Category Archives: Vikings

Review of How To Twist a Dragon’s Tale – Book 5 of the How To Train Your Dragon series by Cressida Cowell

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The grandchildren have been staying over the Easter holidays, so Oscar and I have managed to get a fair amount of reading done, including this fifth instalment of the successful How To Train Your Dragon series.

The heat is on for Hiccup as he is called to save the day once again. Someone has stolen the Fire-Stone. Now that the volcano on Volcano Island has become active, the tremors are hatching the eggs of the Exterminator dragons! Can Hiccup return the Fire-Stone to the Volcano, stop it from erupting, and save the Tribes from being wiped out by the terrible sword-claws of the Exterminators?

After having thoroughly enjoyed the first four books in this funny, thrilling series, I was interested to see if Cowell could continue to provide yet another rip-roaring adventure full of intriguing twists. Or whether I would begin to see a pattern emerging in the storytelling. Well, there is a pattern – Hiccup and his naughty little dragon, Toothless, once more get dragged into an insanely dangerous and difficult adventure despite his best efforts. Though there is a major difference – the Isle of Berk is sweltering in a heatwave, which is something of a shocker. This part of the world is normally chilly and rain-lashed – failing that, it’s snowing… Hiccup spends most of his time shivering with cold if he isn’t shivering with fear.

However, Stoick the Vast has a cunning plan to keep his accident-prone small son a bit safer – when a real ex-Hero shows up, he employs him as a Bardiguard to look after Hiccup. Although there still seem to be a lot of near misses after Humungous the Hero starts guarding him – which makes his pal Fishlegs very suspicious… Oscar likes Fishlegs, who is small and suffers from eczema and asthma – until you put a sword in his hand and he turns into a Berserk. In this instalment, we also team up once more with Camicazi, the small heir to the Bog-Burglar tribe as the Archipelago is faced with a deadly threat that will leave every island a smoking ruin.

Of course, the one thing we do know is that Hiccup is going to survive and eventually prosper as these tales are his memoirs charting his progress to becoming the eventual leader that unites not just the Hairy Hooligan tribe, but all the Viking tribes. So the fact that both Oscar and I spend quite a lot of time trying to figure out how poor Hiccup is going to get out of this scrape and generally not getting it right is a tribute to Cowell’s considerable skill as a storyteller. What I did particularly enjoy about this tale is the insight it gave us on Hiccup’s mostly absent mother, Valhallarama, who is generally busy off questing on her own account.

The story is resolved after another climactic action scene that had me reading to Oscar later than I strictly should have – but neither of us wanted to stop as we needed to know what happened next. And if you are looking to fire up that kind of enthusiasm about books and stories in your youngsters, I highly recommend this wonderful series.
9/10

Sunday Post – 9th October

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Sunday Post

This is part of the weekly meme over at the Caffeinated Book Reviewer, where book bloggers can share the books and blogs they have written.

A much quieter week, getting back into a routine -and working very hard line editing Netted. The catch is, I have to keep breaking off, otherwise my effectiveness falls through the floor, which is annoying. On Wednesday evening my wonderful writing buddy, Sarah Palmer, provided me with valuable feedback on Dying For Space after beta-reading it for me. So I’ll be performing surgery on the narrative arc and tweaking the ending, using a good, sharp scalpel once I’ve completed my rewrite of Miranda’s Tempest. It seems this is to be the year of the rewrites – but if that’s what it takes to go on improving my writing, then so be it. It’s pointless writing new material if my current body of work is not the very best I can produce.

On Thursday, Mhairi spent the day with me. Although it was only a fortnight ago we last met up, it seemed much longer as a great deal has happened since then. It was great to be able to chat over things with a sympathetic listener – there’s a lot going on at present and not all of it good…

J and I went for a walk over Kithurst Hill yesterday – it was the first time I’ve done a proper walk since I started my Pilates and Fitstep and was delighted that I was able to complete it without limping. Sadly I forgot to take my camera, but we’re also aiming to go out again tomorrow, so long as it isn’t lashing with rain, and I try to remember to get a few photos.

