30 July 2010

Author showcase: Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child with Alex J. Cavanaugh

Relic by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child
I'm often asked about my favorite authors and books. So, I'd like to put the spotlight on my favorite writing duo, Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child.

I saw the movie "The Relic" when it was released in 1997. I really enjoyed the film and it was years later, while rummaging through a bookstore, that I stumbled across the original novel by Preston and Child. It introduced me to the coolest literary hero since Sherlock Holmes, Aloysius Pendergast, and I was instantly hooked. The movie, as it turns out, took out the character of Pendergast (the main character and star of the book) and turned his sidekick, Lt. Vincent D'Agosta into the star of the film. The book quickly became one of my favs and the movie dropped a couple hundred notches in my mental list of favorite films.

I couldn't get enough of this Pendergast character and quickly read through "Reliquary," "Cabinet of Curiosities," and "Still Life with Crows," and I followed the remaining series up through the current release "Fever Dream." The books are labeled as mysteries, but have tinges of horror, the supernatural and plenty of action. Reading one of Preston and Child's books is like watching a great, fast paced adventure movie.

And back to the character of Pendergast, the FBI uber agent. He's spooky, super-intelligent and mysterious. With a honey-tinged, proper-gentleman Louisiana accent, he is usually three steps ahead of the villains and solves crime with deduction that would stagger Mr. Holmes. Yes, the stories get a little far-fetched at times, but that's what makes them so fun. Part Holmes, part James Bond, part CSI, these books will light the fire in even the most jaded reader.

Preston and Child have also written novels not featuring Pendergast, and I have read and enjoyed each and every one.

Check out "The Relic" and see if you don't agree!

Alex J. Cavanaugh
Alex J. Cavanaugh has a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree and works in web design and graphics. A fan of all things science fiction, his interests range from books and movies to music and games. You can follow him on his or Twitter profiles.
See all posts by Alex J. Cavanaugh

23 July 2010

Review of Kate Thompson's Creature of the Night by Karla J.M. Brading

Creature of the Night by Kate Thompson. Published by Bodley Head Children's Books.

Creature of the Night is a little piece of questionable madness.
             In Ireland, a young mother attempts to dodge her debt problems by suddenly moving her family away to a quiet farming village in the hope of making a fresh start.
            The book focuses on (in first person) the life of rebellious and disobedient fourteen year old Bobby, who has convinced himself that the gang of criminals he has left back “home” in Dublin are the best and only people he wants to be around. Without them, he feels lost.
            The book is about loneliness and change, which becomes clear as Bobby reflects on the old times when he and the gang went around stealing things: “Weekends and holidays we worked the streets,” and wanting desperately to return to it, only to discover that the gang have all moved into a more relaxed and ‘legal’ lifestyle. Bobby’s mother, a single woman that Bobby appears to despise, makes an effort to converse with her neighbours just to feel as if they’re making a ‘positive’ change in the mess that has been their lives so far.
            But here’s the confusing part. Instead of keeping the book compellingly believable and gripping with the scary reality of adolescent misbehaviour, Thompson tries to introduce none-too-subtly a touch of ‘fantasy’ that leaves the reader baffled as to its relevance. 
            There are some extremely serious themes here; underage pregnancy, debt evasion, single parenthood, theft and drug addiction: “The best thing about using is that you don’t have to kill time. It just passes so quickly, like it’s killing itself,” then BAM, a fairy pops her unlikely head into the mix.
            I had to ask myself, “Did I miss something here?” I looked at the cover, with its picture of a boy wearing a hoodie and jeans, walking along a dirty street. It seemed absurd. I had just been delving into the mind of a troubled youth, following his journey as he stole a Skoda and allowed a friend to take it for a spin, almost killing them both in a car crash; a story laced with dark family disputes and running from the law. So why change the mood so drastically?
            It felt to me that Thompson had been passionately crafting a story of the bond between a mother and son, with regular inclusions of teenage angst, but panicked half way through and decided to throw in a fairy for good measure just to satisfy readers, who she assumed were all obsessed with the fantasy genre. Maybe it was because, as stated in her ‘author bio,’ living in the west coast of Ireland gives her inspiration for the (random!) magic in her novels?
            There were lengthy moments in the book where nothing happened and the material read like an uneventful, mundane teenager’s diary. You almost forget all about the unexplainable elements as you trawl through the pages, until another touch of magic sticks out like a sore thumb and that remarkably insane character, referred to occasionally as “the little woman,” disrupts what could have been a potentially soul searching piece of teenage literature.
            I really wanted to take this book seriously, and at the beginning, I did, but by the end of it I was just puzzled and frustrated. It did prove to be one thing though, and that’s unforgettable. It’s those unnatural (fairy!) moments that leave the Creature of the Night whispering into the depths of your mind, long after you’ve put it down, conjuring frightening images of a small face peering through a dog-door in the middle of the night and leaving you to wonder, “What on earth was that all about...?”

