Tag Archives: author
Book review ‘Haunted’
by James Herbert
First Published 1988
The book follows the simple idea of a haunted house. David Ash is a psychic investigator who uncovers fake hauntings and has doubts as to the existence of ghosts. His sceptical view stems from a dark childhood secret. He travels to Edbrook, a remote country house, to investigate a haunting and stays with the Mariell family and begins to unravel their family secret.
Ok, so I have not read James Herbert for a while as I was getting fed up with his books. I got this book cheap in a charity shop, which is the best place to get books in my opinion. Or at least until I am an author and my royalties are affected. I had an open mind. Maybe with the passing of time, I would like his books again, maybe I had just read several duff books and this would be the one to bring me back.
The blurb in the dust cover promises that ‘he has taken on the haunted-house mystery story and re-forged it in his own uniquely brilliant and terrifying way.’ Sadly, the book is different to other haunted house stories in that James Herbert uses all the themes that he uses in all of his books, as well as every theme that haunted house films and books have used ever since, well, since houses were haunted.
James Herbert has very limited characters, which was the main reason that I was alienated from his books. All of his major characters in his books are late thirties to early forties, at least in ‘feel,’ if not implicitly stated. The character is always male, heavy smoker and drinker, hiding a bad past. The first pretty female encountered WILL end up in bed with said male character. She will have little character development and be very two dimensional.
Then there is the haunted house; the book reads like a check sheet of what to include. There is the murky pond haunted by a girl, life endangered one moment, then there is no threat, the house owner hiding information about a dodgy past, crazed people hidden from others, the violent dog, the ghost detectors that are not set off, child-like giggling, seeing someone, look again and they are gone, telephones not working, the local pub knowing something dodgy happens at the big house. Ok, you get the picture; there is nothing original in here at all. We’ve seen it all before!
Then there is the mitigation. James Herbert has the skill to form the story. His words leave deep impressions and vivid images. I did keep reading it; there were interesting parts, sadly not enough, and not enough originality. The haunted house is done to death, and it would take an incredible idea to revive it, sadly, ‘Haunted’ does not deliver.
Vedict: Unoriginal and disappointing.
Book Review, ‘The Dwarves,’ by Markus Heitz
Published by Orbit Books
Good read but don’t expect anything earth shattering.
‘Dwarves’ is the story of Tungdil, a dwarf brought up by human magi, unaware of his background and family. He studies books, learning about dwarves and their culture and longs to meet them himself.
After a falling out, he is sent to deliver a message, and loves the idea of seeing the wider world. As his journey continues, he discovers a magus, Nudin, has betrayed the others. When he meets with the other dwarves, he finds that they must reforge a weapon, the only way to destroy the evil that resides within Nudin.
On his quest, he is helped by a range of unusual characters, from the fabulous Rodario, an actor, to the maga, Andôkai and her companion, the enigmatic armoured giant, Djerůn. The unlikely friends travel all over Girdlegard to stop the encroachment of the Perished Land and destroy Nudin, but Tungdil must also unify groups who have their own grudges against each other as well as his own party.
So what to say? The book is long at 730 pages, which can be daunting to some people. There are other books is the same world, but this is a complete story. It puts me off when I pick up a fantasy book and see that it is book X of Y. The length takes time to explore the characters and also to explain other points of action. Despite the length, there was never any feel that the book was slowing or intentionally long. It was as long as the story needed to be.
The book ambled at a gentle pace, although I found it harder and harder to put the book down the more I read. Most of the characters I liked and felt for, even one who was whiney. As with most stories that have several characters, there were a couple I did not enjoy, and I felt that the character of Djerůn could have been developed more. It probably did no help that he was not able to talk.
So far, so good. But why only three stars? This was Markus Heitz’s first novel, and since then, he has set several more books in the same fantasy world. I do not know if he has improved, I hope so as I find his work very good. There were some down points, which hindered the story and were silly. The use of ‘orbit’ and ‘cycles’ to replace ‘day’ and ‘year’ respectively made reading at times clunky, and it did not contribute to the story in any way.
