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Daniel Cann

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Unlucky Dip
Unlucky Dip
by Kate Tenbeth
Edition: Paperback

3.0 out of 5 stars Solid crime caper, 16 Feb. 2013
This review is from: Unlucky Dip (Paperback)
This short novel grips the reader from the start and is a lively and entertaining read. The characters of Inspector Drummond, Holly and Jon are well conceived. Sylvia, the ice blonde step-mother is straight out of noir. I enjoyed seeing how things unfolded and Tenbeth keeps the reader guessing.

Holly is a spirited fifteen year old and Jon is an awkward sixteen year old she encounters. Without giving too much plot away I was surprised that Holly accepted him so readily and wondered why they did not go straight to the authorities or at least had a heated argument about it. That said, Tenbeth writes teenagers well, and ultimately they make a good team.

If you accept a few implausible scenarios and situations this is a decent mystery thriller which moves along at a very fast pace. Tenbeth is also very good at setting the scene and clearly knows London and its surrounding areas well.

I am afraid that some incidental characters are no more than ciphers and stereotypes, but despite that Unlucky Dip holds the attention especially when it becomes clear that the attempted murder of Holly is just the tip of a much larger iceberg.

With plenty of twists and unexpected developments this is a good solid crime caper.

The Dragon Shield
The Dragon Shield
by Dianne Lynn Gardner
Edition: Paperback

5.0 out of 5 stars Loved it!, 11 Feb. 2013
This review is from: The Dragon Shield (Paperback)
This is the sequel to Deception Peak and the second in the Ian's Realm Young Adult adventure fantasy series. Author Dianne Gardner's epic and ambitious story is richer and deeper this time around, with more background explored. We learn more about Ian and his relationship with his father and his friend Abbi, as well as the significance of the Realm.

Ian is reunited with his father Alex, who has spent many desperate days trying to stay alive after being stranded on Deception Peak. As Gardner was at pains to explain in the first outing, the Realm is not a land of rainbows, giant lollipops and candy canes, but rather a treacherous, testing wilderness where the struggle to find shelter, food and resources, as well as self-reliance are the key to survival.

Once again, Gardner's descriptions of her characters, their thoughts and emotions, as well as the environment they inhabit are excellently vivid. A clear picture is painted for the reader, and it is not hard to find yourself lost in this immersive world.

Three years have now passed and Ian is a headstrong eighteen year old who has been adopted by Abbi's parents. He has graduated from High School, and his whole future is being mapped out for him. It looks promising, and his talents as an artist are undeniable, yet he has unfinished business to attend to in the Realm. Gone is the wide-eyed reluctant schoolboy, Ian is now a seasoned traveller and very much his own man.

It was thrilling to see him transformed into someone accepting their destiny and embracing their duty. This time he very much wants in. His affairs in the "real world" have been settled and this is a young man with a sense of purpose with none of the self-doubt and anxiety of the first book (that is not to say he is infallible, he still makes some very human errors and has to learn through harsh experience).

An example of why I am a fan of Gardner's series is well illustrated from this passage of the novel:

"The moon peaked over the clouds, illuminating a haunting aura on the horses. Shadows danced like ghosts across the trail. Ian was alone again. He shuddered."

See? You are right there with Ian. Descriptions such as this give everything a heightened sense of reality and significance. Gardner's central character is in the most testing of predicaments and it is clear it is not going to be easy.

Travelling back through the portal opened by his father's computer, Ian must discover whether he is "the promised one" that native of the Realm, Amleth spoke of. The tale of a boy becoming a man is a well trodden one, but Gardner gives it her own unique twist here.

Interestingly, in the intervening years, Ian is not the only one who has changed. When he returns, he discovers the Realm has changed a lot for the worse - it is now faced with its own environmental problems, it has become a gloomier, more desolate place with a downtrodden population.

If Ian is to succeed in his personal quest he is going to need all the help he can get. This help comes from unexpected quarters from both the real world and the Realm.

Dragon Shield is packed to the rafters with incident and peril. Ian's resolve is tested like never before, the camaraderie of his supporters and their combined efforts will keep the reader engrossed. The nagging central question cannot be avoided - can Ian save the Realm?

