Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Rivers of London, Ben Aaronovitch: Preview (Flippin' Rozzers)

A-hahahahaha! Smug git.
Rozzers. They are getting younger, bigger and cleverer. Probably at a speed slightly slower than rats (for two of the three anyway). Always there when you don't need them and eager to be somewhere else when you do. Some have been replaced by cameras, showing that inanimate objects are generally more effective than them. Rozzers.

This wild rambling abuse of the Keepers of the Queens piece Peace is badly thought out introduction to the next book we will be reviewing, Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch which is about a copper. Who is a wizard.

Need I say more? Ok, it is about a probationary constable in the MET (Metropolitan Police Service (London Filth)) who discovers he is a bit wizardy and joins the wizard branch of the MET (the flying squad? Arf arf!). I'm already  quite a bit in and it is really good, and not just because it mentions boobs. The cover is very good, it looks like something I would have drawn in my old job while very bored and slightly insane.

Also coming up, reviews of some if not all of the following.

The Double Life by Cora Parry: Orphan girl creates double life so she can nick stuff.

Broken, Lisa Jones: Something about an Indian Reservation.

The Guardians, Andrew Pyper: Remember that haunted house you knew as a kid? It's on the front of this book and given me the willies (and not in a good way!)

The Tiger's Wife, Téa Obreht: haunting story of a young doctor in a Balkan country. Hmmmm, I need to find more books about skeleton detectives.

and to sign off a video of the Manic Street Preachers sing a song related vaguely to the police.



Laughing policeman picture nicked from here.

Cheers,

Mark

P.S. Only kidding all my lovely friends who are coppers. I like you really. Even when you confiscated those stolen DVDs and kept them for yourselves.

Friday, 22 October 2010

Artemis Fowl: A Lame Duck

Fartemis Owl - Haha! That is
funnier than anything
in this book
Artemis Fowl is...not very good. There I said it. I didn't really want to have to say it. I was really looking forward to reading it. It seemed to have an original idea and I couldn't see how it could go wrong. But it did go wrong for me. Terribly, terribly wrong.

The story follows Artemis Fowl, a twelve year old criminal mastermind from Ireland. Artemis plans to steal the fairies gold and has a cunning plan to do it. But the fairies are old and cunnin-. Actually scratch that. The fairies are rubbish. Rubbish, rubbish, rubbish. They fly around cursing humans for destroying the planet. Fly around with petrol driven wings and nuclear powered cameras strapped to their heads, just waiting to set off bombs that wipe out great swathes of life. But fairy society is really interesting. what they have done is copy human society. The race they really don't like they have copied. I don't understand any of this? Why would you do this?  Why when you have the chance to create an imaginative, exciting new society would you base your society on 1970s American city with (nuclear powered) rayguns?

So the fairies are rubbish but obviously the character of Artemis himself can save this book, he is so calculating, so-. Sorry, sorry, no he isn't. He's got as much depth as the puddle outside my shower.  He's a small block of wood that occasionally smiles in a condescending way.

The plot is rubbish as well. Scenes overlap with a change of point of view in a really annoying way. Things make little sense. I really don't want to talk about it.

So in summary, in case you didn't guess, I really didn't like this book. When I was nine I think I'd have used it for some pyromaniac escapade rather than suffer much more after the second chapter. Seeing as a whole bunch of other books have been written about Artemis I can only guess they get a lot better but I'm not going to risk reading another one.

If you really want to buy it you might want to try here.

Oh, the whole bit about the whaler? Complete **** knocking **** splash. GRRRRRRR!

Sorry about the rant.

Mark

Monday, 18 October 2010

Minding Frankie, Maeve Binchy: Guest Review by Becky D

Do you remember me?
I must confess before beginning this review that I have never read a Maeve Binchy book before and that I have never had the inclination to do so either. I usually like my chicklit quick, bright and bubbly and always thought Maeve Binchy books might be a bit too, for lack of a better word, too emotional for me. However, when I was given ‘Minding Frankie” to read and review I found myself unable to put it down even putting aside my usual after work Friends episode in favour of picking up this book.

