Having just missed one hundred books in the first year of The Book Challenge, in 2010, I made the full tonne. Still reading, but without the challenge, take a look at the reviews for the books that I have read this year.

Monday, 28 August 2017

Book 223 - A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms by George RR Martin

Book - A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms
Author - George RR Martin
Year - 2015
Pages - 355
Genre - Fantasy
Series - World of A Song of Ice And Fire
Compilation of three novella
The Hedge Knight (1998)
The Sworn Sword (2004)
The Mystery Knight (2010)
Known collectively as the "Dunk and Egg" books.

Sitting waiting for the finale of this season of Game of Thrones this week, I was sorely tempted, yet again, to start the series of books that it is based on for another reread.  This is a definite mistake as even after getting rid of around 150 books this summer, there is still nearly 1,500 in my room.  But Martin could not stray too far from my mind, and so I turned to this compilation of the novellas he has written based in Westeros.

Dunk is a seven foot tall hedge knight, who finds himself entangled with the precocious Egg, a little prince who wishes to be his squire.  They compliment each other perfectly - tall, strong and slow Duncan, and small, wily and clever Egg. Told over the course of around three years, these stories serve as a peak into the world of Westeros through events that whilst not quite normal, still are not as earth shattering as some of those we are seeing in the show at the moment.

Where this all becomes really interesting is that they are set around a century before the events of A Game of Thrones.  There are namechecks going both ways between the two, and an understanding of post dragons (and, I guess, pre-dragons) Targaryen rule is thoroughly interesting.

My only gripe here is the illustrations.  They seem to be a reason to excuse a new printing of this, but I do believe that it is the only stand alone version of these three stories, so that would have sufficed.  Instead, they are a distraction that is not really needed - anyone reading these is probably able enough to use their own imaginations.

If you are new to the work of George RR Martin - and I mean the books, not just the TV show - then this is not the place to start I would say - just fling yourself full on into the main series. But for those of you craving some more Westerosi action whilst you wait for the next book in the series to come out, you can do far worse than this.

9/10

Saturday, 12 August 2017

Book 222 - Magician by Raymond E Feist

Book - Magician
Author - Raymond E Feist
Year - 1983
Pages - 681 (Author's Preferred Edition)
Genre - Fantasy
Series - The Riftwar Saga
Recommended by Adam Newell

For us teachers, it is the summer holidays, and that means three things can happen - catch up on television, catch up with friends and catch up on reading. This feels like a nice situation where all of them combine.

Having spent years waiting for the next in the A Song of Ice and Fire series by George R R Martin to be released, I finally caved and decided I'd rather not be spoiled and would watch the TV series.  These are the greatest books ever and I cannot recommend them highly enough, but also, do watch the TV series.  It is a fantastic adaptation of the books.

As I was piling through them, my housemate from university, Adam, got in touch.  I have Adam to thank for getting me into this series of books as he lent me A Game of Thrones when we first got to uni.  It got me to thinking about the only book that he held in higher esteem, and despite itching to reread (for the sixth time) Martin's books, I thought I should revisit this classic.

And very glad I was that I did.  This book has all of the hallmarks of the greatest of high fantasy - battles, wars, dragons, elves, dwarves - and characters that transport you.  Set in the world of Midkemia, we follow the magician's apprentice, Pug, as their world is invaded by warriors from the world of Kelewan.  With a shifting viewpoint, we discover what is happening on both worlds and the book covers years and years of the war, giving it a scale that you rarely see in just one book.

Whilst by no means the first fantasy book of this scale and influence (I think Tolkien has that wrapped up, even if there are technically earlier) it still predates many of the books that we see as classics of the genre, and I don't think it would be an exaggeration to say that Magician is an influence on many of them.  It is also the start of a whole new world of stories from this universe.  I read most of them about fifteen years ago, but Feist has released many more since.  I think that this warrants a series reread!

In a moment of great timing as well, I am quite hungover this morning from meeting up with Adam and his fiancee (together all the way through from university!) Alex last night, and awoke to finish the book off.  Adam deserves credit for leading me in the right direction on so many fantasy novels, and it was a genuine treat to see them again after many years.  Thank you!

