, it’s become something of an addiction – I really enjoy sharing those books that have affected me.

And my most-read article? I’m still scratching my head as to why it’s so popular – particularly as it is one of my early publications back in the days when one man and his dog tended to stray onto my site looking for something else. Brainfluff’s most-read blog is my review of Julian Barnes’ The History of the World in 10½ Chapters – which has notched up 2,128 views to date. And unlike most of my early reviews, many of which have NEVER been read – the visitor rate to it just goes on growing.

Thank you to those of you who take the time to read my reviews, follow my blog and comment on the content. From starting it to get myself ‘out there’, I’ve come to really value the process of sharing my love of books, occasional films and live shows with other like-minded people. While the community of bloggers I’ve met online include many talented writers who are a joy to read. To all of you – high fives!

The Soul of Discretion – Susan Hill

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Simon Serralier has dropped off my radar, too! Thanks to Cleopatra Loves Books’ timely review on The Soul of Discretion – as well as being enjoyable and well written, it has also reminded me of Susan Hill’s great writing. So I thought I’d share it with you, too.

Cleopatra Loves Books

Crime Fiction 4*'s Crime Fiction
4*’s

I have read some of the earlier books in this series but then Simon Serralier inexplicably dropped off my radar, as soon as I read the first few sentences I knew that this would be a book that I would enjoy.

All is not going smoothly for Simon as he struggles to accommodate his latest girlfriend Rachel in his life and the tensions are growing between the two when everything changes when Simon is summoned to a top secret meeting. Simon is being sent off on an undercover mission to a secure unit that seeks to rehabilitate child abusers, a tough subject to cover but Susan Hill handles it incredibly well as she portrays these men as individuals but without sympathy and as the reader we are invited to watch their therapy sessions where they seek to rationalise their past behaviour with worthy words of how they…

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Review of Blood Bound – Book 2 of the Mercy Thompson series by Patricia Briggs

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As you know, I am easily swayed by a cool cover – and when I spotted Blood Bound on the shelves, it was a no-brainer that it would be coming home with me…

bloodboundMercy Thompson; woken at 3am by a vampire. Stefan also happens to be a friend, and he needs her help. He has to deliver a message to a fellow undead and needs a witness that won’t be noticed – and Mercy’s shapeshifting abilities make her the perfect candidate. But the assignment turns into a bloodbath. And while violence breaks out in both the human and supernatural worlds, Mercy is struggling to keep below the radar of a lethal entity.

I haven’t read the first book in this entertaining series, Moon Called – but I’ll be tracking it down as I have something of a soft spot for well written, enjoyable urban fantasy romps. I very much enjoy Mercy’s ‘difference’ – as a skinwalker who can shapeshift into a coyote, she is clearly physically weaker than her neighbouring werewolves. But she has other advantages – like having a certain resistance to magic, seeing ghosts, and not being forced to shift during the full moon. Not that those traits seem to be doing her much good against this new threat…

Mercy works as a mechanic. It is refreshing to have a female protagonist doing such a hands-on manual job. Running a garage also allows her to encounter a stream of characters and I liked her firm opinions on various cars, which is entirely in keeping with her character. She is a rounded, complex protagonist with plenty of quirks – and her coyote persona is well characterised by her constant concern over ranking, which also complicates her love life.

Have to say, this was the part of the story that was least successful for me. When she became conflicted between two men, I did find myself sighing, rather. The love triangle bit does seem to have been done to death in this particular sub-genre. But I am prepared to cut Briggs some slack, as this book was first published in 2007 – a year before before the Peeta versus Gale choice confronting Katniss first hits the shelves in The Hunger Games. However, the main plot driving the story – that of trying to discover and rein in the powerful adversary afflicting the Tri-Cities – is well paced, with several strong twists and plenty of action. Mercy is placed squarely in the middle of the story without becoming a Mary Sue – and I really enjoyed the skilful handling of the narrative tension, with a satisfying, surprising conclusion that I didn’t see coming.

So I’ll be looking out for more of Briggs writing, and if you also enjoy well written, tightly constructed urban fantasy supernatural high jinks with an entertaining protagonist, give this book a go.
8/10

The problem with reviews

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As a book reviewer and soon to be self published author, I found Dylan’s considered, well written article of real interest. What do you think?

Suffolk Scribblings

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I was having a Twitter chat yesterday with a good blogging friend about the recent controversy surrounding the author Kathleen Hale. Before you switch off, this post isn’t about the controversy itself (although if you want to know more, you can find a link to the original article here and an excellent response here) but a comment made during the discussion. We were talking about reviews in general and my friend said:

“As a reader and an observer of the self-publishing phenomenon: I don’t trust ratings of self-published authors.”

Unsurprisingly, the comment annoyed me, but as she explained her reasons it made me realise there is a problem with the review system, at least for new or first time authors (especially if they are self-published) of which we should all be aware.

Red Herrings

The issue is around the trustworthiness of reviews but not in the way you may think. I’ve read a lot…

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Review of Jazz and Die – A Jordan Lacey novel by Stella Whitelaw

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I picked this off the shelves because I know the owner of the gorgeous car featured on the cover of this book and I’m also acquainted with the author…

Jordan Lacey, former policewoman-turned-private-investigator, needs work, so when dishy DCI James offers the job of guarding Maddy, unruly daughter of a famous jazz trumpeter, she accepts and heads off to the festival in Dorset in her new sports car, the Wasp. But discovering DCI James’s cold case involves a victim the same age as Maddy, and from the same school, Jordan is sure there is a link. Events escalate and Jordan must rely on her wits and training to keep Maddy safe…

jazzanddieI was looking for some light relief after a series of rather gruelling reads – and was delighted to discover that Jazz and Die ticked the box. While it is a murder mystery, Whitelaw doesn’t see fit to provide us with all the gory detail and Jordan is great fun as a protagonist. She is breezy and opinionated – and I loved her hands-off attitude to Maddy’s touchy teen sensibilities. I hadn’t read any of the previous Jordan Lacey novels, but Whitelaw is far too canny an author to structure this particular slice of her adventures such that we need her backstory to fully appreciate this book.

