Tony’s Review: The Hunted, Charlie Higson

20550277

 

4/5

Everyone over the age of fourteen has been turned into a flesh-craving monster, with a taste for teenage meat…The kids that are left are fighting to survive.

Book six of seven. I reviewed Book five here, and went straight on to The Hunted.

In terms of pacing, as a comparison, it took me four days to read the four hundred and fifty pages; it took me a fortnight to read The Fallen (the previous book), which is about the same thickness. What was missing there came back here; the characters are pushing forward even when there’s not much happening.

Higson moves the action out of London entirely for this one, into the countryside west of London. It’s no less dangerous though… Small Sam’s sister Ella and her protectors make a break for the countryside. No spoilers, but it doesn’t end well for some of them.

Ed and some fighters go and look for her to bring her back to London, meeting new groups of kids – some friends and some enemies – on the way. There’s also a group of adults, untouched, who have secrets to tell…

There’s a drawing together here, a tying of loose ends that started five books back with characters you thought were long gone. There are ends tied up here that I didn’t even realise were loose, and Higson is clever and subtle in the way he weaves them back into the storyline. Coming out of it are new plot lines for the final book.

The final battle is about to begin…

Just Finished…The All Souls Trilogy…

A Discovery of WitchesIt’s taken a while to get to reviewing this series, as once I’d started the trilogy with A Discovery of Witches back in September 2015, I then bought the other two books and thought I would do a review for the trilogy as a whole.

In fact, this first book had been on my kindle since March 2012 waiting for me to get around to reading it! There’s nothing like trawling your old purchases to find something new to read, when you’re looking for inspiration – I think this may be the theme for most of my reading this year, as I started off in January reading the first in Cassandra Clare’s City of Bones series and am currently partway through the first Beautiful Creatures book by Garcia and Stohl. I’m only about six years behind the reading curve on those then! 🙂 I added a lot of books in 2012 and as quite a few of them are still there, bouncing around in digi-book purgatory in my kindle, I began to feel bad getting anything new before I released them.

Anyway, back to the book…

A Discovery of Witches lands you right in the middle of academic and book lover nirvana: it’s set in the beautiful libraries and colleges of Oxford, as American Professor Diana Bishop attempts to ignore the fact that she’s a witch to get on with her research without magic. When a strange book lands on her desk during her work, one filled with magic and questions, she deliberately dismisses it – sending it back to the archives, so that she can continue to ignore her magical abilities.

What I loved about this first book, which I would rate 4*, was the world-building and background premise to the magical world of ‘creatures’ that Harkness describes. The first few hundred pages flew by as I learned about daemons, vampires and witches in this world – what made them different, their characteristics and behaviours, and how all this came together in a meeting between genetic science and mythology. It was great. The characters introduced were also intriguing and drew me in to the story and mystery that was obviously being laid out.

There was a lull in the middle of the book for me – something that I found in each of the books in the series if I’m honest – where I was reading and reading and it didn’t really feel like there was much happening, significant character development or action. There was quite a lot of tea making, wandering around buildings described in lots of detail, and day-to-day happenings I wasn’t too fussed to be reading about. I love a good cup of tea, but when your protagonist is making them every few pages in considerable detail, you’re really not that bothered. All three of the books are long-ish (579 pages for this one) and I would have said a good 100 pages or so of exposition could have been lost without detriment to the overall story. After the lull in the middle, it finished with a bang – which had me heading to Amazon to grab the next two books, so that I could find out more about the characters and world I’d invested in.

Shadow of Night So, book two lands: Shadow of Night. Funnily enough, the lull for me in this one came at the very beginning – perhaps because I’d closed one book and opened the other immediately. Here the main characters have used Diana’s powers to ‘time-walk’ into the past to Elizabethan England, to the home – and former life – of her vampire partner Matthew. After a slightly slow start, the world-building picks up, as does the action and Diana – a historian – throws herself into this interesting world. Sixteenth century London is described in fantastic detail, with historical features mingling with the world of creatures set up in book one. We learn more about magic and the issues of the present, as we journey with Diana in the past. Spellbound as a child, to protect herself from her powers, she has always thought she was a poor excuse for a witch and thus focused on academia as her strength and not witchcraft. Now that she has found what was done to her as a child, she has to learn about herself and witches from the beginning, in an unfamiliar world. This was my favourite book in the series – the mixture of worlds and travels through history, living and breathing the places Diana and Matthew pass through, as they continue to unravel the mystery started in A Discovery of Witches. After the initial lull, the rest of the book flew by and I read it in a few days.

