Sunday, October 27, 2013

Stray Souls (Magicals Anonymous #1) by Kate Griffin

Stray Souls (Magicals Anonymous #1) by Kate Griffin

Synopsis: 'Don’t look back. It wants you to look back.’

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.

The problem is, while everyone expects Sharon to have all the answers – from the Midnight Mayor to Sharon’s magically-challenged self-help group – she doesn’t have a clue where to start.

But with London’s soul missing and the Gate open, there are creatures loose that won’t wait for her to catch up before they go hunting.

Stray Souls is the first novel in the Magicals Anonymous series, set in the same fantastical London as the Matthew Swift novels.

Review: In full disclosure I won this book in a Goodreads giveaway.

It should be pointed out there is a lot of swearing in this book, it is not suitable for younger readers or anyone who is offended by such things.

I must admit, it took me a while to get used to the unusual writing style of this novel and early on I found myself wondering how hard it was going to be to finish this one. I shouldn’t have worried as once I had become used to the writing I really enjoyed this book.

The first unusual thing about the writing was that even though it is written in third person, the way it is written it almost feels like it has been written in first person and the author just changed all the instances of I to he/she. It made it sound like a crazy diva who talks about themselves in third person.

The thought patterns of the characters and how the pauses in action were broken up were written in a very strange way. The thoughts would often stop halfway through if the person became distracted, and if something interrupted some action the sentence would end without any punctuation and carry on in the next paragraph. At first I was very distracted by this, and found myself thinking about the writing style and was taken out of the story. Once I became more familiar with it, I actually found it to work well.

The chapters tended to be very short (about four pages long on average). The point of view often changed with the chapters and this did sometimes lead to a very stop-start style in the story. Quite often there would be a chapter following the main character, then a short chapter where one of the other characters tells you about themselves and then the story returns to the main character and follows her around again. Early on I thought this really slowed down the pacing of the story and I found myself wishing it would just get back to continuing the story. But later on it worked really well as it gave great insights into the many characters, and usually at a time that is appropriate to reveal something about that person.

The characters are fantastic and reminded me a lot of something written by Terry Pratchett. There are some great ideas that are well executed, there’s a germaphobic vampire, a druid with allergies, a werepigeons (yes pigeons, plural), a troll who doesn’t like violence and a shaman who doesn’t know how to be a shaman to name a few. They were very real, humorous in their odd ways, awkward and would act like people in real life. E.g. rather than being heroic and wanting to go on a quest they would be reluctant and only do it because they had to.

They writing style and language is very British, I am originally from England so didn’t have a problem but if you are not familiar with some of the British terms you may have troubles understanding what the characters are saying at times.

<spoiler>The ending reminded me of Bladerunner, in that the main evil character who we have been hating the whole time gives one small speech and I found myself feeling pity and compassion for them. </spoiler>

Overall I would say it took a while to get used to the usual writing style but once I did it turned out to be an excellent story with fantastic characters and well worth reading.

Rating: *****

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Romulus Buckle & the City of the Founders (Chronicles of the Pneumatic Zeppelin #1) by Richard Ellis Preston Jr.

Romulus Buckle & the City of the Founders (Chronicles of the Pneumatic Zeppelin #1) by Richard Ellis Preston Jr.

Synopsis: In a postapocalyptic world of endless snow, Captain Romulus Buckle and the stalwart crew of the Pneumatic Zeppelin must embark on a perilous mission to rescue their kidnapped leader, Balthazar Crankshaft, from the impenetrable City of the Founders. Steaming over a territory once known as Southern California — before it was devastated in the alien war — Buckle navigates his massive airship through skies infested with enemy war zeppelins and ravenous alien beasties in this swashbuckling and high-octane steampunk adventure. Life is desperate in the Snow World, and death is quick. Buckle and his ship’s company must brave poisoned wastelands of Noxious Mustard and do battle with forgewalkers, steampipers, and armored locomotives as they plunge from the skies into the underground prison warrens of the fortress city.
Captain Romulus Buckle must lead the Pneumatic Zeppelin and its crew of ne’er-do-wells on a desperate mission where he must risk everything to save Balthazar and attempt to prevent a catastrophic war that could wipe out all that is left of civilization and the entire human race.

