on July 14, 2011
Full review can be found on my blog : http://killie-booktalk.blogspot.com/2011/07/tumbler-brand-gamblin.html
Brand Gamblin's "Tumbler" is an enjoyable light Sci-Fi adventure that is fundamentally about a young character facing struggles as she attempts to find her place in the Universe.
The first thing that came to mind as I read this book was the Sci-Fi TV series called "Firefly". Not because of the space ships or anything like that, but because this book really grabbed that "western in space" and "life on the frontier" vibe that also was present in "Firefly". Overall, I think it gave the story a different feel from some of the standard war, aliens & weapons type Sci-Fi that exists in bulk.
In regards to the science in the novel, it did come across as being believable, with some good development of the mining systems, habitats and transportation. The author actually uses the fact the Libby is an outsider to enable the reader to learn and understand some of the aspects of the environment and technology whilst she learns about it herself.
The story itself is told in an entertaining and fast paced manner with various problems and issues thrown up in Libby's path as she tries to survive in a hostile environment. Whilst the plot isn't anything amazing, it did keep me engrossed from beginning to end and I actually completed the book over one weekend. The story did seem to deviate at times from what I deemed as the overall plot, but I think this was the author trying to expand and develop the environment and society that I was reading about so I was happy enough to accept it
There are a few small issues I have with the novel, but I don't think any of them would stop me recommending it to someone. First of all, the main character Libby seemed somewhat undeveloped. For example, aside from the fact that she plays the odd poker game I have no idea about her history, what hobbies she has or if she has any real defining personality traits.
The other issue I have is the ending, the way that everything just falls into Libby's lap and she more or less ends up with enough power to do almost anything she wants was a little bit of a let down. Up until that point, I was rather happy with the overall story and direction, the ending just felt and out of sync with the rest of the novel and seemed to be tacked on just to give an almost fairy tale ending.
Overall, I think that "Tumbler" is an enjoyable light hearted read that could be picked up by most readers. It doesn't have the most in-depth character development or plot but it is fun and I would recommend it to anyone looking for a quick read, especially any young readers that are looking for a way to explore some Sci-Fi literature.
The Jaguar's Heart
on Oct. 08, 2011
Review originally posted on my blog - http://killie-booktalk.blogspot.com/2011/10/jaguars-heart-james-morgan-ayres.html
When I first started reading this book I really wasn't sure what genre to describe it as: at times I would have said thriller, then I would think it was more fantasy. Finally though I have settled on describing it as a fast paced exciting adventure story that reminded me of the Indiana Jones franchise. For example, the book is set in an historical setting and there are exotic locations, archaeological discoveries, political intrigue, occult sorcery & some really enjoyable action scenes.
The story itself follows Jesse J. Rideout, a former covert operative who is hiding in Mexico after an altercation with his US governmental employer. His amateur interest in archaeology leads him to uncover a secret society full of politicians and criminals who believe in the sorcery once practised by the pre-Columbian natives in Central America. The reader then gets taken on an enjoyable journey across Mexico as Jesse attempts to get revenge for the death of a close friend and understand what this secret group are really up to and why they seem determined to get a hold of an artefact he has uncovered.
I have to say that I really enjoyed this book; it was delivered brilliantly with a superb mix of thrills, mystery, fantasy, action and drama. More importantly though, it had a gripping plot that was fun to read: I struggled to put it down several times and found that it really was a page-turner. In addition, it really felt like the author knew Mexico, it was wonderfully detailed and there was a love and warmth for the country that really came through in the novel.
The characters were well defined and quite memorable with Jesse himself really coming across like a mix of Indiana Jones and James Bond. But it was more than just him, all the characters seemed to have clear motivations that made sense with everyone having a purpose and specific drive. There were no ornamental characters; the female characters especially were strong, independent women who knew what they wanted and how to achieve it which was nice to see as sometimes I have seen adventure books use the women screaming, moaning side-kicks.