The maps at the start of the book looked as if they had been thrown together in five minutes. We are all used to the beautifully crafted maps of Tolkiens Middle Earth, the world of Game of Thrones, Games Workshops’ ‘Warhammer World’, or even the Elderscrolls maps. The map of Girdlegard is very rectangular (it was drawn of A4, I am guessing.) They show a darkened area where mountains are and name the important places that are in the novel. There are no trees to show where the forests are, no rivers, no other important places. It is easy enough to make a map with more detail, even websites for it. So a map is not the most important part of a novel, but it would have contributed more to the atmosphere of the Girdlegard world, rather than making it look cheap.
Another, albeit, minor and personal annoyance, is that the book was translated from German into American English. I know this is because the American audience is larger, but seeing ‘axe’ as ‘ax’ and ‘amour’ as ‘armor’ just gets on my wick.
Now, I come to my biggest grievance, and the reason the book does not get a better score from me. The book is a fantasy book. Let me explain; there is nothing original. Had the book been written in the 1970’s then it would have been ok, but everything in this book we have seen before. The dwarves live in great fortresses underground, they smith, love gems and gold, drink too much and hate elves. The elves live in trees, dislike dwarves and are haughty to non-elves. Every stereotype of fantasy is in the book, so it gives nothing new to fantasy. Even the plot is very contrived. A dwarf does not know his past, magical weapons to kill the bad guy, but first they have to travel far and wide to get it. A mismatched group of travellers who become friends and discover things about themselves. The orcs who don’t seem to be able to kill anything, and throw themselves at the dwarves to get slaughtered.
Would I recommend this book? Yes, but only for a reader who wants easy reading, a reader who wants basic run-of-the-mill fantasy. Would I read more of his works? Yes. As I said earlier, it is well written with good characters, and hopefully his experience would remove the negative points I have pointed out.
Review of ‘Backwards’
By Rob Grant
Great for all ‘red Dwarf’ fans
Backwards is a book set in the ‘Red Dwarf’ universe and written by Rob Grant who, along with Doug Naylor, wrote the TV show. Maybe this helps, as he knows the characters and universe so well.
The story begins with the crew of the ‘Red Dwarf’ on a planet that runs backwards. They have to rescue Lister before he goes back so far in time, he becomes and embryo then a lot worse. From there, they fight against the psychopathic robots, the Agonoids. There is also an appearance from one of my favourite smeg heads, Ace Rimmer, much to Arnold Rimmer’s annoyance.
The original characters are neatly captured, with my mind imagining the show’s actors and voices. There are parts of several TV episodes mixed into the writing, and the same humour is very much present. When a world runs backwards, it leaves so many fun possibilities, and among the many fun scenarios mentioned in the book, sex is so much less fulfilling when it ends with the foreplay. Being a book, the author can get away with more than he could on TV, but the gross-out factor is only the worse for it, with everything being in the reader’s mind. Although this is the third in the series of ‘Red Dwarf’, reading the others is not essential as it is easy enough to follow the plot.
Sadly Cat did not have a large enough role, although what he did have was fantastic, I would say more, but I don’t want to spoil it for readers. The crew leave the backwards planet in good time, and the pace does slow and the humour fades, but even that cannot dampen this hilarious book.
Web of Darkness
Web of Darkness is the second in the Fall of Atlantis series, although it is can be a stand alone book as well. It follows the story of two sisters and the part they played in the downfall of Atlantis. The two sisters live in a temple, one is a teenage child, the other slightly older.
I had never heard of Marion Bradley, so was not aware that she had written so many books nor of her controversial sex allegations. That probably made it easier to have an open mind when I began the book.
The comments within the covers compare it to Tolkien and there are generally favourable reviews on the internet, but for me, I could not even finish it. Many books I have read which begin badly I struggle through, some improve (The White Witch) while some torture me until the bitter end. For me not to finish the book, it must have been awful. I reached page eighty, of 369 pages. In those pages nothing happened. No really, nothing at all. People walked about and talked. Some went to a temple and some talked. They even slept. And talked, although not at the same time. Inane conversations, and muttering of love and some people’s places. There was no character development, no excitement and the characters were not even interesting. I did not like the main characters, they were annoying and bland. I also did not like the names, with the main two characters, Deoris and Domaris being too similar so that I was not sure who was whom. I have read many fantasy books, and yet the names in this books seemed too ‘far out’ to understand.
