Tuesday, 16 October 2018

Snapshots Review 3: The Reviewening

For the uninitiated, snapshot reviews are when I take 4-6 samples (usually fantasy) and, er, review them. Hopefully it’s helpful for readers to find new books and authors.

Quite a mix amongst this half dozen, with sci-fi and fantasy, comedy and serious stuff.

The Copper Promise (Copper Cat Trilogy), by Jen Williams

The sample includes multiple perspectives, but manages to start tying them together before it ends (which is helpful for trying to assess how the plot might go forward). The opening chapter features a nobleman being surprisingly stoic under torture (nothing too graphic), as his jailers seek to prise from his lips information about his family’s wealth. Following on, there are chapters about separate but linked mercenaries delving into an ancient, haunted, subterranean place, with the latter pair of mercenaries hired by the previously mentioned nobleman (now in a state of some injury, following the torture). The sample ends as they approach the ruin. I enjoyed the writing style, and really liked the very different voices that the differing POVs had. A good test of this is to imagine dialogue without any tags, so the spoken words alone indicate the speaker, and this passes with flying colours. It’s an intriguing beginning.

The Gorgon Bride, by Galen Surlark-Ramsey

An interesting change of pace here. I must admit, fantasy set in the real world tends not to my cup of tea, so when the sample opened with a real life setting hopes were not high. However, I do like Greek mythology, and that’s mingled with the modern world in this comedy-fantasy. The sample’s storyline follows the antics of Alexander Weiss, pianist, and Athena, goddess and taunter of Ares. The mortal soon meets his mortality and is destined to try and find love for Euryale, one of Medusa’s sisters and fellow gorgon. One nice aspect of comedy is that you can tell very quickly whether the style of the humour is to your taste which determines in large part whether you’ll like the book or not. I found it to be a light-hearted and entertaining read. Perhaps as helpfully (for me) it’s a stand alone, rather than part 1 of the Mega Long Fantastical Series.

Paternus: Rise of the Gods (the Paternus Trilogy book 1), by Dyrk Ashton

This is a weird one to review, because it has several things I dislike but it’s also very competently done (particularly the first chapter, of 4-5 or so complete in the sample) which is excellent. It’s set in the modern day real world, with a thrillerish writing style. Could be a blend of magic and technology, not quite clear. The story looks at various POVs, mostly from the perspective of Firstborn. They’re ancient godlike figures, often taken from historical myths. There seems to be some sort war brewing between Asuras (rebels against the ‘Father’ that created them) and Devas (Father loyalists) but how is not clear. I do think it’s interesting and well done, but, like celery, it’s just not for me.

The Sons of Thestian (the Harmatia Cycle book 1), by ME Vaughan

Much more my usual fare than the previous two samples, but I must admit it didn’t grab me. The prologue opens with Jionathan, a prince and would-be escapee from his own city, attempting to evade a nocturnal patrol of bloodthirsty and transmogrified mages, ‘aided’ by the mage Rufus (who appears to be in a stupor). Rufus gets hidden and the prince, as you might expect early on, gets caught and ends up back in his castle. Over the ensuing few chapters we learn the prince’s father is ill, and the Night Patrol is a new and odd addition to the city. Rufus has more POV time early on, but there’s a bit too much telling rather than showing. It’s not badly written, indeed, I found it very easy to read, but it just didn’t grab me.

Kingshold (Wildfire Cycle book 1), by DP Woolliscroft

Have to say I was almost immediately taken by this. It’s the story, seemingly, of a power transition from a terrible king and queen (who end up leaving their positions sooner than they expect, at the hands of a vengeful but probably righteous wizard) and the shift of a kingdom towards a republic/democracy. There are many POVs, indeed, it wasn’t until the last chapter in the sample that one recurred (I did wonder if the author might try, heroically/foolishly, to tell a whole story without repeating a single POV). Every one was engaging, the writing was effortless to read, and, at this early stage, I enjoyed the way the story was going. There’s a drunken minstrel, a precocious maid, a hardbitten mage, and so on. It’s an intriguing start.