My reading has slowed right down this week:

How to Be a Pirate – Book 2 of How To Train Your Dragon series by Cressida Cowell
howtobeapirateHiccup Horrendous Haddock III was a Viking Hero–dashing, brave, and ever so clever. But even Viking heroes have to begin somewhere. In this rip-roaring adventure he recounts his early days–when he still had a lot to learn about swordfights, shipwrecks, and homicidal dragons…

Events quickly stack up, as Hiccup, Toothless and Fishlegs, his best friend, trail along in their wake. Sure enough it all goes from dodgy to disaster fairly quickly as the Hairy Hooligans sail off in Stoick’s ship, the Lucky Thirteen. There are adventures, fights, treasure, shipwrecks, more fights and more treasure sufficient to thrill the heart of a child of any age. I was enthralled. I’ll take these funny, exciting books over the tepid film version every time.

 

 

Escapology by Ren Waroom
Shock Pao is the best. In the virtual world the Slip there’s nothing he can’t steal for the right price. escapologyOutside the Slip, though, he’s a Fail – no degree, no job. So when his ex offers him a job, breaking into a corporate databank, he accepts—it’s either that, or find himself a nice bench to sleep under. Amiga works for psychotic crime lord Twist Calhoun so when Shock’s war comes to her, it’s her job to bring him to Twist, dead or alive.

While Warom’s writing has the gritty lyric quality of the best cyberpunk when it comes to the world-building, she also excels at characterisation, which isn’t always the case with this genre. This is one of the most enjoyable cyberpunk offerings I’ve read and a mightily impressive debut novel from a very talented author – and the good news is there is another book in the series due out next year.

 

 

My posts last week:

Review of Necessity – Book 3 of the Thessaly series by Jo Walton

Teaser Tuesday – featuring Escapology by Ren Warom

2016 Discovery Challenge – September Roundup

Review of How To Be a Pirate – Book 2 of How To Train Your Dragon series by Cressida Cowell

Friday Faceoff – Consumed by the darkness, it hides all our sins… featuring Dark Eden – Book 1 of the Dark Eden series by Chris Beckett

Review of Escapology by Ren Warom

Interesting/outstanding blogs and articles that have caught my attention during the last week, in no particular order:

Why Villains Need More Respect in Books http://lovelypagesreviews.com/why-villains-need-more-respect-in-books/ This enjoyable article articulates some of the frustrations readers have when authors don’t pay sufficient attention to the baddies in their stories…

Lola’s Advice: How to Run a Giveaway http://lolasreviews.com/lolas-advice-how-to-run-a-giveaway/ This excellent blog is one I frequently visit and as ever – her feature addresses the topic with readable thoroughness

Richard Ankers’ micro fiction often packs a punch – I found this offering particularly moving… https://richardankers.com/2016/10/06/the-drowned-and-the-drowning/

Before the Call https://gloriachao.wordpress.com/2016/10/03/before-the-call/ Gloria Chao had her writing dream come true when she got her agent and then a publishing deal – and is now generously sharing the nitty gritty details of her preparation towards that dream

Chronicling the Craft: A Conversation About Beta-Reading, From Nailing Your Critiques to Finding Your Candidates https://saraletourneauwriter.com/2016/10/06/beta-reading-conversation/ I seem to have been particularly drawn to how-to articles this week – and this is another gem for writers who wish to improve their work

Many thanks for visiting and taking the time and trouble to comment – and may you have a wonderful reading and blogging week.

Review of How To Be a Pirate – Book 2 of the How To Train Your Dragon series by Cressida Cowell

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Oscar and I completed this book together this last weekend when the grandchildren were staying and once more, I was struck at just how funny and anarchic the storyline is…

howtobeapirateHiccup Horrendous Haddock III was a Viking Hero–dashing, brave, and ever so clever. But even Viking heroes have to begin somewhere. In this rip-roaring adventure he recounts his early days–when he still had a lot to learn about swordfights, shipwrecks, and homicidal dragons….