10/10

Thursday, 20 April 2017

Book 221 - Titan Sinking by James Dixon

Book - Titan Sinking
Author - James Dixon
Year - 2014
Genre - Non-Fiction (Wrestling)
Pages - 221

Before I start talking wrestling - because I know that it is not necessarily the kind of thing that dozens of you who read this (if I manage to reach dozens!) are particularly interested in - I should say that I have started numbering books differently.  I have added up all of the books that I have reveiwed her on my little blog and this is number 221.  So that is how I shall do it from now on.

On to the important thing of talking rasslin!  Titan Sinking documents the intricacies of 1995 in the then WWF.  Wrestling fans of the time will know that as an annus horribilus for the company.  Vince McMahon was fresh off of a grand jury trial suggesting that he was supplying steroids to his workers, and as a result he got rid of many of the huge muscle bound stars that were in the fed at the time.  This left a massive gap, and we who are inclined to look back fondly tend to remember the likes of Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels coming to the forefront and becoming stars.  We try and push back the fact that this year also saw the debuts of Duke Droese, the wrestling binman, TJ Hopper, the wrestling plumber, and Mantaur, a wrestling bull.  No, really.  This is the period in time that when I am teased for liking to watch two half naked men pretend to fight each other, I can look back and think that at least I am not watching an evil dentist fight a clown.

This makes it an interesting period to look at, so I eagerly bought this and tucked straight in.  At first, I was a little underwhelmed.  Dixon has a tendency to write as though he was there - mentions of Vince sighing and putting his head back in his chair for instance - that I don't think work very well in a historical look at things.  However, it didn't take long for me to change my tune.  This book is incredibly well researched, and presented in an engaging and entertaining way.  There is somewhat of an over reliance on two or three sources - Jim Cornette and Bob Holly seem to have something to say about everything - but I will genuinely forgive this for the fact that it shows that it has been researched!  The temptation to include unfounded gossip must be great, but when that happens, Dixon is clear that this is what it is.  His seven or eight pages on the Randy Savage and Vince's daughter Stephanie rumours are wonderfully written and the best thing that I have seen on that possible event.

What I find interesting about this book aside from the wrestling, is that I do believe that it is self published.  I don't know too much about how this works, but it seems that with my Amazon Prime membership, I may be able to read this book - and his two follow up books - for free.  But I feel this would be taking money away from someone who is doing a great thing and putting a dream out there.  As a result, I am reluctant to do so, and although they are pretty expensive, I would like to save a little and get them in paper form I think.  If anyone knows anything different to this on how it works, then let me know as I would be very interested to find out more.

9/10

Thursday, 13 April 2017

American Gods - Neil Gaiman

Book - American Gods
Author - Neil Gaiman
Year - 2001
Genre - Fantasy
Pages - 635
Bought for me by Alex Campbell

Three years.  Three years since I reviewed a book on here.  And the really shameful thing is that in that time, I have hardly read anything!  Some plays and books for work, but not really very much in the way of things for myself.  That is, quite frankly, a little embarrassing.

However, I was bought this book for my birthday last week with the recommendation to read it before the TV series starts at the end of the month.  In my haste to avoid spoilers at all costs, and to make sure I read the book before I watch anything on screen, I thought I had best give it a go.

American Gods has a fantastic premise.  What if all of the gods that had ever existed actually did exist?  And what if they continued to exist to this day?  What if the only thing that meant a god could exist was someones continued belief in them?  What new gods would we be seeing formed before our eyes as we start to worship new things?

Shadow is a prisoner who starts to find out the answers to these questions.  Along with the premise, which is very much up my alley, Shadow is one of the best things about this book.  He is a strong, silent type who comes across as highly relatable, despite being nothing like me, or probably you.  He is the perfect connector between reader and story and goes a long way towards making the book a success.

An interesting writing approach also comes in the way that Gaiman peppers the book with sub stories.  We will occasionally take a small break from the main story to look at a smaller one in another part of America, or another time zone completely.  Most of these have some relevance to the main story.  Others just add depth and colour.  I would often find this a little frustrating, but they are wonderfully written and one in the middle in particular - spanning an impressive eighteen pages - could work as its own novella.

I urge anyone to read the book before they watch the film or TV version, and this is a must here.  It is a brilliant read that I have gotten through in a few days, and considering I have been on quite the reading hiatus, that is an impressive feat.  The trailer for the show looks good (and stars Ricky Whittle as Shadow, who, despite not being how I pictured him in my mind, had already struck me as the perfect choice), but nothing compares to reading first.

10/10