Monday, 27 October 2014

Happy Like Murderers - Gordon Brown



Title: Happy Like Murderers
Author: Gordon Brown
Genre: True Crime
Published: 1998
Formats: Hardback/Paperback/Ebook

Available at:
Amazon
The Book Depository
Amazon UK

Review:
As part of the 2014 Eclectic Reader Challenge I was required to read something from the true crime genre and the book I picked was “Happy Like Murderers” by Gordon Burn. This book details the abuse and murders carried out by Rose and Fred West to numerous children and young people across several decades at 25 Cromwell Street, Gloucester and various other locations around Gloucestershire.

I vividly remember the ghastly discoveries at Cromwell Street when they occurred and whilst I knew a fair bit about the murders this book has highlighted other elements of the complete story. In particular I was really shocked and horrified to discover what the Wests’ children went through and as a parent myself I really struggled to understand how someone could do the things that they did to their children.

It really is a hard book to read due to the vast amount of unsettling events that are recorded and detailed. It highlights in grim detail how vile humans can be and I found myself having to put the book down at multiple occasions. These self-imposed pauses and the vast amount of information that is packed into the pages meant that this wasn’t a quick read that I could pick up and finish in just a couple of days.

Whilst the book does a good job in detailing a lot of what actually happened, I do feel that the writing itself was rather disappointing. The whole thing feels very disorganised as the narrative constantly jumps backwards and forwards in time. I have read some commentary that this was Burns’ attempt at trying to capture Fred West's circular thought and speech patterns but for personally I just found it irritating. Then there was Burns’ tendency to repeat the same facts multiple times which just increased the irritation factor.

Overall this is without doubt one of the most disturbing books I have ever read and the knowledge that what I was reading about actually happened really enhances the horror of it all. The writing itself did let the book down due to the non-linear narrative and constant repetition of facts but either way Burns has managed to capture the grim truth in a rather vivid way. I really can’t recommend this book for casual readers, if you have an interest in true crime novels then you may want to give it a go but be prepared for some quite sickening moments.

Monday, 13 October 2014

Star Trek: Heart of the Sun - Pamela Sargent & George Zebrowski



Title: Heart of the Sun
Author: Pamela Sargent & George Zebrowski
Genre: Science Fiction
Published: 1997
Formats: Paperback/Ebook

Available at:
Amazon
Amazon UK

Review:
“Heart of the Sun” by Pamela Sargent & George Zebrowski is an Original Series Star Trek Novel that takes place early on in the 5 Year Mission. My first comment about it is that it displayed the issue I have noticed recently with cover blurbs not matching what actually happens in the novel. Whilst the blurb details that the story is about the Enterprise trying to stop an asteroid hitting a planet it is actually about the Enterprise trying to stop an asteroid which contains some mysterious technology hitting the planet’s sun which in turn may affect the planet itself. It isn’t the biggest of differences to be honest but I still hate the way that this type of thing can make Star Trek books appear rather amateurish.

Anyway, the story we do get here is pretty standard Star Trek fare and isn’t anything special although it is solid enough. It is a reasonably smart and thoughtful novel that tries to put forward some interesting points on the issues of becoming an overly insular society. The authors also do a reasonable job with the characters as on the whole they acted in the manner I would have expected them to.

However there are some issues with the plot itself, for example the reason for the Enterprise being at the planet Tyrtaeus II did feel rather derived and unlikely. I just don’t believe that in the future an entire planet’s computer database wouldn’t have a proper back up system in place to protect it against viruses etc.

The real problem with the novel though is that it could at times get rather dull, there was a lot of contemplation and investigations going on with very little action or adventure. Now, this on its own wouldn’t have been much of an issue to me as but unfortunately towards the middle of the book the authors manage to repeat the same things over and over again. I don’t know how many times I had to read about the crew trying to move the asteroid or discuss the risks of Spock heading over there but it was too many. This continuous repetition of points just slowed the plot down and left me feeling rather bored.