Space Team (Volume 1), by Barry J Hutchison

Another comedy that begins in the real world, but this one is sci-fi. The sample’s a little shorter and doesn’t quite have time to set out the premise. It follows Cal Carver, who ends up in the wrong prison due to a bureaucratic error, just as all hell seems to break loose. He wakes up in space for reasons about to be revealed, when the sample ends. It’s very engaging and amusing, although the bodily fluid stuff isn’t my cup of tea. An advantage of comedy over other genres is that it’s very easy to tell early on if it’ll tickle your fancy, and, fluids aside, I found the sample of this quite entertaining.


Friday, 5 October 2018

Review: Silent Heroes, by Evelyn le Chene

Animals have a long history in warfare, and this book explores a number of contributions from our furry and feathered friends in more recent wars (I think the oldest mentioned is the Crimean). A plus side of the relatively modern scope is that there’s more evidence and less anecdote, and there are usually some nice photos (although I do now feel a bit inferior, given there was a collie who received multiple medals and completed various missions and parachute jumps with the SAS).

There are many wars featured, from Crimea to the Worlds Wars, and others around the world, and various different types of animal. Dogs feature heavily, as do pigeons, with the occasional cat and mule, and, perhaps most famous of modern soldier animals, Voytek the bear.

The book’s long enough to provide significant variety, with each chapter (usually focusing on one or two animals) sufficient to put the story in context without padding. I found the writing style to be easy to read, and the subject matter to be charming, if sometimes sad (to be expected, really).

I found it to be a very engaging book, and enjoyed it rather a lot.


Friday, 28 September 2018

Review: A History of the Second World War, by BH Liddell Hart

Yes, another shockingly modern ‘history’ (more current events, really). I reviewed a book about the First World War, by the same author, here.

The book begins a little prior to war breaking out and ends with a nice little epilogue that summarises the context and events of the war. The political matters during the war itself are only referenced insofar as they affect the military situation (such as German generals being unwilling to argue against Hitler, particularly in the latter stages). Similarly, things such as the impact of shortages due to wartime (both military priority and attempted strangleholds on supplies) are only considered in the light of logistical problems for the armed forces and, in extremis, a population becoming so demoralised it might have a material impact upon the body politic.

Necessarily, given the scope of the book, there can sometimes be a little less detail in certain areas (although there’s no shortage of books on the subject if anyone wants to delve more deeply into particular topics), but the general overview does convey things well, although the writing can sometimes be a little dry.

It is rather easier for a history of WWII to be more interesting than one for WWI, given the greater variety of theatres of war, and the fact the war itself was altogether more dynamic, being characterised by fast-paced tank actions rather than trench warfare. I particularly found the to and fro in North Africa interesting (it was also worth noting how often both leaders and army officers had their assumptions confounded by reality, and how some excellent officers were prevented from achieving more due to either their military or political superiors).

As with the author’s history of WWI, there are many maps, which is very useful given the widespread nature of the war.

I particularly enjoyed little insights from personal interviews with soldiers of either side, including one German officer whose spearhead attack had a pause when he was bewitched by a pretty blonde American nurse.

Overall, given it’s not my area, I’d say it’s a solid overview of the entire war, from a purely military perspective. If you’re after a military overview of the whole of World War Two, this book’s worth considering. If you want a social or political look at the Second World War, then you’d be better off looking elsewhere.


Thursday, 20 September 2018

Snapshots Review 2: Review Harder

The Snapshots Reviews are posts in which I review the samples of a small number (4-6) of books. Reviews are just of the samples, I haven’t read the full books of any of them, at the time of posting this. The first Snapshots Review was elsewhere, and can be found here. The books I’ve reviewed are all in the fantasy genre.

