Category Archives: books

the shepherd’s crown

The Shepherd’s Crown (Discworld #41, Tiffany Aching #5, Witches #11) by Terry Pratchett

From Goodreads:

A shivering of worlds.

Deep in the Chalk, something is stirring. The owls and the foxes can sense it, and Tiffany Aching feels it in her boots. An old enemy is gathering strength.

This is a time of endings and beginnings, old friends and new, a blurring of edges and a shifting of power. Now Tiffany stands between the light and the dark, the good and the bad.

As the fairy horde prepares for invasion, Tiffany must summon all the witches to stand with her. To protect the land. Her land.

There will be a reckoning…

My Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

This is not the usual Terry Pratchett story. While there are a number of asides of the usual humour there are very few laugh out loud moments. The overall atmosphere is sombre and one of impending bad news. The loss of one of the key Discworld figures as well as the understanding that this is the absolutely final TP book leaves the book and the reader with an overall feeling of sadness. As a character Tiffany finally becomes her own person, taking control of her own destiny but even her success is tinged with a level of sadness.

The quality of writing is not up to the usual standard, nor is the construction of the storyline. However, the afterword makes it clear that this was an unfinished manuscript and that TP would undoubtedly have made further changes and additions. For all of that it is a worthy read and a fitting epitaph. As the afterword states:

The Shepherd’s Crown has a beginning, a middle and an end, and all the bits in between.

I’ll leave the last word to Death….

WE ARE ALL FLOATING IN THE WINDS OF TIME. BUT YOUR CANDLE […] WILL FLICKER FOR SOME TIME BEFORE IT GOES OUT –A LITTLE REWARD FOR A LIFE WELL LIVED. FOR I CAN SEE THE BALANCE AND YOU HAVE LEFT THE WORLD MUCH BETTER THAN YOU FOUND IT, AND IF YOU ASK ME, said Death, NOBODY COULD DO ANY BETTER THAN THAT . . .

Terry Pratchett 1948-2015. Rest in Peace

my outdoor life

My Outdoor Life by Ray Mears, narrated by Simon Shepherd.

From Audible:

Ray Mears is a household name through his television series Tracks, World of Survival, Bushcraft Survival, The Real Heroes of Telemark, and many more.

He is a private individual who shuns publicity whenever possible and would prefer to let his many skills tell their own tale – until now.

In My Outdoor Life, Ray tells of his childhood and the formative years when he first developed a passion for both bushcraft and the martial arts skills that are central to his life. Having travelled the world several times over, he is no stranger to risk and has had more than his fair share of dangerous and life-threatening encounters to share with his listeners. But his life is so much more than a tale of derring-do. Shortly after he returned to England having narrowly survived a serious helicopter crash, his father died. Just a year later, he had to face the death of his first wife, Rachel. The book conveys the many sides of Ray Mears, taking us up to the present day – including the previously untold story of his involvement in the man-hunt for murderer Raoul Moat. My Outdoor Life gives us all a chance to share a life story as rich and as inspirational as a walk in woods with the man himself, Ray Mears.

My Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

I absolutely loved this! I also believe that I enjoyed it more as an audiobook than I would have if I’d read it as a regular book.

It’s a pretty much no-holds-barred insight into the life of someone that has lived both a public life and a very private life. With this book he gives a very frank, honest and detailed explanation of his life from an early age right up to the present (at the time of writing).

It did take a little bit of getting used to the narrator’s voice. He has a very proper English accent and tone of voice which adds a layer of pomposity at times that I don’t think is intentional from the author. Ray Mears is a supremely confident man, very clear in his morals and beliefs and totally unafraid to voice them and to hold himself and others to his exacting standards. Hearing his views in the narrator’s accent can cause this to be misinterpreted at times.

I particularly liked how he described the most difficult times in his life. The death of his first wife is harrowingly described as is the aftermath. Also the death of his father and the impact it had on him. However, he is also incredibly enthusiastic about the good times, meeting his second wife, surviving the helicopter crash, living with and learning from many different indigenous peoples of the world.