There is a constant battle being waged between hope and despair and you are never quite sure how things will develop. This blends the real world and the cyber world to thrilling effect. By the novels end I felt that things were only just beginning for Ian and I wanted more - a mark of Gardner's skill as a storyteller.

What can I say? This is an excellent follow-up and bridge to the next instalment.

Wool (Wool Trilogy 1)
Wool (Wool Trilogy 1)
by Hugh Howey
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £9.99

1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Gripping dystopian sci-fi, 1 Feb. 2013
This review is from: Wool (Wool Trilogy 1) (Hardcover)
Clearly, if you enjoy your sci-fi downbeat and dystopian, then Wool will be for you. The claustrophobia and dread permeates the opening chapters and you can sense the oppression and the subjugation. This is a society without free will; people are just worker drones going about their daily routine with no questions asked.

Before this puts you off, I must say that what prevents this from being 500 pages plus of misery and pessimism is its humanity. Characters like Holston, Marnes and of course Jules help the reader to invest in them and their fates. Howey is very good at making you think: "What would I do in this situation?"

Below the surface of the sci-fi story there are some big and complex ideas at play. It may all sound familiar, but a closer look reveals an enthralling story about human endeavour and struggle.

Our darker nature is explored and conspiracy theorists will love it. In fact, despite its setting (in a ruined world) Howey could be commenting on our present condition. Only a few brave ones like Jules question the status quo and look for answers to the nagging questions.

Howey cranks up the suspense and tension, making this one of the most gripping and profound sci-fi novels I have read.

Buried (Tom Thorne Novels)
Buried (Tom Thorne Novels)
by Mark Billingham
Edition: Paperback

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Series has hit its stride, 24 Jan. 2013
Billingham has struck on a winning formula with his popular detective series: something or someone from the past re-emerges or is discovered in the present day and it is down to world-weary DI Tom Thorne to solve things.

Billingham does manage again to infuse the plot with plenty of unexpected and dramatic developments despite the tried and tested formula. This story on the surface seems like a routine kidnapping, but it is soon apparent that it is anything but that.

I enjoyed revisiting stalwart characters like Hendricks and Holland. It is vital for the `human' element that we feel we know these characters and care about them. If not for them, it would be just another crime novel. The way Thorne interacts with his colleagues and friends gives the novel its meat and its soul. Thorne's main strength is his ordinariness; he is not a super-cop, but a rough-around-the-edges, seasoned veteran.

This thriller is taut, suspenseful, shocking and disturbing. As well as the kidnapping it deals with hate crimes and racist attacks, sex assaults and bullying. Light reading it is not. This is all designed to push the reader's emotional buttons and to prompt righteous indignation. I can only speak from my own experience and say that it works. I was totally hooked and hoping that the wrong-doers were brought swiftly to justice.

This is no wish-fulfilment fantasy, Billingham is again at pains to illustrate police procedure and the work and policies of the various specialist crime units involved. Thorne operates very much in the real contemporary world.

Buried is a solid addition to the series and for my money, one of the best. He has really hit his stride and I am certain that the series can continue to provide exciting storylines and problems for Thorne to tackle for many years to come.

Three Days to Never
Three Days to Never
by Tim Powers
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Will please Powers fans, 8 Jan. 2013
This review is from: Three Days to Never (Paperback)
Being a Tim Powers novel means Three Days to Never is hugely ambitious in scope. I cannot reveal too much of the plot without spoiling the fun, but let's just say that readers will enjoy the many twists and surprises here. Fans of parallel world's, alternate history, science fiction and the paranormal will really enjoy this.

Powers does have a writing style that may take getting used to. Luckily I had already read two of his previous novels, but sometimes you do have to tread carefully to fully understand what is going on.

Rather than a direct Hemmingway-esque way of saying something is happening or has happened, Powers tends to over elaborate on something quite mundane. For example even the action of eating can take him several paragraphs, I was waiting for some deep meaning or plot reveal, but no, it was literally just father and daughter enjoying a meal together!

It is little surprise then, with padding like this, the novel clocks in at an unnecessarily overlong 420 pages.