Review: This is one of those books that take a while to get going. I can see why some reviewers say they gave up with it after the first 100 pages. But this book is worth sticking with as once you get passed the initial part there is an excellent story and characters.

The descriptions are of a high level. Most of the time this is really good as it gives you clear view of the world and what is happening in it. There were some times I felt that the description went on for too long and it hurt the pacing of the story. I didn’t really need a detailed description of every single part of the ship, its crew, where they sit etc.

The lengthy descriptions are not limited to the sights, sounds and smells of the world, but also in the narrative of the characters. Just about every part of every conversation is included. The parts that slowed down the story the most was the bridge actions. First the commanding officer will give a command (usually a ship maneuver), a crew member will then repeat the command back to the commander, then we get a description of what the crew has to do (turning valves, flicking switches etc.) the maneuver or action being carried out and finally the result of what they did. There would often be several of these commands, confirmation, carryout and maneuvers in one go, making for a couple of pages of uninteresting story which really slowed the pacing down. Although for the most part this became annoying, one nice thing about this style was during times when the crew needed to do something quickly (such as hurry to a destination for a rescue) it really increased the tension as I waited for the slow paced ship/story to get to where they needed to be and I was worried they wouldn’t make it in time.

Initially I thought there was too much world building, and this is true for the first 100 pages or so. It appears in large chucks making it hard to absorb and slowing down the pace of the story. Luckily like so much about this book once you get pass the slow part there is a much better balance.

Similarly the characters suffered at the start of the story, with all the world building going on and some part spent on action, very little background is given to the characters and we don’t really learn very much about them. But just like the story, once you get pass the first part of the book there is plenty in there. We find out a lot about the main characters past, what their thoughts and motives are, and how they develop throughout the story.

As I have already said, the pacing picks up after the first 100 pages or so, and there is a much better balance between, story, world building and characters. The length of the descriptions feels about right and we are not continually interrupted by large chucks of world building.

If you are reading this book and get to page 100 and are thinking about given up then I would urge you to stick with it, at least for another 100 pages as the book really improves after the initial slowness.

Rating: ****

Sunday, October 13, 2013

The Time Fetch by Amy Herrick

 The Time Fetch by Amy Herrick

Synopsis (from book) "Edward picks up what he thinks is a rock. He doesn’t know it is a sleeping Time Fetch—and touching it will release its foragers too soon and alter the entire fabric of time and space. Soon the bell rings to end class just as it has begun. Buses race down streets, too far behind schedule to stop for passengers. Buildings and sidewalks begin to disappear as the whole fabric of the universe starts to unravel. To try to stop the foragers, Edward must depend on the help of his classmates Feenix, Danton, and Brigit—whether he likes it or not. They all have touched the Fetch, and it has drawn them together in a strange and thrilling adventure. The boundaries between worlds and dimensions are blurred, and places and creatures on the other side are much like the ones they’ve always known—but slightly twisted, a little darker, and much more dangerous.

A fast-paced tale filled with mythology, danger, friendship, and a shocking centuries-old secret, The Time Fetch is sure to delight fans of fantasy adventure with its tale of ordinary kids who tumble into a magical situation.

For ages 10 and up, grades 5 and up.

Review: The story itself was fairly good with some really interesting concepts that were well written. The big problem I had with this book was the characters.

They were all one-dimensional, lacking any depth or interesting characteristics. They were also almost all unlikeable.

Firstly there was Edward, he is lazy, uncaring, sometimes mean and a loner. He had no qualities to draw me to him and plenty to push me away.

Then there was his friend Danton. He wasn’t too bad; he was a nice guy and encouraging to the others to get stuff done and tried to get them to get along. He was a contrast to Edward and although he wasn’t unlikeable he lacked the exciting personality to make me drawn to him.

