Tuesday, 28 March 2017

Michael Connelly Author Guide

About Michael Connelly

Michael Connelly is a US crime writer, most well known for being the creator of the Harry Bosch crime novels. Connelly started out as a crime reporter for the Los Angeles Times, during which he wrote his first published novel, The Black Echo featuring Harry Bosch. While at the Los Angeles Times he wrote three more Bosch novels before quitting his job to be a full time novelist. 
Because of his time as a reporter covering crime in the Los Angeles area, he has a lot of experience of real crimes, and he has good relationships with the LAPD.
I really like Michael Connelly's books, they're really good, solid crime fiction. If I'm after reading a crime novel he's one of my go to authors.

Harry Bosch Books

As mentioned above, the first Harry Bosch book, The Black Echo, was also Connelly's first published novel. In all there are 16 published Harry Bosch books, listed here in order:
The Black Echo (1992)
The Black Ice (1993)
The Concrete Blonde (1994)
The Last Coyote (1995)
Trunk Music (1997)
Angels Flight (1999)
A Darkness More Than Night (2001)
City of Bones (2002)
Lost Light (2003)
The Narrows (2004)
The Closers (2005)
Echo Park (2006)
The Overlook (2007)
The Brass Verdict (2008) - also featuring Mickey Haller
9 Dragons (2009) - also featuring Mickey Haller
The Reversal (2010) - also featuring Mickey Haller
The Drop (2011)
The Black Box (2012)
The Burning Room (2014)
The Crossing (2015)
The Wrong Side of Goodbye (2016)
Other recurring characters who appear in some of these books are Rachel Walling (who first appears in The Poet) and Terry McCaleb (who first appears in A Darkness More Than Night).
The Narrows, while a Harry Bosch novel, is also the sequel to The Poet (which Bosch wasn't in), so makes it quite an interesting linking book.

The Mickey Haller Novels

Mickey Haller is a lawyer, called a 'Lincoln Lawyer' by some because his office is the stretch limo in which he is driven (by a former client paying off his fees) around Los Angeles, looking for work. Mickey Haller is the half brother of Connelly's main series character, Hieronymous "Harry Bosch". The books featuring Mickey Haller are:
The Lincoln Lawyer (2005)
The Brass Verdict (2008)
The Reversal (2010)
The Fifth Witness (2011)
The Gods of Guilt (2013)
Other Books by Michael Connelly
Blood Work (1998) - This book introduces former FBI agent Terry McCaleb, who is recovering after a heart transplant. When a woman asks him to investigate the murder of her sister he is in for a shock, as the dead woman was the person whose heart now beats in his chest. 
Void Moon (2000) - Cassie Black, and ex-con, gets tempted back into crime whilst on parole. The target is the very casino where she was caught attempting to steal from the last time, it is the place that put her behind bars and her lover in a coffin...
'Chasing the Dime' (2002) - When brilliant scientist and entrepreneur Henry Pierce moves into a new apartment following a breakup, he finds his new telephone number used to belong to a call girl who has now gone missing. As he is drawn into a quest to find the missing girl, he finds himself getting deeper and deeper into trouble.
The Poet (2002) - When crime beat report Jack McEvoy's brother, a homicide detective, kills himself, he decides to write the story about it. But the more he investigates, the more he begins to suspect that his brother's death wasn't suicide... Awesome book, one of the best crime books I've ever read.
Crime Beat (2006) - A non-fiction collection of journalistic crime pieces.
I've read all of Connelly's standalone novels - they are all excellent, at least as good as his better known Harry Bosch novels.
And Finally
Michael Connelly has two books coming out in 2017. There's a new Harry Bosch book coming out in October, Two Kinds of Truth. Before that  (July) there is a thriller, The Late Show, featuring a new main character, a young detective trying to prove himself in the LAPD.
For more information about Michael Connelly, visit his official website at:
Also, watch out for the new film, The Lincoln Lawyer, based on Michael Connelly's bestselling book, coming to a cinema near you.