Overall, this is a pretty standard Star Trek story with an interesting enough premise but told in a rather inefficient and at times rather dull manner. I did enjoy some aspects of the story but now that I have finished it I suspect it will quickly fade from my memory as it just hasn’t left any lasting impression.

Friday, 10 October 2014

Empress of Dreams (Temple of the Traveler Book 3) - Scott Rhine



Title: Empress of Dreams (Temple of the Traveler Book 3)
Author: Scott Rhine
Genre: Fantasy
Published: 2012
Formats: Paperback/Ebook

Available at:
Amazon
Smashwords
Amazon UK

Review:
“Empress of Dreams” is the third and final novel in Scott Rhine’s epic fantasy series, “The Tales of the Traveller”. It picks up from the ending of the 2nd novel although due to the nature of that ending I found that this book did have a different feel to the previous novel. In the end though it did close out the open plotlines in a satisfactory and enjoyable manner so is without doubt in my opinion a successful conclusion to the series.

In regards to the plot of this novel, Jotham, the priest of the Traveller who helped close that the final Door to Eternity is transformed by his actions into a new body complete with the six fingered hands of the Imperial race and a new name, Pagaose. His arrival at the heart of the Empire results in him being proclaimed Emperor and so begins a new adventure for this former priest. He must gain the acceptance as Emperor, find a wife and defeat the pretender to his new throne.

Again, we have an intelligent, complicated story that really delves down into the mythos and culture of the world which Rhine has created. Rhine has tried to tone down the pacing even more in this novel which ensures the reader can really digest and understand what is going on. Personally, I really hope Rhine continues to try and slow his stories down like this as it allows the reader to get immersed in the world he has created and appreciate the story that is being told.

In regards to characters, well I have two main points to make, the first of which is that the characters we have grown to know continue to evolve and mature in this novel. It was wonderful seeing Pinetto grow from student to teacher and Pagaose/Jotham really blossoms as he uses his knowledge, morality and experience to become a great Emperor. The second point is that the vast amount of characters Rhine had previously bamboozled us with is increased yet again. Luckily, I understood the original characters well enough and the new ones were different enough that I managed to avoid getting confused. This is a true ensemble story with multiple characters and multiple stories all being treated with equal importance. Basically, if you like books which concentrate on just a handful of characters then I think you may need to stay far away from this series.

Overall, I found this to be a great conclusion to the series and probably my favourite of them all. In part this is because by this point in the series I understood the characters and culture but it was also a very fun and enjoyable story. If you have read the other novels in the series then without doubt you need to go and pick this book up as it should leave you feeling very satisfied an the ending provided.

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

The Accidental Time Machine - Joe Haldeman



Title: The Accidental Time Machine
Author: Joe Haldeman
Genre: Science Fiction
Published: 2007
Formats: Hardback/Paperback/Ebook

Available at:
Amazon
The Book Depository
Amazon UK

Review:
“The Accidental Time Machine” is a Science Fiction novel written by Joe Haldeman, an author who is better known for another Science Fiction novel, “The Forever War”. In regards to this novel, well it follows a young graduate student at MIT, Matt Fuller, who as the title implies, accidentally creates a time machine. However, every time it is used it will jump forward in time with the time interval increasing each time. When he finally decides to physically use it himself he reappears almost a month later to find that he has been accused of murder. Forced to use his machine to escape, he embarks on an adventure moving further and further into the future hoping that at some point humanity will have invented a machine which would enable him to return to his own time.

So my first observation is that Haldeman obviously has some knowledge of physics as the science elements did have some semblance of realism. Authors can almost treat the technology and science in these books as magic but Haldeman does at try and at least make it feel vaguely plausible. I also loved how Matt actually experimented and analysed things before he physically used the machine himself. So often we see people in time travel stories just pressing a button in a gung ho fashion without thinking anything through but this time we got to see a character trying to actually assess the risks and possibilities which was nice to see.