About the author
Karla J.M. Brading is the author of the Meridian Blood Trilogy - Destiny in Blood, Blood of Angels and Dark Blood Falling. She currently lives in South Wales, UK and is studying at University. Karla is also a book reviewer for Buzzmag.
You can follow her on her Twitter profile.
See all posts by Karla J. M. Brading

15 July 2010

Whispers from the Ether: Stuff from around the web and some other stuff

Art by Jessica Gadke

It's only 3 more days until I leave got Egypt. WHOO! I'm so excited! Most of my stuff is packed now; I had to get a new suitcase at the last minute (the one I originally had took up a quarter of my weight limit!). Things are crazy so I'm not up to speed on posting right now, which is a shame. I've got 2 reviews to put up (JC Marino's Dante's Journey, catch it here and at  Prinkipria August 1st, and Jamie D. Stacey's Azarrii). I've almost finished Rachel Neumeier's Lord of the Changing Winds too.

I'm in two minds about what to read while I'm in Egypt. My first choice is to read The Fellowship of the Ring. I started reading it back when  the first movie was out, but I got bored and stopped right after the Hobbits met Strider. I can't really consider myself a fan of fantasy fiction unless I read Lord of the Rings at least, so I think it's important I give it another go. On the other hand, a friend of mine has loaned me Jonathan Stroud's Bartimaeus Trilogy. I really don't know which to pick, so I leave it to you fine people of the blog world. Which should I take?


Okay, onto the awesome stuff from around my good friends on the blog-o-sphere!

First up, Alex J. Cavanaugh has released the book trailer for his upcoming sci-fi novel Cassastar (watch the video below). It's an awesome trailer that gives you a good flavour of adventure (I'd watched the new music video for Iron Maiden's The Final Frontier yesterday so interstellar adventure is right up my alley right now) and I'm really looking forward to reading the book. Congratulations, Alex!

Also, Dezmond over at Hollywod Spy has revealed a promo pic for the new Marvel adaptation of Thor, coming next year. Anothony Hopkins as Odin looks pretty cool, if a little gilded piratey. Chis Hemsworth as Thor is a damn good choice though, and I'm looking forward to seeing the movie.

This will probably be my last post until I come back from Egypt (with LOTS of pictures, you have been warned!). In my absence you'll have my pre-recorded review of Dante's Journey to enjoy on August 1st. Also, expect some awesome guest blog posts from Alex J. Cavanaugh, Caledonia Lass and Karla J.M. Brading. If anyone else wants to contribute a guest blog post for my while I'm gone, email me at JNMGibbs[at]gmail[dot]com with whatever fantasy/sci-fi related stuff you want; review, author/artist showcase/top 10/ rant, whatever you want.

Until then, you awesome people, I bid you adieu (or more appropriately, salam!)

7 July 2010

Just a couple of random things

It's been a hectic few days, what with work, packing for Egypt and writing up my dissertation, so here's a few things all at once:

I've joined up with LibraryThing! For now I'm only gonna add the books that I've read and reviewed on here, but I'm thinking about adding my entire library (eep!). For anyone who's wondering, LibraryThing is an online community where you can upload the books you've read, review them and it gives you recommendations based on what you've read. Here's my profile for anyone who wants to add me:

Also, I feel the need to advocate BookCrossing. It's a world wide book swapping network where you can pick up books for free and you can also leave books for others using unique tracking numbers. That way, any book could come from anywhere in the world! I've picked up a couple of new books in unfamiliar genres from a few different cities, and I recommend you try it out!

 I've also received another award! This one is the Fantasy and Sci-Fi Blogger Award, given to me by Alex J. Cavanaugh. Thanks Alex! I'm gonna give this award out to Mel at Writings, Musings and Other Such Nonsense.

Lastly, I finally saw Iron Man 2 in the cinema today. It was a damn good movie, as expected it was almost as good as the first one, but the first Iron Man movie completely blew me away. The only thing I think that this one lacked is that the action scenes were bigger, but there weren't as many. Though this meant that more time could be spent on character development (which I thought was great) it did stunt the overall pace, just a tad. Oh, one more thing. Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow? HOT!! Here's a picture for good measure.

5 July 2010

Amazon UK & US Top 10 Fantasy fiction - a comparison

A belated Happy Independence Day to all of you guys across The Pond, I hope it was filled with patriotically fueled mayhem. And so in the spirit of the whole American/British contention that the holiday is all about, I bring you this.

I took a look at Amazon US's top 5 Fantasy novels (I got this from Fantasy Book News) and I was surprised to see that most of the books were 'paranormal romance' - specifically either True Blood or Twilight novels. What's going on? I was relieved that the top 2 spots were taken up by a different kind of fantasy novel, but it still irked me that the sub-genre of what is basically 'sexually charged supernatural creatures' is taking over the genre as a whole, thus blocking great fantasy novels from reaching their deserved spot. I've got a bit of a grudge against the sub-genre anyway (don't get me started on the 'How Twilight bastardised the vampire mythos' rant) but I still think this deserves some looking at.

