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SJATurney "Roma Victrix" (Yorkshire, UK)

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The Long Dark Tea Time of the Soul
The Long Dark Tea Time of the Soul
by Douglas Adams
Edition: Paperback

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Simply stunning, 8 May 2012
It's not often that a standalone novel spawns a sequel that is actually better than the first, but that is what Adams achieved with this second Dirk Gently novel.

'Teatime' is, to me, an improvement on the first book in two particular ways:

1. The character interaction is stepped up to the point where every encounter and conversation makes me belly laugh until I hurt.

2. The plot is tighter and less rambling than the first. While that was a strength of Dirk Gently 1, it would have been too much to do it again. This plot is a good, solid, fantasy/sci-fi/mystery one that builds beautifully.

Certain passages stand out. I will always remember and love the opening scene with the airport, Dirk's navigation and the car accident, and Dirk with the eagle.

Dirk becomes even funnier and more complex in this second outing and, given the wonderful addition of characters like Kate Schechter and Thor, it just couldn't be better.

A brilliant novel and unsurpassed in the field of comedy literature for me.


Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency
Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency
by Douglas Adams
Edition: Paperback

5.0 out of 5 stars Adams' best work, 6 May 2012
While I love all of Adams' works, and was weaned on Hitch-Hiker's guide, the Dirk Gently books are, to me, the pinnacle of his work.

Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency is probably the most complicated, intricate plot of any book I have ever read. It is simply mind-boggling how so many apparently random and unconnected things can possibly be threads of one single plot.

A sofa stuck on a stair-case, an electric monk, a disgruntled ghost, a missing cat, George III and a college don among many, many other threads all come together in a way that will simply take away your breath.

You see, while Adams' work is always funny, and this is no exception, being rib-achingly hilarious throughout, this book is also a cleverly-worked history mystery.

If you've not read this, but you did see the BBC tv show based on the characters, the pilot episode used facets and portions of this book to create a new story. Having seen the show will not ruin this book and you will find it fresh and fabulous.

Read it. Or I'll set the laser weasels on you!


Tigana
Tigana
by Guy Gavriel Kay
Edition: Paperback

5.0 out of 5 stars Renaissance, theatre, magic and heartbreak, 6 May 2012
This review is from: Tigana (Paperback)
Tigana is, I would say, Kay's most complex novel. Despite the fact that is centres around magic (a thing that often puts me off a book), said magic is treated very subtly and cleverly and gives Kay the opportunity to create a tale that is almost mythical in its scope.

Tigana is heartbreaking. Exciting, fascinating and often humourous, but probably more heartbreaking than Kay's other books, given that the basic premise and background here is almost unbearably sad before the story even starts.

Tigana is set around a peninsula that is subjugated and under the control of two rival foreign empires. The prince of a land that has been wiped from history weaves subtle plans to free the whole peninsula, destroy the overlords, and return his land to its place in history.

In his schemes he draws in a group of fascinating characters, actors and musicians, spies and more, slowly drawing the threads together to a conclusion that will have you sitting on the edge of your seat while you read.

As each of Kay's novels has a feel and a historical theme (Arbonne being medieval Provence, Al-Rassan being reconquista Spain), Tigana has a feel of Renaissance Italy that is thoroughly absorbing.

Tigana is a fabulous book. If you haven't read it, I urge you to do so.


Raven 2: Sons of Thunder
Raven 2: Sons of Thunder
by Giles Kristian
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.39

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A constant surprise, 3 May 2012
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
I so enjoyed the first Raven book that I wasted little time launching into the second. It started just as I expected, launching into a continuation of the story from Blood Eye, with just as much 'oomph'. I was hooked.

However, Sons of Thunder is a different novel. Not what I expected and certainly not just a continuation of the story, though it does do that admirably too.

