Monday, 27 January 2014

Weird Shadows Over Innsmouth by H.P. Lovecraft and Others

Edited by Stephen Jones

After thoroughly enjoying Stephen Jones’s first collection of Innsmouth inspired stories, Shadows Over Innsmouth, I was very pleased to get the chance to review the second anthology, Weird Shadows Over Innsmouth.

If you haven’t heard of Innsmouth (where have you been?) it is the setting of H.P. Lovecraft’s eerie story The Shadow over Innsmouth. Written in 1931, his short story helped spawn the legend that is Cthulhu and other nightmarish creatures that come from the sea.

The first anthology, edited by Stephen Jones brought together seventeen authors to celebrate and create works inspired by the original. This second collection brings eleven authors forward with their own versions of the Innsmouth tale, set both home and abroad, adding deeper twists and myths to the legend.

The authors are John Glasby, Richard A. Lupoff, Basil Copper, Kim Newman, Paul McAuley, Hugh B. Cave, Steve Rasnic Tem, Caitlin R. Kiernan, Ramsey Campbell, Michael Marshall Smith and Brian Lumley. There is also the discarded draft of H.P. Lovecraft’s The Shadow Over Innsmouth, which is a great inclusion for the diehard fans.

Where in the first anthology, a lot of the stories were based in the original setting of Innsmouth, New England, this collection takes the theme further afield and it seems no place where water is a natural feature is safe!

Each author really puts their stamp on the Innsmouth mythology and each story is creepy and unnerving in its own right, displaying not only effective storytelling, but proving that the myth of Cthulhu is fantastic enough to stand the test of time and be adaptable for horror writers past and present.

I think my favourite stories from this collection featured the terrifying Innsmouth creatures in more modern settings. In one story, Fair Exchange by Michael Marshall Smith, an opportunist robber discovers a monstrous secret in a seemingly normal suburban house. The mix of modern and monster was truly creepy and I loved it!

This is another awesome collection of Innsmouth short stories, creepy and compelling, sitting alongside some remarkable artwork illustrating the weird and wonderful Cthulhu creatures.

Monday, 20 January 2014

Red Country by Joe Abercrombie

“Joe Abercrombie is doing some terrific work" – George R.R. Martin

When a book is endorsed by the amazing in his own right, author of epic series Game of Thrones, you know it’s got to be good!

Red Country introduces us to butt kicking, bad mouthed, alcohol swilling heroine Shy South, who returns home one day to find her house burned, her family dead and her young brother and sister stolen. With her loyal, gentle giant of a step father Lamb, by her side, she sets off in pursuit. 

Along the way they meet up with a travelling fellowship and an epic journey across an unforgiving terrain begins, pushing the varied cast of characters to their limits. As well as the dangers of the open road, Shy and Lamb find that the past has a nasty habit of catching up with you, however long or fast you run from it. 

As well as Shy and Lamb’s stories, we are also passengers on the trail of a band of mercenaries; led by a washed up, pompous leader, they are a motley crew of the worst kind of men, but there feckless adventures and bloody campaign make for entertaining and exciting reading. 

I was new to Abercrombie when I started this book, and can’t believe I have been missing out on his awesome fiction for so long. Plenty of gutsy violence and action orchestrated by well developed characters that you can easily visualize and feel for. 

I’m a sucker for a well written heroine, and sassy Shy South definitely fit the bill for a great female lead that held her own amongst the selection of strong characters in this book. The settings are intelligently described and there are wondrous one liners that add punch to the prose. 

The characters don’t have it easy by a long shot, but the story as a whole is well paced and the action relentless. I loved all the main players in their own ways, and liked how the whole story was concluded. This is an awesome novel from a bestselling author that I seriously cannot wait to read more of. 

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

Runners by Sharon Sant

Whenever I need a decent YA fix, Sharon Sant is an author that doesn't disappoint. Runners is set in a dystopia type future where food is scarce and children under 17 without families are captured by the dreaded CMO and placed in labour camps. This produces Runners, as their title suggests; those that are constantly on the run to keep their freedom and fight to survive. 

We are introduced to Elijah, recently bereaved and down on his luck, who is befriended by some Runners who adopt him into their group. But Elijah soon finds trouble or trouble finds them, and the group of kids will be tested to their limits. 

