Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

I’m making my way through Agatha Christie, and this is one of my favs so far. Not quite up there with ‘And Then There Were None’ but close.

Blurb:

Villagers expect a fun game after a Gazette announcement of murder, but when lights flash off, shots ring out, and a masked burglar falls dead, the Inspector and vicar’s wife Bunch call in expert Miss Jane Marple. Was Swiss hotel clerk Rudi framed? Miss Letitia Blackstone houses scatty Dora, cousins Julia and Patrick, gardener widow Phillipa, and paranoid cook Mitzi.

This one has twists, twists, and then more twists behind them. I didn’t spot the killer until they were revealed, so Agatha Christie wins this round. This one is the third Agatha Christie I’ve read. The score is one to me, two to her.

It’s also my first Miss Marple book (though the 5th in the series). I fell in love with her character immediately. Hercule Poirot is pretty neat, but he gets on my nerves occasionally. Miss Marple seems a lot more modest. She’s this charming elderly woman who is seriously observant.

The characters seem well rounded. There’s humor. There’s plot. There’s mystery of course. This book is a definite five stars from me. I think this will be one of my fav Agatha Christie books for a long while to come.

For more info on this book go to: here.

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I’ve embarked on an Agatha Christie fest (‘And then there were none’ is one my favs) and I’m amazed to find how little her stuff ages. Sure there are a few things glaringly different to modern times, but most of the time I don’t notice.

Here’s the blurb:

There’s a serial killer on the loose, bent on working his way through the alphabet. And as a macabre calling card he leaves beside each victim’s corpe the ABC Railway Guide open at the name of the town where the murder has taken place. Having begun with Andover, Bexhill and then Churston, there seems little chance of the murderer being caught – until he makes the crucial and vain mistake of challenging Hercule Poirot to frustrate his plans.

Agatha Christie is the master of who dunnits that keep you guessing until the end. I managed to guess correctly part way through, and was very proud of myself since with most of her books I still have a handful of suspects at the end (and occasionally none of them are right).

This one was a little slower than other books of hers. It’s not one of my favourites, but not one of my least favourites either. A good read when you fancy a mystery. There are the usual number of twists and turns, but as I say, it’s at a slower pace than usual.

I recommend it if you’re a fan of hers. If you haven’t ventured into the world of Agatha Christie yet, I’d say go read ‘And then there were none’ before this one. It’s a better book. And then if you love that one come back and read everything else she’s written including this one.

For more information on this book go here.

Fancy reading about a badass cage fighting unicorn for free?

Of course you do, here’s the link: http://www.tor.com/2012/11/28/heads-will-roll/

Neat little story, huh. It had action, drama, humor, and a cage fighting unicorn named Steve. I don’t think you can ask for much more than that.

If I’m going to picky I’d say the twist was pretty obvious. Things are a bit too easy for our main character. And the humor while funny rubbed my nerves the wrong way a couple times.

But this is a short story, and it’s free. I still give it four stars.

If you really liked this novella check out my review for Hold Me Closer Necromancer here. It’s set in the same world. There are different characters (apart from one minor character in both stories), but it’s the same sense of humor.

If you liked the humor in one, you should like the humor in the other. Happy reading!

Blurb:

In Beatrice Prior’s dystopian Chicago world, society is divided into five factions, each dedicated to the cultivation of a particular virtue—Candor (the honest), Abnegation (the selfless), Dauntless (the brave), Amity (the peaceful), and Erudite (the intelligent). On an appointed day of every year, all sixteen-year-olds must select the faction to which they will devote the rest of their lives. For Beatrice, the decision is between staying with her family and being who she really is—she can’t have both. So she makes a choice that surprises everyone, including herself.

During the highly competitive initiation that follows, Beatrice renames herself Tris and struggles alongside her fellow initiates to live out the choice they have made. Together they must undergo extreme physical tests of endurance and intense psychological simulations, some with devastating consequences. As initiation transforms them all, Tris must determine who her friends really are—and where, exactly, a romance with a sometimes fascinating, sometimes exasperating boy fits into the life she’s chosen. But Tris also has a secret, one she’s kept hidden from everyone because she’s been warned it can mean death. And as she discovers unrest and growing conflict that threaten to unravel her seemingly perfect society, she also learns that her secret might help her save those she loves . . . or it might destroy her.

If you haven’t heard of this one you’ve been living under a rock.

There’s been so much hype surrounding this one, and I’m happy to say it’s well deserved. This is a good book. The plot is great, the character development is epic. It’s pretty darn perfect.