The first book had been a rip-roaring constant barrage of action and battle, heroics and betrayal, sneak attacks and audacious plans. Sons of Thunder built for only a couple of chapters on the same theme before sweeping all the plans from the table with surprise actions and decisions by the principal characters.

Suddenly I found I was reading more of an epic journey than an action fest. The story slowed into a languid, highly atmospheric and often tense journey, bringing the reader into an intimate understanding of what life would be like among the brotherhood of Sword-Norse aboard their dragon ships. I will say straight away that this was a surprise direction as far as I was concerned for the story to take, though in no bad way. Indeed, it lent a new freshness and interest to the tale.

I did, however, wonder really where the tale was going to go. I found myself thinking ahead and trying to see how the story might pan out, never quite able to work it all out.

And then, again, somewhere around two thirds of the way through the book, the direction changed once more, and suddenly the pace was breakneck, every bit as exciting and action-packed as Blood Eye. Indeed, I would say that Giles packed into a third of this book as much excitement as there had been in the first novel of the series, an achievement for which I doff my cap to him.

The story leaps and turns and twists in so many unexpected ways that I find it hard to describe how much I enjoyed it, and it builds to the very end to a moment that will be a defining one in the saga for me; one of those 'Lo, there do I see my father' moments from 13th Warrior (thanks Giles). It sets up the third tale beautifully and makes it almost impossible to pause before launching into that book (which I have just done).

The characters continue to entertain and build, some departing their life in appropriate manners, other previous unknowns coming to the fore. Raven himself continues to become stronger and more sure, and my personal fave remains Floki.

The highlight of the book for me was (without spoilers) the manner in which the Norsemen reacted and adapted to what was, for them, a thoroughly alien environment. It was masterfully done.

Now: On with Odin's Wolves...


The Lions of Al-Rassan (Voyager)
The Lions of Al-Rassan (Voyager)
by Guy Gavriel Kay
Edition: Paperback

5.0 out of 5 stars Kay's strongest tale, 1 May 2012
It's very hard for me to rate Guy's books comparatively, since I prize most of them equally highly. The Lions of Al Rassan is particularly impressive, though. I read it at a time when I was visiting Spain semi-regularly and I could picture every scene in not only my mind's eye but my actual eyes too. You see Guy's descriptions are not only beautifully evocative, but are also very realistic.

As with all his books, Lions is a powerful tale of love, hate, brotherhood and betrayal and brings the reader to the absolute apex of any emotion he reaches for. This particular story is a slightly fantasy twist on the history of reconquista Spain, with all the appropriate politics, tensions and cultural clashes between the three great religions: Kindath, Jaddite & Asharite (in historical terms Jew, Christian & Moor).

These three great cultures are embodied in the three principal characters (as good a set of characters as was ever painted in literature and probably Kay's strongest characters yet.)

Ammar Ibn Khairan is a poet, warrior, prince and assassin in the great mould of the Arabian tales, but with a darker, more realistic side. He is charming, deadly and in a way lost and hollow.

Rodrido Belmonte is a soldier in the tradition of El-Cid, Guzman and Pelayo, a Jaddite hero and captain of men.

Jehane bet Ishak is a young doctor, the daughter of a renowned physician, belonging to a downtrodden and over-taxed people. She is the glue that binds the tale and around which the other characters twist.

The novel never lets up in its power, excitement and emotion and, in the best tradition of Kay's books it appears to the reader that the book is drawing to the most tragic conclusion imaginable. It is impossible to see a successful way out of the mess in which the characters have found themselves. Of course, I won't drop in spoilers, but the conclusion was for me the most unexpected and fantastic of all Kay's novels.

It is quite simply a breathtaking novel.


Brethren: Brethren Trilogy Book 1
Brethren: Brethren Trilogy Book 1
by Robyn Young
Edition: Paperback

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A fascinating story and strong debut, 28 April 2012
I wasn't really sure what to expect from Brethren as I hadn't read a synopsis beforehand. Sometimes I find that adds to the book as it means I go into it with an open mind. Also, given my very rigid list of books to read, Brethren sneaked in by simply being "I quite fancy a read of that" as I walked past the bookshelf. That, for me, is quite rare. All I knew was that it involved the Knights Templar and the crusades.