I started listening to audiobooks via Audible using a link from a YouTube channel I watch called TAOutdoors. This link will get you one month free access and two free downloads: audible.com/taoutdoors If you use it I’d highly recommend that you give this one a go even if you have no interest in the outdoors, bushcraft or even know who Ray Mears is!

Header image source: fossbytes.com

storm front

Storm Front (The Dresden Files #1) by Jim Butcher

From Goodreads:

HARRY DRESDEN — WIZARD

Lost Items Found. Paranormal Investigations. Consulting. Advice. Reasonable Rates. No Love Potions, Endless Purses, or Other Entertainment.

Harry Dresden is the best at what he does. Well, technically, he’s the only at what he does. So when the Chicago P.D. has a case that transcends mortal creativity or capability, they come to him for answers. For the “everyday” world is actually full of strange and magical things—and most don’t play well with humans. That’s where Harry comes in. Takes a wizard to catch a—well, whatever. There’s just one problem. Business, to put it mildly, stinks.

So when the police bring him in to consult on a grisly double murder committed with black magic, Harry’s seeing dollar signs. But where there’s black magic, there’s a black mage behind it. And now that mage knows Harry’s name. And that’s when things start to get interesting.

Magic – it can get a guy killed.

My Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

This book has been around for 11 years now but I only heard about it recently. I came across the series when mentioned by Anthony on his blog Today’s Perfect Moment and so glad he did! I really, really enjoyed it.

This is a completely unique character and setting for me and despite my initial misgivings it works really well. The character of Harry Dresden is a quite cynical character and with a modern setting he’s very different from the traditional depiction of a wizard, about as far from Gandalf and Dumbledore as possible! The supporting characters are also very interesting and especially Harry’s relationship with Murphy. My favourite character by far though was Bob.

Bob typifies the disregard the author has for traditional magic, wizards and fantasy in general. The creation of the two potions was a fabulous comedic and well written scene that was one of my favourite, closely followed by Bob’s blackmail of Harry (trying not to give spoilers). This somehow reminded me of Terry Pratchett and his Witch characters.

There are a number of proper fantasy scenes that are also really well done. The best by far was Harry’s meeting with Madame Bianca but the appearances of the Toad Demon were also really well written.

The author seems to be quite prolific with 17 titles in the series so far. I hope he manages to keep the quality high as they go along as I hope to read them all.

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poppet

Poppet (Jack Caffrey #6, Flea Marley #4) by Mo Hayder

From Goodreads:

In this chilling, seamlessly-plotted thriller, British detective Jack Caffery must find a dangerous mental patient on the loose—before he can kill again . . .
 
The Beechway High Secure Unit in Bristol, England, has a storied past—first as a nineteenth-century workhouse, then a poorhouse for the homeless, and now as a psychiatric hospital. With that troubled history come superstitions like the Maude, believed to be the ghost of a sadistic workhouse matron.
 
But while some of the patients and staff think the Maude is behind a series of unexplained episodes of self-harm amongst the ward’s patients, nursing coordinator AJ LeGrande thinks they might be the work of an all too human horror—a homicidal patient who was released back into the public in error.
 
Calling on Det. Jack Caffery, LeGrande hopes his investigation will reveal what’s truly been going on inside and outside the hospital’s walls. But what Caffery discovers about former patient Isaac Handel is beyond anyone’s imagining.

My Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

I loved this book. I’m a big fan of Jack Caffrey and Mo Hayder in general but I absolutely devoured this book, reading it in less than 3 days. It’s written in a really good way that draws you on and on at a frenetic pace that does not allow you an easy opportunity to stop reading.

It’s both a complicated and very simple story with twists and turns all along the way. It’s focused mostly on Jack but introduces two new central characters from the mental hospital that are just for this story. That was a nice change but it also allowed Jack to be a police man in the main.

There was no sign of The Walking Man this time but there were enough eccentric characters here without him. I kept expecting him to pop up at some stage but he didn’t appear.

Finally and with some relief it appears that Jack and Flea are beginning to solve their personal problems and bring Misty Kitson’s death to an end. That’s been dragging on for a while now and it will be good to move on.