In summary, this book was an enjoyable, entertaining, fast paced adventure story that has me turning the pages with anticipation. In addition, the writing itself was decent and the author has crafted some superb characters. Simply put, if you like adventure stories then I think you would love this book and should therefore pick it up for a read.
on Dec. 17, 2011
"Reboot" by Carl Rauscher is an entertaining post-apocalyptic Sci-Fi novel that I managed to complete within a couple of days. The basic premise of the story is that an electromagnetic event known as "The Pulse" was set off in order to wipe out a dangerous computer virus. The result of this was that all micro-processors were destroyed, from those in high end super computers right down to those that were running elevators and doing other mundane task. Now, several years later the majority of America is utilising very low levels of technology and there is barely any communication between different areas of the country. Into this world is thrown Oscar, a man who has been sent out by the government to try and inject some more technology into various communities in an attempt help improve the lives of the people there. However, when Oscar arrives at a small town after being beaten and shot, he spends the winter trying to both help the there and deal with those who had attacked him.
I will start by saying that I really enjoyed the novel and I found the reason for the demise of civilization to be a little bit more original than some other post-apocalyptic stories. In a genre that can become a bit "samey" it was nice to read something that didn't head down in the usual dictatorial government or zombie route. The author has also put a lot of consideration into the story and has detailed quite thoroughly the issues and problems that would face people when the basic items we take for granted today are no longer available.
The plot itself moves at a reasonable pace and there is ample adventure, mystery, humour and drama to keep most readers entertained. The characters all seemed to be believable and well developed which meant that I actually found myself caring what would happen to them all as the story progressed. The only weak character would probably be the "bad guy" of the story who seems to hide and avoid the townspeople even though he could easily do what he wanted without being stopped. I still don't really understand what he was doing or why he was doing it, considering the position of importance and safety he found himself.
One negative aspect I did observe is that the plot became distracted by the fact that a fair bit of the novel is told from the perspective of a young girl called Rabbit instead of Oscar himself. In my opinion, it just meant that parts of the story become bogged down in rather mundane and uninteresting aspects like how much she liked a toy that Oscar had made for her. I just felt that there was so much more I would have loved to know about Oscar and his past but there was little time to investigate this in the novel due to the elements involving Rabbit and other side characters.
In summary, I really enjoyed this book and it was actually nice to read a post-apocalyptic novel that ended up with some real hope and a government that was trying to actually do the right thing. I read this book very quickly once I started and I really hope that there is more novels in the future that will continue Oscar's journey. If you enjoy post-apocalyptic novels that don't go into mutations, magic powers or zombies then go ahead and pick this up as it is an interesting read.
on Jan. 04, 2012
"Hexult" by Perry Aylen is an enjoyable adventure story with the shadings of a post-apocalyptic and dystopian tone. It is firmly aimed at the earlier end of the young adults market although I believe that even younger children will also enjoy having this light and easy going story read to them. The genre of this story was am interesting aspect as I had to decide on if I would call this Science-Fiction or Fantasy. However, as the premise appears to imply the story is set in the Earth at an undefined future date I decided just to lean towards classing this as a Science-Fiction novel.
The story is set on a world where the temperature has dropped substantially and is now mainly covered in ice and people now use boats adapted to slide across the ice rather than sail upon water. On this world there is the land of Hexult which is a collection of islands that poke out of the ice, the islands are kept habitable thanks to the heating effects of various elements of geothermal activity.
When, Aulf a mailman and his crew member, Ingar discover a wreck on the ice they find two survivors, mysterious twins named Jacob and Elya who claim to have come from a land far across the frozen wasteland. These two youngsters have an understanding of science far beyond that of those on the islands and this science is soon mistaken for magic by a people who have forgotten much of the knowledge that may have been known in the past. Very soon, the twins find themselves the centre of fearsome prophecy and their attempts to save both their lives and reputation leads them on an adventure across the frozen wastes to all corners of the Hexult island chain.
I have to admit that I am well past the target age group for this novel but I still thoroughly enjoyed reading it as the plot was engaging and moved at a decent rate. The world that has been created by the author is imaginative and exciting although I will say that it was a shame that it felt like the surface has only just been scratched. I now hope that in the proposed sequel we get to uncover even more about this interesting place and the people who live there.
One element I really appreciated was the various utilisations of knowledge and technology thrown into the book regarding things such as compasses, steel, ice lenses, mirrors, etc. I can actually envision children reading this novel and then asking their parents or teachers more about the interesting elements contained. I myself actually went and read up a little bit more on steel production and its history after reading "Hexult". Any book that can inspire the search for more information and knowledge in either me or others is a great thing in my opinion.