Dangerous to Know (Chronicles of Breed, book 1), by KT Davies

The first sample I read in this batch, and I have to admit, things really hit the ground running. The writing style was immersive and easy to read, the world is well-realised and portrayed without info-dumping (I never felt there was a slab of text outlining society etc, but by the end of the sample I knew a reasonable amount about the world), and there are even some light, humorous touches. The sample follows a half-breed mercenary, half-human, half-thoasa (a sort of war creature). She starts off in a bad situation (page one features being chased by a dragon) and it soon gets worse when Breed finds herself in an icy ruin with a demon her only hope for discovering the way out. Really good start to things.

The Rage of Dragons, by Evan Winter 

This sample is in two halves, with the first half being a sort of prologue, and the latter half (starting with Chapter One) occurring a century and a half-ish later. The prologue has a slightly unusual premise, which I like, of a queen leading her people on a sort of watery exodus, landing her ships on land to escape some unknown danger. However, the locals aren’t too happy and a bit of a war ensues. The latter part is on the claimed land but some time later, following Tau, a young chap aspiring to become a warrior. Unfortunately there is a lot of info-dumping and jargon, which gets in the way of both pace and clarity.

[A note on this: I couldn’t believe it got such a high rating on Amazon. One review I checked explained why. Apparently the start is pretty iffy but the latter half is fantastic, a bit like the Lies of Locke Lamora. Obviously, I’m just reviewing samples, and things can improve or worsen. Just thought I’d mention that].

Tree of Ages (the Tree of Ages series book 1), by Sara C Roethle

This one had an unusual premise. A tree stops being a tree, and becomes a young woman. Finn doesn’t know how, or why, and wants to return to being a tree. With the help of a kindly cottager, Finn sets out to reverse the transformation. I like a different premise, and enjoyed this sample a lot. Easy to read, low on action (there’s none) but highly engaging, as samples go it’s very good. The foundation of the story is laid, main characters introduced, and I found it very interesting.

The Thief Who Pulled On Trouble’s Braids (Amra Thetys Series book 1), by Michael McClung 

By chance, I happened to pick this and another winner of the excellent SPFBO contest. So, hopes were high as I began the sample. And met. The story follows Amra, a thief not quite world class but definitely a cut above the average, as her friend Corbin is trying to sort out a deal gone wrong. He leaves her a golden statuette and extricates a promise to look after his dog if anything goes wrong. And it does, of course. The writing style’s easy to read and and the world is effortlessly revealed through natural storytelling. It’s a charming book, which I suspect will be quite gritty.

The Grey Bastards (the Lot Lands), by Jonathan French

By weird coincidence, this is also an SPFBO contest winner. The sample follows Jackal, a half-orc, and his friends Oats and Fetching (also half-orcs) as they have something of a tangle with a group of human soldiers outside a brothel. The trio return to the Kiln, their headquarters, and their boss, Claymaster, holds a meeting which probably unveils the wider premise of the story (which may be hinted at in the brothel fight). Enjoyable to read, with grim humour and a plot/world that unfolds naturally, it’s yet another sample that could easily lead to me buying the book (this half-dozen of samples is something of an embarrassment of riches).

Darkmage (the Rhenwars Saga Volume 1), by ML Spencer

Darkmage’s sample largely follows Darien, a soldier returning from a front line in a classic high fantasy world, where the enemy are pressing strongly and he wants his mother (effectively head of state) to allow a pacific oath to be broken to win the war. Naturally, there’s quite a bit of tension there, not least because he’s returning to inherit arcane power and is expected to take the oath himself. But the enemy are closer than either of them think. The story’s premise works, but I did find the writing style to be a little more tell than show (for example, Darien courted a lady mage, against the rules, and that’s why he was away in the first place. Why not show that?). It’s not bad, but didn’t grab me.

I had planned to nominate just one as a recommendation, as per the first time, but there are a number of great samples well worth a look.