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excalibur

Excalibur (Warlord Chronicles #3) by Bernard Cornwell

From Goodreads:

In The Winter King and Enemy of God Bernard Cornwell demonstrated his astonishing ability to make the oft-told legend of King Arthur fresh and new for our time. Now, in this riveting final volume of The Warlord Chronicles, Cornwell tells the unforgettable tale of Arthur’s final struggles against the Saxons and his last attempts to triumph over a ruined marriage and ravaged dreams.

This is the tale not only of a broken love remade, but also of forces both earthly and unearthly that threaten everything Arthur stands for. Peopled by princesses and bards, by warriors and magicians, Excalibur is the story of love, war, loyalty, and betrayal-the work of a magnificent storyteller at the height of his powers.

My Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

There is a tendency among many authors to keep a good idea going and going until they degrade the story and spoil it. It’s a refreshing change to see a traditional trilogy and to see it completed with no hints of more to come. The Arthurian legend naturally limits the story of course, but it’s still nice to have it finish completely.

Overall I’ve really enjoyed this version of Arthur. His story and that of the rest of the characters are portrayed in a very unique way and solidly placed within the history of ancient Britons. The arrival of Saxons and Christianity is particularly interesting for anyone that has already read the Last Kingdom books by the same author.

This last chapter deals mainly with the rise of Christianity and the final decline of the pagan Gods of Britain. It folds the final pieces of our characters’ stories into this and also melds the Arthurian story with them. This is done really, really well. Lots of questions are answered especially filling in the final pieces of Derfel’s story. However, despite delivering a very satisfying conclusion the overall feeling is one of sadness at the end.

The introduction of one new character has prompted me to rediscover another author from a long time ago. The new character is Taliesin the Bard who features heavily in another Arthurian based storyline by Stephen Lawhead called The Pendragon Cycle.

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lost in the wild

Lost in the Wild by Cary J. Griffith. Read by Roger Wayne.

From Audible:

In the wilderness, one false step can make the difference between a delightful respite and a brush with death.

On a beautiful summer afternoon in 1998, Dan Stephens, a 22-year-old canoeist, was leading a trip deep into Ontario’s Quetico Provincial Park. He stepped into a gap among cedar trees to look for the next portage – and did not return. More than four hours later, Dan awakened from a fall with a lump on his head and stumbled deeper into the woods, confused.

Three years later, Jason Rasmussen, a third-year medical student who loved the forest’s solitude, walked alone into the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness on a crisp fall day. After a two-day trek into a remote area of the woods, he stepped away from his campsite and made a series of seemingly trivial mistakes that left him separated from his supplies, wet, and lost, as cold darkness fell.

Enduring days without food or shelter, these men faced the full harsh force of wilderness, the place that they had sought out for tranquil refuge from city life. Lost in the Wild takes listeners with them as they enter realms of pain, fear, and courage, as they suffer dizzying confusion and unending frustration, and as they overcome seemingly insurmountable hurdles in a race to survive.

My Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

This was my first time listening to an audiobook. I’ve listened to a few podcasts but not an actual book. I listened to it in the car on my commutes to and from work and while out walking. It took me a little while to get used to the idea and to work out how to concentrate on listening to the narrator without letting my mind wander and lose track of the story. However, once I got the hang of it I quite enjoyed the experience.

The story is very well done. The author structures the stories of the two men quite skillfully. The two stories are told separately but side by side with alternating chapters. It was a little confusing at the start but once I got used to the names and characters it was a lot easier to follow and keep the two stories separate.

He also tells their stories from lots of viewpoints. He describes the feelings and thoughts of the two missing men, their relatives and the search and rescue teams. In the case of Dan Stephens he also tells the story from the point of view of the scout group that he was guiding. It’s melded together to create a really good sense of suspense and tension. He also manages to tell the story without judgement. Jason Rasmussen makes a series of mistakes that he just recounts without commenting. Similarly he goes through the thought processes of the scout leaders to leave Dan to get help without telling the reader/listener what to think. He leaves it to us to make our own decisions about the rights and wrongs.

The final part of Jason’s story is particularly well told. The pace is quite fast with the story developing very quickly. It’s told from a number of viewpoints while still keeping us guessing to the actual outcome until the very end. The end of Jason’s story is very emotional and well told.