The story centres around the residents of a street in Dublin and their family relationships. It begins with the birth of baby Frankie born to a dieing mother and eventually entrusted to her alcoholic father, Noel, who seems happy to plod along with his life just heading to the office during the day and the pub at night. However, when he is faced with raising Frankie he steps up and the book follows his efforts to raise her along with help from the entire street. Although he works hard to raise Frankie well the author hasn't just opted for the easy route of him pulling up his socks and becoming a great father she has given him some trials and also shown his weaknesses which made for a really compelling read. I found myself having to read on the train to and from work and at lunchtime because of my curiosity to find out what happened. I admit usually my lunchtimes are reserved for gossip websites so this was a refreshing change!

The book also follows the lives of the other residents from love affairs to illness to the bid to erect a large statue of a saint no one has even heard of but is the name sake of the street the resident live on.
There is a large cast of characters in the story and each has there own journey through the book and I was gripped by many of these stories, keen to find out what happened to each resident. I enjoyed the camaraderie created by the author among the characters. It wasn’t just separate stories thrown together in one book but interconnected lives going on at the same time. There was a lot of warmth among the characters and I really did find myself cheering them on in their various pursuits. I always think it marks out a good book if I actually start to get involved and concerned about the fictional lives of people I am reading about!

My only issue with this book is that having so many characters did create a bit of confusion for me at times, trying to keep tabs on who was doing what and remembering who the minor characters were when they hadn't been mentioned for a while I might perhaps recommend the author add a “family tree” of the street to keep all the names straight!

But I would still definitely recommended ‘Minding Frankie’ as a great read. It was interesting and involving and has persuaded me it might be time to head to the book shop and look up some other Maeve Binchy books.

Minding Franky is available for about £9-ish.

Sunday, 17 October 2010

A Most Improper Magick, Stephanie Burgis: Why Mr. Darcy, you've Turned Me into a Frog

Reddditt! (Worst frog joke ever).
A Most Improper Magick follows the burgeoning adventures of Kat Stephenson the youngest daughter of a vicar and a witch. Kat's an impetuous and independent girl as demonstrated at the very start of the book where she is running away from home dressed as a boy (Kat is pretty close to Kate so I have wondered if there is a Blackadder influence...). With the loss of the family fortune by her prodigal brother Kat decides to try to restore her families wealth.

Unfortunately for Kat she lives in Pride and Prejudice times (that is the official name for the time period) so is held back in her efforts by society's conventions and a stepmother and two older sisters.

But Kat has one thing in her favour, FABULOUS MAGICAL POWERS!          And the exploration of these powers really drives the story. unlike magic that is learnt from heavy tombs by skinny men until their eyes leak from their skulls, Kat's magick is raw and uncontrolled. Such power draws the attention of several other magical parties.

A Most Improper Magick is a really enjoyable, funny and exciting. Sometime's your left (nearly) shouting at Kat to not be so daft but it isn't in an annoying way. Her actions fit in perfectly with her character. In fact the book has the most believable set of characters of the five children's books I've read in this last three weeks.

The story cranks up the tension well to the grand finale. Instead of the usual magical duel with fireballs and people exploding through walls, it is all resolved in a much more unique, interesting and genteel way. It leaves a few strands to be answered in the follow up, which I look forward to reading.

Only draw back is it probably doesn't contain enough explosions etc. to appeal to the majority of boys in the age group it is aimed at. But I think it should be a big hit, I can see it being made into a Sunday evening mini-series thing on the BBC.

A Most Improper Magick is out now and available for around £4-ish. The sequel, A Tangle of Magicks, is out next year. And if you want some other Jane Austen-style fantasy I can heartily recommend Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.

Cheers,

Mark

P.S. Stephanie Burgis is very interesting and friendly on twitter. Follow her at @stephanieburgis

P.P.S. No one gets turned into a frog in the book. Not sure if this is a good or bad thing. Hope I haven't ruined it for anyone.

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Castle of Shadows, Ellen Renner: Princess Gets Dealt a Bad Hand

Castle of Shadows is a children's fantasy story set in a country called Quale which seemed to be loosely based on Georgian Britain. A near neighbour has recently become a republic and is threatening war. The king is mad and the proud nation is in decline.

The story follows Charlie, the near feral Princess of Quale. Her mother vanished many years ago and this event sent her father mad, endlessly making towers out of cards, awaiting the  invention of the Guinness Book of Records (I made that last bit up). Now Charlie is uncared for, dressed in rags and fed gruel, seeking revenge on those servants who slight her or her father.

It isn't long before Charlie discovers a clue to why her mother vanished and she quickly turns detective. Fortuitously Toby works in the castle. He is the greatest pick-lock in the world and joins Charlie in her quest.