Monday, 20 March 2017

Books from 1980

There are lots of challenges that you can take part in on the Goodreads groups I'm a member of, but one that particularly interested me recently was 'books from the year you were born. I was born in 1980 so I thought I'd look and see what books were published in 1980 that I fancied reading. It turns out, there are quite a lot - it was either a really good year for books, or more likely there are just lots of books in every year that I'd be up for reading. Here's 10 that stood out for me.

The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco - This literary medieval whodunnit has been on my list for a while, it's supposed to be a great book.

Cosmos by Carl Sagan - This is the classic text by Carl Sagan, the Brian Cox/Neil DeGrasse Tyson of the 1970s and 1980s. It's the book that got a lot of famous scientists of today into science and astronomy, a book full of science and full of wonder.

The Norse Myths by Kevin Crossley-Holland - Fresh from reading the wonderful Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman (you can read my review here), I've been wanting to read some more on this topic, and this is considered by many to be the book on Norse Mythology.

Beyond the Blue Event Horizon by Frederick Pohl - I've been enjoying reading some classic sci-fi recently, and this is the sequel to Pohl's awe-inspiring novel Gateway, so is definitely going to have to go on my list. That said, it's quite a few years since I read Gateway so may have to re-read that first.

Wild Seed by Octavia E Butler - I've only read short stories by her before, but Butler is considered by many one of the best science fiction writers out there. This is the first book in Butler's acclaimed Patternmaster series (but written after Patternmaster for which this is a prequel)

A People's History of the United States by Howard Zinn - This is a historical classic that I've been interested in for a while, it tells the whole history of the USA from the perspective of common foot soldiers, farmers, slaves, Native Americans, all those who are usually overlooked in history books.

The Bourne Identity by Robert Ludlum - The first book in Ludlum's Jason Bourne series, now a popular series of films starring Matt Damon.

The Covenant by James Michener - James Michener wrote huge historical novels often covering hundreds if not thousands of years. His books tend to have a large cast of characters, but often following just a few families through the ages. If you've read Edward Rutherford, you'll know what to expect. This book covers the history of South Africa.

The Shadow of the Torturer by Gene Wolfe - This is book one of his epic 'Book of the New Sun' fantasy/sci-fi series.

The Ice Dragon by George R R Martin - This is a fantasy story for children, by the writer of Game of Thrones. No, seriously. Who would have thought he had it in him? (If you've read the Game of Thrones books, or watched the TV series you will see the irony in this)

So that's my pick of books from 1980. I'm not sure how many I'll read for this challenge, I'll probably try for 5 first of all, and see how I go on. If you want to look for more books written in 1980, here's a Goodreads list of most popular books from 1980. Which ones stand out for you?


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Saturday, 18 March 2017

Review of Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

Genre: Classic/Russian Literature
No. of pages: 964
Date of publication: 1873-77 (originally serialised)
Author: Leo Tolstoy


About the Author

Leo Tolstoy was born in 1828 into an aristocratic Russian family, and went on to become one of the most famous and critically acclaimed novelists ever, writing two especially famous books, War and Peace and then later Anna Karenina. Both are giant tomes, considered the pinnacle of realist fiction and containing more than a few autobiographical elements. The author renounced his aristocratic background, gave away much of his wealth and became an advocate of non-violence, being a major influence on many people including Mahatma Gandhi.

Synopsis

Anna Karenina is the story of a group of aristocratic characters in 19th century Russia, their trials, tribulations and relationships. Central to the book is the eponymous Anna Karenina who is stuck in a loveless marriage (fairly common at the time) and embarks on a passionate affair with a dashing young cavalry officer, Count Vronsky. It is also the story of country gentleman Konstantin Levin and his quest for happiness and fulfilment in life.

Verdict

This book is long first and foremost, like a giant multi-series soap opera. It is not however a difficult book to read at all. I had the impression before that it would be dense and impenetrable, but it flows along very nicely and is much easier to read than, say, much of Charles Dickens' works. It is the story of many different characters, and their intertwining lives. About a quarter of the way through it, if you didn't know better you could think that the book was nearly finished - the plot starts slowly, jumps forward very fast and then slows down again after the first quarter. One way of looking at this book is that there is almost a thousand pages where nothing much happens, at least compared to more plot heavy books. I found myself however getting slowly, inexoraly drawn into the book, invested into the characters and their world, and by the end of the book I felt I'd spent half my life with them.

