22 October 2010

Review: Stories - All New Tales, Edited by Neil Gaiman and Al Sarrantonio

Stories - All New Tales is a collection of short stories edited by Neil Gaiman and Al Sarrantonio. The collection features stories by well known writers like Jodi Picoult, Jeffery Deaver, Joe Hill, Chuck Palahniuk and many more.

When it comes to writing and fiction, the editors are most interested by the following four words: ".........and then what happened?" Quoting from the introduction, these are 'The four words that children ask, when you pause, telling them a story. The four words you hear at the end of a chapter. The four words, spoken or unspoken, that show you, as a storyteller, that people care.'

So they put the word out and writers started submitting their short stories. The stories cover science fiction, fantasy and horror genres, which make for an engrossing collection.

I found it an interesting collection and I enjoyed most of the stories. Weights and Measures by Jodi Picoult made me shed a tear, which hasn't happened while reading a book in many many years, which was enough reason alone to read this collection.

The Therapist by Jeffery Deaver was a real thriller with a supernatural theme, and The Cult of the Nose by Al Sarrantonio was creepy and had me wishing for more! I thoroughly enjoyed Human Intelligence by Kurt Andersen, which was about a being from another planet who had been living on earth and documenting our existence for fifteen hundred years before his identity was discovered.

However, it was Michael Marshall Smith's Unbelief that had me completely stupefied. The story is only seven pages long, but took me 45 mins to figure it out. When I finally figured it out, it was such a huge relief! I gave it to someone else to read and said: "here, it took me 45 mins to figure this one out, see what you think". Predictably he had it sussed from the first page, argh!

It was refreshing to read a collection of short stories in between my regular reading schedule and this is a very fine collection and a terrific way to gain exposure to new authors.

My rating = ****

Carpe Librum!

12 October 2010

Review: Dark Fire | C. J. Sansom

Dark Fire is the second in the Matthew Shardlake series by C. J. Sansom, but is also a stand alone novel in its own right. Matthew Shardlake is a Lawyer in 16th Century London and is persuaded (against his will of course) to serve the interests of Lord Thomas Cromwell in exchange for a stay of execution for an innocent girl being held in The Old Bailey.

It is claimed that a barrel of Greek fire (commonly referred to as Dark fire, hence the title) has been discovered in a Church, hidden for 100 years together with the formula. Lord Cromwell has informed the King, who of course wants to get his hands on this weapon of mass destruction and terror so that he can use it against his enemies.

Soon those who claimed to have discovered Greek fire are murdered, and Shardlake begins to investigate on behalf of Lord Cromwell. Meanwhile, the bodies pile up and his enquiries take him to all over the city from the heights of society to the stinking inns, alleys and brothels of London.

While Sansom has taken liberties with plotting the discovery of Greek fire in London at this point in history, Greek fire did exist in the Byzantine era and was a devastating weapon. The formula was closely guarded and has been lost over the centuries. Even today, the composition of Greek fire is not known. For more information, click here.

I guess this novel would fit into the genre of medieval crime if anything else, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Dark Fire is a terrific read and C. J. Sansom is an author to look out for.

My rating = ****

Carpe Librum!

04 October 2010

Review: The Lost Symbol | Dan Brown

The success of Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code is quite mind blowing. It's now considered one of the most popular books of all time and has sold over 81 million copies around the world. It's hard to imagine how such a successful author can prepare himself to write the next book in the Robert Langdon series under such a heavy weight of expectation. But, he's done it.

In the beginning of The Lost Symbol, Robert Langdon flies to Washington D.C. under the impression he'll be making a presentation at the U.S. Capitol, however that all changes very quickly when he realises his mentor has been kidnapped. Langdon is forced to decode the secrets of the Freemasons in order to save his long time friend Peter Solomon.

The plot structure is extremely reminiscent of The Da Vinci Code, as the reader is taken on a rollicking ride of secrets and symbols within landmark buildings in D.C - sometimes hidden and sometimes in full view of the public. The plot wouldn't be complete without an evil bad guy with delusions of grandeur and a deadline to increase the tension. It's very easy to understand why Dan Brown has opted to use the same literary recipe that brought him so much success with The Da Vinci Code, and I can't really blame him for it either. I can also understand why he draws such criticism from the literary world, however for me, I was more than happy to settle back into his familiar rhythm.

I immensely enjoyed discovering the history and symbology with Langdon in Washington D.C. although I longed for a visual of the art, symbology and architecture that seemed to ignite every page. The focus on Freemasons was illuminating and intriguing although of course I couldn't say how close to the truth it really is. In this case, I was more than happy to submit myself to the story, leaving all literary expectations at the door.

Surprisingly, I believe The Lost Symbol is just as good as The Da Vinci Code, although I doubt it will sell as many copies. I highly recommend it to readers who enjoy a thriller.

My rating = ****

Carpe Librum!