The writing is also to a decent standard and I enjoyed the layers of humour that Haldeman has included in the story. In addition, it was interesting to see the many different types of society and how humanity appears to have altered in various ways to suit them. However, in a way this is also one of the issues with the novel. It actually jumps too often and explores to many places; I was just beginning to understand one society and the story would then jump to another. It was rather disconcerting and did at times make the book feel like it was almost an outline for some time travelling TV series where each jump in time would be a new episode.

However, the biggest weakness in the novel is the characterisation; Matt in particular as the protagonist is flat and uninteresting. He has no charisma, interesting attributes or personality at all which of course meant it was hard to feel any real connection. The supporting characters weren’t any better, there was no depth or development and they were just used as plot devices to move the story forwards.

Overall, this was an interesting and at times quite funny novel. The different societies visited during the journey into the future are varied and intriguing although it would have been nice to have spent a bit more time at each. The characters are a severe weakness however and it was a bit of a battle at times to enjoy the fun of the plot itself when the characters themselves were so flat and lifeless. Going forward I will probably give Haldeman’s “The Forever War” a read but if the characters are as lacking in that book then I will probably move on to other authors.

Thursday, 25 September 2014

Star Trek: The Original Series: River of Blood (Errand of Vengeance Book 3) - Kevin Ryan



Title: River of Blood (Errand of Vengeance Book 3)
Author: Kevin Ryan
Genre: Science Fiction
Published: 2002
Formats: Paperback/Ebook

Available at:
Amazon
Amazon UK

Review:
“River of Blood” is the final novel in Kevin Ryan’s “Errand of Vengeance” trilogy. The novel continues to follow the exploits of Kell aka Jon Anderson, a Klingon spy currently serving on the USS Enterprise. In particular the story is focussed on the defence of Starbase 42 against a Klingon attempt to obtain a large quantity of starship-grade dilithium crystals which are held on the planet below.

I have thoroughly enjoyed this series of novels, with particular interest deriving from the development of the various “lower deck” characters. Therefore it was a little bit disappointing to see that Ryan has changed tack with this book and has pushed the character elements of the story aside in order to create one big action packed finale. This different focus does result in a fast paced and thoroughly entertaining novel but it felt like it was missing something.

Another issue related to this different focus is that Kell himself is reduced to a very minor role. It feels to me like Ryan had maybe developed the character too quickly and was left with an entire novel in which he just had to give the character some sort of ending; an ending which I have to say was pretty predictable. I did note that this does allow Kirk and the main crew to take more of an active role in the story which will I am sure appeal to some people but I was a little bit disappointed as I had really enjoyed the freshness of concentrating on Kell and the other “minor” characters.

Whilst this review does appear a bit negative I do want to clarify that I did enjoy the book, it is a fun read and the characters acted and behaved in a manner I have come to expect. In addition, it was nice to see that whilst the character elements in the novel were diminished Ryan has tried to give all them at least one important moment with Admiral Justman in particular getting an exceptional finale.

Overall, this book is a decent finale to the series with entertaining action scenes aplenty but it was probably my least favourite due to the reduction in character elements and the loss of focus on Kell’s story. The series as a whole has been a wonderful adventure for me and I have really enjoyed its focus on the secondary characters which has given it a very fresh feeling. It is a bit of a shame that this experiment was abandoned and most books have gone back to following the main three crew members but either way I am now looking forward to reading Ryan’s follow up series “Errand of Fury” which continues the story of Klingon-Federation tensions right up until the events of the TV episode “Errand of Mercy”.

Sunday, 21 September 2014

Death of a Gossip (Hamish Macbeth Book 1) - M.C. Beaton



Title: Death of a Gossip (Hamish Macbeth Book 1)
Author: M.C. Beaton
Genre: Mystery
Published: 1985
Formats: Hardback/Paperback/Ebook

Available at:
Amazon
The Book Depository
Amazon UK

Review:
“Death of a Gossip” by M.C. Beaton is the first book in the long running Hamish Macbeth Mystery series. I picked up this book in order to meet the Cosy Mystery requirement of the 2014 Eclectic Reader Challenge. It was this book specifically that I chose because I recognised the Hamish Macbeth name from a 1990’s BBC TV show which was based on this series of novels although to be honest I never actually watched it.