At this point of slating a book, I move onto the bit I liked about the story. Um, yeah. Even the cover was not particularly inspiring.
Conclusion: Good to help the insomniacs.
by Carola Oman
Published By JM Dent & Sons Ltd in 1975 (originally 1949)
ISBN 0 460 02177 X
Robin Hood is one of the most famous fictional characters in the world, with his tales dating back into the middle ages. The truth and fiction is mixed up, with theories that he was based on various real people, and tales being collected and changed across the centuries. He is an English hero, among the greats of Sherlock Holmes and King Arthur.
Carola Oman’s book is not one continuous tale, but a collection of stories about Robin Hood collected together with a loose connection. Her tale begins with Sir Richard of the Lee in debt and in danger of losing his lands, where he meets Robin Hood who helps him. Sir Richard makes several more appearances throughout the novel, playing a major part. All of the other characters expected in Robin Hood tales also appear; Little John, Maid Marion, Will Scarlet and of course the wicked Sheriff of Nottingham.
The book begins with Robin already being an outlaw with his band of merry men in the forest of Sherwood. It was written for children, and takes a gentle atmosphere, full of merriment and heroism. It is a nice book, innocent and inoffensive to anyone, as to be expected for children’s books. So it is a child’s book, why did I read it? Because I enjoyed it. The character of Robin is loveable and infallible, and he is more Errol Flynn than Kevin Costner, swashbuckling his way through the baddies.
Yet it is not perfect. Sometimes the writing is dated, and the speech is almost a stereotype of medieval talk. There are parts that could have had more detail. At one point they go to the Sheriff, but it is only touched upon in a couple of lines of speech. It is a major plot point dismissed in an instant. The tension does feel lacking, probably because of this point. I would also have liked more background on Robin Hood, as I feel it started too late in his story. There are some parts of his background that leave questions open.
Verdict: Despite a few shortcomings, it is a fun take on a well used theme.
Character Creation or stuck for ideas?
One of the first parts of writing for me is character creation. It also helps sometimes when stuck for a new story to create several characters and see what happens to them I have included a sample character John ‘Lizard’ McGrath. I made him up as a ‘stream of conscience’ in about half an hour, so it need not take long. Obviously he can be ‘fine tuned’ at a later date.
John ‘Lizard’ McGrath
John McGrath was born to a poor family in Southampton, and has two older brothers, (Patrick and Jamie) and a younger sister Daisy. His dad left when he was two, and his mum struggled to bring them up alone. When he was twelve, his mum married Ethan Edwards. He turned out to be an abusive drunk, and when John was fifteen, he took a hit too many and fought back, breaking his step dad’s jaw before he ran away.
John spent four years on the street, getting into trouble with the police for fighting and theft. When he was nineteen he met Father Jake Thompson, a Catholic minister. He helped him though his drug and alcohol problems, although John still had a terrible anger. He joined the army, getting into the SAS, and served in the Gulf War, then in Northern Ireland and the invasion of Iraq.
It was in Iraq that he was blown up by a roadside bomb, and lost an eye. He was offered a false eye, by decided to have a patch instead. He left the army on medical grounds becoming a reporter.
He became embroiled in many stories he was covering. In 2010, he saved the life of a high ranking police officer who was the target of the RIRA. When he was covering the 2012 London Olympics, he uncovered a plot by anarchists who were planning to release a nerve agent over the Olympic Village.
He got the nickname ‘Lizard’ from his army days, when he was in the SAS, his ability to conceal himself was like a Chameleon.
Name: John McGrath
Height: 6ft 2”
Eyes: Dark Brown
Hair: Brown with a few flecks of grey.
Appearance: John is quite a character; he is blind in his right eye and wears a patch with a lizard symbol on. His nose has a small scar on, and he rarely smiles. He is scruffy, often with stubble and short spiky hair.
Religion: Catholic – Quite devout.
Family: He is not close to his brothers as they turned against him when he left home and was an alcoholic. He is very close to his sister Daisy. He hardly ever talks to his mum, who he has never forgiven for marrying Ethan. He was fond of his gran, but she died when he was in Iraq – something he feels guilt for.