I was fascinated, then, to discover that the book is not simply an 'us-and-them' Templars and Muslim thing. It also falls blessedly short of the almost inevitable (these days) Dan-Browning of the Templars. There is a tendency now to see them as a mystical, secretive, barely-Christian bunch with demon worship etc. Since I personally believe that they were likely mostly good-hearted and pious men who also happened to be shrewd business managers, the whole 'creepy' thing just annoys me.

Robyn has built up, instead, a secret sect within the Templars, using the mysteries surrounding the order and its eventual fall, to create secrets within secrets while still avoiding the pit-trap of Templar weirdness and demon worship. The Templars in Brethren are like an onion, layers within layers, and (as you would expect) it is only toward the end of the book when you start to get a glimpse of what is at the heart of this sect. I was most pleased to find that what could have been said demon worship, weirdness and even supernatural guff was, instead, exactly what I've always thought could have been the case: a deep level of understanding and acceptance that goes far beyond the simple Christian message.

I will try to give nothing away. Some reviews I've seen on the book say that the writing style is rigid and slow, the book too protracted and the characters a little wooden. I found the writing to be easy enough and flow well, myself. I suspect the style eases into the second book. It is, after all, a debut, and any writer's style only settles with a second book, but I had no issue with the style.

I did find some of the characters' traits a little obvious or expected. I wouldn't say they were wooden or one-dimensional or anything like that, but one of the other reviewers said they are a tad under-developed and I can see where they have come up with this decision. I assume, though, that this is a facet of this being the first book in a trilogy and that the characters will continue to grow and deepen.

I did find the book a long one to go at, I have to say, not that it was a problem. I enjoyed every page of the story.

I will certainly be reading the rest of the series.


Raven: Blood Eye (Raven 1)
Raven: Blood Eye (Raven 1)
by Giles Kristian
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.39

11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I like vikings? Who knew..., 27 April 2012
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
I was doubly surprised by Raven. I bought it, in all fairness, because I'd spoken to Giles on twitter - he's a really nice fella - and it had a cool cover. There. Admission of guilt.

I've got 3 viking sagas sat in my bookshelves, all unread, because I obsess over the Roman era and I have trouble with Viking culture, because I've always thought they didn't have one. So it took me a long time to get around to braving Raven. So that was my first stumbling block: not been keen to launch into viking tales.

Moreover, opening the book, I discovered that it's written in first person perspective. I'm not a lover of such. I find that I can read most genres and even novels that are hard work if they're in 3rd person, but they have to be exceptional for me to bother in first person. Stumbling block 2.

I started reading Raven, teeth gritted against the perspective, expectations of cultural interest low, but knowing that the author is an articulate, intelligent and pleasant man. Thus I persevered... until page 2.

As soon as I turned the page it was no longer a matter of perseverance. I was quite simply hooked. All my expectations, worries and niggling doubts vanished and by the 2nd chapter I was rethinking my attitude to the viking era in general. You see, though I had little interest in the whole Viking thing, it turns out that I love them, but had forgotten it, locking it away deep inside with a label saying: to be opened when you're busy arrogantly pigeon-holing things. Suddenly I remembered Kirk Douglas as Einar in the Vikings. Suddenly I was remembering Asterix and the Normans. Suddenly I was back by the campfire in the Thirteenth Warrior, listening to the twelve norsemen boast. It turns out that I was blinkering myself.