The author said that the number one thing she tried to do was make her main character proactive. This shows, and the book is a great read because of it. The pacing is fast. The world is rich and well thought through. The themes are present but not suffocating.

And it’s fun – the most important element of a book. I was glued from start to finish. It didn’t quite reach the candy covered addictive levels of the Cinder series, but it got very close.

If I’m going to be picky, I’d say that I don’t think the danger of being a divergent came across as well as it could have in the start of the book. But that’s a niggle.

Niggles aside, this is an epic read. 4.5 stars. If you like dystopian in any way shape or form you have to read this.

Link for more info.

Another book I’ve been meaning to get around to for a while. This one stars 12 year old Meggie, who finds out her father can read characters out of stories, bringing them to life.

Neat idea, and great for a range of ages. I’d say it’s suitable for anyone middle grade and up. There is some violence. The bad guys are definitely bad guys. They use guns, they kidnap children, they murder, and one of the child characters talks about having been beaten repeatedly.

Most of the bad stuff is off camera, but there’s definitely a real air of danger here. So be aware if suggesting it to sensitive children.

On the whole I loved this story. The plot is good. The idea is unique. The writing is of good quality. You really get a feel for the richness of the world the characters are in. There’s some great action scenes, and a lot of tension and emotion.

Now the negatives. The character development could’ve been better. The character don’t change much over the course of the story. And the pacing was a little muddled. Some places were great, and in other parts it slowed to a crawl.

Overall I give it four stars. It’s a richly written book with an interesting story. If the blurb strikes a cord with you, give it a go:

Twelve-year-old Meggie learns that her father, who repairs and binds books for a living, can “read” fictional characters to life when one of those characters abducts them and tries to force him into service.

Characters from books literally leap off the page in this engrossing fantasy. Meggie has had her father to herself since her mother went away when she was young. Mo taught her to read when she was five, and the two share a mutual love of books. He can “read” characters out of books. When she was three, he read aloud from a book called Inkheart and released characters into the real world. At the same time, Meggie’s mother disappeared into the story. This “story within a story” will delight not just fantasy fans, but all readers who like an exciting plot with larger-than-life characters.

Link for more info.

Ryan Hutton unsplash

To be ordinary, or extraordinary?

This isn’t the way Paul thought his life would turn out. Stuck in a failing marriage, walked over by co-workers in a thankless job. He thought he would be extraordinary.

He’s about to find out he’s right.

Fantastical Things is a short fantasy of around 9000 words.

 

Another short story. Buy it here for $0.99.

I’m slowly putting up my backlog. There’s a lot. This one is one of my favourites. I think everyone has considered leaving their lives behind at some point. I have.

Think about it. One day out of nowhere you find something fantastical. It’s everything sci fi TV told you to expect out of life. It’s this whole other option you thought you didn’t have.

Do you jump on that opportunity with grabby hands? Do you keep to the life you know? What if this is the only chance you get? Is it worth leaving everything behind?

Really enjoyed writing this one. Hope you guys enjoy reading it!

World war two holds a lot of interest for me. So it’s a little strange that it took me this long to get around to this book.

For those not in the know, here’s the blurb:

It’s just a small story really, about among other things: a girl, some words, an accordionist, some fanatical Germans, a Jewish fist-fighter, and quite a lot of thievery. . . .

Set during World War II in Germany, Markus Zusak’s groundbreaking new novel is the story of Liesel Meminger, a foster girl living outside of Munich. Liesel scratches out a meager existence for herself by stealing when she encounters something she can’t resist–books. With the help of her accordion-playing foster father, she learns to read and shares her stolen books with her neighbors during bombing raids as well as with the Jewish man hidden in her basement before he is marched to Dachau.

This is an unforgettable story about the ability of books to feed the soul.

If I were to chose one word to describe this book it would be ‘beautiful.’ Really I’d want at least two more words to get a better picture. ‘Tragic’ and ‘inspiring.’

To me this book was about resilience in harsh times. It’s about normal life filled with love, friendship and little moments of happiness that can be found even when times are difficult. It’s about the decision to do the right thing, even when no one else thinks it’s right, and it may end in your death.

Our main characters are kids. They’re flawed. They’re young and start off knowing little about the war happening around them, but they learn and grow as the story carries on.