I found the main characters to all be rather endearing and there was an innocence present that was quite nice to behold. It really helps to draws you in so that you actually care about them and wish them on to succeed in their various endeavours. However, it did feel like there was something lacking a little in the characters to make them feel fully rounded. Basically, the large amount of innocence present within the various people in the story meant that it was hard to see any other elements personality, especially in regards to charisma. Even some of the various leaders in the isles just seemed to be missing a spark that I would have expected to see. It doesn't spoil the story but it just meant that the characters feel slightly unreal to me.
Overall, this was an enjoyable and interesting adventure story that should appeal to most young readers. I fully intend to read it with my own children when they are old enough to understand it and hopefully it will inspire some interest in the science and technology utilised in the novel. If you are a younger reader who wants to read something different form the current trend in vampires, zombies, etc. then you should give this a try.
Ooter's Place and Other Stories of Fear, Faith, and Love
on Aug. 03, 2012
"Ooter's Place and Other Stories of Fear, Faith, and Love" is a collection of short stories written by Karl El-Koura that were written over a 12 year period. Whilst the title itself maybe a little bit of a mouthful, the stories themselves are all well paced, entertaining and incredibly varied. The collection really does cover a large range of genres, although the majority are speculative fiction such as Horror, Science Fiction and Fantasy.
I have to admit that as I had never heard of the author prior to reading this collection and due to it being self-published I was expecting to find a fair few turkeys alongside any gems in this collection. In hindsight, this was a rather blinkered view to take as what I found was an enjoyable range of well written and engaging short stories. Every single one of them had me thoroughly entertained no matter the genre or subject.
The collection itself is split into three sections under the headings of Fear, Faith and Love with four stories appearing in each. To be honest, I found the placement of the stories rather arbitrary and I think many of the stories could easily have fit into either section. However, El-Koura himself does actually realise this himself and freely admits it in his introduction. One element I really appreciated with this collection was the forewords written by El-Koura prior to every story. It gave a decent basis for the story itself and helped to ensure that the reader had some understanding about what the story was conveying.
The first section in the collection which covers stories about fear is probably the most self explanatory portion of the collection. The stories here range from an incredibly short and quirky piece entitled "Tom's Refrigerator" about a man's rather controlling computerised fridge to an engrossing story called "How You Die" that takes a look at how the imagination of two young brothers telling ghost stories can lead to a rather dangerous outcome.
The second section covering stories about faith was the one I wasn't looking forward to as I had visions of stories written around religious preaching etc. However, I was happy to see that there was no hidden intent behind these stories. In fact, whilst some of them did have elements on religion within them, some of them didn't and the stories were mainly focussed on faith as a concept and how it shapes our lives. These stories ranged from an enjoyable, poignant and slightly amusing look at a man who comes to believe he is a superhero that is entitled "The Man Who Mistook Himself for a Superhero" to a rather engaging journey of a man whose sub-conscious seems to give him one last adventure before his life ends in the story "Blink".
The final section includes stories about love and I was quite impressed to see that El-Koura didn't just take the easy route of concentrating only on romantic love. They also covered platonic love such as that between two friends as shown in the rather surreal alien invasion story "They Came From Ooter’s Place". These stories about love didn't just stop there however as the final story in the section entitled "The Curious Case of the Book Baron" follows the mysterious case of someone breaking into homes and leaving books and is based around the love of reading. I suspect, most people who read this collection will read that story with a big smile on my face as I did.
Overall, I found this to be a thoroughly entertaining and enjoyable collection of stories, with some of them reaching me on an emotional level. I can't recommend this collection highly enough, especially if you are a fan of engaging speculative fiction in the short form. If you aren't sure then go and read the free sampler that includes three stories from the collection and is available on Smashwords.
Mirror Shards: Volume One
on Aug. 16, 2012
"Mirror Shards: Volume 1" is an anthology of thirteen short science fiction stories, edited by Thomas K. Carpenter who also contributed one of the stories. The stories themselves have been written by a variety of authors and all of them included some aspect of Augmented Reality. For those of you that don't know, Augmented Reality is the process of utilising technology to enhance and expand upon what we see in the real world.