Friends; Closet friend is Father Jake Thompson, who has given him a reason to live and introduced him to his faith. He has many friends from his days in the army, although he is not very close to them, as he finds it hard to trust people. He does get on well with Charlie Fitzgerald who he went through army training with.
Enemies: He hated Ethan Edwards, his step dad, and fell out with fellow reporter Laura Johnson. Some of his operations in the SAS and later as a reporter has made him some dangerous enemies.
Interests/like: John likes anything to do with the military, and builds military models. He also enjoys go-karting and rugby. He likes the USA and admires the Ghurkhas.
Dislikes: He dislikes gambling on religious grounds, and is tee-total and against drugs due to his past. He hates fishing, finding it boring, and hates the Welsh.
Personality: John is often withdrawn and solemn, he smiles rarely. He distrusts all but those closest to him. However, he is totally loyal to people and would do anything he can to look after them. He is quick to anger, and this has often resulted in violence.
Dreams/ambitions: John would like to settle down one day and marry, but he enjoys his job too much. He has occasionally thought about joining the clergy.
Character Creation or stuck for ideas?
Character creation is simple, and almost like creating a character in Dungeons and Dragons. (Actually on some characters in the past, I have used the Warhammer character creation for this!) During the course of writing a story, I often learn more about my characters so I add details as I go. Maybe the character will mention that he likes orange juice, so will add that.
I start with the character’s Christian names from looking at baby name websites. I choose a name which has images of what he looks like. Names are related to personalities. ‘John’ is quite a tough name –such as John Wayne, John McClane (die Hard) or John-117 (Halo). Other names in the character profile was very random but appropriate to background (nationality, ethnicity, age)
Next I move to physical details, so I know what the character looks like. From his name, I will have some ideas already. This will have hair colour, eye colour etc. If I am writing a novel and the character is important, I would probably draw a picture of him
The background was made up as I went. I only slowed to check a few details such as dates of the Gulf war; I did not want him to be three when he went to war! As this was a random character I did not need to write any pre-made story about him. I did want him to be a little different so he had no right eye. A background is important as, unless writing about a newborn, everyone has ‘done stuff’ before the story begins. It also helps mould their personality and motivations. Look at yourself – why do you like and think this and that?
All people, even evil dictators or brave soldiers have families and interests and views of the world. No one is totally evil or totally perfect. John’s likes would have to be appropriate to his job – no point being lazy and fat when he is a reporter and former SAS soldier. What he dislikes can be wide ranging. He could have been a frothing racist, or dislike baked beans. I chose him to dislike gambling which fits with his faith, and having been through the horrors of alcohol and drugs, it is very likely he would dislike that. The dislike of the Welsh was only to be a rounded character. Even people who claim not to be racist often dislike someone (Many English dislike the French.) Of course how this dislike manifests itself remains to be seen. Does he hate them to a degree he would not work with them? Does he call them nasty names or just distrust them? As a hero of a story, it cannot be too nasty. He was going to dislike the Irish, having served in Northern Ireland, but then being Catholic it may not have been appropriate.
Dreams are what drive people. Why does he not just stay in bed all day? This is important for a story as it affects how people act. Despite his tough lifestyle, he is possibly a romantic at heart and would love a wife and kids.
Stuck on a Story? – Or Where to Go now?
Ok, so if you are stuck on a story, you could create a random character like this, but where to go next? Look over the character and he will write a story for you. Here are a few ideas on John:
- He is struggling with Post Traumatic Stress
- He is struggling with his faith
- An enemy comes to kill/blackmail him. Maybe from his SAS mission or reporting.
- He uncovers a major threat while reporting – terrorism, drug trafficking, assassination attempt etc (think action films!)
- The story of his attempt to become a member of the clergy.
- His love life
- He is recalled for ‘one last job’ by the SAS (as obviously there is no one else who can do it.)
- He is decorated for his action.
- His mum dies and there is dispute or resolution with Ethan Edwards.
- Expand on his enemy Laura Johnson – why do they not get on?