The story is set in the quaint Scottish village of Lochdubh where local police constable Hamish Macbeth enjoys the quiet life. However when a guest at a local fly-fishing school is murdered his quiet life is turned upside down. Of course Hamish isn’t experienced in murder investigation and so a team of experienced professionals arrive in the village and effectively bar Hamish from participating. Hamish, however, ignores this and continues to investigate, slowly uncovering clues about the other members of the fly-fishing school in the hope that he can help solve the case.

I did enjoy reading this, yes it was incredibly lightweight at times and paced in a very leisurely manner but it just felt very pleasant to read. If you after a nice relaxing few hours of reading then this book will competently fit the bill. From the beginning it is obvious who the victim is going to be but Beaton uses this really well to build up the tension between her and the potential suspects. I did feel that the detection elements felt a bit clumsy but this didn’t really spoil my enjoyment.

I did have some issues with the characters however. Hamish himself is an engaging and likeable character who provides some real humour throughout the story but the supporting characters all felt very stereotypical. There were some brash Americans, a na├»ve working class woman and an egotistical upper class “gentleman” for her to obsess over. They were all so very uninteresting and some of the attitudes on display felt very dated, particularly the naivety of the young woman, Alice.

Overall, this was a nice and enjoyable read and I can fully appreciate why the Cosy Mystery tag applies here. Hamish is a very likeable character and I suspect that his humour and personality did help ensure I enjoyed the book as much as I actually did. I suspect I may give some more of these books a try and see how Hamish is developed throughout the series.

Monday, 15 September 2014

Star Trek: The Original Series: Killing Blow (Errand of Vengeance Book 2) - Kevin Ryan



Title: Killing Blow (Errand of Vengeance Book 2)
Author: Kevin Ryan
Genre: Science Fiction
Published: 2002
Formats: Paperback/Ebook

Available at:
Amazon
Amazon UK

Review:
“Killing Blow” is the 2nd Novel in Kevin Ryan’s “Errand of Vengeance” trilogy that takes a look at the tension between the Federation and Klingon Empire which results in war as seen in the Star Trek Original series episode “Errand of Mercy”. The main focus of the novel continues to be on Kell, the Klingon infiltrator who is current disguised as a human aboard the Enterprise. Kell has come to realise that the way in which the Empire portrays Kirk and humanity as a whole is not accurate, in fact his viewpoint has changed so much that he has ended up in a relationship with a human woman called Leslie Parrish. However, despite his reservations he is still determined to complete his mission and assassinate Kirk.

When I started reading this book I wasn’t expecting much as middle novels in trilogies do tend to be weakest of the three. However, Ryan has managed to continue the overall plotline adequately whilst also giving us an interesting and enjoyable story specific to this novel. There are of course still some elements of the novel dedicated to setting things up for the finale but the inclusion of a specific mission to follow that contains a start and finish ensures that the when you finish the novel you still feel satisfied with the conclusion.

In regards to the writing, the quick pacing and action packed storyline ensures the novel feels like an episode of the TV series with us never dwelling to long on any one area. Also, the loss of red shirted personnel left, right and centre really reinforces that Original series feeling. Probably the only element that really differs strongly from one of the TV episodes is that most of the viewpoints are from people outside the regular cast. These new characters introduced in the first novel continue to grow and provide a feeling of freshness to the Star Trek Universe.

Overall this was an enjoyable continuation of the Errand of Vengeance trilogy which continues to highlight and develop the lives of the “regular” people aboard the Enterprise. In addition, Kell’s personal struggles are well portrayed and whilst we know that Kirk won’t be killed, how Kell’s journey will conclude does remain a mystery and I am eager to see how this will be resolved.