For the most part, it is intriguing and original. I thoroughly enjoyed the Einstein and Chaplin subplots and how the Marritys uncovered all the many layers of their family past.

There is plenty of gripping action and with all the rules different here, you really don't know what to expect and who will live and who won't. Again, this is not taking place in a `fixed world' where everything is final.

Once finished I thought that I had read another highly creative and inventive story which suffered slightly from the padding I mentioned earlier. A slick Tim Powers thriller would really be something to behold. But I am sure this will please his fans and add many new ones.

The Decembrists
The Decembrists
by Kimberly Richardson
Edition: Paperback

3.0 out of 5 stars Southern Gothic, 28 Dec. 2012
This review is from: The Decembrists (Paperback)
This was a novel I could really get my teeth into: the two main characters of Sophie and Hilliard are vivid and believable. The structure of The Decembrists is also well conceived, as each chapter represents a month of the year and an episode in Sophie and Hilliard's burgeoning relationship.

Written in the first person, this switches perspective from the thirty seven year old aspiring author Sophie, to the fifty year old, established, bestselling author, Hilliard.

Set in Memphis, this charts the budding romance between a couple who have given up on finding love. After the initial first bloom of romance, something much darker and malevolent becomes apparent, and Richardson builds the unease and menace steadily.

This is one of those "Nothing is as it initially appears" stories.

This soon becomes a battle of wits and misdirection, with revelations aplenty. This was a good psychological novel which I found darkly entertaining as well as unsettling. Richardson is a skilled writer and puts the magnifying glass up to all of our neuroses and fears. She is excellent at building intrigue and suspense.

I really enjoyed this Southern Gothic tale and I am sure Richardson has plenty more up her sleeve.

The Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes - Sherlock Holmes vs. Dracula
The Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes - Sherlock Holmes vs. Dracula
by Loren D. Estleman
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fast paced and thrilling, 9 Dec. 2012
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's detective meets Bram Stoker's vampire in this hugely enjoyable Gothic Victorian romp. As usual opinion will be divided between those that only want to see their favourite literary creations left alone, and those who revel in seeing them in new adventures and settings.

I for one, thoroughly enjoy this series, each guest author gives the Sherlock Holmes canon a new twist or re-imagining. Yes, I love the original fifty six short stories and four novels of Conan Doyle, but appreciate modern authors' efforts to pit Holmes and Watson against new adversaries and into unexplored territory.

I read Bram Stoker's Dracula as a boy, and remember being captivated by the dark tale with its malevolent count, the eccentric vampire hunter Abraham Van Helsing and the strong-willed Mina Harker.

I began this novel with a few misgivings, worried that it could be a misstep. These are giant, iconic characters from fiction after all, and to take them both on is very brave of author Estleman. His experience and passion as a fiction writer shines through - he manages the enviable feat of seamlessly blending the Dracula story with a Dr John H. Watson chronicle.

He has also captured the tone and personality of Watson, who serves as narrator here. This is a short adventure, but it rattles along at a thundering and thrilling pace. Many of the events that transpire in Stoker's masterful novel are given a fresh perspective with the inclusion of Holmes and Watson. Estleman has even managed to make an old established story seem fresh.

The greatest detective mind versus the supernatural cunning of Dracula is a showdown anyone would pay admission for. Estleman's imaginative novel does not let the reader down.

With no clunky exposition or scene setting, this starts fast and does not let up. Blending two beloved characters in this way, providing readers with a thrilling adventure, is quite an achievement. Fans of vampires and crime fiction will thoroughly enjoy this.

Tomorrow, the Killing: Low Town 2
Tomorrow, the Killing: Low Town 2
by Daniel Polansky
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £18.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Suspenseful and packed with incident, 9 Dec. 2012
I confess that I had not read the first Low Town novel The Straight Razor Cure, so was going into this one without any preconceived ideas or expectations.

I was immediately grabbed by its gritty noir edginess. Warden is a compelling world-weary war veteran, now acting as a trouble-shooter and private eye (with a few other sidelines).
With its medieval world and criminal element, this reads like a Raymond Chandler novel with shades of George R.R. Martin thrown into the mix.