- Tell the story of his fight in Iraq where he lost his eye.
- He wants to repair his relationship with family
Ok, so you get the picture. It can be almost any genre you like, a short story or a novel. To expand further, use several components; he has to go back to Iraq, but is suffering from Post Traumatic Stress, or he has to work with a Welsh man. Maybe he has to cover a story with Laura Johnson. Or maybe, he is getting an MBE from the Queen but uncovers a terrorist plot or feels guilty and wants his mum to be there. He would have to make up with her and try to have some kind of relationship with Ethan.
The likes and interests also help set scenes. It expands scope of where people can meet up and also who their friends would be. It is probable that John has friends who also enjoy rugby as well, and he could meet some at the local rugby pitch and talk to them, or meet a potential girlfriend at the Go-Karting track.
So that is just a few ideas if you want to create characters or are stuck for ideas on what to write next. Play around, and most importantly – HAVE FUN!
Review: “Dying Inside”
By Robert Silverberg
Davis Selig is a Jewish New Yorker in the 1970’s but has an incredible power of mind reading. He can enter minds and see what they know and think, seeing it as images. He has few friends, and the person he is closest to is his sister, and they do not particularly like each other. She is one of the few people who know of his power. However, the power is dying; he is finding it harder and harder to enter other minds.
As the book progresses, we learn of how he has used the power and the few people who have been close to him. It shows that he has identifies himself as ‘different’, and why this made him sad and lonely.
What to say about this book? Well it is hard going, the timeline jumps about, and there is a theses in full (He writes them) which does not contribute to the story at all, except possibly illustrating his character more. This chapter is long arduous and irrelevant.
Yet the book is fantastic. Books about superheroes are about people who have fantastic powers and use them to save/takeover the world. Get real! If most people could read minds why not use it to get laid or cheat or have an easy life. David is too lazy and insecure to use his powers to get immensely wealthy or get a career, but he uses it to ‘bum about. Hey this is the 1970’s after all. The book is depressing about how much damage being different is, and Selig goes from applauding his powers to cursing them.
The characters are strong, especially David, who despite being a bit of a loser, is lovable. The story is enjoyable and raises many questions, such as what we would really do if we had superpowers, and what is it like to be different in society. The ending is good, but not how I would have expected it. The content is very adult, and sometimes sexually disturbing.
I had never heard of Robert Silverberg before, but found out with Google that he is normally a Sci-Fi writer and is a prolific author, and in 1958 had 80 stories published. He had been having 5 published a month previously. I will be seeking out more of his works.
Verdict: Fantastic book, I recommend it.
Robert Moffat: The Story of a Great Missionary
By Hubert Williams
Published approx 1883 by National Sunday School Union
When I picked this book up at a car boot sale, I had no idea who Robert Moffat was, and although I admire missionaries, I know very little about them. The book was old, tired around the edges, yellow edged pages and fantastic plates illustrating the inside of the book. It was an old book, smelling of age, beautiful in its simplicity and naïve look, from a time long before e-books.
It was only £1, and loving all books and interested in Victorians, having recently finished Redvers Buller biography (see other review), I had to have it.
Robert Moffat (1795-1883) was a missionary and father in law to Dr Livingstone. He spent fifty years in Kuruman, (South Aftrica), and wrote the first book in the local language of Setswana; “Bechuana Spelling Book and A Bechuana Catechism.” He then translated the entire Bible into Setswana.
The book has no date but a copy on the internet is marked as 1883 just after his death. The inside cover has a prize label marked 1934/5.
Reading the book, published by National Sunday School Union and of this age shows, and writes for the audience who would be mainly British and Christian. The book is for a younger audience, and details his hard life and good Christian work. It appears sanitised for the audience, and more detail of his hard life would have been better.
By the end of the book, one is fond of the old man who gave his life to spread the Good News, and shared his sadness of family deaths and sees him as a good caring man.
For me, the book is too short, I feel and could have had more detail. I wanted to learn more about him, more about the conditions he lived, and even more information about the people he lived among. It would read as too heavy for modern children but too sanitised for adults.
Verdict: Good book for those with little or no knowledge of Moffat but not for all readers.
