Book Review: The Stormlight Archives by Brandon Sanderson

According to Brandon there will be ten books in the Stormlight series, with five in the first arc, and the other five set at a different time. Book four has only recently been released, so I will have to wait a while to finish the current arc. Fortunately, Brandon is a slightly more prolific writer than say George R R Martin or Patrick Rothfuss. I was going to add that I don’t generally read books in the fantasy genre, but then I realised that I’ve read all of the Discworld books by Terry Pratchett, all of the Game of Thrones books and both books in the Kingkiller series.

Anyway, back to the Stormlight Archives, and it has taken me four months to read the four books so far, ignoring the two short books with minor characters that aren’t part of the larger series.

Each book is huge, as is the world where it is set. To be honest I can’t really start to describe it, except to say that most of it is about war, or various wars. Each book also has flashbacks for a specific character. In the first book this is Kaladin, a slave with a troubled past. While this first book is mainly about Kaladin, we do meet many of the other main characters.

The cosmere world where the story is set is very different, with dangerous storms that are so powerful anyone caught out in the open is likely to die. There are plenty of other worldly creatures along with ‘Spren’, who appear and disappear almost at random. Men are not allowed to read and women have to hide their ‘safe hand’ in a glove at the very least. I could go on.

I absolutely loved the first book, The Way of Kings, rushing through it in less than a week. I repeated this with the second book, although it wasn’t quite as good. The third and fourth books were more of a struggle, as I started to read other books at the same time. If I was to score the books, the first would receive 5/5, the second 4.5, with the third and fourth books about 3.5.

When the fifth book is released I will definitely read it, but it is doubtful that I will continue after that. Would I read other books by Brandon Sanderson? Probably, although there are plenty of other fantasy writers out there who I haven’t yet sampled.

This hasn’t really been a review as such, mostly because of the expansiveness of the whole series, and I wouldn’t want to give away plot lines from the later books if you haven’t read the first one.

Hopefully soon Mr Rothfuss will finish book three of the Kingkiller series, and then Mr Martin could publish the next Game of Thrones book. In the meantime I’m going to steer away from fantasy and read a few more travel and sport books, as well as my old favourite genre post-apocalypse.

Book Review: Murder at the University by Faith Martin

This is the second in the Detective Inspector Hillary Greene series of books, and while they’re not in the slightest bit ground breaking, I have found the first two to be well written, full of little surprises and a few ongoing story lines. I also like the fact that each book is only £1.99 for the Kindle version. My review of the first book can be found here.

Anyway, in this book a female student has been found dead in her college room. At first glance it would appear to be a drugs overdose, but then forensics find rat poison in her blood. It also turns out that the student has been working as a high class call girl. Who were her clients? Had she annoyed the local pimp?

The book races along and I really found myself immersed in the story. I also want to know more with the ongoing story lines. Will DI Greene find her dead husbands illegal profits? Will DI Greene escape from her canal boat? Will Tommy, 15 years her junior, admit how much he yearns for his boss? I doubt if it will long before I’ve downloaded book number 3 in the series. There are some obvious comparisons to Colin Dexter and Inspector Morse, but I’m beginning to think that this series of books is superior.

Book Review: Twisted by Steve Cavanagh

There is a whole load of twists and turns within this book, as expected with that specific title. It is quite difficult to review this book without giving away too much, but the basic premise is that an successful author famous for writing thrillers with unexpected twists possibly knows more about a missing person. Another less successful author is hiding because he knows too much. His wife is having an affair. The local police are trying to piece it all together.

There are a couple of minor details which didn’t ring true to me, but if you can gloss over them then this is a cracking thriller. My lovely wife read it in a matter of days and when she handed it to me I did the same. I have to admit that I guessed the twists at the end of the book, although only a few pages before they were revealed, which didn’t spoil the ending for me.

There are some very unique ideas in this book and it is also very well written. I gave it 4 out of 5 on Goodreads and if it hadn’t been for a couple of minor details I would have given it 5. Overall a very good thriller without too much gratuitous violence.

Book Review: The Queen’s Gambit by Walter Tevis

I’ve not written very many book reviews in the last couple of month. This isn’t because I’ve not been reading, it’s because I became immersed in the Stormlight Archive series by Brandon Sanderson, and I wanted to wait until I’d read all of the books written so far before reviewing them. I have to say that the first two books were amazing, the third dragged a little and the fourth I am really struggling with, but that is all for another review.

I’m sure that almost everyone has heard of The Queen’s Gambit, which was one of the best TV shows of last year. It was based on the book of the same name by Walter Tevis and was first published way back in 1983. Walter also wrote The Hustler and The Color of Money, both made into very successful films. He died in 1984 at the young age of only 56.

Anyway, The Queen’s Gambit stars Beth, an orphan who watches the janitor at the orphanage playing chess against himself and is immediately intrigued. Before too long she is beating her first mentor, and then starts to win against far more experienced players. The book also describes her addiction to tranquilizers and later wine. Throughout the book she has two different nemeses. The first when she is young the woman in charge of the orphanage, and then later the Russian Chess Grand Master and World Champion.