Some characters in the book I liked, some I found quite annoying, some sections were a bit boring for me, some quite fascinating. As well as the story of the characters, the book was an examination of life, it's meaning and how one can live it well. It does this through examining the characters thoughts and motivations, particularly Levin's, and to me this gave the book added weight and substance and helps me understand some of the book's greatness. This was certainly a very good book, though for me just a little bit too long. I'm giving it a solid 4 stars.

Who Should Read This Book

You should consider reading this if you enjoy reading classics, and like experiencing life in a different place and time through the pages of a book. You should read this book if you are up for a challenge, and what better challenge than this which was voted recently by a poll of writers as being the best novel of all time. It's also, believe it or not, a bit shorter than Tolstoy's other masterpiece, War and Peace. You should only read this if you've got time, and preferably decent chunks of time each day. Just reading 5 or 10 minutes at a time you are probably going to take an age to get through it and will probably get frustrated part way through. Finally, read this if you like, slow, thoughtful character led fiction - if you are a plot junkie that likes a fast paced novel you probably aren't going to enjoy this book.



Tuesday, 14 March 2017

Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman

Genre: Non-fiction, mythology
304 pages, 6.5 hours (Audible)

Neil Gaiman is a popular writer of short stories, novels, graphic novels, comics and more. He is particularly known for his novels Stardust, American Gods and Coraline, as well as the Sandman comic book series.

Synopsis

Norse Mythology is exactly what it says on the tin, a book about Norse Mythology. This is not a novel. Technically it is a non-fiction book, depending if you call mythology fiction or not. What it is, is a collection of mythological stories from Norse Mythology, telling tales of Odin, Thor, Loki and a whole host of other gods, giants and men (but mostly gods and giants). The stories are roughly chronological - starting with creation and ending with Ragnarok, the end of the world - and are told in a contemporary style.


Who Should Read This

You should read this if you are interested in Norse Mythology, particularly if you are not overly familiar with it or want a recap. You should consider reading it if you have struggled with the style of previous books on this topic. Even if you've never been interested in Norse Mythology before, you should consider reading this if you like short, interesting adventure stories. Readers of fantasy particularly will probably enjoy these tales.

My Verdict

I really enjoyed this book. I'm vaguely familiar with Norse Mythology, having come across Odin, Thor and Loki before in other books, but most of the stories I was hearing for the first time. As the author suggests in the introduction, I imagined myself sat warming myself round a campfire on a cold Nordic winter night, listening to these tales. They're all easy to read, fairly simple stories, and none of them are long. The author adopts a fairly colloquial and modern style for these tales, no high blown language but a simple, direct approach. For me it really worked. As one continuous narrative it doesn't work too well, there were some gaps, but you've got to remind yourself that this is real not fiction (again, as far as mythology can be considered real), the stories have been passed down the centuries and not all have survived. I'm not sure to what extent this book covers all the surviving Norse myths, or whether it is just a selection of what still exists, but it has whet my appetite to read more about Norse myths and mythology in general. Which I think is what the author had in mind.

I liked most of the stories a lot so picking favourites is difficult, but I did particularly like the story about how Thor's Hammer and other treasures of the gods came to be made, and also loved the story of Thor and Loki's journey to the land of the giants. Oh and Freya's wedding!

Notes on the Audiobook

I listened to this as an Audiobook, from Audible.co.uk, and as an audiobook I have to say it really worked. The author narrated the book himself, which adds something to it I think, it is more expressive and more real. Listening to the stories on audio is in a funny sort of way listening to them in their original medium - these were oral stories passed down the generations and only written down relatively recently so it is no wonder the audiobook works so well. That said, I'd like to get a paperback copy too when it comes out, to re-read some of the stories and that will help me to remember them. There's a lot of names of people (gods) and places which I can't imagine how they are spelt, and perhaps wouldn't recognise them written down which is a shame, but that can't be helped.