And that’s the blurb. Of course, it doesn’t begin to give you an idea of the story, where Alvin, the poor-but-honest-farmer pops up and beguiles the Hairy Hooligan tribe with tales of Grimbeard the Ghastly’s treasure and how to find it. Hiccup has a sinking feeling this is a very bad idea, but his chieftain father, Stoick the Vast, is determined to track it down. After all, he is Grimbeard’s heir.

What I particularly love about this books – and loathe about the film – is that Hiccup and Fishlegs are undersized, average-to-homely in the looks department and are regularly beaten up by Snotlout and Dogsbreath. While the other boys occasionally are happy to follow Hiccup’s lead after he’s managed to pull them out of yet another disaster by virtue of yet another cunning plan, they’ll jeer and join in the laughter quickly enough once the memory of that particular victory fades – which generally takes a couple of days. In other words, Hiccup isn’t the good-looking and capable character portrayed in the film with the cool, rare dragon. Toothless is only remarkable in being the smallest dragon in the village with the manners of a spoilt two-year-old. Hiccup’s constant sense of not measuring up to his strong chieftain father has us rooting for him. Under all the humour there is a real sense of poignancy over his feelings of inadequacy.

Events quickly stack up, as Hiccup, Toothless and Fishlegs, his best friend, trail along in their wake. Sure enough it all goes from dodgy to disaster fairly quickly as the Hairy Hooligans sail off in Stoick’s ship, the Lucky Thirteen. There are adventures, fights, treasure, shipwrecks, more fights and more treasure sufficient to thrill the heart of a child of any age. I was enthralled.

However, it’s all very well piling on the action and winding up the narrative tension until it is pinging off the page – but then comes the moment when there is the payoff. And where children are concerned, there can be no half measures. The final denouement has to pack a sufficient punch to wind up such a twisting plot so that when we close the book for the final time, we all still feel the tingle of excitement yet are thoroughly satisfied with the ending of this particular adventure. Cowell pulls this off magnificently. It didn’t take much to persuade Oscar to immediately start reading the third book in this enchanting series, How To Speak Dragonese. I want more of this world.
9/10

Five SFF Books That Made Me Laugh – Part 2

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As promised back here, I’ve now trawled through my lists and added another science fiction or fantasy five books that at least made me grin or laugh aloud. Here they are in no particular order…

Insatiable – Book 1 of the Insatiable series by Meg Cabot

insatiableSick of hearing about vampires? So is Meena Harper. But her bosses are making her write about them anyway, even though Meena doesn’t believe in them. Not that Meena isn’t familiar with the supernatural. See, Meena Harper knows how you’re going to die. (Not that you’re going to believe her; no one ever does.) But not even Meena’s precognition can prepare her for what happens when she meets—then makes the mistake of falling in love with—Lucien Antonescu, a modern-day prince with a bit of a dark side. It’s a dark side a lot of people, like an ancient society of vampire-hunters, would prefer to see him dead for.

Another vampire adventure filled with incident and a large dollop of humour to help it all along. I loved both this offering – see my review here – and its sequel, Overbite.

 

How To Train Your Dragon – Book 1 of the How To Train Your Dragon series by Cressida Cowell

And no… I am not talking about the rather vanilla version portrayed in the films, which is very how to train your dragonentertaining, but nothing like as vivid, anarchic and funny as the books. Hiccup is far less charismatic and far more worried; while Toothless is far less rare, a whole lot naughtier and less obedient than the film – see my review here.

Hiccup Horrendous Haddock III is a truly extraordinary Viking hero known throughout Vikingdom as “the Dragon Whisperer”…but it wasn’t always so. Travel back to the days when the mighty warrior was just a boy, the quiet and thoughtful son of the Chief of the Hairy Hooligans. Can Hiccup capture a dragon and train it without being torn limb from limb? Join the adventure as the small boy finds a better way to train his dragon and become a hero!