Whilst this common element is present in each story, the way in which the individual authors have used it does vary quite substantially. This means that the stories themselves are all very different in style and substance. For example, whilst one story may be a fast paced thrill ride, the next would be poignant and thoughtful. I felt that this ensured the reader would not get bored as they read through the stories. Quite simply, the collection really does provide an enjoyable taste of what Augmented Reality could be used for in the future, both the positive and negative.
The positive sides of Augmented Reality are specifically shown in the story, "Of Bone and Steel and Other Soft Materials" which is an exciting and action packed look at a woman utilising the technology to try and survive an encounter with a Russian crime syndicate. Another story that touched on the more positive aspects is "Gift Horses" is an enjoyable journey that follows the attempts to overthrow a corporate dictatorship.
"Bellow the Bollocks Line" however really highlights some of the more negative aspects with a short but amusing look at advertisers hurtling constant commercials at people who are given no real way to avoid them. This is then supported by "The Sun is Real" which is one of my favourites in the collection and follows a prisoner of war who is subjected to unusual forms of torture and subterfuge that Augmented Reality could be used to inflict.
The story I enjoyed the most however in the collection has to be "The Cageless Zoo" by Carpenter himself which was very reminiscent of Jurassic Park. The story is based around a woman and her two children visiting a zoo which has utilised Augmented Reality in a rather novel way to ensure the various predators living there don't see the people and therefore won't try to attack them. Of course things quickly go wrong and a thrilling adventure unfolds as the family tries to escape the zoo.
Overall, Carpenter has pulled together an enjoyable and satisfying collection of science fiction stories that look at Augmented Reality from many different perspectives. The entertaining mix of styles, ideas and pacing kept me hooked and I am looking forward to further instalments in the series and reading other literature by the authors included. I highly recommend this to fans of speculative fiction and those interested in the future of Augmented Reality.
on Oct. 13, 2012
"Doodling" is a fun little novella by Jonathan Gould that has been influenced by the works of Douglas Adams and Lewis Carroll. It is a madcap, surreal adventure full of nonsense and rather insane characters that had me smiling multiple times. However, Gould also manages to make some deep reflections on our society in amongst this comedy which helped give the novella a sense of purpose.
The story itself follows Neville Lansdowne who one day discovers that he can’t keep up with the fast pace of the world and is flung into space. Luckily he lands in an asteroid belt where he begins to create his own world completely designed based on his ideas and dreams. Of course, he soon discovers that a life alone like this just wasn't for him and journeys to other asteroids where he meets many other travellers, with many of them being completely and utterly barking mad.
As mentioned earlier, there are a fair few wacky moments that should provide giggles and smiles aplenty alongside a sense of purpose that helps to drive the narrative along. Gould does a good job in making sure the story doesn't get lost in surreal mayhem and balances the need for contemplation and humour well.
An issue I did have with the novella though was the characters as whilst they were initially quite amusing and varied they could be a little bit cartoon like. Within two of three pages of a character being introduced I found that they got a little bit boring as there was no real depth to their strange behaviours and choices. As for Neville himself, whilst he does have a little bit of development as the story progresses I found that I didn't really know much about him so found it hard to empathise or relate to him fully.
Overall, this is an amusing novella full of imagination and fun that should keep most people entertained on some level. I actually think that it is the type of story that could be read to children who may really enjoy the short length, basic silly characters and the downright crazy almost illogical adventure.
on April 15, 2013
“Flidderbugs” by Jonathan Gould is an enjoyable novella that on the surface appears to be a fun little children’s story. However, underneath this there is a satirical element that should appeal to most adults as it pokes holes in both the democratic process and the rather arrogant ivory tower of academia. Without doubt, this really is a book that can be read to your children and enjoyed by them and yourself.
The story itself follows Kriffle, an insect who is heir to his father as potential leader of the Triplifer tribe. As leader of his tribe, his main job would be to debate with the leader of the Quadrigon tribe about if the leaves on the tree they inhabit have either three or four points. This is the fundamental question that governs their lives and decides who is in power via elections. Kriffle finds it hard to understand how the Quadrigons could disbelieve the evidence that is before their very eyes and therefore undertakes an adventure to investigate and prove that there really are only three points on a leaf.
The plot itself is simple, but the way in which Gould uses it to explore and satirise various elements of our society was highly entertaining and at times quite clever. I thoroughly enjoyed seeing the political process in the novel at work as it really highlighted some of the rather “sad” aspects of our own democratic party based systems. In addition, here were various university professors that Kriffle meets on his journey who have spent years debating the philosophy of leaves etc. during their academic lives but couldn’t actually tell him any real facts.