I'm giving this book 9/10.

Saturday, 11 March 2017

An Introduction to Goodreads

If you like books and reading but haven’t heard of Goodreads.com then you are in for a treat. It is the best website on the internet for books, period, and it is completely free. That’s not to say there aren’t other good books sites out there, but Goodreads is so big and covers so much!

What is Goodreads?

I am going to start with what it isn’t. It isn’t a shop. You can’t buy books on it (though it does provide links to places where you can buy books). A couple of years ago it was bought by Amazon, but for the most part Amazon have not interfered with the site except to add a couple of useful features to link to Amazon/Kindle if you want to.

So what is it? Goodreads is all of the following:

  • ·         A social networking site for book lovers
  • ·         A book cataloguing system
  • ·         A huge book club (or thousands of different book clubs to be precise)
  • ·         A book discovery engine
  • ·         A place to get free books


Catalog Your Books

I’ve been using the site for a few years now, and used a couple of similar, smaller book sites before that. A lot of people can’t remember what books they’ve read a few years ago, or remember anything about them. I don’t have that problem. Whenever I read a book, I add it to one of my virtual shelves. Everyone has a currently reading shelf, a digital equivalent of the stack of books on their bedside table perhaps. When you finish a book, you can mark it as complete, give it a rating and write a review if you want to. This way, you can keep track of what books you’ve read and what you thought of them. Other people can see what you’ve read too, and what you thought.


Social Networking

Unlike Facebook, this is Social Networking with purpose! You can add friends like you do on Facebook, but rather than inane updates about your social life they will be able to see what you are reading, read reviews you have posted and compare how you are doing on challenges. They can also suggest books to you that they think you will like, and you can do the same for them. For the most part, friends on Goodreads are only there when you want them though, and their updates are not in your face like they are on Facebook et al.

Book Groups

Groups is one of Goodreads best features. They are part book club, part forum for discussing books. There are hundreds if not thousands of groups on Goodreads, quite a few with many thousands of members. Most groups are thematic based on a particular genre, or based on country or region, and you can be a member of as many groups as you like. I’m a member of the UK Book Group, Sci-fi and Heroic Fantasy, Non Fiction Book Club and Around the World in 80 Books to name but a few. Being a member of a group doesn’t actually come with any obligations, it just allows you to read and post in all the forum discussions. Some people are very involved in one or two groups, posting regularly and even making friends on there, others just post occasionally or even just read the discussions without ever posting. Most groups have one or several books of the month, it is up to you whether the read the book and take part in the discussions.

Discovering New Books

In the days before the internet, people tended to choose the books they read based on browsing the shelves of their local bookshop or library, getting recommendations from friends or maybe reading reviews in the newspaper. Today though, the internet opens up much more opportunity for discovering new books, particularly lesser known gems. Along with Amazon, Goodreads is the best place on the internet for finding new books to read. There’s the discussion groups, book reviews, newsletters, recommendations and Goodreads suggestions, based on books you’ve read recently. Just by using the site, you will find your To Be Read pile growing larger and larger, and the books on them will probably be more to your tastes, with less chance of ending up with books you don’t like.

Get Free Books

Authors and book publishers offer free books all the time to bloggers and journalists to help them get publicity for their books. Goodreads democratizes this, by running loads of giveaways. At any one time there are lots of draws you can enter for free books, just by clicking a button. The site is really up front about how many copies of each book are on offer, and how many have requested them so far, so you have a good idea what your chances are. So if you want to be in with a chance of free books, join Goodreads and get entering the giveaways!


This is just a flavour of some of what Goodreads offers, but there’s lots more besides. The best thing to do is join and then just start exploring the site. You won’t regret it! In the coming weeks I'm intending to write some more articles about Goodreads and how to get the most out of it - so watch this space!

