Eye of the Storm by Frank Cavallo

Eye of the Storm by Frank Cavallo

On a research mission in one of the most remote regions of the world, former Navy SEAL Eric Slade and Dr. Anna Fayne are caught in a mysterious storm. Catapulted through a rift in space-time, they are marooned on a lost world.

Struggling to survive and desperate to find a way home, they must confront the dangers of this savage land—a dark wizard and his army of undead—a warrior queen and her horde of fierce Neanderthals that stands against him—and a legendary treasure with the power to open the gateway between worlds, or to destroy them all: the Eye of the Storm.

I received a free copy of this book courtesy of the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Eye of the Storm is a sci-fi fantasy novel that spans times and alternate universes. A scientific research team lead by an ex-Navy SEAL and current TV personality. As their expedition heads out, they encounter what appear to be pterosaurs – long extinct flying dinosaurs. In their helicopters the team gives chase, flying head on into a storm. This storm acts as a portal transporting them into an alternate time and universe, populated by neanderthal tribes.
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When I was first contacted about Eye of the Storm, I was really attracted to it, a book billed as a mix of science fiction and fantasy. These are two of my favourite genre of books so I went in with high hopes. And things looked really good for this book. The sudden arrival in a prehistoric version of the world set things off in the right direction. Factions of neanderthal people roam the plains, alongside ancient winged beasts and mammoths. As with all fantastic fantasy tales, there is a counterbalancing force of evil, too.

A dark wizard, laying in wait, seemingly hell-bent on taking power for himself makes for a pretty good nemesis. Cue some double crossing during times of upheaval such as the death of the king and the ascension of the new queen, and the story looks set. When a seemingly-dead member of the scientific research party turns up at the side of wizard during battle, the line between good and evil becomes blurred. Ultimately both sides need to come together in a common aim against a new evil.

But it also has its issues. The new evil didn’t seem to carry much weight for me. The dark wizard Tarquin had been developed and built throughout the course of the story, giving a mystical and almost fanatical aura to him. A further revelation about Tarquin, which I won’t reveal in its entirety, leads to the author referring to him as a techno-wizard. This dampened my view Tarquin somewhat, made all the more aggravating with the insistence of the author to refer to Tarquin in the same way constantly from the point of revelation onwards. It almost sought to diminish the power and menace this key character held, making it hard for me to stay fully engaged and invested in the story.

These draw backs don’t fully undo the story here, but they do leave a slight bad taste for me. Overall the concept is fantastic, and a setting in the time of the neanderthals is really interesting making for an entertaining read.

My rating:
okaybook

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Skyships Over Innsmouth – Susan Laine

Skyships Over Innsmouth – Susan Laine

Twenty winters have passed since the Cataclysm brought down society and robbed people of their memories. Humanity, vastly reduced in numbers since the initial chaos, has started anew in Canal City with the aid of library books and steam technology. The Scout and Ranger Corps was established to search for possible survivors and to replenish dwindling resources. Dev is the captain of the scout airship Smoke Sparrow, and Shay is the scholar of their newest expedition. Their destination is Innsmouth, Massachusetts, a small fishing town that is mentioned in obscure books but shows up on no maps. Might its secrets offer answers? But within the fog-covered, ruined hillside town by the bay lurk unspeakable dangers and horrors beyond imagining. The expedition team soon learns that Innsmouth is one town that should have been left forgotten. – Skyships Over Innsmouth