The Book of LifeThe Book of Life, brings us back to the present and the huge cast of characters assembled during the first two books now converge in the present day as Diana and Matthew continue their search for answers.

The book started well, but maybe 200 pages in it began to drag. I know loose ends had to be tied up, but just as in book one, there were long chapters of exposition that weren’t adding to the story for me. Also, after the majority of the first two books being written from Diana’s POV (first person) this book moved around a lot more – jumping into other characters heads, re-telling scenes in the third person. I didn’t find the jumps confusing, but just felt that if first person was good enough for the majority of the book, surely there were ways of conveying what was done here, without a quick and easy 3-4 paragraph jump out, to jump back. It felt lazy somehow, and with the detail and story-telling of this series, Harkness is not a lazy writer.

Anyway, there was a long lull and so I found it hard to keep reading in the sporadic moments I’d get. It felt like something I had to get through in order to finish the story and get my answers. In the end, you do get the answers – some are quite satisfying and delivered well; others, particularly action elements, could have been much more exciting. I started the book in September and have just finished it this morning.

So, overall – I’d probably be around 3.5* for this series. There are some great elements to the story and the complexity of the ‘creature’ world-building is excellent. There are characters that you buy into and want to know how their stories develop. But, the pace in several areas is just too slow – you shouldn’t be feeling that you need to ‘power through’ to the good bits. I’ve read several reviews for the books that compare them to Twilight – an adults version, if you like – and I can appreciate that. If Bella had gone off to uni and met her vampire around the age of 34, instead of 17, it probably would have been a very similar tale. My feelings about the drag in the books are very similar to the drag I experienced reading Breaking Dawn, with random characters appearing in an endless stream, leading up to the most anti-climatic battle ever. Action scenes and pace are not Harkness’s strong points either, but she can write depth and history and weave a huge tapestry of a new world that you can absolutely believe is realistic. Maybe just a bit less tea making, wandering in gardens and being coddled by other creatures in rooms described in minute detail; and when you get the violent climax of a three book series, don’t skip over it in a page or two. It was all a bit Finnick: *reading, reading, reading – turn page* “Wait a second!” *turns back a page* “Did Finnick just die?”

Tony’s Review: The Fallen, Charlie Higson

17402901

3/5

Everyone over fourteen has been infected with an illness that makes them crave human flesh…Only the kids are left to fight and survive for themselves…

This is book five in a seven series set. Luckily, I’m reading them back-to-back which helps a lot. There’s no way I’d remember all these intertwining stories with a long gap between them. There are a lot of characters floating around London…

The focus this time is on a group at the Natural History Museum. There’s an infected kid hiding and hunting them, and a second group sets out on a trip to where the disease affecting the adults started, stumbling across a group calling themselves the ‘Twisted Kids’, a teratogenic bunch with odd abilities.

As though sensing that the endless killing of diseased adults is getting a little repetitive after five books (And it is), Higson keeps the death count down and spreads his wings a little, digging into the characters more, exploring their relationships and friendships.

Because of that, this is a slower and more thoughtful read than the other books. The pacing slips a little though, and this feels like it could have been shorter by about twenty pages.

Towards the end, the pacing picks up again when Small Sam re-appears. There’s a monster of a cliff-hanger with his sister Ella, but no spoilers as to what’s going on. I’m glad I don’t have to wait a year for the follow-up though.

As usual, the geography and the world is flawless and the characters (the ones he develops, that is: The rest are sometimes merely second-spear-carrier-on-the-left material) are well thought out.

It felt like a long walk to those closing chapters, but I’m here for the long haul right the way to book seven…Book six is coming next month!