The story rattles along incorporating strange and disturbing characters from a butler who seems to be half mole, a housekeeper who creaks like a ship under sail and an old drunk who guards the palace at night. Hard times indeed in Quale. But the characters are enjoyable and believable, Toby has a colourful way with language and the sparks really fly between him and Charlie through most of the book.

During the second half of the story things get a lot more complicated and I a couple of times found myself confused, especially with descriptions of how Charlie and Toby sneak from the Palace grounds. but an exciting conclusion looms which kept me turning the pages...

But, for me, the ending didn't live up to the build up. Mainly because in the finale Charlie seems to be a bystander. And I was left feeling a little flat which is a shame as the story up until this point was enjoyable and gripping. Saying that though I know there is a sequel and I'll be reading it.

It has a really good cover that adds to the feel of the book. Well done again cover designers!

Castle of Shadows costs about £4.

City of Thieves is the sequel, also about £4.

Cheers,

Mark

Thursday, 7 October 2010

Percy Jackson and the Titan's Curse, Rick Riordan: He's Greek-American

Yep, he's riding a Pegasus in a t-shirt.
His mum will be worried if she sees him.
Percy Jackson and the Titan's curse is the third book in the Percy Jackson series. It chronicles the adventures of Percy who is the son of Poseidon the Greek god of the sea (brother of Zeus), and a mortal woman (she worries about him having enough ambrosia and drops him off to fight monsters).

Now it was a little bit tricky to get into the story at first but this is understandable given that I haven't read the first two book. By the end of the second chapter I was feeling up to speed with the whole premise that naughty Greek gods are still trundling about the Earth, seducing mortals and siring heroic offspring. Though it does seem a bit cruel that in these modern times the kids are sent out to fight monsters before they have even dealt with their acne. But then if Percy was eighteen it would be a different story.

Yet again (I'm guessing) Percy is thrown into an exciting adventure, trying to foil the evil plans of Kronos and the Titans along with their demi-god minion and Percy's nemesis Luke. A quest is set and Percy is going to be included in it one way or the other. Various Greek monsters, Titans and Gods make appearances usually in a decidedly American fashion. Rick, what the hell have you done to Apollo?! I suppose you at least gave him a decent car and not some GM junk.

And I should make this clear, it appears, from this book at least, that the Greek Gods all emigrated to the US at some point. They are now Greek-American. And mostly American, very little Greek. This grated on me. Zeus is in a pin stripe suit. Poseidon in shorts and a Hawaiian shirt. I prefer my gods fickle, angry and horny. Not awkwardly readjusting to modern times as they seem to be. The only one that really stayed true to her self is Artemis.

But if you can ignore the heavy US influence you've got an enjoyable story which seems to advance the series on a little bit closer to its finally. Some times it's funny, sometimes scary and sometimes a bit formulaic. But there's a big scrap at the end to keep you happy.

So, overall I'd say if you can put up with the Yankification of everything Percy Jackson is pretty good. Just not as good as Skulduggery Pleasant.

All Percy Jackson's books can be found here.

Cheers,

Mark

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

A Most Improper Magick, Stephanie Burgis: A Most Proper Read

"I was twelve years of age when I chopped off my hair, dressed as a boy, and set off to save my family from impending ruin. "

A Most Improper Magick follows the ‘unladylike’ adventures of Kat Stephenson as she attempts to save her family from financial ruin whilst winning her sisters’ true loves. After Kat’s wayward brother squanders the family’s money on gambling debts, Kat’s stepmother is determined to marry off Kat’s eldest sister to the dangerous yet rich Sir Neville. Kat and her other sister are determined to stop this at all costs even if it means resorting to magic inherited from their dead mother, a notorious witch.

When Kat is catapulted to another world via a magic mirror she is shocked to learn the extent of her mother’s powers as a Guardian in a secret Order. Even more startling is the claim that Kat is her mother’s heir. Kat rejects the order that tried to thwart her parents’ marriage but cannot escape from the magic mirror and her
mother’s tutor who are intent on her joining.

Events culminate at Grantham Abbey where Kat gets some very unwelcome interest from the sinister Sir Neville, her mother’s tutor continues to hound her, her sisters dismiss her despite her best efforts to entice their true loves and to top it all off a dangerous highwayman remains on the loose. It takes all of Kat’s wit, ingenuity and a fair amount of magic to try and stay out of trouble.