Sunday, 5 March 2017

A Guide to the Books of Peter F Hamilton

I have decided to periodically post a guide to individual authors, starting with some of my favourite authors. First up is Peter F Hamilton, a popular author of science fiction space operas.

About the Author

Peter F Hamilton is a British author, born in 1960 in Rutland, England's smallest county. He began writing in 1987, getting several short stories published before his first novel, Mindstar Rising, came out in 1993. Since then he has published many novels, all in the science fiction genre apart from a recent series of young adult fantasy novels. His novels are usually set across a vast galactic landscape, with space travel, aliens and lots of future technology. The science is plausible and consistent but without loads of detail - this isn't hard sci-fi. His books have a lot of similarities with fellow British authors Iain M Banks and Alastair Reynolds.

Peter F Hamilton's Books

His first three books were a near future science fiction detective series, featuring psychic PI Greg Mandel. Unlike the rest of his books, these are in some respects a bit dated now, but still really interesting, portraying an England recovering from years of an oppressive communist regime. The books are:

Mindstar Rising (1993)
A Quantum Murder (1994)
The Nano Flower (1995)

They are all mid-size books in the 300-400 page spectrum. In contrast to his later books...

Confederation Universe Books

After quite small scale, near future science fiction, Hamilton moved onto a far future series written on a huge scale, with his Night's Dawn Trilogy. The first book is also in my all time top 10 reads. It is set 600 years in the future, on a distant world where a group of settlers are literally hacking out a new colony from the virgin forest. Something happens out there however, that throws the whole galaxy into chaos and threatens the continued existence of the human race...

The Reality Dysfunction (1996)
The Neutronium Alchemist (1997)
The Naked God (1999)

There are also a couple of companion books:

A Second Chance at Eden (1998)- A book of short stories set in the Confederation universe.
The Confederation Handbook (2000) - A non fiction guide to the Confederation Universe, compiled from the author's notes.

Commonwealth Universe

After writing  The Night's Dawn Trilogy, the author decided to move on to a completely different, unrelated set of stories. Set in the universe of the 'Commonwealth' several hundred years in the future, faster than light travel may not have been invented, but instead there are wormholes linking hundreds of planets. Humans may fill the galaxy, but there are various alien races which humans co-exist with in the galaxy relatively peacefully. Rejuvenation and memory stores give near immortality, and life is good for many. Then a strange astronomical event is spotted in the night sky, further out than anyone has gone before, and the safe, cossetted world of the Commonwealth is suddenly under threat.

This series is made up of two duologies, a trilogy and a standalone novel. The best place to start is Misspent Youth if you want to (see below), or Pandora's Star. Don't try to read them out of order.

Misspent Youth (2002) - A slim volume, not like his other books. It isn't well regarded - and can be easily skipped - but does set up the universe of the Commonwealth, showing the beginnings of rejuvenation technology and examines some of the implications.

Pandora's Star (2004) -
Judas Unchained (2005)

The Dreaming Void (2007)
The Temporal Void (2008)
The Evolutionary Void (2010)

The Abyss Beyond Dreams (2014)
Night Without Stars (2016)

Other Books

A children's fantasy series, The Queen of Dreams, perfect for 9-11 year olds apparently:

The Secret Throne (2015)
The Hunting of the Princes (2016)
A Voyage Through Air (2017 - forthcoming)

Fallen Dragon (2001) - A standalone space opera adventure, in a similar style to his other books.

Great North Road (2012) - A spectacular single volume novel, it weighs in at nearly a 1000 pages, and is set in a completely separate universe to his other books, but there are many similarities in style and content.

Manhatten in Reverse (2011) - A book of short stories, including a titular novella.

He has also written a young adult sci-fi novel, Lightstorm, and several novellas: Watching Trees Grow, Family Matters and A Window Into Time.

Links

Official website - He occasionally writes blog posts, and it has information about his books. It is a bit out of date though.

The Unisphere - A decent fan site covering the author's works.

2016 interview - A short interview with the author

Facebook page - Peter F Hamilton's Facebook page. He posts on here regularly, so is probably the best place online to find latest news about the author and his books.