Again, this is has been a joy to share with the grandchildren – and I have been known to dip in and out of these books if I need cheering up.

 

The Radleys by Matt Haig

theradleysThe Radleys are an everyday family who juggle dysfunctional lives. Except, as Peter and Helen Radley know, but their children have yet to find out, the Radleys happen to be a family of abstaining vampires. When one night Clara finds herself driven to commit a bloodthirsty act, her parents decide to explain a few things.

This is another vampire book, but unlike any other you’ll have read see my review here. This is the story of a middle-class couple desperately trying to blend into suburban England with their children – to the extent that they haven’t even got around to explaining to their hapless offspring the cause of their garlic allergy and extreme photosensitivity. It is hilarious and shocking by turns – and I’ll guarantee if you read it, you won’t forget this one.

 

Stray Souls – Book 1 of the Magicals Anonymous series by Kate Griffin

straysoulsThis book sort of follows on from the previous offering – what do you do in our modern world if you are cursed with a special power? How do you blend in? What if you can’t blend in?

London’s soul has gone missing. Lost? Kidnapped? Murdered? Nobody knows – but when Sharon Li unexpectedly discovers she’s a shaman, she is immediately called upon to use her newfound powers of oneness with the City to rescue it from a slow but inevitable demise.

Sharon Li tries to provide an answer with her Magicals Anonymous support group. In addition to getting together and discussing their issues together, they also find themselves caught up in Matthew Swift’s latest problem. Unlike the Midnight Mayor series, this one is laugh-aloud funny, in amongst the chaos and drama – see my review here.

 

The Martian by Andy Weir

Six days ago, astronaut Mark Watney became one of the first people to walk on Mars.themartian
Now, he’s sure he’ll be the first person to die there. After a dust storm nearly kills him and forces his crew to evacuate the planet while thinking him dead, Mark finds himself stranded on Mars’ surface, completely alone, with no way to signal Earth that he’s alive. And even if he could get word out, his supplies would be gone years before a rescue could arrive. Chances are, though, Mark won’t have time to starve to death. The damaged machinery, unforgiving environment or plain-old “human error” are much more likely to kill him first. But Mark’s not ready to quit. Armed with nothing but his ingenuity and his engineering skills—and a gallows sense of humor that proves to be his greatest source of strength–he embarks on a dogged quest to stay alive, using his botany expertise to grow food and even hatching a mad plan to contact NASA back on Earth.

I – finally – got to see the film of this 21st century version of the Robinson Crusoe adventure over the Easter break. And was sort of glad that I didn’t spend a lot of money going to watch it at the cinema. Oh, the film was okay – in fact, better than okay. But it only hinted at the humour that runs right through this story, humanising Mark and preventing him from coming across as either a lantern-jawed NASA clone, or a whiny victim. The book was not only a thoroughly enjoyable science fiction adventure, it was also very funny – see my review here.

So what funny or amusing science fiction and fantasy books have I missed off my list? Have you read any of these and also found they made you smile?

Review of Half the World – Book 2 of The Shattered Sea series by Joe Abercrombie

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I read Half a King last year and was blown away by it – see my review here – so would I enjoy Half the World as much?

halftheworldSometimes a girl is touched by Mother War. Thorn is such a girl. Desperate to avenge her dead father, she lives to fight. Sometimes a woman becomes a warrior. She finds herself caught up in the schemes of Father Yarvi, Gettland’s deeply cunning minister. Sometimes a warrior becomes a weapon. Beside her on her journey is Brand, a young warrior who hates to kill, a failure in his eyes and hers, but with one chance at redemption.
And weapons are made for one purpose. Will Thorn forever be a pawn in the hands of the powerful, or can she carve her own path?

