Book Review: The Princess and the Queen by George R. R. Martin

Currently loving the Game of Thrones TV show and still annoyed by the long, long wait for The Winds of Winter to be released and continue the series (it’s been almost 4 years since I finished last part) I needed my George R. R. Martin itch scratching so chose this short novel.

Set 200 years before The Song of Ice and Fire series this details the war between different factions of the Targaryen clan. When King Viserys dies the question of who is next causes a rift. Many feel Princess Rhaenyra, his oldest child should be next but Queen Alicent argues it should be his son Prince Aegon, as the oldest male heir.

The Princess and the Queen are old rivals, with the Queen fearing for the safety of her kids if the Princess takes the throne. What follows is a retelling of the war in the form of a history recorded by a fictional character.

While it lacks the great characterisation of Martin’s writing it still makes for a good read, a gripping tale of war, treachery and dragons. It keeps the writer’s knack for creating a complicated, textured world and not shying away from bloody, brutal violence.

Also on show here are some dragon on dragon fights and the whole thing is a cracking read. Quick, involving and entertaining it provides more background of the world of Westeros and the characters introduced are vivid and interesting.

Verdict: The history format means that the variety of perspectives found in the Ice and Fire books are lacking, but this short trip to the same world is an involving read nonetheless. 7/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to. BETEO.

Advertisements

Book Review: The Empty Hours by Ed McBain

Next up from the out of order omnibus I bought is this book, actually a collection of three separate stories involving the men of the 87th Precinct. All are loaded with McBain’s usual hard boiled, fast flowing dialogue and knack for character.

While each story is shorter than the normal adventures, each is a well executed crime story, with an interesting, gripping case at the heart.

The book also works in that it gives McBain an opportunity to tell slightly different stories, and to bring other detectives forward. The lead of the series thus far has been Steve Carella, who is the lead detective in the majority of cases. The other detectives play their parts, but Carella is the major hero.

Here, Carella is the lead in the title story, where he uses a victim’s cheque book to piece together the woman’s life. There’s a neat twist in the story and as in many of their cases it hinges on a small detail dropped in early on.


In the second case, J, Carella is a supporting player. When a rabbi is killed during passover it leaves the squad’s joker Meyer reflecting on his own faith and place in his community. Meyer has before been on the sidelines offering quips and humour, but here the jokes are less frequent as he faces antisemitism and fanatacism. It works extremely well and there is some clever wrong footing on display. 

Carella is absent entirely in the third, Storm, where Cotton Hawes is embroiled in a murder investigation while on a ski trip. The story strips him of allies and forensic techniques, and relies on Hawes’ instincts and questioning.

It’s a thrilling read and the ending shows McBain’s writing at its best, bringing intelligence and something approaching poetry to a genre tale.

Verdict: Three great short stories which show McBain’s skill and each hooks the reader. Easy to plough through and entertaining on every page. 8/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to. BETEO.


Book Review: Lady, Lady I Did It! By Ed McBain 

This book was a bit of a pain to track down, for some reason while most of McBain’s 87th Precinct books are easy to find on Amazon, this one wasn’t and I had to find a second hand omnibus with it in. Thankfully, it was worth the effort.

While it’s shorter than a lot of the other adventures in the series this actually works in the story’s favour. The central crime is rather simple, a man walks into a bookshop and opens fire, killing four people. One of the victims turns out to be closely connected to one of the 87th Precinct’s detectives.

It’s this that drives much of the book, with the personal aspect colouring the approach towards the case and impacting on the characters in different ways. All of this is done with McBain’s usual skill of charcterisation and dialogue.

As they dig into the life and death of one of their own’s loved ones they find skeletons in the closet. Most interesting is the fact it leads them to an area where morality and the law don’t match up. It’s the first time I can remember that the men of the 87th question the laws they have to enforce.

Some of the covers

The book rattles along at a decent pace and while the crime at the heart isn’t the most nuanced, McBain writes cleverly, dropping in the clues along the way. The reader, or this reader at least, finds themself in the same position as the detectives, so intently focused on the personal connection that it’s not until the end that the other little signs all make sense.

