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Wednesday, 29 July 2009

The Cloths Of Heaven

By Sue Eckstein

The Cloths Of Heaven is a fantastically well-executed novel. Sue Eckstein has created a mosaic of storylines and characters in which pieces of different hues are cleverly constructed into a whole that sparkles with life and colour.

Carefully placed changes of point of view serve to draw the reader into the novel and forward through the narrative and change of tense is also used to great effect.

A huge cast of characters have all been drawn so vividly and individually that they have a life of their own. Impossible to pick favourites from such a huge and engaging cast, but I suspect the characters of Daniel and Rachel with stay with me for a long time.

The narrative switches backward and forward in time adding an extra dimension to the story and cleverly placed ‘postcards’ with snippets of extra information sit between chapters and give the reader a glance into the future.

The motif of many-coloured cloths, based on a quotation from Yeats, runs through the novel and is accentuated by Sue Eckstein’s beautiful use of colour to bring description alive.

Splashes of exquisite humour are used as a counterpoint to the drama and high emotion. Many of them had me laughing out loud.

Overall, the book is a joy to read. It is intriguing, exciting and just beautifully written.

You can read a sample chapter here.

Reviewed by Helen M Hunt

Tuesday, 28 July 2009

Booker Prize longlist

Thirteen books have been longlisted for this year's Man Booker Prize, including the latest novels by Sarah Waters, Hilary Mantel, Colm Toibin and A.S.Byatt.

The full longlist can be seen here.

Sunday, 26 July 2009

The House Of Thunder

by Dean Koontz

The House of Thunder is a mystery, a suspense and a thriller. For me, it was also a master class in "show, don't tell". The story follows Susan Thornton, who wakes up from a coma in hospital and has amnesia following a car accident. If you're thinking yeah, yeah, cliché, then think again. This beginning premise is the only thing about the story that might be considered "traditional". Everything that follows is nothing like you would expect.

It had me gripped from start to finish. I couldn't wait to find out what happens next. Koontz cleverly unravels the mystery entirely from Susan's point of view, as we follow her physical recovery and mental descent. Have her long-dead enemies from a college hazing, years ago, come back to life? Or is there something more strange and sinister going on? Obviously, given that it's a mystery story, I can't give away too much. Readers will not be disappointed, both existing fans and newcomers. I can highly recommend it.

The House of Thunder is available from Headline Fiction, ISBN 978-0-7472-3661-0. It was originally published under the pseudonym Leigh Nichols.

Reviewed by Captain Black

Sunday, 19 July 2009

A Spell Of Swallows

by Sarah Harrison

I bought this book because I had read several excellent reviews on it, and also because it’s based on a period that I’m presently researching. I had read Sarah Harrison’s 'Flowers of the Field' years ago, but for some reason had not read any of her books for a while. I shall now be remedying that fact.

The book is so beautifully written and as soon as you start reading you are instantly drawn in to the beauty of England in the early part of the last century. We soon realize that the protagonist, John Ashe is both intriguing and has scores to settle. He has been horribly disfigured during the Great War, but it is not until the end that we actually find out what happened.

He ingratiates himself into the small village of Eadenford and despite the local people being initially repelled by his appearance, and all that it reminds them of, they are unable to find fault with someone who gives them no reason to. He is both clever and manipulative, soon ingratiating himself into the lives of the unpopular vicar and his gentle wife, who, although she loves her husband, is unable to help being pulled under John Ashe’s spell. Unfortunately for them, his intentions are not as honourable as they originally appear to be.

The book intersperses chapters from the present(a year after the Great War) with John Ashe’s experiences in Mesopotamia, where he fought alongside Captain Christopher Jarvis. It is through this that we begin to understand why he has such a basic cruelty within his character, and slowly we understand what happened in his past to damage him so deeply, both physically and emotionally, bringing this story to a thrilling and shocking climax.

I read the book in twenty-four hours, and could not put it down. I have now found that another book by Sarah Harrison, 'The Nightingale’s Nest', tells us about John Ashe ten years after the Great War, and his relationship with Christopher Jarvis and his family.

Reviewed by Debs Carr

Sunday, 12 July 2009

The Nano Flower

by Peter F Hamilton

The Nano Flower is the third book in the Greg Mandel series, set in a not-too-distant future following global warming, economic and political crises. The novel can be read as part of the series but also stands well by itself. Unlike some of Hamilton's more epic works, these stories are not quite so "hard" Science Fiction. They're more like murder mysteries and other crime tales, though set in a future world. Don't worry, hard SF fans will still enjoy the big ideas and big hardware, though they're not so up-front as in the Confederation or Commonwealth series.

The Nano Flower, like the previous two, features Greg Mandel, a psychic with artificially enhanced abilities who helps to solve crimes. This one has the additional feature of involving humans' first encounter with an alien species. This first contact is by no means conventional and certainly far from some of the clichés in lesser tales. Characters are very real and very diverse. The new world is clearly painted; a recovering and hopeful one, following the Warming and its associated troubles.

Anyone who still thinks SF is full of cardboard characters, spaceships, bug-eyed monsters and girls in bikinis is in for a big shock: the genre has moved on and grown exponentially since the "B movie" days (where have you been for the last six decades?). I can highly recommend this and all of Hamilton's work for the great stories, great characters and huge ideas. Open your minds and find out what you've been missing.

The Nano Flower is available from Pan Books, ISBN 978-0-330-33044-2
See also Mindstar Rising (978-0-330-32376-8) and A Quantum Murder (978-0-330-33045-9).

Reviewed by Captain Black

Sunday, 5 July 2009

The Letters

By Fiona Robyn

I was lucky enough to meet Fiona Robyn when she came to town to read some of her poetry on a Tongues and Grooves evening.

Fiona's poetry is exquisite; the words are almost palpable, ripe, warm and juicy like blackberries eaten as fast as they can be picked off the sun warmed brambles.

Much to my delight her fiction has the same cadence...one which, to my mind, is reminiscent of Gregorian Monks chanting their prayers.

The Letters flings the reader up onto an edge of adrenaline fuelled frisson before dropping you into fur lined ruts where you could happily luxuriate forever.

There is a decadent syncopation to The Letters.

The Letters, published by the wonderful world of Snowbooks, is a treat from start to finish. You can buy a copy here, here or here as well as any good book store and you can find out more about Fiona here.

Reviewed by DJ Kirkby