In amongst the whodunit mystery, Whitelaw provides us with plenty of details about Jordan’s life and without letting the narrative pace drop, she also gives us enjoyable descriptions of Swanage Jazz Festival. And – yes – there really is a Swanage Jazz Festival every summer. I’m not a jazz fan, but even I was fleetingly inspired to give it a visit. I thoroughly enjoyed Whitelaw’s snappy word pictures of a part of the world I know very well – and she uses a dramatic, beautiful backdrop to great effect.

Meantime, the mystery romps along and takes a darker turn, forcing Jordan to flee. The hunter becomes the hunted… Whitelaw manages to ramp up the action without losing the amusing nuances in the relationship between Jordan and Maddy – along with a sudden change of scenery. And yet another twist in this enjoyable murder mystery, which leads to a satisfying climax. All in all, I read this in one greedy gulp, while Himself has gone out and ordered the rest of the Jordan Lacey mysteries after devouring this one.

And if your taste runs to the cosier end of murder mysteries without sacrificing any of the excitement and tension, then look out for these books – they are great fun.
8/10

My Fair Munster

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Oh this brings back a host of happy memories! I LOVED The Munsters as a child… Who else remembers them?

yadadarcyyada

1addams1Married in 1865 Hermanand Lily Munster had a love that was timeless.

WithUniversal Studios as producer, The Munsterswere able to use classic monster images to which they added running gags, including the central theme that they considered themselves just an average, middle-class family to make a typical sitcom into a brilliantly campy classic.

Fred Gwynne as Herman Munster, Frankenstein’s monster/joke-cracking suburban Dad was electric. Yvonne De Carlo as a blood-sucking Donna ReedesquePTA Mom was inspired. Add cool cars, pets, a young werewolf, older vampire and of course, the family oddball, the ‘plain’ niece, Marilyn, and they had a runaway hit.

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What I could piece together about The Munsters:

1313 Mockingbird Lane has been used in many TV series and movies in various forms including Desperate Housewives.

Spot was alleged to be a fire-breathing T Rex, not a dragon.

The Munsters and The Addams…

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Review of Omens – Book 1 of The Cainsville Trilogy by Kelley Armstrong

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Armstrong – best known for her trailblazing Women of the Otherworld series about werewolves – has started this new series. Would I enjoy it as much?

OmensOn the eve of her wedding Olivia Jones discovers two shocking facts. One – she was adopted. Two – her biological parents are notorious serial killers. With her life in immediate danger, Liv is thrown into a terrifying new world. But then she is confronted with a tantalising hope – is it possible her parents are innocent? Arriving at the remote town of Cainsville, Liv believes she has found the perfect place to hide while she hunts for the truth. But Cainsville is no ordinary town – and Liv’s arrival was no accident…

The plot device driving this series is intriguingly different. Olivia, a young, wealthy socialite who has it all suddenly discovers that she has a past that succeeds in negating all of her apparent status and wealth. Even her fiancé has second thoughts… I really enjoyed this one. Armstrong’s characterisation is always compelling and I have always found her world-building convincing and enjoyable. She puts those talents to excellent use in Omens. This paranormal thriller slowly builds up to the hinky, supernatural stuff, rather than plunge us straight into weirdness right from the outset – which is always effective, particularly in a storyline stretching over a series. It ups the stakes such that when events really start kicking off, there is a greater sense of shock at the abnormality after the ordinary everyday has been firmly established.

Olivia has hidden talents of her own, but rather than having an immediate and sudden reveal, she is fumbling to try and sort out what it all means. Once she is forced to confront the fact that it is happening, in the first place… Of course, no matter how appealing and enjoyable the feisty heroine is, she needs to be supported by a cast of interesting and believable characters. I particularly enjoyed learning more about the enigmatic lawyer, Gabriel Walsh, who is definitely one of the more mesmerising male leads in recent urban fantasy. His moral ambivalence lends a real edge to their investigations – and he acts as an effective foil to Olivia’s preppie fiancé, James Morgan.

And the haven where Olivia pitches up, broke and hungry, Cainsville is peopled with a variety of interesting, memorable characters – especially Rose Walsh, Gabriel’s aunt. Cainsville appears to be a dormitory town to Chicago – apart from the fact that very few people living there do the daily commute, due to the poor roads and long drive. There is definitely more to Cainsville than meets the eye – and don’t expect all those secrets to be revealed by the end of Omens. They aren’t.

I find it a fascinating parallel – Charlaine Harris has recently begun a new series set in a mysterious, small community called Midnight where a young man settles to set up his online clairvoyant business. Kelley Armstrong, also turning her back on an established, long-running series, has her protagonist pitching up in Cainsville, a town with its own slew of residents with secrets to hide… Fortunately, I haven’t had to wait to read Armstrong’s sequel, Visions, as it has recently been released. Which is just as well – after finishing Omens, I didn’t want to wait before diving back into Olivia’s compelling difficult search to find out what really happened to her parents. And her three-year-old self…
10/10