The writing itself is concise, entertaining and incredibly well paced which was needed due to the story being contained within a novella rather than a full length novel. I was impressed to see that Gould managed to include a fair number of encounters and adventures as Kriffle explores his society without having to cut out any of the required detail. Don’t get me wrong, there are some elements of the society the reader learns very little amount but there is enough there to ensure it all makes sense and is believable on some level.
In regards to the characters, it was nice to see that the Flidderbugs all had such distinct and fleshed out personalities. I could understand very quickly what the various individuals were all about which was vitally important when the story is being told in the form of a novella.
Overall, I found this to a quick and fun political satire that provided me with a hopeful ending rather than the usual depressing finales seen in many other novels that touch on the same satirical subject matter. If you enjoy satire then I suspect you will like this novella, I know that I was happy to find myself laughing at myself when I realised that I had fallen into some of the same traps as the Flidderbugs.
The Black-Eyed Susan
on April 23, 2013
“The Black-Eyed Susan” is a short story that serves as a prequel to JA Clement’s “On Dark Shores” series. I decided to read this short story as I have enjoyed the series so far and I did have some time to waste as I wait for the 3rd book in the series to be written.
The story is set ten years prior to the events contained within the first book in the series and it details the meeting between the Captain of a ship called the Black-Eyed Susan and a moneylender known as Copeland. Basically, Copeland has set up events to ensure that the Captain would be unable to repay his debts and would therefore forfeit the ship and this short story details the initial outcomes of this.
This really is a very short piece of fiction and therefore for someone new to the series I am not sure there is enough time to really detail the characters that will go on to influence the series of novels. However, the basics fundamental morals of the characters are there to see which should pique the interest of any reader. In addition, the writing is concise, descriptive and formatted well which is of course a good advert for the series as a whole.
To be honest, I believe that this book will appeal most to those who have already started reading the series and are familiar with the characters and rich setting. It really does fill out some of the key characters and further explains some of the motives for their future actions. However, there is still be enough here for new readers to gain a nice quick introduction to what is a varied and interesting world. So I can only advise that people go and pick this up, especially as it can usually be found for free on various websites.
Soldier / Geek: An Army Science Advisor's Journal of the War in Afghanistan
on June 05, 2013
“Soldier / Geek” is an edited version of Army Major Glenn Dean’s journal he wrote during his time spent out in Afghanistan in 2009. Dean’s job in Afghanistan was basically to go out and liaise with the soldiers out there and identify both new technologies and improvements that could help them fight the war. During his six month tour he travelled to remote bases, encountered various people and worked the Army bureaucracy to try and get things moving in a way that would help in getting equipment into the field.
I found this book to be a very interesting read, with Dean relating his time in Afghanistan via both his work related tasks and the more mundane day to day activities. Dean saw no combat during his tour so the book doesn’t go into any detailed military actions but at the same time it was still an eye opening experience to read about and understand some of the behind the scenes work that goes on in the military, especially during combat operations.
One thing I really appreciated with the journal were the various additional editorial comments that worked well in both helping to translate some of the military speak and giving the reader a little bit more information on the situation being detailed. It just ensured that the reader could understand the contexts of what was occurring and how things have changed or at times haven’t since then.
As someone that works in the defence industry I found various aspects of the story rather enlightening on a personal note. For example seeing the logistical maze that needed to be worked through to get equipment out to the field highlighted to me about why at times things seem to take so long for ourselves when dealing with the military/government. In addition, on a lighter note I couldn’t help but smile as I got to see the similarity between the company I work for and the military in regards to the truly ridiculous quantity of acronyms that are used. I am glad Dean included a reference section at the back of the novel as I did find myself having to use it quite a lot.
Overall, I enjoyed reading this journal and as someone who works in the defence industry I personally found it both interesting and informative but I don’t think its appeal will be limited to just people in my line of work. If you are interested in current affairs, technology or the military then there is probably something in this book that you will find enjoyable.