Who would have though that a thriller about chess would be so engrossing. The book does get into the nuances of chess more than the TV series, but for me that is OK. What is also amazing is how close the TV series is to the book. And yes, I did use to play chess when I was young, although I was a distinctly below average player.

Overall a fantastic read which I sped through like a game of speed chess, and one that I gave a top score of 5 out of 5 on Goodreads.

Book Review: Later by Stephen King

I’ve written before about how I stopped reading new books by Stephen King for a number of years, and how recently with The Outsider, The Institute and Doctor Sleep my enjoyment has returned. I’m glad that I have as Later is another absolute cracker of a read. My other recent Stephen King book reviews can be read here.

The book is all about young Jamie growing up in New York with his mother. Jamie has a secret which his mother insists, for good reasons, that he keep quiet about. He can see dead people, and talk to them, but only for a few days until they fade away. He uses his gift a couple of times to do good, but his mother and a policewoman use his gift for their own ends, with very differing results. Without giving away too many spoilers that is about as much as I can say.

There isn’t too much original with the story, and The Sixth Sense does get a mention, but it is all very well written with a great set of characters. Additionally the book isn’t too long and keeps a good pace going the whole way through.

Anyway, a short review for a short book which I gave 5 stars to on Goodreads.

Book Review: In Search of the Rainbow’s End by Colin Caffell

My lovely wife bought me this book as a surprise. We’d binge watched the TV series over two days and we both wanted to know more. In 1985 a family of five were shot and murdered in a quiet farmhouse in Essex. The police originally thought that it was a murder suicide committed by Sheila Caffell, although it turned out to have been carried out by her younger brother.

The book was written by Colin, Sheila’s former husband and the father of twin boys, who were also killed along with Neville and June, Sheila’s parents. It was a truly horrific slaughter and it took Colin many years to come to terms with what happened. The book isn’t only about the murders as it also focuses on Sheila and how she would never have harmed her sons, despite what was printed in the press at the time. Her cousins knew that she couldn’t have done it and pestered the police to look at Jeremy. Eventually the police put together enough evidence to arrest Jeremy. His girlfriend then handed herself into the police and admitted that Jeremy had told her that he had committed the murders for the money.

Much of the book discusses Colin’s search for answers, not just to the murders, but spiritually and religiously. The good side and the bad side of the church are both on display, along with a couple of ‘mediums’. I don’t have any first hand experience of psychics, but Colin and Sheila obviously believed, and definitely helped Colin.

The book was first published in 1995 with an extra couple of chapters written to coincide with the TV series. One of those chapters covers Jeremy’s appeal. Fortunately, further forensic examination of the original case showed that the correct killer had been jailed, much to the relief of Colin.

Overall a very interesting read, although if you are only looking for details of the murder and the trial this probably isn’t the book you’re looking for. Reviews suggest that the book by Carol Ann Lee is the best of the books written about the murders. I would recommend watching the TV series, which was based upon Colin’s book, without the clairvoyance stuff.

Book Review: Kingkiller by Patrick Rothfuss

I don’t generally stick to just one genre, but I don’t read a great deal of fantasy. Not because I don’t enjoy it, it is more because I don’t know who the good writers are and who to avoid. 30 years ago a friend recommended that I should read the Discworld series of books by Terry Pratchett. At the time there were only 4 or 5 of them, but I continued to read and enjoy each and every one of them. At school friends raved about the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings, but I couldn’t get past the first few pages. I tried reading the Mission Earth series by L Ron Hubbard way before I had heard of Scientology, but I found them to be bland and formulaic. The 6 book Dune series by Frank Herbert however was everything I wanted in a book. When the internet exploded a few years ago when Sean Bean’s character in Game of Thrones died I knew that I had to give the first book a try. Subsequently I have read and enjoyed all of the Game of Thrones books, and I admit I was tempted not to watch the last series on TV until the book had been released. As many of you will know, George R R Martin isn’t the most prolific of writers so we could be waiting a while for the series to be concluded. The Winds of Winter is now expected in May 2021.

This was a roundabout way of saying that I don’t know much about the fantasy genre, so when the Guardian published a top ten fantasy list I was very interested. Two authors/books caught my eye. The Stormlight series by Brandon Sanderson and the Kingkiller Chronicles by Patrick Rothfuss. Currently I’m about a third of the way through the second Stormlight book, Words of Radiance.

Anyway, this blog entry is about the Kingkiller Chronicles. So far there are two full books, The Name of the Wind and The Wise Man’s Fear. There are also a couple of shorter books, The Lightning Tree and The Slow Regard of Silent Things, which are books 0.5 and 2.5 in the series, although as explained by Patrick they are not essential the main story arc. I’ve also not included book 0.5 as I haven’t yet read it.

The name of the Wind stars Kvothe, our hero who became a legend, an assassin, a lover and a wizard. The book starts slowly with Kvothe in semi-retirement working as an innkeeper. The Chronicler arrives and Kvothe agrees to tell his tale, from losing his parents at an early age and becoming a feral beggar/thief before enrolling at the university.