I think the author did a good job capturing the atmosphere of the times. You have some fanatics who love Hitler and everything he does. You have some who hate him and keep their mouth shut about it to survive. And you have others who care little either way. They have nothing against Jews or other minorities. But they join the party because those who don’t see their businesses suffer, and they need to feed their families.

I thought there was something very real in the everyday struggle for Liesel to learn to read while still grieving and coping with the challenges of life around her. And something very beautiful in the small acts of kindness and bravery she and Rudy carried out toward the end of the book.

All in all I give this one four stars. I can’t pinpoint an exact reason why this wasn’t five stars, except that it didn’t move me enough for that.

This is a great book and the book as a whole is very beautiful and moving, but some of the parts fell a little short for me. I found this story very very good and I think you should read it. It just didn’t feel as amazing as I expect a five star book to be. Perhaps my expectations were too high.

Anyway, if you like the idea of historical coming of age story in ww2 Germany, then try this one out. It’s narrated by death no less, which was an interesting spin on it.

For more information about this book click here.

Free Book

Posted: May 21, 2015 in Uncategorized

For the next five days my book ‘Moon Madness’ will be free on amazon. So if you want a taste of werewolves, comedy, and sarcastic, hyperactive teenagers, head on over to: here

A human raised by werewolves struggles to find his place in the world.

Heir to the biggest werewolf pack in England, and still human at seventeen, Roy has to face the idea that he may never turn and take on the role he’s been raised for. But that doesn’t mean he’s going to act the passive human. No way.

So when the last of their friends turns, and turns his back on them, Roy decides this is it. Their last chance to see what werewolf training is like. Dragging Clem; his last unturned friend along for the ride they sneak into the depths of the New Forest where the newly turned struggle to control their bloodthirsty instincts.

Bad idea. Really really bad idea.

Moon madness is around seven thousand words of paranormal humor. It’s the first book in a long line of planned stories exploring Roy’s adventures through the Crystal Wolves world. The next book ‘Blood Trail’ is out now.

Note: These are the favorite books I read during 2014, not books published in 2014.

I read 85 books in 2014, so narrowing it down to my very favs was difficult. I kept on going: oh what about this one! No, must be strong. Otherwise this would be a very very long post.

2014 was a good year for books for me. Unlike 2013 I didn’t come across any books I utterly hated. I had three books that were meh for me, forty-five books that I liked but had noticeable flaws or had sections that didn’t hit that book loving spot. That left thirty-seven books I love love loved.

Thirty-seven…

So in no particular order follows my top ten reads of 2014. They span across genres and lengths. Most of them I’ve already reviewed, so search my site if you want to read a more detailed review.

1) The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher

This is a bit of a cheat as it’s a series, but I read all the way from book one to book twelve last year, and most of them ended up with five stars. For those not in the know, Dresden Files is a humorous urban fantasy about a wizard detective living in Chicago. Lots of funny, and loads of action. Seriously, these books are addictive. Go try them.

2) Cinder by Marissa Meyer

A futuristic steam punk version of classic fairy tales. This one stars Cinderella, only she’s a cyborg. She’s also pretty kick ass, which is neat since she’s got a lot of people against her. Cyborgs are second class citizens you see, and her step mother is not fond of her or her best android buddy Iko. And when things heat up, her step mother becomes the least of her problems.

I think this is the funniest book I read last year. Iko had so many lines that had me laughing out loud. There’s also a fair bit of action, and loads of tension with a war brewing and all. There are two other books out in the series: Scarlet (you can guess the main character in this one) and Cress. The fourth book: Winter is coming out this year.

3) The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan

A post apocalyptic world filled with zombies and a few pockets of survivors. Need I say more? Zombies make for awesome stories, and this one is one of the better zombie books I’ve read. This and the rest of the books in the series sum up human nature. Fighting for your dreams, and sometimes just taking that step after dogged step when you’re tired and hurting because you’re going to do everything you can to survive. These books are beautiful, sad, and tinged with a small but strong thread of hope.

4) World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War by Max Brooks

I know, more zombies, but this one is a good one. Promise. It’s very different to the film. It takes the form of a series of interviews with people from all over the world and their experiences in the zombie war. The interviewer wants to record a true picture of the impact of the recent zombie war, so that future generations don’t forget the lessons it taught and repeat it. What follows is poignant and scarily realistic.

I listened to the audio version of this book, which I think is the only way to get the full impact. The voice actors are brilliant. You really hear the characters come to life.