From my first time experience I’d say that the role of the narrator is crucial. In this case he was very good. It’s an American narrator which suits the setting of the story. His accent suits that of the characters and he tells the story in a nice steady pace. It’s fast enough to keep the story moving without the listener losing the details or flow of the story. The only difficulty I had was his attempts to change his voice and tone to match the characters, especially the female characters. It jarred with me a bit but didn’t ruin the experience. I think this is the default expectation when narrating an audiobook but I don’t think I like it.

I’ve already downloaded a second story to listen to. This is more of an audio drama and more similar to a podcast but with a positive first experience I definitely think I’ll be listening to more books like this.

Header image source: fossbytes.com

walk the wire

Walk The Wire (Amos Decker #6, Will Robie #5.5) by David Baldacci.

From Goodreads:

Amos Decker — the FBI consultant with a perfect memory — returns to solve a gruesome murder in a booming North Dakota oil town in the newest thriller in David Baldacci’s #1 New York Times bestselling Memory Man series.

When Amos Decker and his FBI colleague Alex Jamison are called to London, North Dakota, they instantly sense that the thriving fracking town is ripe for trouble. The promise of a second gold rush has attracted an onslaught of newcomers all hoping for a windfall, and the community is growing faster than houses can be built. The sudden boom has also brought a slew of problems with it, including drugs, property crimes, prostitution — and now murder.

Decker and Jamison are ordered to investigate the death of a young woman named Irene Cramer, whose body was expertly autopsied and then dumped in the open — which is only the beginning of the oddities surrounding the case. As Decker and Jamison dig into Irene’s life, they are shocked to discover that the woman who walked the streets by night as a prostitute was a teacher for a local religious sect by day — a sect operating on land once owned by a mysterious government facility that looms over the entire community.

London is a town replete with ruthless business owners, shady government officials, and religious outsiders, all determined to keep their secrets from coming out. When other murders occur, Decker will need all of his extraordinary memory and detective skills, and the assistance of a surprising ally, to root out a killer and the forces behind Cramer’s death. . . before the boom town explodes.

My Rating: ⭐⭐⭐

It’s a while since I read any David Baldacci books and I was looking forward to reading another installment in the Amos Decker story but this was a bit disappointing. It felt like the author was just going through the motions and that this is a book written for money rather than a good story.

The biggest problem is that he tries to take three different mysteries that are only loosely connected. It would have been better to drop to one or probably two and keep a tighter storyline.

The author also depends too much on Amos’ perfect memory as a crutch. I lost track of how many times that he sat down, accessed his “cloud” and suddenly had a flash of inspiration that became a significant break in the case.

Will Robie and eventually Jessica Reel are pretty much shoehorned into this book. Again they’re used as a crutch to make storyline moves, they always seem to be in the right place at the right time and it does neither character any great favours.

The overall story is worth reading and I did enjoy the book. The three cases have merit, I just would have liked to see two of them developed better. It was also nice to meet Amos again and see how his personality is changing and developing. The final reveal did surprise me in the end up even if it was all a bit “Scooby Doo” and “those pesky kids”. Now that he’s updated Amos’ story I hope he is considering a return to the Camel Club.

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daughter of the empire

Daughter of the Empire (The Empire Trilogy #1) by Raymond E Feist and Janny Wurts

From Goodreads:

Magic and murder engulf the realm of Kelewan.  Fierce warlords ignite a bitter blood feud to enslave the empire of Tsuranuanni.  While in the opulent Imperial courts, assassins and spy-master plot cunning and devious intrigues against the rightful heir.  Now Mara, a young, untested Ruling lady, is called upon to lead her people in a heroic struggle for survival.  But first she must rally an army of rebel warriors, form a pact with the alien cho-ja, and marry the son of a hated enemy.  Only then can Mara face her most dangerous foe of all–in his own impregnable stronghold.  An epic tale of adventure and intrigue.  Daughter of the Empire is fantasy of the highest order by two of the most talented writers in the field today.

My Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

On my review of the final Liveship Traders book I said that it was one of the series of books that I read a long time ago but have always stuck with me. This is one of the others. I’d say this is definitely the third but possibly the fourth time I’ve read this brilliant series.

I’m a big fan of Feist and I’ve also enjoyed a couple of Wurts‘ books. This collaboration takes the best of both authors and combines them into a very original and fantastically complex story.

The story is completely set on the Tsurani world of Kelewan first introduced by Feist in the first Riftwar Saga Magician and runs at approximately the same timeline. The Tsurani live in a society dominated by honour and magic with families constantly in conflict in the political and deadly Game of the Council. The society and customs are clearly influenced by the eastern cultures of ancient Japan and China but with enough originality to make it feel alien.

This first book of the series builds the foundation of Mara as leader of one of the oldest families and how her life is turned upside down by the betrayal and murder of her father and brother. She is forced to turn her back on the religious life and take control of the family to prevent its total destruction by their enemies.

It is a refreshing change to see a strong female character at the heart of an old fantasy story. Feist has been criticised for his treatment of women during the Riftwar Saga but he very much overcomes that with the Empire Trilogy with obvious influences from Wurts.

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fatal voyage

Fatal Voyage (Temperance Brennan #4) by Kathy Reichs

From Goodreads:

Investigating a plane crash in the Smoky Mountains in North Carolina, forensic anthropologist Temperance Brennan discovers in a most disturbing way that the evidence doesn’t add up. Tripping over a coyote-chewed leg at the crash scene, she performs a little mental arithmetic and realizes that this victim wasn’t on the plane. Once again, Brennan’s high-tech DMORT snaps into action faster than you can say “Disaster Mortuary Operational Response Team.” The author of <a href="http://cart2.barnesandnoble.com/booksearch/isbninquiry.asp?isbn=0671011375
“>Death du Jour
serves up another exquisite meal.

My Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

This was really good. The story switched from being based mostly in Montreal to North Carolina which broke the story nicely from the previous books. It also took in two different investigations that were nicely connected by Tempe’s involvement.

Both storylines were pretty unusual and I enjoyed them both but it was the detail provided on the air crash investigation that I found most interesting. The author provides details that I’ve never seen in a novel before that gave great insight without bogging the reader down with technical jargon or information overload.

I also enjoyed the character of the female Sheriff Crowe. A no-nonsense yet helpful and strong female character, she provided a nice counterpart to Tempe’s impulsiveness and sometimes flighty nature. I’d like to see more of her.

The only downside for me was the adolescent nature of the relationship between Tempe and Ryan. It jarred with the rest of the story and does nothing for Tempe’s character development. It makes her look weak especially alongside Crowe’s character. I hope the author can change that in later books or it could end up going the way of the Scarpetta books!

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the great bazaar & brayan’s gold

The Great Bazaar & Brayan’s Gold (Demon Cycle #1.5 & 1.6) by Peter V Brett

From Goodreads:

From the dangerous world of the Demon Cycle comes the early adventures of Arlen, Peter V. Brett’s quintessential fantasy hero. These exciting origin tales follow Arlen as he learns to navigate a world where the elemental forces of evil conjure themselves from the earth each night.

Humanity has barely survived a demonic onslaught by using magical wards that protect their cities and homes. Only a handful of mercenaries and explorers risk traveling after the sun sets. Arlen, seeking adventure and fortune, is barely protected by the warded armor upon which he has inscribed intricate defensive runes. From a journey ferrying a wagonload of dynamite to a mountain stronghold, to a dangerous mission to recover desert treasures, Arlen faces friends and enemies with a strong arm and a cunning wit.

My Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Two short stories set between the first and second books of the series. This is the first of three novellas published on a similar theme.

The first story is of Arlen on one of his early Messenger trips as an apprentice and is completely new to the overall series. The second details the interaction between Arlen and Abban after he has become Par’Chin to the Krasians. It explains how he received the map to the ancient city of Anoch Sun. This is referred to in the main series but never explained fully.

I really enjoyed these. They give a chance to return to the Demon Cycle Universe without rehashing the story and also add in details that enrich the main story. Highly recommended for anyone that has finished the main series or even part way through.

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