Tony’s Review: The Fault in our Stars

 

11870085

3/5

The cancer that seventeen-year-old Hazel survived left her lungs in tatters and tied to an oxygen bottle for the rest of her life – however long that may be. Her mother suggests she visits a support group, where she runs into Augustus Waters…

This has been at the edge of my reading-pile for at least two or three years now, and I finally picked it up. (One of the reasons I delayed was Becky’s review (Here), where she rated it…okay. Didn’t set the world on fire for her. I trust her judgement on books, which is why it’s taken me so long. But I digress.)

The first thing I noticed when I was reading this – and I’m talking Chapter One – is that no seventeen year old in the history of the world talks like Gus and Hazel. I’m a pretty smart guy; I’ve know some very smart people. I have never met ANYONE who used the word univalent in a sentence. No one. People simply don’t talk like this. Hazel knows what an oncogene is; she knows the word hamartia; Why then, doesn’t she know the word ontological?

Green seems determined to be obscure and borderline pretentious with his language and his characters, and they suffer because of it. Their conversations are superficial, for the most part; cocktail party debate on the breakfast-only nature of scrambled eggs.

I got very little from Hazel and Gus but mostly surfaces. It felt like I rarely saw the places where they lived and dreamt. Because of it, they’re as superficial as the conversations they hold, and easily forgotten.

Fortunately, the dialogue settled down after a while and approached a normal level. Green definitely has different narrative voices for Gus and Hazel, there was no trouble telling them apart. His wordplay and love of puns makes the dialogue – when it does work – sparkle and shine. Make no mistake that Green is a smart guy…but he seems intent on preening his feathers and flapping his wings to show off.

There are moments which do work wonderfully well in the book. The trip to Amsterdam was the delight of the book, the real highlight. Making Hazel’s favourite author a jerk was a masterstroke: After all, you should never meet your heroes – they’ll never live up to your expectations. And because Green wasn’t too worried about showing off with the author, he’s the most realistic character in the book.

There’s a character dies in this – no spoilers as to whom – and another character goes to their funeral. I’m pretty sure…no, I’m definitively sure…that Green never went to a funeral when he was seventeen of anyone close to him. I did. And there’s no way you would act the way the character did when they were there. You don’t have the mental capacity, for a start. You’re certainly not going to fire off witty replies to people who post on a dead characters Facebook page.

An intriguing read, but it lost its way somewhere with an author determined to show off and not let his characters do the walking and the talking.

 

Just Finished…City of Bones

imageSo, this is my first book of 2016… I realise that I am about eight years late in giving this series a try, but it has been sat on my bookshelf for ages now and I just randomly plucked it off and started it over Christmas.

Overall, my rating for this would be 4* – up until about two-thirds of the way through, it was probably more of a 3*, but the writing style and ideas behind the world created in The Mortal Instruments held things together for me, when perhaps I wasn’t as invested in the characters or their actual adventure. That might sound like an odd thing to say, but I’ve found that happening with a few books I’ve read lately (including a very long trilogy that I’m just coming to the end of and will review soon).

In terms of the world created, it has a lot of typical YA supernatural elements: wolves, vampires, angels, demons… But, in here they are all in the same ‘world’ for once, rather than split into an angels book, or a vampire-wolf combo, which is interesting. I liked the idea of the city setting as well; seeing the action unravel around various parts of New York was a nice twist for me, with demon clubs and vampire hotels around every corner.

The action/pacing wasn’t amazing for me though – I never felt ‘gripped’ by the story and could easily put it down and walk away. I enjoyed the characters and the witty banter was great, but I never really bonded with them. As it stands, I’d read more in the series if the opportunity came up, but as a completed series, ready and waiting for me, I don’t feel the urge or that invested to pick up book two. In honesty, I like the sound of Clare’s second series more and so may give the Infernal Devices a go before I venture further along the paths of shadowhunters and demons…

And for anyone interested, Tony reviewed one of the ‘Infernal Devices’ novels a while ago, you can see his thoughts here:

https://asidefromwriting.com/2014/01/15/tonys-review-clockwork-angel-by-cassandra-clare/

 

Tony’s Review: Trouble, Non Pratt

18138917

4/5

Hannah is a wild fifteen year old, who loves nothing more than drinking parties, socialising with her friends and not caring too much about school. Then she gets pregnant.