I was sucked in immediately and couldn’t put it down. I loved how expansive the realm was and how there are sudden leaps in Kvothe’s life. The university is also nothing like Hogwarts.

The second book isn’t quite as good, as it falls into the trap of being the middle book in a trilogy, in that there are loads of loose ends that will need to be tied up in the final book. It also felt that maybe the start of the book should have been when Kvothe leaves the university for the first time, but that would have added a couple of hundred pages to book one.

The Slow Regard of Silent Things is a stand alone shorter book starring Auri, a strange girl who hides away beneath the university and befriends Kvothe. This book is completely different to the main two as she is the only character. Patrick Rothfuss stated that he loved writing this book but didn’t think anyone else ever would, especially as he takes 8 pages describing Auri making soap. This book was a delight, even though it didn’t add too much to the larger story.

All I can say is that if you’re looking for a good fantasy series, then you can’t go wrong with the Kingkiller Chronicles, although like Mr Martin, Mr Rothfuss isn’t the fastest of writers and it could be a while before book 3 arrives.

Book Review: The Private Life of the Hare by John Lewis-Stempel

Hares are without doubt my favourite animal. I never fail to smile if I’m lucky enough to see one when we’re out cycling, running or walking. Unfortunately they are becoming rarer and rarer due to a number of reasons.

The Private Life of the Hare is one of a series of books by John Lewis-Stempel who is a farmer and nature lover. It isn’t a long book but it fascinating. It includes the history and breeds of hares found in the UK, along with numerous poems and sayings; Fast as a Hare being one of the best. Hundreds of years ago hares were considered a pest because of their huge appetite and because there were millions of them.

‘To see a hare sit still as stone, to watch a hare boxing on a frosty March morning, to witness a hare bolt . . . these are great things. Every field should have a hare.’

Hares are also incredibly hardy creatures. Unlike rabbits they don’t have burrows, instead they find a shallow hollow to sleep in, even in the coldest of weathers. The book also talks about the myths of hares, and how they are often thought to be witches.

My lovely wife knows of my love for hares and bought this book for me as a surprise, just because she loves me. I have the best life ever. Anyway, I gave this book 4 out of 5 on Goodreads, but then I love hares.

Book Review: The Living Dead by George Romero and Daniel Kraus

This is an epic tome of a book, coming in at 600 pages. The definitive zombie book, mostly written by the definitive zombie writer/director – George Romero. I say mostly written, because he died before he could finish it, so his wife and long time collaborator searched for someone who would be able to pull all of the threads together and complete what George had started. Not an easy process as George’s wife found plot outlines kept separate from the book, and Daniel found a couple of chapters of a previous version online written over 20 years earlier. Daniel Kraus has published many books in his own right as well as collaborating with the writer/director Guillermo Del Toro.

The book is almost a written version combining all six of the zombie films, starting from the very first re-animated corpse to the death of the dead. There are many different characters in the book with lengthy sections for each one, which then becomes single chapters in the second part of the book, and then ultimately some of the characters meet up in the land of the living in the final part of the book. Obviously, not all of the characters survive, and some of them get bumped off quite early on. The ending is also spot on, with humans reverting to type.

There was always a depth to Romero’s films, which was often ignored. As with Clive Barker, the monsters are not always the monster. Zombies are just doing what zombies do, in that they eat human flesh. The real monsters are always other humans. This depth of character has the time and space to evolve incredibly well within this book. You really start feeling for the characters, hoping that everything will work out for the best.

There is also a great deal of humour within the book, as well as a few hidden ‘Easter Eggs’. Daniel Kraus is a long time George fan and one of the hidden eggs I found was a reference to the characters from George’s 1981 film Knightriders, which has nothing to do with David Hasselhoff, but is a film well worth looking out for. Additionally there is the introduction of zombie chickens in the book.

Zombie books and horror books are fairly niche so I won’t recommend this if you’re not a fan of the genre. However, if you love a good horror novel then this is an absolute must read. I gave it 5 out of 5 on Goodreads.

Book Review: Rocket Boys by Homer Hickam

A few months ago me and my lovely wife were searching Netflix for something interesting to watch on a Friday night, when we stumbled upon the 1999 film October Sky staring Jake Gyllenhaal. We both loved it and so did a work colleague who I recommended it to. However, the film was based upon the book Rocket Boys.

Set in the 1950’s in a company owned coal mining town in West Virginia, Homer and his school friends are transfixed by the Russian’s space exploration, specifically the Sputnik series of satellites. Homer decides to have a go at building a rocket. Obviously it doesn’t all go to plan, with many failures along the way, as well trouble for his parents in the mine.

I don’t want to give too much away but they end up building some very impressive rockets, as well as all of the boys managing to go to college, not something many kids managed from their background. To cap it all, many years later, Homer manages to secure a job working for NASA.

One of the best feel good films and book that I’ve watched or read in a long time. Definitely received 5 out of 5 on Goodreads. There are a few differences between the film and the book, as there always are, but both are well worth looking out for.