November 2

A Touch of Dead by Charlaine Harris


The editor wants 5 reviews this month. I have one day left to start and finish a book. From the dozens that are waiting, what do I pick? Well Charlaine Harris is never going to challenge the intellect and make me work hard, so that was the choice. And a good choice too. It only took an hour!

This is a collection of short stories based on the Sookie Stackhouse character now made famous by the TV series True Blood. The stories use all the favourite characters from the books, and the action takes place between the events in the various books. This is blatantly a book for the Sookie fans.

And why was it so quick to read? The book is less than 200 pages long, with illustrations and large print. There is literally nothing to it. Five short stories. If you are looking for a Christmas present for the diehard Sookie Stackhouse fan, then this is a must for the Christmas list, but be warned that it isn’t worth the money.

My suggestion – hold off until after Christmas when there will be hundreds of copies on sale as remainders.

November 2

Fire by Kristin Cashore


Cashore’s earlier book Graceling is gradually building a fan base. It was reviewed here a few months ago, and this reviewer for one was very happy to see the next book arrive. Be aware, though, this is not a sequel, just another story from the same fantasy world.

If you remember, in this fantasy series children that have two eyes of different colours also have a ‘special’ ability. As soon as the eyes change, the children are to be presented to the king who will then make use of their specialness. But at the start of this book, one boy escapes with his father into the mountains that separate the Seven Kingdoms. On the other side of the mountains there are no Gracelings, only monsters. And every species has it’s share. The monsters can easily be identified by their unusual coloring – purple, pink, orange, red. Humans can also be monsters, and Fire is one.

But the monsters are beautiful, and Fire is no exception. She has learned that with her beauty comes extraordinary influence and power over others. In defence, Fire hides on a farm at the edge of her world. That is until she is needed. The king summons her to question some prisoners in an effort to avoid a war. From that point on, her life changes.

Cashore writes books with strong and powerful female heros. Fire is no different. She may be haunted by the memory of her evil father, but discovers that she is very different. And be warned, there is a strong romantic plot as well. But it isn’t as ‘in your face’ as some romantic fantasies.

November 2

Bloodline by Mark Billingham


You need to be in the right mood to read a Billingham crime novel. It will challenge you and force you to think. His books are far more than the simple who-dun-it. Bloodline is no different.

At first the reader thinks that this is just another serial killer on the loose. And this one’s signature is a piece of X-ray film in the victim’s hand. Strange, but then authors must be getting desperate for new twists. There is apparently no connection between the victims, male and female, brother and sister, old and young. DI Thorne eventually discovers the link, each of the victims had a mother murdered by the same serial killer 15 years before. The man convicted is long dead, but the X-ray turns out to be his. How and why would anyone start murdering the children of murder victims? How much tragedy can a family stand?

This book will be an idea holiday read, because you won’t want to put it down. As always with Billingham there is a clear picture of the criminal’s mind and what he is doing makes absolute sense. But as Thorne tries to find and protect the other likely victims, the tension builds. The story is told from both sides, and the reader knows that the killer needs help to find all the victims. Unwittingly Thorne assists, but is his protection enough? Sorry, I’m not spoiling here.

This book also offers some ideas for reflection. What does happen to the family when one member is a victim of crime? In this case all the mothers were murdered. How would that change the lives and personalities of the children? Billingham offers several different suggestions, all of them plausible.

And I liked the start. It is very unusual for a crime novel to present the final scene in chapter 1, but this works. All in all, this is one of the better murder mysteries around

November 2

Tyrant: Storm of Arrows by Christian Cameron


Publicity blurb says stunning sequel. Interpretation – the second book of a trilogy. The likely plot – little action, just a lot of character development and geography. But the tyrant of the title is Alexander the Great. How bad can it be?

Well, firstly the book was not about Alexander. It was about an unknown Athenian named Kineas who happened to be an excellent commander who attracted a powerful band of independent soldiers to is cause. And Kineas’ goal? To follow his girl across the open grasslands of the Russian plains as she rides off to protect her tribal lands from invasion by Alexander’s army. Hopeless cause or what.

Ok, so it took some time and dedication to get through the first 250 pages of the book. Kineas and his girl part company somewhere on the plains, Kineas travels home to his city/state east of Greece and re-establishes order amongst the citizens. But as quick as he can he is resupplied and heading east to the meeting of the tribes. Lots and lots of travel, lots and lots of geography, and lots and lots of campfire conversations (opportunity for character development). Boring!

And then finally Kineas gets to the agreed meeting ground to find that his woman has been captured and imprisoned by Alexander. Finally some action. But the rescue and the big battle scene come and go too quickly. The reader wants some reward for all that endless trudging.

And personally I am mystified about where the story is going now. I never read the first book in the series, so I don’t know if that was about Kineas or Alexander, but book 3 is going to be in trouble if it is going to follow Kineas again.

Maybe my opinion would be different if I had book one. But if you are even tempted by Storm of Arrows on it’s own, take my advice and resist temptation.

November 2

Johannes Cabal The Necromancer by Jonathan L Howard


The publicity information sent out a warning – in the style of Terry Pratchett. Yeah, right, Terry Prachett has lots of imitators, but no one can match his style. So when this book came in, it spent some time at the bottom of the reading pile. But inevitably it slowly rose to the top. I had had enough crime novels, enough fantasy and even a turgid historical epic and I needed something light. The Necromancer was chosen, and actually delivered what was promised.

Johannes Cabal is a man in trouble. He is a scientist working in an unusual field. He wants to raise the dead, not as zombies that slowly decay, but as living, breathing, healthy humanity in the prime of their life. That research is expensive, and as this book opens the reader discovers that Cabal has sold his soul to the devil. But in order to continue his research, he discovers he needs it back. The Devil offers Cabal a deal, one year to collect one hundred other promises and Cabal can get his back. The Devil is even happy to provide a convenient cover story while Cabal searches. For one year he can take charge of a diabolical carnival.

But our hero is just exactly that. He collects signatures on the Devil’s contract from whores, escaped convicts, bank managers, all different varieties of the damned. But 2 days before the time runs out, Cabal is still short 2 signatures. And the final town on the carnival’s tour is full of honest men and women.

In spite of my misgivings, I really liked the writing style. This could have been a dark and dreary morality tale, but instead it has lines like ‘Have you ever seen an army of the dead? They march for ten miles and then their legs fall off.’ This book very successfully maintains a sense of the absurd. And I must say I adored the character of Trubshaw. I hope he is there to greet me if I ever end up at the gates of Hell.

Humour is very difficult in writing. And everyone’s idea about funny writing is different, and very little writing will make me laugh, but I found Johannes Cabal amusing and more than a little entertaining.