Next there was Brigit, who is a selective mute. She was probably the most interesting character and the most sympathetic. I did like her, but I would like to have seen her fleshed out a little more. We are told early on that she is mute because of the death of her infant brother, but other than being told that fact once it never really comes up again or is prominent in her thoughts.

Finally there was Feenix, a girl at Edward’s school who he didn’t get along with. She was mean and a bully. At first I really didn’t like her. Then she was captured by the witches and has a hard time. During this period I did feel a little sorry for her because it was so unpleasant. Then she escapes (with a little help from the other children). My problem then was she was still pretty much the same mean bully she was before (although she is a little nicer.)

All of this made it hard to empathize with the characters or get excited about what they were doing. It also made the situation less tense because I didn’t care what happened to them. And it really hurt the story.

There was very little character development in the book. For the most part they stay the same throughout the story. When they do change it’s normally sudden and doesn’t feel genuine.

Another problem I had was with the lessons the characters have. They go to a class where the teacher gives them some crazy lesson about some obscure fact. The things that they are taught then become relevant to the story a short time late. It felt unnatural and every time it happened it felt like there was a flashing red light and an announcer saying “Pay attention this will be coming up in the story shortly”

There were several plot points that are never really explained, they just happen without giving any satisfactory reason why.

The language the characters sometimes pulled me out of the story, it didn’t seem natural. For example the characters would sometimes literally use the word ‘bleeping’ in place of swearing or other language than you might hear on a children’s TV show but doesn’t seem real enough for a book.

I really wanted to like this book, the concept was fantastic and the plot was good. It was just the awful, one-dimensional, unrealistic, unlikeable characters that made it a chore to get through.

In full disclosure I won this book in a Goodreads giveaway.

Rating ** 

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Creating Character: Bringing Your Story to Life by William Bernhardt

 Creating Character: Bringing Your Story to Life by William Bernhardt

"All fiction is character-driven, according to William Bernhardt, despite what you might have heard elsewhere. If your characters don't interest readers, even the most exciting plots will fail. "Action is character," Aristotle wrote, but what does that mean, and how can you use that fundamental principle to create dynamic fiction that will captivate readers? This book explains the relationship between character and plot, and how the perfect melding of the two produces a mesmerizing story. Using examples spanning from The Odyssey to The Da Vinci Code, Bernhardt discusses the art of character creation in a direct and easily comprehended manner. The book also includes exercises designed to help writers apply these ideas to their own work."

In full disclosure I won this book in a Goodreads giveaway. I haven’t read any other writing books, but I had written about a 1/3 of a novel at the time of reading this book.

This book provides excellent tips for writing more interesting characters.

I must admit I was a little worried when I read the first chapter, it seemed a little wishy-washy without any real tips, fortunately the rest of the book was excellent with great tips and advice.

The tips are general enough to apply to whatever book you are writing but specific enough for you know how and where you will apply it to your own work.

There are plenty of examples in this book that calls upon well known characters both from books and TV (such Sherlock Holmes, Doctor House and James Bond.) The nice thing about these examples is that you can still understand them even if you don’t know the characters. He sometimes uses characters from his own books, although these were just because he knew them so well and could give excellent examples and it never felt that he was trying to promote his own books.

There were plenty of tips where it helped me realize how I could improve my book and writing, although rather nicely I also saw what I had done a lot right.

The writing style is very easy to read, even if you have never studied writing you will be able to understand everything that the author tells you. He very rarely uses technical terms and on the few occasions that he does, he fully explains what they mean.

One tip I have for this book, use a highlighter pen, there are so many useful tips you will need to highlight the ones that you find the most useful and relevant.

I liked the short length of this book, there was no filler, just great advice on how to write. The short length was nice as it meant I could read it without feeling I should get back to my own writing.

I would recommend this book to anyone who wishes to improve their writing, I will defiantly getting the rest of this series.

Rating *****