5) Hawkeye Vol 1: My Life as a Weapon by Matt Fraction, David Aja, Javier Pulido, and Alan Davis

Watched the avengers movie? Noticed that guy who spent most of the movie brainwashed, and wondered what he’s like when his brain isn’t all messed with? This graphic novel is the one for you. This one contains Matt Fraction’s Hawkeye comic issues 1-5, and Young Avengers Presents 6. But really, you only need to buy it to see Matt Fraction’s version of the character. The other part is nice, but doesn’t hold a candle to the awesomeness that is Matt Fraction’s take on it. We meet pizza dog, Clint drinks his weight in coffee, and he gets hurt a lot – like a lot a lot. He’s this stubborn guy who acts dumb, takes on a mob to save the people in his apartment building from being evicted, and has a weirdly endearing habit of talking to inanimate objects. He’s officially my second favorite avenger after Bruce Banner. No matter what the movies do to him, this right here is the version of Clint I’ll say is the real one:

6) The Green Mile by Stephen King

There had to be at least one Stephen King in here somewhere because I’ve read like a bazillion of his books – and still have another bazillion to read. How does one guy write so many? It was hard choosing my favorite of his from last year. My answer will probably change given the day. For now though, it’s the Green Mile. Some of his books can seem a bit stretched out, but the green mile is not one of them. Apparently he originally wrote it as an episodic, and the result is a tight book for him with a lot going on. It’s set in the height of the depression, from the point of view of a prison guard on death row. Or rather, it’s from the point of view of an elderly ex prison guard writing his memories of that time. The characters are well fleshed out – even the death row inmates. Our guy’s life changes when he gets a new inmate different from all the ones before: John Coffey. There’s something very special about Coffey, and our main character Paul Edgecombe is about to find out exactly what.

So much emotion in this book. Stephen King spends enough time on the moral dilemmas raised by what they discover to really twist my heart. But it was a scene set years after all this near the end of the book that broke me. Edgecombe’s wife needed help, and the only thing that could save her was Coffey’s gift, but because of what Edgecombe and his fellow guards did years before that’s not possible. I think that’s the moment the full ramifications of what they did hit him. So many feelings.

7) Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen

This one was beautiful. It’s set in the depression. Our main character is a veterinary student who drops out of school when his parents die. He hitches a ride on a train, which just so happens to be a circus train. It’s a romance, which I tend to avoid, but this one won me over. For one the setting is fascinating, the animals are brilliant, and there’s a decent amount of action and tension. For another, while he instantly thinks she’s the most beautiful person on earth, he then learns she’s married and keeps it in his pants. Despite his attraction to her, there’s not even a hint of romance between them for most of the book. This is great as it lets them build an actual relationship with each other first. You know, if you think someone might be your soul-mate, you might want to find out if you can stand to be around each other first.

The point of view is split between elderly Jacob in a nursing home, and young Jacob at the circus. This worked well. All the human characters were interesting, but for me it was Rosie the elephant that stole the show.

 

8) How to Become a Straight A Student by Cal Newport

I love a good self help book. I read quite a few of them, it was hard choosing a favorite. I flittered for a while between this one and Kelly McGonigal’s ‘Maximum Willpower’ but in the end this one won out. While Maximum Willpower is brilliant, Newport’s tactics were way similar and quicker to put in practice. There are other self help books that opened my mind, like the aptly named ‘Mindset’ but Newport’s book is the one from 2014 that had the biggest impact on my productivity. I didn’t expect it to from the title. I put it off for a while, expecting some of the usual ‘buckle down’ advice and not much else.

I was wrong. Newport’s book holds the greatest and simplest organisation system I’ve ever seen. I could set it up within a few minutes of reading the relevant sections, and I think it’s made a big impact on how much I get done. In short: awesome, and a lovely surprise of a book.

9) The Forgotten Soldier by Guy Sajer

A heart wrenching memoir of a German foot soldier in world war 2, made even more so when you remember it’s true. I’ve read a few memoirs of that period (it’s an interest of mine – so if anyone has any recs of good ww2 books please tell me) but this is one of the best written. It really captures the hope, despair, chaos and madness of life at the front. There are so many moments that will stay with me. The moment the Russians sent men to trample over a field full of bombs. When Guy was sent on some much needed leave, and then immediately called back up. When they got new recruits, and half were elderly men, and the other half were little kids swapping candy with each other. When the planes machine gunned civilians they were trying to get to safety, or when they machine gunned the soldiers when they were trapped, wounded, and completely defeated. So many moments when even knowing he had to survive to write the book I thought he was done for. And when he and the few survivors of a horrible defeat finally made it back to safety, only to be reprimanded for losing or damaging pieces of their equipment. An exercise which made the exhausted men weep. If you have any interest at all in world war 2, then this is a must read book.