A gripping and engaging read with more emotional clout than some of the other novels in the series. 

Verdict: Another sensational book in the series, with McBain writing a story that unfolds quickly but intelligently. Hooked me in from start to finish. 8/10. 

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Book Review: The Failed Coward by Chris Philbrook 

Having really enjoyed the third part of the Adrian’s Undead Diary series I added this to my Kindle and couldn’t resist cracking on with the fourth instalment.

With new allies and fresh sources of supplies, life should be good for Adrian and his little group of survivors, zombies aside. However, the undead are acting strangely and there are a few new faces in town who he can’t trust yet.

Philbrook does a great job of building and developing his undead apocalypse more and more with every book. Having introduced a supernatural background in part three it lends events here a new dimension of creepiness and raises questions for the reader and our narrator. What has raised the dead and why?

We get glimpses of life elsewhere, a group of besieged soldiers in the UK, a flashback to two dimwitted stoners as the world went to hell. There’s also a crazed loner, who revels in the apocalypse, selfishly and callously surviving, his ranting becoming increasingly unhinged and adding a fresh tension when his house is mentioned as a potential target for Adrian and his scavenging friends.

With winter coming to an end, Adrian faces fresh challenges and with human survivors returning to the town must wrestle with whether his scavenging and looting is defensible. 

A cracking read with some unsettling touches and some dark, crude humour, this series continues to be a treat.

Verdict: Philbrook expands his universe and also finds new ways to keep the story fresh, creating an uneasy feeling and a gripping story. 8/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Book Review: Kindle Single Bumper Edition 2

Been working night shifts this week and my Kindle has been useful in passing the time. Particularly the Kindle Singles, quick short books which are usually easy to read and pass the time easily.

I kicked off with some fiction in Consuelo Saah Baehr’s Thinner Thighs in Thirty Years, a pretty decent read which details the life of a older woman going through divorce and trying to sort out her life. Written in the first person and in an almost stream of consciousness manner, this is filled with little bursts of insight and dark humour, but the short nature means there’s no real story and a hazy ending. I guess that reflects real life, but doesn’t make a satisfying read.

Following this I switched to nonfiction with Comic Con Strikes Again! by Douglas Wolk. As a geeky guy I’ve always wanted to attend Comic Con in San Diego but this book dampened my enthusiasm.

Wolk captures a chaotic, corporate event which seems like a lot of faff and mainly involving queues. Now, I’m British and comfortable in a queue, but it seems annoying. Part of me still wants to go, but not as much as I did before.

Wolk’s writing isn’t overly jaded, but there is a cynical edge as he describes the weekend’s events and the changing culture around the con. It’s an interesting insight and a nice shapshot of how it all works.

And last of all another nonfiction read in Crazy Stupid Money by Rachel Shukert. A deeply personal piece it details the stress the writer’s marriage falls under when her husband stops working and she becomes the breadwinner.

Exacerbated by her own anxiety ans issues with money, the situation quickly turns toxic with arguments leading to neighbours calling the police and the couple on the brink of divorce. Painfully honest Shukert doesn’t shift blame, owning up to her own mistakes and tresspasses. It’s a fascinating and emotional read, helped by her skilled, unshowy writing and openness. 

It also provides a few interesting points on privilege, gender roles and our society’s odd view of money, as something not to be discussed. 

Verdicts:

Thinner Thighs in Thirty Years- Well written and entertaining enough it feels too brief and fails to give the reader a proper ending. 6/10.

Comic Con Strikes Again!- Not the most cheerful of reads but an interesting look at how geek culture has changed and how big business is changing the fan experience. 7/10.

Crazy Stupid Money- Raw and honest this is an involving and well written book which sees the author shine an unflinching light on her own troubles. 8/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO. 


Book Review: Midnight by Chris Philbrook

Back to the zombies with the third instalment of Philbrook’s Adrian’s Undead Diary series. As with the others this is told largely in the diaries of Adrian, an ex soldier holed up at a private school as the dead rise.

The second book ended with Adrian discovering that he wasn’t alone and welcoming people into his home. There’s also a threat from another group of survivors. Over the course of this book this feud comes to a head and other survivors are encountered.