Tastes Like Human: The Shark Guys' Book of Bitingly Funny Lists
on Aug. 08, 2013
“Tastes Like Human: The Shark Guys’ Book of Bitingly Funny Lists” by Noel Boivin and Chris Lombardo is as the title implies a book that contains several amusing lists. The lists cover various things such as ATM Etiquette Guidelines, Jesus Spottings, People Who Should Not Win the Lottery, People who Married Animals & Karaoke-Inspired Acts of Violence. As you may be able to tell this is quite a random collection of topics that are based on things that the authors find interesting are range from the interesting to the downright crazy.
Reading list books like this can be an easy way to pass the time but to be really entertaining I have always felt that they need to be more than a list of things. This is why I was happy to see that with this book the authors tried to discuss each item in their lists. This commentary really added to the book and at times I found it more interesting and enjoyable to follow than the lists themselves.
In regards to the lists themselves, as you would expect with a book like this, people will prefer some lists more than others and I am no different. Whilst many lists had me grinning throughout such as “Top 15 Reasons Why Sharks Are Better Than Cats” there were others like “Top 5 Out of Control College Parties“ that just didn’t capture my interest. However, personally I felt that there was more positive than negative which ensured that overall I did enjoy the book.
One specific element of the listings that I did appreciate was the fact the various sources had been cited. Some of the stories are so unbelievable that without these sources I may have begun to believe that the entire book was plain fiction. It also helped when I decided to look up various things that had captured my interest.
One issue I did have with the book is that at times it felt like the authors were trying a little bit too hard with their commentary. They tried to cram so much into a sentence or paragraph that it began to unravel and the humour was lost. It actually reminded me of the way that people can ruin a joke by trying to give you too much information when they tell it. Personally, I think that some more editing may have helped clean this up a bit more and helped to enhance the overall humour of the book.
Overall, I did enjoy this book and found sections of it to be quite funny and entertaining but I came away from reading it with a feeling of it basically just being Okay and that’s about it. I am sure some people will love it more than me whilst others may hate it entirely depending on their sense of humour. I will therefore recommend it for people looking for a bit of amusing diversion but be warned that the level of amusement will vary depending on your own personal preferences.
The Gisburn Witch
on June 01, 2015
I was lucky enough to receive a pre-release version of "The Gisburn Witch" which is a historical fiction novel written by debut author Sarah L King.
The story is based around the events that led up to the infamous witch trials of Pendle in Lancashire, England during the early 17th Century. The specific story we follow in this book is that of Jennet Preston, a woman who was from the village of Gisburn which is in the neighbouring county of Yorkshire. Scandalised as a young woman after being accused of seducing Tom Lister, a gentleman’s son, her life is soon filled with shame and hardship. As an outcast in her own village she befriends the Device family in Blacko and is quickly embroiled in their world of folk magic, superstition, old family feuds and dangerous reputations. When fate intervenes to reunite her with Tom, Jennet risks everything for love and happiness, but when tragedy strikes Jennet finds that she is vulnerable to accusations for which she could pay the ultimate price.
My first comment on the novel is in regards to the pacing, the novel does start off relatively slowly as King attempts to introduce the reader to Jennet herself and the society she lives within. Then, as the story progresses the pace gradually increases until the final part of the novel flies by as the tension builds and the drama unfolds. I pretty much read the final quarter of the novel in one sitting as I really wanted to know how this obvious tragedy was going to unfold. Other than that, the writing was very competent and it had a decent descriptive element which really helped to bring out the obvious love felt by the author for the Lancashire countryside and climate.
In regards to the characters, I found myself quite split as there is basically nobody in this book who you could define as being a classical "good guy"; even Jennet herself acts and behaves in a manner which I didn't always like. I actually found myself moving from an initial feeling of pity for Jennet, to frustration with her, to mild anger and then back to feeling a sense of pity for her again. King has basically tried to create people with flaws and defects in an attempt at providing an element of realism within the novel which is commendable but at times it did lead to me wondering if I would end up caring about any of them by the end. Thankfully, as mentioned above, I did feel sorry again for Jennet by the end and I especially felt a sense of empathy for her husband, William who had suffered a lot throughout the novel.
Overall, I did really enjoy the book, it isn't a genre I read regularly but I think it was a well written, successful attempt at trying to bring to life a real historical tragedy with people full of their own hopes, weaknesses and flaws. If you are interested in exploring a Historical Fiction novel that takes a look at some of the lives of the common people within English 16th/17th century society rather than royalty etc. then I think you should give this book a try.