So that's it. Definitely worth checking out if you like space based science fiction on an epic scale. My recommendation for a starting point would be either The Reality Dysfunction or Pandora's Star. Or if you want a standalone novel that gives a good flavour of what his books are like, try Fallen Dragon or Great North Road.

Friday, 3 March 2017

A Trio of Classic Science Fiction Novels

I'm steaming ahead with my book challenge at the very least, 10 books so far out of my target of 40. According to Goodreads I am 4 books ahead of schedule, though I feel like I will be losing some ground over the next few weeks as I'm about a quarter of the way through the 950 page Tolstoy opus, Anna Karenina. Anyway back to the science fiction.

The Caves of Steel by Isaac Asimov


The Caves of Steel is the first book in Asimov's Robot series, which has multiple novels and many short stories in it. This book takes place in the near-ish future, at a time when robots were still in their infancy. Most robots in this book are dumb things, not a great leap from artificial intelligences of today. This book features detective Elijah Baley, and possibly the first of the truly intelligent robots, Daneel Olivaw. An important ambassador has been murdered, and it is Baley and Daneel's job to investigate the crime and discover the culprit, to prevent a greater crisis.

This book has been on my to be read list for a long time now, and I finally got around to it after picking up a cheap paperback copy. The detective story itself is quite a basic one, but it was the world building and the great ideas that really got me hooked on this book. Considering it was written in (checks Wikipedia) 1954, it has aged really, really well. Okay so the computers they are talking about are pretty basic and possibly involved punched cards, and some of the numbers are a bit off (the 8 billion population may be several times that of Asimov's era, but today's population is close to that) but otherwise it is very believable. The political/social system described is bordering on communist, but is still quite believable, and some of the technology was a delight (I loved the idea of the moving walkways where you stepped from lane to lane, which increase in speed each time). Overall, a great, short book, still very relevant and enjoyable today and a good start to his Robot series.


The Space Merchants by Frederick Pohl & C M Kornbluth



This is a 1950's classic science fiction novel by the writing team of Frederick Pohl and C M Kornbluth. Ad man Mitch Courtenay is at the top of his game, and has been given the plum assignment of managing the Venus contract - promoting the new colonisation of Venus to ensure that his agency exclusively controls the spending of the would be colonists. In this imagined future, the world is effectively controlled by three giant advertising companies, the leaders of which are more powerful even than the US president. The ad men are rich, powerful and can have whatever they want, the consumers however are a downtrodden underclass...

This is a short novel, and in keeping with most science fiction of this era, it is desperately short on good characterisation - the characters are quite two dimensional almost just ciphers to move the plot along. The plot itself is also somewhat pedestrian, although with a twist at the end. I have to say however I really enjoyed this book. Although it is really dated, having been written over 60 years ago it has some very interesting technology and even the dated aspects of the novel hold a certain interest - in many ways the future the authors portrayed is already here. A lot of the scary stuff is a lot closer now than it was in the 1950's and even the stuff they got wrong casts light on the present. A great read.


The Stainless Steel Rat by Harry Harrison



In the far future, criminal intent, violence and deviousness has been bred out of the human race. Once in a while though someone slips through the genetic net. James Bolivar diGriz a.k.a. Slippery Jim is such a person. He is a master criminal and a brilliant disguise artist with a cunning mind, always staying several steps ahead of the law. Until...

This is the first in a science fiction comedy series, begun in the 1970s by the prolific science fiction author Harry Harrison. It was written, I think, as a spoof of the early space opera series by the likes of E E Doc Smith. I've never been a big fan of comic science fiction, or comic fiction generally, but it gives the author a lot of freedom to disregard the rules of science or sense and just have fun. I really enjoyed this, it was a great fun read. Incidentally, rather than reading this I listened to the audiobook from Brilliance Audio (on Audible.co.uk) and I thought it worked great as an audiobook and the narrator did a really good job.


That's it for now. I've just ordered several of the SF Masterworks so I'll be covering them in a later post. Before that, Hemingway and Tolstoy amongst others!