After my first NetGalley read, The Last Policeman by Ben H. Winters, I had high hopes for my next book. Sadly, it just wasn’t to be. Normally, as you’ll all know if you’ve read my previous reviews, I start with a quote from the book that I really like. This time round though, I couldn’t find a single quote I liked. There wasn’t much, if anything I liked this book. Instead, I opted to share the description for this book with you all. Go ahead, give it a good read over. Because this is important. Also, keep in mind that the book is listed as being horror, sci-fi and fantasy. And it’s also described as being steampunk.
Let’s start with that last point – steampunk. Really the only element of the book that I felt was steampunk where the almost too-obvious skyships. That’s about it. This disappointed me as it was one of the main draws of this book to me, as a fan of steampunk. But that’s okay though, as that’s not the core of the story. Described as a mix of sci-fi, horror and fantasy, a trio of genres I like, I was both looking forward to this book, and somewhat unnerved as to how the blend would work all at once.
skyshipsI am sorry to say, it didn’t really work. Fantasy is not a word I would personally use to describe Skyships Over Innsmouth. This is just my personal opinion, but fantasy for me conjures up images of witches, and wizards, dragons, dwarves, trolls, that kind of thing. Ok so there are some entities in this book that aren’t “of Earth” but I think they were intended to fit more into the horror bracket than that of fantasy. The horror element I also found wanting. I am a fan of horror, though I wouldn’t say it scares me as such (except for Stephen King’s IT – damn clowns!). But here, I just felt Laine was trying too hard. I picked up on many Poe and Lovecraftian undertones throughout. Since finishing the book, I have read other views where it seems other readers spotted this and perceived it to almost be trying to follow on from the works of these authors. This is never clearer than the emergence of a fearsome creature that speaks in its own alien tongue. This being is basically Lovecraft’s legendary Cthulhu.

The author seems to have a real love of cliche and metaphor. I have nothing wrong with the use of either of these devices as long as they are handled with a restrained hand. But Laine seems to have used as many as she could come up with. One that stuck with me was the line “silent as a tomb, it was”. As a phrase, there is nothing too much wrong with it, it just grated on me for some reason. Linguistically Laine repeats phrases or at least similar phrases to hammer home a point. She describes the “monsters” in this story as alternately “horrible alien creatures” or “abnormal alien creatures”.

All of this though, is not enough to make this such a terrible read for me. What really did it was the unexpected romance between the two male leads. This isn’t an issue as such, but just reread that blurb back at the start of this review – not one single reference to this. Yet this seems to be the true heart of this story. The first two paragraphs discuss at length how the leads both have a hidden love/lust for one another that they don’t realise is reciprocated. Then every other paragraph, or so it seems, continues to remind us of the growing feelings until the characters admit it. Then their romance grows, as does their lust. The final few paragraphs finally break the obvious sexual tension describing the two leads finally acting on their feelings. As I have already mentioned, this doesn’t bother me – there are plenty of books that cover this type of subject, but it was wholly unexpected based on the description.

Upon finishing this book, a cursory google search of the author explains things. The opening line of her homepage is this: “I’m an award-winning author of contemporary, paranormal, steampunk, fantasy, and murder mystery LGBTQ erotic romances.” I had never encountered Susan Laine or her work before this book, so I did feel that to completely gloss over this big factor in the description was a bit of a failure really. And, in this book at least, I’d drop the steampunk claims.

My rating:
notforme

Men at Arms – Terry Pratchett

Men at Arms – Terry Pratchett

“Murder was in fact a fairly uncommon event in Ankh-Morpork, but there were a lot of suicides. Walking in the night-time alleyways of The Shades was suicide. Asking for a short in a dwarf bar was suicide. Saying ‘Got rocks in your head?’ to a troll was suicide. You could commit suicide very easily, if you weren’t careful.” Terry Pratchett, Men at Arms


Men at arms brings things back to the Ankh-Morpork City Watch. And what a story to do it with. I am not going to bother beating about the bush or leaving it to the end to leave my overall opinions on this because. It’s pretty simple – I love it. This is the second or third time I have read this book, and yet somehow didn’t remember as much of it as I expected to. It’s great fun, it brings more of Sam Vimes’ character to the fore, alongside those of Nobby Nobbs, Fred Colon and Carrot the not-so dwarf. We also meet another City Watch regular in the making, werewolf Angua.
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So, to the story. The Night Watch has expanded and diversified at the instruction of Lord Vetinari to now include a dwarf, troll and a werewolf. A spate of mysterious crimes including theft of an unknown item and some grisly and hard-to-explain “suicides” (read: murders) spread throughout the city, all as Captain Vimes prepares to relinquish his position in the Night Watch as he prepares for his impending nuptials to Lady Sybil Ramkin.