It’s a quality read with the story developing nicely and there being a few nice twists and turns along the way. Adrian is also a great character with fragility, humour and fear creeping into his foul mouthed diaries. The action is quite gripping and while the diary format robs some of the tension, it still works as Philbrook is smart to use gaps between entries and short, angry or upset entries to give the impression things have gone wrong and put the reader on edge.

Philbrook also has rounded Adrian out and ensures the reader is engaged and invested in what happens to him.

There are also inserted chapters that take place elsewhere, which gives us different perspectives and fills in the gaps that Adrian can’t. One of these explains the cause of the zombie apocalypse and this is done well, different from other zombies stories. It also gives Philbrook routes to follow and feels fresh. This increases the creepy factor and creates an unsettling vibe and leaves more questions unansweed.

Looking forward to going back to Adrian’s world soon.

Verdict: The series goes from strength to strength. This part expands the world the story takes place in and ups the stakes. New characters and a few nice twists keep it fresh and hooked me in throughout. 8/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO. 


Book Review: See Them Die by Ed McBain

I decided to return to the 87th Precinct, and I’m glad I did as this is a belter. 

Love the variety of covers for the same book

It ditches the usual formula of starting with a body being discovered and instead sets the scene on a hot, sunny street. The characters are introduced slowly; a sailor, a cafe owner, a punk kid, the cops. Then it transforms into a tense stand off between the police and a cornered criminal. 

It’s aided by McBain’s knack for evocative description and character, a keen eye which layers in background for all the players in the tale. It’s also quite interesting to see McBain, through the interaction of two of the Precinct’s detectives, loutish Parker and Puerto Rican Hernandez. The story is set in the Puerto Rican neighbourhood, and the racial tensions bubble away in the background and in the different characters. 

It adds a different level to the book, and allows an exploration of how the community reacts to the stand off and the criminal involved. To some he’s a hero. To others a disgrace. Even the cops differ on their view of how he wound up there.

The tension ratchets up and the different subplots unfold nicely throughout, with McBain cleverly acknowledging what would be a happy ending before stating “but that’s not what happened “. The finale, a tense, bloody climax to the siege is handled with simple brutality and manages to be satisfying and frustrating.

Throughout the writing is filled with the usual wit, toughness and intelligence that I’ve come to expect from McBain and while the slang and some attitudes are dated, it still holds up as a gripping, enjoyable read with depth and empathy beyond it’s pulpy trappings.

Verdict: Another excellent addition to the series, this is an incredibly absorbing quick read which hooks you in. McBain builds tension throughout and crafts realistic characters. A cracking read. 8/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Book Review: Twelve Grand by Jonathan Rendall

I bought this book because I’d seen a documentary inspired by it, where Rendall was given £12k by Channel 4 and had to gamble it all away. It was quite interesting, and I liked Rendall’s sarcastic, louche presence.

This book sees him get a similar offer from a publishing company, but instead of being a true story this is a work of fiction, albeit with the bets and amount being true.

The hero is a fictionalised version of Rendall, an alcoholic writer who at the start receives bad news from the doctor. He then gets the offer, and while he debates not doing the job, he realises that if he doesn’t win the £12k back he’ll have to write the book he isn’t fussed on.

Rendall jumps between his gambling efforts and his past, stories of school and lost love, which intertwines with the present. He meets his teenage love in a New Orleans strip club as a young journalist, and then at the end tracks her down in Vegas.

It’s a dark, sordid book in some ways. The narrator drinks and smokes throughout, planning to con his publishers and make off with the money. He visists depressing casinos, dive bars and strip clubs, accompanied by unscrupulous friends and shattered strangers.

It’s extremely well written though and I liked that the narrator frequently uses abbreviations and acronyms, and that the more out of it gets the more these slip in. Some sequences are made of short, almost incomprehensible abbreviations, as though based on a drunk’s scrappy notes.

I also liked that given that the book takes place in 1997 there are references to a pre-fall Gary Glitter, and that Princess Diana’s death influences our writer. The national mourning gives the cynical, closed off narrator a chance to weep, a release valve for all the darkness that lurks within.