Review: “The Last Kingdom,” By bernard Cornwell
(HarperCollins -ISBN 978-0-00-721801)
Earl Uhtred of Bebbanburg is orphaned as a young boy by invading Danes who take him into slavery. However, impressed with Uhtred, he is adopted by the Danish leader, Ragnar. Taught the Viking way, Uhtred struggles with who he is – English or Dane, Christian or Pagan. The world is changing around him, the four kingdoms of England are dying until only Wessex is left, held by the weak King Alfred. Soon it will be invaded to become a Danish kingdom.
But Uhtred says ‘Fate is everything’ and all is not as it seems…
Every Englishman should know that Alfred the Great is the only English monarch to take the ‘Great’ suffix, and that he united England into a single nation. (if you don’t then Google it now!). “The Last Kingdom,” is the fictionalisation of this struggle, told from the view of Uhtred. This being the first novel of eight (according to Cornwell although only six at present) it sets the world up. We learn who Uhtred is, and it introduces many characters, both real and fictional.
In Bernard Cornwell, I have come to expect heroics and horror, bravery and savagery wrapped up in a gritty novel that I can’t put down. This does not disappoint.
Uhtred’s character is much of the time, ignoring modern niceties and morals, he womanises and kills with the best of them. Despite this, he is still a lovable character to connect with. He has his struggles with faith and loyalties, he would love to go home but duty calls. In his younger days in the novel, he sees his religion less to do with faith and more with what he can get out of it. To him, an early teenage warrior, the Christian god is weak and worshipped by weeping men on their knees. Thor and Odin are worshipped by great warriors and an after life of maidens, drinking and fighting awaits.
The character of Alfred could have been saccharin, but Cornwell is no sycophant. Alfred is not a great warrior, not a strong, or moral saint. He is portrayed accurately, such as womanising in his early life and weak through illness later on. His strength as a leader is faith, education and vision. The story is not a pretty mythical story of heroic English against savage Vikings; it is a struggle of fierce warriors, pillaging, shield walls and death.
The book keeps the reader gripped, as when one problem is about to be solved a sudden twist steals the reader of gratification of completion and keeps the desire to continue reading. It is filled with intentional irony, as readers know the historical outcome, yet the Danes are confident that the last English nation will fall and be theirs. To them, Alfred is a weak and useless king, and Wessex has no decent warriors. The Christian god has abandoned them and that is why they will fall…
Yet what of the downsides of the novel? I struggle to find any. Some characters have similar names (Odda and Ubba) and unusual place names. The storyline is about him growing up from becoming an orphan to a great warrior rather than any set quest, but this is intentional as there is still much more story to tell.
Mel was alone with Lawrence, he breathed faintly, forced a smile at her.
“I’m dying aren’t I?” He asked.
“No babes, hang in there, we’ll sort this.” Mel said, her eyes dropping to avoid the truth. She ran her fingers over the face of the phone and glanced at the door as if to see if Lockley was there, and then back at the bloodied face of Lawrence.
“The pain is going lover,” He said softly. “Feeling warm, like I’m drunk.” He paused to regain a bit of strength. “Why do they want you?”
“I don’t know. John is looking after me, he’s from the police.”
“You know,” Lawrence said. “I know you don’t feel the same, but I kinda love you.” Mel sighed and looked away, ashamed at the truth “I just want you to know…” Lawrence continued. “…take care. I know you can get through this.”
“Lawrence, what are you talking about? You’re gonna get better and John will get the guys who did this to you, then we’re gonna go and have a blast.” Lawrence smiled, closing his eyes. Mel was beginning to get blurry on him, but that may have been the tears.
“You know that’s not true, but I’m not afraid now,” He said. He grabbed her arm in a sudden surge of energy. “Get a man who looks after you properly. And you need to fall in love.”
“I know.” Mel sobbed holding Lawrence’s hand tight. “I’m sorry,” She let out a great sob as he sighed deeply. Her head fell to Lawrence’s chest, but his hand fell limp.
Her head jerked up with a start, her eyes wide in horror.
“Law?” His chest did not move and his eyes stared vacant at the ceiling. “No, not again,” She cried out. “I’m so sorry babes.”