Deceit, political wrangling and a nefarious criminal or two make for a good old fashioned whodunit story. I love the police procedural feel that it has alongside the now well-honed Pratchett humour. But it also brings in yet more connections to reality. Pressure from certain important members of society on the Patrician tried to divert the tenacious Vimes is not all that far fetched. History has shown too often that power, or money, greases the wheels of society, if not the palms. The inclusive, multicultural direction taken by the City Watch just feels so familiar with the direction the world has taken of late, as does, sadly the tensions between the trolls and dwarves.

There are no dragons, witches, or wizards here. And this book doesn’t need them. Yes, the Discworld is a fantasy series, but this story is so enjoyable, even without the stereotypical fantasy tropes. It does feature dwarves, trolls and a werewolf, but they aren’t what this story is about. To me, even less than the City Watch as a whole, this is the story of Sam Vimes. Who he is and how he works comes through in buckets. And running through it all, Men At Arms tells the story of how the topsy turvy city that is Ankh-Morpork works, where it’s come from, and a glimmer of where it might be headed.

I love the nods to the plethora of TV shows in the police and crime genre that Pratchett employs throughout the book. As a fan of crime and mystery, along with fantasy and comedy, the fusion of these normally very different themes is refreshing and funny. I love the growth of the City Watch characters, and the city itself seems to really come to life in the writing of this book. I think this is my favourite book in the Discworld series so far.

My rating:
goodread

Neverwhere – Neil Gaiman

Neverwhere – Neil Gaiman

“Young man” he said, “understand this; there are two Londons. There’s London Above – that’s where you lived – and then there’s London Below – the Underside – inhabited by the people who fell through the cracks in the world. Now you’re one of them. Good night.” – Neil Gaiman


So I felt, as I sometimes do when reading longer book series, that I needed a change of pace from the Discworld. Not because I was bored of them, but because I felt like I needed to try something completely new. A little while back I had been on a mini shopping spree and came back with a few books, all ones I have heard recommended, but by authors I had not tried before. And one of those was a curiosity-piquing book called Neverwhere, by an English fellow named Neil Gaiman. I was already aware of Gaiman – although I haven’t read it yet, I have heard the radio play of Good Omens that he co-authored with Terry Pratchett – so when I heard there was also going to be a radio play of Neverwhere, I gave it a listen. It was good enough that it piqued my interest.
wp-1467722260458.jpg The version of this book that I was reading was a revised edition including element cut from earlier editions. Picking up the book in the shop, the blurb on the back hooked me. Granted, I already knew the story to some extent thanks to the radio play – but how often does the film/audio play do the real book justice? Though I seldom ever read the little dedications from other authors or literary critics on the back, the glowing reviews only heightened my interest in this book. So I parted with my cash and out I walked with the book in hand, eager to read it.

One of the rear cover dedications comes from Gaiman’s friend, Tori Amos, where she opens with “I didn’t ever want this book to end…”. Was this high praise, or slightly over-exuberant review from a friend? I would say it’s fully justified. This might just have become one of my favourite books.

But why? Well the characters are wonderful, well developed and strong. The rollercoaster of fortunes and feelings the characters experience was also felt by me. The narrative of the story is fantastic, and having visited London many a time myself, it really comes through that Gaiman has put in plenty of research to make this book. The story itself is fantastic – it is something different in the sci-fi/fantasy world, while leveraging a lot of real world crossover and referencing.

The main character is Richard Mayhew, a Scot who now lives and works in London, where he has a comfortable life with his high-flying fianceé Jessica. Until a chance encounter with a scared, injured girl by the name Door, changes the course of his life. Upon choosing to help the disheveled girl as opposed to ignoring her and heading to a dinner meeting, Jessica leaves Richard on the spot. Then strange things start happening. A couple of shady characters come looking for their “lost and vulnerable sister”, conveniently knowing where he lives. Then, he finds himself becoming almost invisible to the rest of the world, except for those poor souls that slip through the cracks of the world.