Tomorrow the Killing is packed with incident, action and mystery, focussing on corruption, cover-ups and family secrets. Polansky has crafted a vivid and arresting world with a colourful cast of three dimensional characters.

Drugs, crime, poverty, civil unrest, grime and disease are all put under the spotlight, and it was not long before I found myself totally engaged and immersed in this unforgiving world.

The characters engage in snappy dialogue and sharp exchanges and I particularly enjoyed the quick put-downs and retorts from Warden as he tries to search for the truth.

This is very descriptive and clearly illustrates the folly of war and of following false idols. The action shifts from events during the war of fifteen years ago and back to the present day, where Warden has been asked to find General Montgomery's daughter. During the course of his investigation, Warden uncovers much more.

That is the real fun of this novel: it builds and evolves, slowly revealing more layers and revelations. The suspense is maintained well and the action is swift, shocking and violent. People suffer and there are consequences.

If you enjoy crime, mystery and fantasy, you will love this. Thanks to its pacing, there is never a dull moment and I raced to its final satisfying pay-off conclusion. Polansky has ensured his name will be on people's reading lists for a long time to come.

Anno Dracula - Dracula Cha Cha Cha
Anno Dracula - Dracula Cha Cha Cha
by Kim Newman
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.39

5.0 out of 5 stars Captivating, 2 Dec. 2012
In this, the third in the Anno Dracula series, Newman sets his ambitious story in 1950s Rome. This is an original and ingenious idea. Dracula Cha Cha Cha can explore a brand new world: the world of 1950s continental glamour and paparazzi, of movie makers and stars, of big parties and decadence.

I don't think this would have been as effective had Newman took the more obvious era of the Second World War as his setting. He has "done" the whole war thing from a vampire perspective in The Bloody Red Baron, so if he did it here as well, it could have become a simple retread. Thankfully this is a bold gamble which pays off.

The novel is populated by characters you could find in Federico Fellini, Maro Bava and Dario Argento films, and oozes atmosphere and class. From its intriguing opening flight into Rome, to its trip through the chaotic streets of the cosmopolitan city, this third entry holds you in an iron grip and never lets go.

I am a big Ian Fleming fan, so it was a delight to see a vampire secret agent with the surname Bond involved in the proceedings! Newman has really done his research again, he even remembers the special brand of cigarette Fleming's famous creation smokes. It is small attention to details like this which make reading any Newman novel such a joy. Not only can you enjoy being swept up in all the action, you can also spend hours doing follow up reading or viewing yourself.

Like the others, this is packed with movie and novel references, as well as nods to history. Newman has expertly and lovingly crafted his own alternate vampire universe, and I thoroughly enjoy it every time I visit it.

This will hold up to repeated readings and guarantees Newman's place as one of the most influential writers of horror in the world today.

What more could you ask for? Dracula meets the Giallo murder mystery and Bond! There is even a 1968 set novella Aquarius as an added bonus.

This will chill and amuse the reader, transporting you to a bygone era of cinema and culture. Unmissable.

The Martian War
The Martian War
by Kevin J. Anderson
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Exceptional Victorian sci-fi romp, 20 Nov. 2012
This review is from: The Martian War (Paperback)
This novel was brilliant, imaginative, thrilling, horrific and inventive. The Martians of course are the star attraction: they are truly repellent and terrifying. The threat level posed to earth is excellently conveyed, the suspense is cranked right up as the drama unfolds.

I thoroughly enjoyed the idea of the seminal author HG Wells thrust into such a dangerous and fantastical sci-fi adventure. He is joined by his mentor, TH Huxley, and his sweetheart, Jane.

With a cast that includes doctors, astronomers and scientists, as well as the alien beings they encounter, there is never a dull moment. I particularly enjoyed learning about the alien culture and history. The Martians have exhausted their planets valuable resources, and are now searching for a new world to inhabit and exploit: earth. There are warnings and parallels with our own history and way of life, yet the novel avoids being preachy.

Anderson is both reverent to his source material, but also demonstrates that he is as equally creative and inventive as Wells was himself. This is an exceptional Victorian sci-fi romp and I highly recommend it.

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