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.

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Dodger - Terry Pratchett



Title: Dodger
Author: Terry Pratchett
Genre: Historic Fiction
Published: 2012
Formats: Hardback/Paperback/Ebook

Available at:
Amazon
The Book Depository
Amazon UK

Review:
“Dodger” is a novel by Terry Pratchett which explores Dickensian London rather than his usual haunt of Ankh-Morpork within the fantasy world of Discworld. As a big fan of Pratchett I was looking forward to reading this novel although I have to be honest and say that I do tend to prefer his Discworld novels as they allow him a bit more freedom.

Anyway, the plot follows Dodger, a loveable rogue who earns a living as a Tosher, a scavenger who prowls the sewers of London hunting out coins and other lost items amongst the sewage. When he rescues a young woman in distress one night he has no idea that it will lead to a series of events which results in his exposure to the public and various important people such as Benjamin Disraeli, Sir Robert Peel and Charles Dickens.

I will start by saying that the humour and wit I have come to expect from Pratchett are there in abundance. At its heart this is a light hearted journey into old London but yet there are some interesting dark undertones as well. Pratchett isn’t scared to touch on the poverty, class issues and rather bleak existence that existed then. Then there is a really clever and sensitive treatment of the Sweeny Todd story which really is one of the big plus points in the novels. However, despite these interesting elements I found the plot to be rather weak and uninspiring. Quite simply there was no spark, it was lacking any real surprises and I could see what was coming a mile away.

Then there are the characters that were probably my least favourite aspect of the story which is hard for me to say as normally the characters really shine in Pratchett novels. For example, Dodger himself is just too much of a super hero that seems to survive and prosper at everything. He manages to go through an odd makeover or two and become accepted by high society, fights off trained assassins at will, wins the heart of a princess he hardly says more than a few words to and becomes accepted as a national hero who is showered with coins by a thankful public. I just found it all a bit too much; he seemed unable to lose at anything which meant he felt too unreal and I was unable to connect with him. In the end I could probably have accepted this if the supporting characters had varied and well developed personalities. However, I found most of them to be wooden and rather lifeless. I don’t know if this is because Pratchett used a lot of historical people in the novel and didn’t want to paint any of them in a bad light but they all just felt like cardboard cut-outs.

Overall, I did smile and grin at parts of the novel and it there was some interesting elements but the weak overall plot and characters meant the whole thing just felt average. This is probably the most disappointed I have been in Pratchett for quite a while but in the end it was still an enjoyable enough diversion even if it wasn’t his best.

Thursday, 4 September 2014

Star Trek: The Original Series: The Edge of the Sword (Errand of Vengeance Book 1) - Kevin Ryan



Title: The Edge of the Sword (Errand of Vengeance Book 1)
Author: Kevin Ryan
Genre: Science Fiction
Published: 2002
Formats: Paperback/Ebook

Available at:
Amazon
Amazon UK

Review:
“The Edge of the Sword” by Kevin Ryan is the first in a trilogy of Star Trek novels known as the “Errand of Vengeance” trilogy that revolves around the slow build up to war between the Federation & the Klingon Empire as seen in the TV episode, “Errand of Mercy”. This novel mainly follows the actions of a Klingon infiltrator who has been sent to the Enterprise to assassinate Kirk. However we also get to see what is happening to the spy’s brother who is on-board a Klingon ship, witness the events as they unfold at Starfleet Command and finally we get to see what is happening with the main Enterprise crew itself.

First off I have to say that I really enjoyed the book, I specifically appreciated seeing life on-board the Enterprise from the viewpoint of the red shirts within Security. In the TV series they were treated as throwaway characters but here we get to see a group of professional and proud people who understand and acknowledge the high mortality rate but are determined to do their job. This slightly different viewpoint also give the novel a fresh and interesting feeling which was highly appreciated by me as I try and read through the entire Star Trek collection.

In regards to the plot, well it was well-written, exciting and action packed but to me it felt secondary to the exploration of the life of a red shirt and Ryan’s attempts to link various TV episodes and events into his overall Klingon-Federation story arc. This attempt at trying to resolve aspects of the Original Series’ very episodic format into a coherent flow was impressive and worked very well.

As for the characters, well the new ones are all lovingly crafted by Ryan and I found myself quickly coming to like them all. They really do take over the narrative of the story so if you are a big fan of Kirk, Spock and McCoy then you may be disappointed as they felt rather side-lined. Personally, I liked this diversion from standard Star Trek formula, especially as the new characters are all interesting and well developed but there may be some out there who don’t.

One of the weakest aspects of the novel in my opinion however was the way in which the Klingon seems to resolve his feelings on Kirk. I appreciated how he slowly came to accept his fellow Security officers as he worked and fought alongside them but with Kirk it all felt a little bit too rushed and easy. I found it hard to believe that he would suddenly flip his viewpoint in the way he does. In my opinion it would have been nicer and more realistic to see a much more drawn out process.

Overall, this was an enjoyable first book in the trilogy and it was wonderfully utilised to set up the new characters and viewpoint from the Security team. The new viewpoints used by Ryan have resulted in a much more action packed Star Trek novel than I am used but this just helped to increase the feeling of freshness around the entire thing. I am now really looking forward to seeing where Ryan is going to take the characters and the story next.

Monday, 1 September 2014

The Fisherman's Son (The Fisherman's Son Book 1) - Marilyn Peake



Title: The Fisherman's Son (The Fisherman's Son Book 1)
Author: Marilyn Peake
Genre: Fantasy
Published: 2002
Formats: Paperback/Ebook

Available at:
Amazon
Amazon UK

Review:
“The Fisherman’s Son” by Marilyn Peake is the first novel in a fantasy series aimed at a young audience. The story follows Wiley, a boy from a poor family whose mother dies from a disease that has infected his village. His drunk father isn’t around and so Wiley is forced to travel to the next village to find a priest so that his mother’s body is properly cared for. However, on the journey he encounters a mysterious woman who sets him off on an adventure that will lead to him to see wondrous things and also teach him the history the very land on which he lives.

I need to start by saying that I am clearly not the target audience for this book so perhaps some of my comments here are a bit unfair. Anyway, I struggled to read this story to be honest, yes the plot is interesting and quite unique but at times I couldn’t understand why anything was occurring or why things were linked. Seriously, I still don’t get what the magic cups, giant bears or talking dolphins have to do with a long dead civilisation or why the young lad Wiley was dragged into it all.

Then there are the problems with the writing itself which was quite uninspiring. Everything is described to a level beyond what is really needed and there are several logical inconsistences with the story. For example, I can’t imagine anyone finding strawberries in the frozen cold and not thinking that there is something odd there. Then there is the rather strange section in which is drinks himself full on milk and 5 minutes later is starving and fights some chickens for some food.

Overall, I found the entire book quite an unsatisfying experience, what could be an interesting plot is let down by how it is actually being told. I suspect its target audience of younger children would potentially still enjoy it as they are more likely to ignore the logical failings etc. but it just doesn’t work as a book which can reach other age groups. For myself, I can’t see myself picking up the other books in the series.