Over the next few days, Richard finds his life literally fading. It isn’t so much the case that people don’t recognise him, but that he is ceasing to have factored in the lives of those around him – almost as if his life is being erased. He still exists on a level only seen and inhabited by those who fall through the cracks in society. And so begins his journey into London Below. I won’t give too much more away on the plot – though some may feel maybe I have said too much already – as the story only gets better from here, in my opinion.
Neil Gaiman’s imagination and creativity turn this fantasy tale into something different. There are no typical fantasy tropes here – gone are the vampires, the witches and the dragons. Not that they are bad things in the fantasy genre, but it is so refreshing to see something a bit different. The research put in, including walking through the Victorian sewers of London, lend the work a real sense of authenticity. And for anyone familiar with London and some of its famous landmarks and tube stations – a whole range of these have been twisted to create colourful settings and characters in Gaiman’s London Below.

The story is strong, the characters fantastic, and I loved the locations. The whole concept could make for an interesting series, one that the author himself has almost hinted at as a minor possibility – of creating Below versions of big cities around the world. Given how much I loved this book, that is something I would really like to see.

My rating:
goodread

Small Gods – Sir Terry Pratchett

Small Gods – Sir Terry Pratchett

“What have I always believed?

That on the whole, and by and large, if a man lived properly, not according to what any priests said, but according to what seemed decent and honest inside, then it would, at the end, more or less, turn out all right.” Terry Pratchett

Small Gods is much like the earlier Pyramids, insofar as it doesn’t really fit into one of the core series’ within the Discworld. At a stretch they are sometimes classified in their own miniseries of Ancient Civilisations. This tale deals with the ideas of religion, belief and morality, and takes place in the empire of Omnia, ruled by the Great God Om.
2016-04-03 20.03.01One of the key threads of the story is that of belief. More important any given god is only as strong as the strength of belief in him. The more believers has, the more powerful they become. Small Gods, aside from being the book title, also refers to what happens to gods with little or no believers – they become small, weak, drifting in the deserts.

This, being the central premise of the book, really caught my attention as an unashamed atheist: that a god can only exist if enough people believe in them. I love how Pratchett deals with religion in this story. That anything that disagrees with the given religion is heretical and must be destroyed. I also like the way religion is described, with its hierarchical structure, and the power wielded at the top. Small Gods shows the intense levels of cynicism that the author viewed the world with, implying the religious books are not the words of the god handed to the prophets, but created by the head of the order to suit their needs.

This book also throws in atheists and philosophers from neighbouring empires. One premise Pratchett brings up over the course of the book is that of the power of knowledge, and its role in religious war.

The main character, the massively devout Brother Brutha is a wonderful, very well crafted character. While lacking in intelligence, he has a mind like a sponge and an ability to retain almost anything he sees. He pledges unwavering fealty to the Great God Om, even when he is at his weakest, and Brutha learns things that completely change his worldview, and that of his religion. The God Om himself also features heavily as he tries to regain his strength, along the Deacon Vorbis, the villainous head of the Quisition – think the Spanish Inquisition, only maybe more like the Monty Python portrayal!

A very entertaining, funny, and thought-provoking read, Small Gods is one I rate highly within the series – I only find it a shame that both this and Pyramids are the only books of their kind within the Discworld series.

My rating:
goodread

Witches Abroad – Terry Pratchett

Witches Abroad – Terry Pratchett

“People think that stories are shaped by people. In fact, it’s the other way around.” – Terry Pratchett

Witches Abroad is the third instalment in the miniseries following Granny Weatherwax, Nanny Ogg and Magrat, a trio of witches from the mountain kingdom of Lancre. And this book deals with stories, and their importance in the world. It also deals with good and bad, and travel.
2016-02-29 13.01.26Pratchett seems wholly-comfortable with his direction for the series by this stage, and his wit and humor shine through. While travelling the Disc, the witches discuss the possibility of witch airlines using giant broomsticks. They start coming up with names, and Pratchett’s wonderful wit shines through, as the suggestions are puns of real airlines such as Three Witches Airborne (TWA) and Broomsticks Airborne (BA). While the scene isn’t central to the main story it just shows the wit that has become synonymous with the Discworld series, and also shows the wonderful way in which Terry Pratchett merges aspects of the real world into his work.