Raven is an engrossing story, surprisingly taking place mostly on land, despite the longboats in early play. As much of the tale revolves around their Saxon victims/allies/acquaintances in Britain as it does around the norsemen. Raven himself is a fascinating character, built in many layers and continuing to acquire them as the story progresses. The other characters are equally strong: Sigurd the great Jarl, Olaf the second in command, Black Floki (my personal fave) and a cast of many glittering folk. There are twists, magnificent actions sequences that will have you shouting for the brotherhood, gruesome scenes of torture and murder, rousing heroic moments, betrayals, love interest... in short everything you could want from the book.

Along with Angus Donald's Outlaw series, this is one of few series in 1st person perspective that is not only readable, but simply magnificent.

I am currently halfway through the sequel now and finding it every bit as good as the first. In short, Raven was an attitude changing book for me and has opened up a new genre entirely as readable.

Buy Raven and you'll want to read the others.
Comment Comments (8) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Aug 27, 2012 9:30 PM BST


Fortress of Spears: Empire III
Fortress of Spears: Empire III
by Anthony Riches
Edition: Paperback
Price: £5.99

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Crescendo that leaves you wanting more, 24 April 2012
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
I've waited until I finished the third book in this series before posting a review of any of them, and for a particular reason. Most of the historical series I've read consist of a new separate story with each book, often defined by a narrator's pause or some such device. Most series are different stories with different themes that build a series.

Wile clearly part of a series, Tony's first three Empire books are different. To me they follow on so closely and seamlessly that the series so far could easily be seen as one huge story spread over three books with appropriate pauses between releases. The stories are readable independently, for sure, but the best will be got from them by reading them one after the other. Quite simply, you can't read one book of this series without wanting to go on with the story. In order to get the best from the story, you need to read them all, and for the best possible results, I would suggest back-to-back.

A second thing that I would say that concerns each of Tony's works is what I consider his greatest strength as an author: The gritty military reality of his tale-telling. I have spent some time in my life, in a civilian situation but alongside men of military units, and there is something so authentic about Tony's characterisation that it felt truly familiar and real. You will find it hard to disbelieve anything about Tony's depiction of the legions, auxiliary troopers, the cavalry, their structure, style, attitude and actions. While no one can confirm exactly how soldiers then spoke and acted, it's hard to believe they were any different from the modern military and Tony has made these ancient soldiers understandable and relevant to the modern reader.

I feel that it is better for me to review the series as a whole, which I have given an appropriate 5 stars of 5, and then add a short section on the individual novel. I find it almost impossible to put down Tony's books and eagerly await the Leopard Sword to see what new direction the series might take.

Book Three

Fortress of spears builds the first three Empire books to a suitably powerful conclusion and ties off a number of important story threads while keeping enough open to allow for great sequel potential. Essentially, it completes the first arc of a story that clearly goes on. This book is much the Return of the Jedi of this trio; a most entertaining and engaging book.

Where the first novel concentrated on life in an auxiliary unit and the second on the Hamian archers of the middle east, this third one has the cavalry at its heart, giving another fresh dimension for the reader. The third book shows the most character growth and complexity, indicating that the series is just going to keep getting better. The best thing about it though, beyond the always-excellent characterisation of the military, was the introduction of two new villains who were loathesome and impressive to an astounding extent.

Well done to Anthony Riches. I now have the newly-released Leopard Sword and cannot wait to see what next awaits Aquila in his new role.


Arrows of Fury: Empire II
Arrows of Fury: Empire II
by Anthony Riches
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An excellent follow up, 24 April 2012
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
I've waited until I finished the third book in this series before posting a review of any of them, and for a particular reason. Most of the historical series I've read consist of a new separate story with each book, often defined by a narrator's pause or some such device. Most series are different stories with different themes that build a series.

Wile clearly part of a series, Tony's first three Empire books are different. To me they follow on so closely and seamlessly that the series so far could easily be seen as one huge story spread over three books with appropriate pauses between releases. The stories are readable independently, for sure, but the best will be got from them by reading them one after the other. Quite simply, you can't read one book of this series without wanting to go on with the story. In order to get the best from the story, you need to read them all, and for the best possible results, I would suggest back-to-back.