This is the rather dramatic blurb for the story, with a couple of spoiler sentences culled. For those of you who read Half a King, featuring Yarvi, as you can see, he turns up in this book. But while a major player, he isn’t the protagonist – an unusual move in YA tales. However, Abercrombie triumphantly succeeds in immediately gaining our sympathy for Thorn, though in reality I think I’d probably cross the road rather than risk an encounter with her… Which doesn’t stop me following her story avidly, reading far too late into the wee small hours to discover what exactly happens to her.

As in the first book, the story whisks you up on the first page and doesn’t loosen its grip until the final page. The world that Thorn belongs to is more than a tad infused with a Viking influence, and Abercrombie braids the details of the world-building alongside the narrative with the same deft skill he displays throughout this book.

I also enjoyed Brand’s tale, which runs alongside Thorn. In contrast to Thorn’s gritted, angry resolve to be revenged on her father’s murderer, Brand has his dying mother’s command to do good and ‘stand in the light’ ringing in his ears. This causes him to make some difficult choices in a warrior society, where such niceties tends to get trodden underfoot.

This is one of the themes examined through the book – what constitutes courage and strength. Without being remotely moralistic, Abercrombie poses some interesting options. One of his strengths is to take a story in a particular direction, so that we think we know what’s going to happen next – and then turning our assumptions upside down to flip the storyline around. He memorably achieved this at the end of Half a King and I was delighted to see that he also managed to pull off a similar trick near the end of Half the World.

While this book is advertised as YA, I heartily recommend it to anyone who has ever enjoyed an epic fantasy tale. The protagonists may be teenagers, but this is a world where you have to grow up fast and there is very little room for some of the whining self-reflection that YA protagonists can indulge in. There are also a wealth of other entertaining characters, some we met in Half a King, which just adds to the reading pleasure offered by this solidly excellent tale. And – no – you don’t have to have read Half a King to make sense of what is going on. All in all, Half the World is every bit as good as Half a King, and I strongly recommend this series.
10/10

Review of Wolfsangel – Book 1 of the Wolfsangel Cycle by M.D. Lachlan

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This was another book Himself had plucked off the shelves, lured by the cover scene of a Viking army bristling with sharp pointy weapons and overseen by a snarling wolf. But I flicked through it and thought it looked sufficiently intriguing to give it a go.

wolfsangelAuthun goes on a raiding party with a handful of his best warriors to snatch up a woman and her son as he has had a vision that tells him this child is vital to his continued rule. It isn’t until he captures her, he realises that she has twin boys…

And no – that isn’t the blurb. There isn’t any. This Fantasy epic is about what happens to the Vikings caught up in the power struggle between their pantheon of gods. The driving point of the narrative follows the fortunes of those two boys, Vali and Feileg, which takes the story to some very dark places – both literally and figuratively. The writing has a power and fluency that marks it well above the average gorefest, but the action is frequent and bloody. The book is set at a time when to die in battle was considered a desirable and honourable way to go – and women and children were given little quarter in many of the encounters. I mention this because blood-drenched action generally doesn’t do it for me. But this book got right under my skin, with the shifting viewpoint and unpredictable story twists so that I stayed up several nights way later than I’d intended to find out what would happen next. Which was always a surprise… I quickly grew to care for both boys and the girl, Adisla, caught up with their fate.

Lachlan’s depiction of the time is pitch perfect. The food, the weapons and clothing are related in realistic detail, giving the backdrop a vividness and quality that bounced off the page – and made those episodes, such as when Feileg was running with a wolfpack, or Vali was adrift in the longship, very readable. I really liked Lachlan’s portrayal of the gods and witches, who ruthlessly use their human worshippers as vassals and pawns in their power games. Not that those humans are any more respectful of the sanctity of life – people die shockingly easily in this book, as I suspect they did back in those times.

The story is packed full of incident and adventure – but do be warned, it doesn’t leave everything neatly tied up. The main narrative plotpoint is left waving in the wind at the end of this fairly hefty volume – as it happens, the second book in the series, Fenrir, is available and I’m off to add it to the teetering pile by my bed. Lachlan has drawn me into his cold, Viking world and I really want to know what happens next…
8/10