So from this I decided to compare the top 10 fantasy novels of both Amazon UK and Amazon US, just to see where the parallels lie. Here are the two lists:

US #1 Fantasy
Amazon US Top 10
#1 His Majesty's Dragon by Naomi Novik
#2 Light of Eidon by Karen Hancock
#3 Dead in the Family  by Charlaine Harris
#4 Breaking Dawn by Stephanie Meyer
#5 Eclipse by Stephanie Meyer
#6 Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
#7 Anthem Ayn Rand
#8 Darkfever by Karen Marie Moning
#9 The Legends of King Arthur and His Knights by Sir James Knowles
#10 Sookie Stackhouse (True Blood) Box set by Charlaine Harris

Amazon UK Top 10
UK #1 Fantasy
#1 Dead in the Family  by Charlaine Harris
#2 Unseen Academicals by Terry Pratchett
#3 Dead and Gone by Charlaine Harris
#4 I Shall Wear Midnight by Terry Pratchett
#5 Sookie Stackhouse (True Blood) Box set by Charlaine Harris
#6 A Touch of Dead by Charlaine Harris
#7 Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell
#8 The Darkest Lie by Gena Showalter
#9 The Ambassador's Mission by Trudi Canavan
#10 Lover Mine by J.R. Ward

It's both interesting and disappointing that both lists have similar paranormal romance books in their upper part of the list, which makes sense since the Twilight/True Blood phenomena is now world wide (much to my chagrin). As soon as the cinema run of Eclipse is in full swing over here in the UK, I'm pretty sure that Meyer's books will be back on the UK Top 10. It's good to see that, now the initial spike of the movie's premiere has passed in the US, more traditional fantasy novels are at the top spot.

What is noteworthy is that both lists have a 'classic' fantasy book at roughly the same point in the list: the US has Frankenstein at #6 and the UK has Nineteen Eighty-Four at #7 (I'd consider both novels to be sci-fi rather than  fantasy, but I won't get into that kind of argument).

I'm happy to see Terry Pratchett taking up 2 slots in the UK list, and both for his newest novels (which have come under criticism due to his condition affecting his writing). Pratchett is an all time favourite of mine, but I think his writing is very Brit-focused so it's no surprise he doesn't appear on the US list (not to knock American Pratchett fans, more power to your for liking it!)

What do you make of this list? Do you think that paranormal romance deserves to be this high in the literary charts? With over half the novels on each list being of this sub-genre, do you think that it's time people tried reading something else? Or is this just a brief phase that people will eventually (hopefully!) get over?

1 July 2010

Review - Living With Ghosts by Kari Sperring (DAW)

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Living With Ghosts by Kari Sperring
Published by DAW
Paperback - 496 pages
Published March 2009
Review copy given by author
Living With Ghosts is a supernatural dark fantasy set in the city of Merafi -  a city that thrives by its rivers and the tides of its twin moons. It is in this city that ancient magics threaten to consume the city and everyone within.

Aristocrat Thiercelin has seen the ghost of his long dead friend Valdarrian, and seeks out Gracielis, a foreign courtesan with a gift for seeing the paranormal, for help. Soon they are pulled into a dangerous game involving blood pacts, plague, ancient magic ... and the ghosts of the past returning to destroy the city. Living with Ghosts appeared on the British Fantasy Society Award Longlist for Best Novel.

One of the most immediate and brilliant things about Living With Ghosts is Sperring's ability to capture the dark atmosphere of the city and its characters. Sensation plays a massive role throughout the narrative, where in many cases characters feel things as opposed to knowing or experiencing them directly.

This makes the story incredibly immersive and you are able to experience things with the characters as opposed to watching them from a distance. It is this ability to draw the reader in through these sensations that is the strongest part of the story.

However, it does feel that this is taken to an extreme on several occasions, and the prose becomes convoluted and 'flowery'. In these instances, it seems that an attempt is made to be more poetic and enigmatic in order to further convey the atmosphere. Unfortunately, you can have too much of a good thing and these sections detract from the narrative and can be quite jarring.

Owing to the deep atmosphere that pulls the reader into the world that Sperring has created, her characters as an integral part of that world are both interesting and believable. The stressed relationship between Thiercelin and his wife Yvaine, the emotional confusion that comes from Thiercelin's dealings with Gracielis, the different levels of relations between the major characters and the late Valdarrian - all of these emotions and interconnecting relationships have a great impact on the reader and not only do they understand where each character is coming from, but they empathise with them entirely.

The pace of Living With Ghosts was unusual, in that the main antagonist has done their dirty work half way through the story, and the other half is devoted entirely to the aftermath of said dirty work. True, this aftermath has a snowball effect that leads to potential catastrophe, but it was odd that the antagonist's hand had been revealed so early on.

Though I found it a pleasant change from the usual 'not knowing what the villain is up to until the last but one chapter', I felt that the bulk of the story was finished far earlier than was intended, and the rest was involved with character development. I think the antagonist could have had a greater part to play (their character was the most underdeveloped, I felt) and so this would have enabled to have the payoff later on in the story, giving the reader more time to immerse themselves deeper in her world.

In conclusion, Living With Ghosts is a great read that, much like the river in the story, pulls you in and refuses to let go. Whilst the bouts of overly poetic prose and strange pace may hinder the story, it does so only slightly. What you get out of Living With Ghosts is a brilliantly atmospheric novel with complex yet understandable characters and a dark setting filled with sensation. A recommended read for those with a taste for something a little different.