There’s dark comedy throughout, and through it all there’s something engaging about our narrator, who despite his at times selfish, bleak view of life is likeable enough. Swinging from defeatist gloom to optimistic daydreaming, he is an accurate representation of an addict and gambler. Sure he is in control, and has got the balance, unaware of how close to the brink he teeters.

I really loved it, the sort of dark, enthralling read that makes the underbelly of gambling life both bleak and oddly enticing.

Verdict: Might be too dark and grim for some, but I liked the down and dirty vibe, the striking writing and the narrator. A good read, and a glimpse into addiction, loneliness and regret. 7/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO. 


Book Review: Conclave by Robert Harris

Whenever a Pope does the process for choosing his successor is the same; Cardinals from all over the world travel to the Vatican where they are locked in until a new Pope is chosen. This is the conclave. There have been two during my lifetime, and I’m fascinated by the whole thing.

The idea is that through prayer and meditation the Holy Spirit guides the Cardinals to the new leader. But a cynical view is that the lock in is essentially where the politics of the papacy plays out. Either way, the whole system is shrouded in mystery.

Clearly the idea intrigues Robert Harris too and he has written a smart, involving thriller which follows the Cardinals within the walls.

When the current, unnamed Pope passes away, the ball is in motion and as Dean of the College of Cardinals, Cardinal Lomeli is in charge of the show. There are several contenders and as the voting begins factions are forming.

Lomeli, aging and experiencing a crisis of faith, watches as the political machinations start up. Secrets and scandals bubble to the surface, and ambition muddies the water. Lomeli becomes increasingly suspicious of some of the frontrunners and investigates rumours and whispers. He wants to maintain the church’s reputation and avoid scandal, but it becomes apparent that there are lots of skeletons in the closets.

Does Lomeli have the strength of will to see it through? And as he does expose the corruption is he unwillingly moving himself up the pecking order? Leaving others questioning his motives.

This is a cracking read, with the twists and turns playing out in a well paced and involving manner. Lomeli is a decent hero, riddled with doubts and fear, but ultimately commited to doing the right thing. As the process wears on he becomes more proactive in ensuring the best man gets the big job.

Harris layers in the intrigue and uses the claustrophobic setting to his advantage, the isolated cardinals are sealed off from the outside world, meaning that Lomeli’s investigations are hindered and some information is revealed too late in a surprise ending which is impossible to see coming.

A fantastic read which hooked me in early and entertained me throughout.

Verdict: A very well written and involving thriller, Harris has a great knack for letting the story unfold at a decent pace and slowly allowing his characters to reveal themselves. There’s not much action but the political schemes are gripping. 8/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Book Review: Alone No More by Chris Philbrook

My new year resolution may have been to broaden my reading, but here we are back with the zombies. The second part in the Adrian’s Undead Diary series this picks up where the first left off. Our narrator, Adrian, is an ex-soldier who after the dead start walking and biting has holes up at the remote, elite boarding school where he worked.

Alone he tries to gather supplies, fortify his home and build a new life, all while dodging the undead who hunger for flesh. His only comforts being his cat, Otis, and the journal he writes.
The book is told in these foul-mouthed entries as he details his exploits and vents on his fears, theories and regrets. The journal format works as the missing days usually mean something has happened and the insight into Adrian’s mind set is well done. While a laddish, vulgar narrator at times Adrian is likeable enough and relatable, showing flashes of dark, self deprecating humour.

Philbrook changes it up with short chapters from the perspective of other character’s caught up in the apocalypse. Often people who have crossed over with Adrian’s story. In the first book these often ended badly but here there are a few that hint that life endures elsewhere.

As the story implies Adrian meets living people once again and these sections are quite moving as behind the bluster you can tell it means a lot to the frazzled hero to have company.

It builds to a strong ending and number 3 is on my wish list now. I’ll just have to fit some different books in between.

Verdict: Improves on the original and Philbrook impresses with his ability to capture his characters. The changing world works well and the arrival of more characters is a nice touch. A solid, entertaining zombie book. 8/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.