I loved this book. I thought it was an exciting, adventurous page turner full of the unexpected. Cheeky and plotting Kat Stephenson is a breath of fresh air amidst the stiff Regency society she finds herself in. In an era where ladies make polite conversation and partake in genteel pursuits, Kat isn’t afraid of dressing as a boy,
cheeking her elders, getting into fights or even standing up against a villainous highwayman. The spirited and ‘unladylike’ youngest child, often erroneously overlooked by her elders, Kat is easy to warm to and the reader finds themselves rooting for her from beginning to end. Although probably more of a girls’ book I cannot help but feel that even boys will warm to the unique Kat Stephenson and be intrigued by her world of magic.

Burgis cleverly provides clues and offers us a tantalising glimpse into the magical world Kat enters and the characters that inhabit it to stimulate our interest. It is clear that this magical world and those that belong to it are going to be explained in more depth in the second and third books of the trilogy which I cannot wait for!

If you are after a period drama with a twist, a sprinkling of magic and a thoroughly modern heroine then look no further!

You can get A Most Improper Magick now and the follow up, A Tangle of Magicks will be out in 2011.



Lauren

Monday, 4 October 2010

How Cool is that Skeleton?

My hero.
During our lovely, lovely holiday where the sun nearly always shined and the beaches were secluded, deserted and beautiful, Lauren and myself read a whole bunch of children's books to review. "Why did we do this?" you shout like loutish objectors against adults that read books for kids. Well for two reasons:


  1. Lauren is writing a children's book and it was a chance to look at other new/popular books.
  2. Skulduggery Pleasant looks like the coolest character to have ever graced a book cover. 
I've been secretly wanting to read a Skulduggery Pleasant book for ages now. I mean look at him, over there, looking all cool with his skull and pimps hat on. I want to be him. I want to be a skeleton detective that shoots fire balls and stuff.

So before I got on with my review, which will be completely objective, I promise, here are the books we'll be reviewing over the next couple of weeks. We took a mix of established and new authors as well as picking books in the middle of series to see if you could jump straight into them.

So all those will be reviewed by one or both of us in the next week. Unfortunately one won't be. Which book has missed out? Which one will you have to wait a bit longer for the review for? Find out...SOON!

So Skulduggery Pleasant: Playing with Fire. Cover, amazing. Really like it. The front with him and Valkyrie on, the stitched together monster on the back, the little S.P. insignia at the top of the spine. It should be studied at university as the near pinnacle of book cover art. But I shall not judge a book by its cover (apart from Lyrics Alley back in July but you should forget about that).

So cool. So, so cool.
So, the actual story, Playing with Fire is the second Skulduggery Pleasant book in the series and kicks off straight in to the action. You don't really feel like you have missed anything by not reading the first book, background information is imparted during the story in a natural, unforced way.

It is pretty much none stop until the end, dragging you in with a roof top tussle and finishing with a big old scrap. Skulduggery is as effortlessly cool as you'd want him, his sidekick Valkyrie nearly as much so. And for all the witty word play and fights that inevitably follow Derek Landy manages to provide enough human vulnerability in Valkyrie and her family, and some glimpses in Skulduggery's past.

The supporting characters are as unusual  as you'd expect where the main character is a Skeleton. unfortunately the more interesting of these characters are on the sidelines for most of the book and it is left for two 2-dimensional characters to play the Nemeses bad guys. Pretty much everything else is perfect for me. Just the bad guys seem to be fillers. Only other draw back is if you don't want your kids reading books with exploding vampires and things best not get this one.

So pretty much brilliant and possibly summed up by this quote:

"Skulduggery, your entire plan consisted of, and I quote, 'let's get up close and see what happens',"

I wish I was him. I'm off to raid my piggy bank to buy the rest of them.

You can see all the Skulduggery Pleasant books for sale here.

He has a very good website here as well.

Cheers,

Skulduggery Pleasant
Mark




Sunday, 3 October 2010

Back from Holiday

Little Haven beach at sunset.
We have returned back home from a week away in sunny Pembrokeshire. Whilst the rest of the country seems to have been shrouded in rain, fog and mud we've been enjoying sunshine and log fires on a tiny headland in South West Wales.

But fear not, the out-come of this is several book reviews that will be published this week and you'll finally find out the reason behind this mad scheme. If you're interested.

If you want to see any more of the photos from our holiday, you'll find a selection on my Flickr account.