The main thread of this fun little yarn is all about stories. And more importantly, the power of stories. While we, humans, create stories all the time, do we really control and shape them? Whether that story is the story that is life, or if it is a book we write, how much of them is shaped by us? Or as Pratchett alludes to – do they shape us? A sobering thought, especially for bookworms like myself. I have read many books, and a lot of them have left a mark in some way on me, Some good, some terrifying (thank you Stephen King).

Witches abroad is a wonderful tale, littered with references to classic stories and fairy tales. But the spin Pratchett adds to these is part of the charm. It looks deeper into the stories, adds a little back story to the characters that their original fairy tales never did. Stripped down to its core, this book is a classic good versus evil tale with a healthy dose of fairy tale whimsy. But then the author comes in with the heavy machinery to put his touch on. And in this sense, I don’t mean it in a negative way. He comes in firing on all cylinders with sarcasm, wit and humour that I love about the Discworld series.

In the two previous books featuring the witches, I was left feeling lukewarm. This outing, is very much third time’s a charm! I really enjoy this book – it’s great fun, and I love the injection of beloved fairy tales to the narrative. And on top of this, I am really warming to the three key characters. I felt like I wasn’t quite getting to know the trio of witches fully, but this time out we learn more about them and their lives, and more importantly their very different personalities.

The witches still don’t make for my favourite mini-series within the Discworld books, but compared to the first two books involving them, this is a world apart. At this stage, I am definitely beginning to like the witches more and more.

My rating:
goodread

Reaper Man – Terry Pratchett

Reaper Man – Terry Pratchett

“…no-one is finally dead until the ripples they cause in the world die away… The span of someone’s life, they say, is only the core of their actual existence.” – Terry Pratchett 

Reaper Man is the next book in the Discworld series, and upfront I am going to give my opinion – I love this book. And that’s no exaggeration. Officially, this great little book sits within the Death series, but it has cameos from the wizards of Unseen University and a few appearances from Sergeant Fred Colon of the Ankh-Morpork City Watch.
wp-1453731647321.jpgThis book moves off in a different direction for Death as a main character, and that for me is a key part of why I really like this story. It brings up the idea of making the most of life. As Pratchett has shown in past appearances, Death has an interest in the human condition, and almost displays slight glimmers of humanity in himself. This, however, presents a problem – Death isn’t isn’t meant to show compassion, interest or any of the other features of the human condition. Death is the end. That’s it. So universal forces are brought in to strip him of his role, his purpose. And his immortality.

So what does the former reaper of souls do know he has time on his hands? He sets out to experience life. Death has always had a curiosity about humans, and their lives, but only when he has a finite amount of sand slowly trickling from the top bulb to the bottom of his life timer, only then does he truly start to live. Much as we tend to do in reality.

But why? Why do we so often wait until we have precious little time left, to make the most of it? Because we are, at the heart of it only human. But with His new found time, Death turns his hand to labour. He makes friends, he lives a life. All the while, the dead aren’t staying fully-dead. Without Death to shepherd them into the great beyond, they are forced to walk the world. And some of them prefer it this way.

This book rates highly for me, as I am a keen fan of the Death subset of stories from Terry Pratchett. He is a likeable character that only gets better the more we see him, and the more subtle human traits he picks up. Throw in the wizards as well and this is a fun travel around Ankh-Morpork and outlying settlements. Once again, the locations feel a bit richer, the characters a little deeper as Pratchett really gets to grips with the direction and future ideas for this epic series.

My rating:
goodread