10) Mystic River by Dennis Lehane

I’ve read a lot of Dennis Lehane last year, including his Kenzie and Gennaro series. Good books, but I think this one tops them, just ahead of another of his books I read last year: Shutter Island. It’s not my all time favorite of his though. That title goes to ‘Gone Baby Gone’ which I read in 2013.

Mystic River is a standalone book revolving around three childhood friends, now adults. One is an ex criminal, another a detective, and the third just trying to keep his life and marriage together. Then Jimmy: our ex con’s daughter is killed. Sean: the detective is assigned to the case.  And Dave may know more about it than he lets on.

Dennis Lehane is an artist in weaving tales in a way that makes them mesmerizing to read. He leaves just enough clues on the way to give you an idea who the killer might be, so if you watch closely you might work it out before the reveal. Be warned though, Lehane’s books tend to be very dark, and this one is definitely no exception.

(spoiler warning:

 

One of the boys was abducted and sexually assaulted when they were young. This is treated as key to the book as he battles demons related to this, and his childhood friends battle their guilt. One small part of the book I didn’t like was how it was taken as given that all childhood victims of sexual assault grow up to have sexual urges toward children. Not true, and very dangerous thinking. I mentally skipped over that part, and re-framed it as possibly true in this case but not others – and maybe not even true in this case. I think he’s more scared about the idea that he could have the power to do that if he so wished. He’s been forced to acknowledge that happens, and the idea that he could do that to a child terrifies him. If you find any of these things too difficult to read, then skip this one.)

Links to my reviews of the previous Dresden Files books:

One: https://samaustinwriter.wordpress.com/2014/06/25/book-review-wednesday-dresden-files-storm-front-5-stars/

Two: https://samaustinwriter.wordpress.com/2014/07/02/book-review-wednesday-fool-moon-dresden-files-4-stars/

Three: https://samaustinwriter.wordpress.com/2014/07/16/book-review-wednesday-dresden-files-grave-peril-4-stars/?preview=true

Four: https://samaustinwriter.wordpress.com/2014/07/30/book-review-wednesday-dresden-files-summer-knight-5-stars/

 

At this point I’m going to assume you know the basic premise of the Dresden Files books and leap forward to the blurb for this particular book:

Harry Dresden, Chicago’s only practicing professional wizard, should be happy that business is pretty good for a change. But now he’s getting more than he bargained for.

A duel with the Red Court of Vampires’ champion, who must kill Harry to end the war between vampires and wizards…
Professional hit men using Harry for target practice…

The missing Shroud of Turin…

A handless and headless corpse the Chicago police need identified…

Not to mention the return of Harry’s ex-girlfriend Susan, who’s still struggling with her semivampiric nature. And who seems to have a new man in her life.

Some days, it just doesn’t pay to get out of bed. No matter how much you’re charging.

We get more Michael in this book, this time in his true role : going after fallen angels. Michael is one of three knights of the cross (as in the one Jesus died on), who we met earlier in the series.  He’s just about the most decent guy you’ll ever meet. And we get to meet his fellow knights, one of whom is agnostic. It’s an interesting take on it.

As well as old enemies, we meet some new ones. Enter fallen angels. Scary, scary, scary things. They basically tempt humans into joining with them, and then take over their body. There’s a bit more to it than that, but I don’t want to give too much away. They’re our major bad guy, with the red court vampires doing their best to join in.

There’s also a new good / neutral character: The Archive who I won’t give too much away about other than to say it’s a bit of a surprise when you get to see what she’s like. She comes with her personal bodyguard Kincaid who is one of those people, I at least loved on sight and was terrified of at the same time. All the new characters play big roles in the next books. It’s great to see the larger mysteries unfold throughout the series.

The plot was action packed with very high stakes. To say that the guys he’s going up against in this book are heavy hitters is an understatement. And worse, they have brains and use them! I think the enemies: the fallen angels, are by far the most formidable enemies introduced in the series so far.

These books are brain candy which is why I love them. Everything that can go wrong does go wrong, and yet Harry always seems to pull through and get out the other side somehow. This was a five star one for me. Enjoyed every minute of it, and I’m not sure I have anything bad to say about it.

For more reviews on this book check out the following link: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/91479.Death_Masks