I hadn’t heard much about this book before Becky’s enthusiastic and passionate review here. I follow every one of her reviews, and she very rarely rates a book five stars…and certainly never reads a book in two days. This was one I had to see for myself…and I’m glad I did.

I was expecting some social lecture about the perils of pregnancy, and some moral lessons about underage sex (age of consent in the UK is sixteen), but there was little of that. In fact, the book isn’t really about Hannah’s pregnancy as much as it about the social changes it causes around her.

I won’t reveal the spoiler of who the father is (I did work it out fairly quickly though), and why Hannah doesn’t go to him is revealed over the course of the book and makes a major plot point.

This brings in the other main character: Aaron. Aaron is the new boy in school, emerging from some trauma he can’t deal with. He views the eddies and streams of friendships and enemies with an indifferent eye, new to all and in some ways immune.

But when Hannah needs a father, he volunteers himself to be branded as the dad. Why he does it links back to his trauma…which is another spoiler I can’t reveal.

The short punchy chapters alternate between Hannah and Aaron, and since they have very different narrative voices, it works very well. Hannah’s sister receives a pet rabbit called Fiver for instance: Aaron would have recognised the Watership Down reference, but Hannah thinks it’s how much it cost. Their outlooks and expectations were very different. No doubt that we were dealing with two different people at any point.

Minor characters were given lots of room and backstory as well. Neville, a pensioner Aaron visits, is a great character full of wit and wisdom, as is Hannah’s gran. Nobody felt two dimensional.

There were points when the plot veered into kitchen-sink soap opera, but they were isolated. Pratt does a great job of pulling at your heart and then tickling it with her emotive writing within a paragraph or two.

This is a book about the strength of family and the power of good friends; a book about finding out who those friends are and who you can count on when you need them.

In the end, it’s a happy and uplifting story, a potent and positive spin on a subject usually given more dour treatment.

Tony’s Review: Doctor Sleep, Stephen King

15800595

4/5

Dan Torrance, the child protagonist of King’s The Shining, is now an alcoholic drifter, chased by the ghosts of his childhood and trying to drown them in drink. When he gets off a bus to nowhere in New Hampshire, his life begins to change…

Including The Talisman – Black House books King wrote with Peter Straub and his Dark Tower series, King is actually an old hand at sequels. This one doesn’t disappoint: it’s full of warmth and humour and characteristic King touches and style.

About a quarter of the way through, I realised the plot is more of a Dean Koontz feel: Troubled man helps protect precocious tele-everything teen from very real psychic vampires, learning the redemptive power of family on the way. Not that’s a criticism at all, I just thought it was interesting.

Dan attends Alcoholics Anonymous, and one of the twelve steps is apologise to those you’ve hurt…and it seems like King wants to apologise to Dan Torrance for running him through the hell of The Shining. He wants to know that Dan’s life turned out all right in the end. It’s very much a story of redemption and returning sanity, a counterpoint to the damnation and slide into insanity that was The Shining.

And King’s own demons mirror the book: As a recovering alcoholic and substance abuser, he’s been at the bottom where Dan starts off. As a result Dan feels like a very intimate and personal portrait, a thin veil of King’s own fall and recovery.

As much as Dan realises he can’t escape the virtual demons in his head, so Abra – his teenage counterpart – can’t escape the real demons chasing after her: Wherever you go, there you are, they realise.

The climax felt a little rushed, but then as a book about redemption and healing, it was never really about who was going to win in the end. And, to be honest, it was pretty obvious from the start.

It’s been a while since King wrote anything as simple as splatter and gore, and the horror and the terror in this book are restrained and off-screen. No one loses a foot or does the Mashed Potato all over a giant eyeball for instance.

With such a strong young adult protagonist, it’s also a great young-adult book.

I haven’t read The Shining in a few years, and it didn’t feel as if I needed a refresher to read this. There would have been a few paragraphs that wouldn’t have made much sense, that was all.

If you haven’t read any King, this is a good place to start.