Especially when their paths cross with that of megalomaniac Maxwell Braithwaite who has dangerous plans involving hundreds of stolen children and the studies of a long dead scientist. 

I like how the author sets the scenes; not unnecessarily descriptive but giving you plenty of material to create a good mental picture. The settings in this story are fairly bleak; abandoned buildings, unforgiving woodland, terrible labour camps and shady government properties, but this all adds to the atmosphere and element of danger. 

Sharon Sant also writes a good old fashioned villain you want to boo at (my personal fave of hers is Makash from the Sky Song trilogy) but Maxwell Braithwaite and his head scientist are baddies you will love to hate too. I think I would have liked to have seen more action centered on Maxwell and his evil plans. 

I also would have liked more back-stories about the group of Runners that Elijah joins. They are an eclectic little mix of characters and I would have liked an insight into their pasts.

However, the action as it stands is quite gripping. There seems to be danger at every turn and the characters are challenged throughout which keeps you engaged. Runners is an exciting tale for readers that like their YA a little on the dark side. 

Friday, 10 January 2014

The Silvered by Tanya Huff

My mother and I are big fans of Tanya Huff already (we have all the critically acclaimed Blood books) so we were both hugely excited when I was give the chance to review her new werewolf novel The Silvered. 

In this military-fantasy, the ancient mountain kingdom of Aydori is ruled by werewolf Packs and their mage spouses. But the power crazed emperor from the nearby empire has declared war on all magic. 

Following a riddle prophecy from insane soothsayers, he sends his armies out to destroy the werewolves and kidnap six mages who may hold the key to his empire’s grandeur or ruin. 

With the Pack men away on the front line of war, and the rest of Aydori fleeing for their lives, it falls to the younger brother of the Pack Leader, Tomas Hagen, and low level mage Mirian Maylin to enter the enemy territory and rescue the mages before the emperor can make use of the strange prophecy. 

The world that Tanya Huff has created within this novel blew me away. I loved the concept of the werewolf/mage couplings. The mages all had a range of powers linked to the elements and the coloured flecks in their eyes signified their power which I really liked. As well as the fantasy and military components, I also loved the steampunk inclusions. 

The lead characters are thrown into the deep end of peril and their journey is a tough one. I liked that they both struggled and made wrong decisions and so their characters grew organically throughout the story, rather than becoming heroes overnight. 

I loved the Pack-mages, a strong group of powerful women who in the face of danger were still loyal and strong for each other. There is lots of blood, action and adventure, with a touch of romance thrown in as well. 

I’ve had the pleasure of reviewing a few titles from Titan Books where the novel is a mixture of genres, and The Silvered is a prime example of original storytelling covering a mix of bases. The Silvered is a gripping, wonderfully supernatural, epic quest that will enchant and excite you from start to finish. 

Friday, 3 January 2014

Love, Nina by Nina Stibbe

As much as I love to read fiction, I also enjoy non-fiction books as well, and I always keep an eye out for quirky or interesting non-fiction books I think I will like. 

When Love, Nina was offered to me to review I wasn’t entirely sure about it, but I haven’t reviewed much non-fiction so far and wanted to try it as it’s not something I would straight away pick for myself. 

Love, Nina is a collection of letters written by Nina Stibbe to her sister Victoria in the 1980s. She had just moved to London to become a nanny, and the letters detail her time in the family as well as her experience of London, including when she went to study at Thames Polytechnic. 

The family she lives with are made up of the fabulous MK, mother of the two boys Nina looks after; Sam and Will. There are also frequent visits from playwright Alan Bennett, who often makes an appearance at the family dinner times. There are plenty of other interesting people that flit in and out of their lives that make up the letters too. 

I loved the family the interactions; they were naturally funny and interesting to read about. I also really enjoyed when Nina went to study English Literature; her inclusions of poetry and her own views on her study material, as well as the views of other students I found fascinating. I enjoyed reading about 80’s London and 80’s fashion through Nina’s eyes, and I loved her quirk of not wearing shoes! 

This book hooked me in much more than I thought it could. Reading a little every day was really cheering. I found myself wanting to read another random Will and Sam debate, or what recipes Nina and her sister were swapping, or what MK’s new boyfriend was like. 

There is no dressing up of the story, or gimmicks or fancy writing. Love, Nina is just a down to earth collection of correspondence that when pieced together is a genuinely hilarious and heart warming read.