A second thing that I would say that concerns each of Tony's works is what I consider his greatest strength as an author: The gritty military reality of his tale-telling. I have spent some time in my life, in a civilian situation but alongside men of military units, and there is something so authentic about Tony's characterisation that it felt truly familiar and real. You will find it hard to disbelieve anything about Tony's depiction of the legions, auxiliary troopers, the cavalry, their structure, style, attitude and actions. While no one can confirm exactly how soldiers then spoke and acted, it's hard to believe they were any different from the modern military and Tony has made these ancient soldiers understandable and relevant to the modern reader.

I feel that it is better for me to review the series as a whole, which I have given an appropriate 5 stars of 5, and then add a short section on the individual novel. I find it almost impossible to put down Tony's books and eagerly await the Leopard Sword to see what new direction the series might take.

Book Two

Arrows of fury follows up perfectly from Wounds of honour, and takes the action to a new level, concentrating more this time on the war that was the impetus and background of the first book, the Tribal leader who has become the great antagonist of the Empire series and the campaigns of great leaders (and occasionally of chinless idiots.)

Alongside this great military campaign, we experience the machinations of wicked and stupid men and best of all heroics from the most unexpected quarters. The Hamian unit that are the reason for the book's name simply blew me away and made me reassess the importance of missile troops in the Roman military. I have come to love Qadir as a character. Arrows of fury doesn't just follow on from Wounds of Honour, but builds on it, introducing wonderful new characters and elements.


Wounds of Honour: Empire I
Wounds of Honour: Empire I
by Anthony Riches
Edition: Paperback
Price: £5.99

15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An opening stormer, 24 April 2012
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
I've waited until I finished the third book in this series before posting a review of any of them, and for a particular reason. Most of the historical series I've read consist of a new separate story with each book, often defined by a narrator's pause or some such device. Most series are different stories with different themes that build a series.

Wile clearly part of a series, Tony's first three Empire books are different. To me they follow on so closely and seamlessly that the series so far could easily be seen as one huge story spread over three books with appropriate pauses between releases. The stories are readable independently, for sure, but the best will be got from them by reading them one after the other. Quite simply, you can't read one book of this series without wanting to go on with the story. In order to get the best from the story, you need to read them all, and for the best possible results, I would suggest back-to-back.

A second thing that I would say that concerns each of Tony's works is what I consider his greatest strength as an author: The gritty military reality of his tale-telling. I have spent some time in my life, in a civilian situation but alongside men of military units, and there is something so authentic about Tony's characterisation that it felt truly familiar and real. You will find it hard to disbelieve anything about Tony's depiction of the legions, auxiliary troopers, the cavalry, their structure, style, attitude and actions. While no one can confirm exactly how soldiers then spoke and acted, it's hard to believe they were any different from the modern military and Tony has made these ancient soldiers understandable and relevant to the modern reader.

I feel that it is better for me to review the series as a whole, which I have given an appropriate 5 stars of 5, and then add a short section on the individual novel. I find it almost impossible to put down Tony's books and eagerly await the Leopard Sword to see what new direction the series might take.

Book One

Wounds of honour is a wonderful beginning, introducing a number of characters that you will love and that will go through the series with you.

From the protagonist, a fugitive from Imperial justice who will continue to take your breath away in exciting and violent ways as each new talent of his becomes apparent, to the grim centurions who have served long on the frontier, to the oily son of a Roman aristocrat seeking the hero's downfall, the story takes place against a background of violent war and tribal pride, beleaguered forts and inter-unit rivalries, and centres around a 'training of mistfits' theme that is both exciting and humourous at times. The book has a solid and exciting concusion while clearly not finishing the whole story. Wounds of Honour introduces the reader to life on Hadrian's Wall in an era of troubles, to the auxiliary units that serve there and, in particular, to the First Tungrian cohort, who will become central to the series.


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