The Tournament by Matthew Reilly, Book Review

Goodreads Blurb 

The year is 1546.

Europe lives in fear of the powerful Islamic empire to the East. Under its charismatic Sultan, Suleiman the Magnificent, it is an empire on the rise. It has defeated Christian fleets. It has conquered Christian cities.

Then the Sultan sends out an invitation to every king in Europe: send forth your champion to compete in a tournament unlike any other.

We follow the English delegation, selected by King Henry VIII himself, to the glittering city of Constantinople, where the most amazing tournament ever staged will take place.

But when the stakes are this high, not everyone plays fair, and for our team of plucky English heroes, winning may not be the primary goal. As a series of barbaric murders take place, a more immediate goal might simply be staying alive

My Review

Rating: 3.75*

For many years Matthew Reilly has been my favourite action story writer. I’ve happily jumped on board both the Scarecrow and Jack West Jnr trains, and thoroughly enjoyed every crazy ride. Say what you will about the plausibility of his stories, but you cannot deny they are fun. That’s why I read them.

Which is why I’m still unsure how I feel about The Tournament. Mr Reilly has certainly been expanding his repertoire over recent years with books such as Hover Car Racer—which has children as the main protagonists—and The Great Zoo of China—fronted by a female lead—which digress somewhat from his usual fare. But both of these books still pack a punch on the action front, even if the packaging is vastly different. The Tournament, however, is uncategorically historical fiction, centred around a very young Elizabeth I and her tutor Roger Ascham. I will admit that history is not my strongest suit, but the older I get the more I love it, and it was fascinating to learn that Roger Ascham was a real person and really did tutor the young Elizabeth. Mr Reilly seamlessly weaves fact and fiction, and really captures a sense of the era.

The story is set in Constantinople and centres around a chess tournament arranged by the Sultan himself. Both the Roman Catholic Church and Islam feature in this story, not especially from a religious point of view, more from how intrinsic they were to the time and place the story was set, and I liked that. I liked how they were part of the story and yet not the focal point of the story, and I liked how the conflict was about the people and not their religious orientation or beliefs. The writing was clean, the research thorough and the dialogue felt authentic to the time, but I found the story itself to be a little weak. Perhaps this was because I’m so used to Mr Reilly’s usual fare of relentless edge-of-your-seat action, perhaps it was in part because The Tournament has a bit of an identity issue. The story, I felt, would have been better suited to a younger audience, but the sexual content rules it out of that genre. It leaves the book rather betwixt and between.

Which pretty much sums up my feelings about it. All told, a good one time read but I’m not sure who I’d recommend this too. I’d rather have had another helping of Scarecrow. That being said, I’m very interested to see where Mr Reilly goes next…

The Knife of Never Letting Go (Chaos Walking #1) by Patrick Ness, Book Review

Goodreads Blurb 

Prentisstown isn’t like other towns. Everyone can hear everyone else’s thoughts in an overwhelming, never-ending stream of Noise. Just a month away from the birthday that will make him a man, Todd and his dog, Manchee — whose thoughts Todd can hear too, whether he wants to or not — stumble upon an area of complete silence. They find that in a town where privacy is impossible, something terrible has been hidden — a secret so awful that Todd and Manchee must run for their lives.

But how do you escape when your pursuers can hear your every thought?

My Review 

Rating: 4.5*

I’m not quite sure where to start with this book as I have some conflicting opinions on it, but before I dive into my review this book certainly wins the award for Best Opening Line:

“The first thing you find out when yer dog learns to talk is that dogs don’t got nothing much to say.”

There may be spoilers if you haven’t read it yet.

What I didn’t like was the incessant nature of the violence and the running of the main charcters, Todd and Viola. I actually found it exhausting. Some moments to pause and catch your breath as a reader may have made the action more shocking. I’m the kind of reader that will stay up all night reading a book if I’m enjoying it, but this book required frequent breaks.

I did, however, like the main characters. Their relationship developed nicely and didn’t feel contrived. My favourite was Manchee the dog and (SPOILER ALERT!!!) I’m not sure if I’ve forgiven Patrick Ness for killing him off. I was genuinely distressed at his demise (SPOILER OVER!!!)I also liked how the world the author created was three dimensional, if at times a little hard to picture due to the amount of detail he provided.

Also, I must applaude the author for not patronising his younger audience. He did not shy away from the horror on account of protecting young minds. I think if he had done that the book would not be what it is, which is a fantastic read, thought provoking, and lingers in the mind long after you’ve reached the end.

All told, a must read book.

Mark of The Demon by Diana Rowland, Book Review

Goodreads Blurb 

Cop and conjurer of demons, she’s a woman in danger of losing control to a power that could kill….

Why me? Why now? That’s what Beaulac, Louisiana, detective Kara Gillian was asking herself when an angelic creature named Rhyzkahl unexpectedly appeared during a routine summoning. Kara was hoping to use her occult skills to catch a serial killer, but never had she conjured anything like this unearthly beautiful and unspeakably powerful being whose very touch set off exquisite new dimensions of pleasure. But can she enlist his aid in helping her stop a killer who’s already claimed the lives’and souls’of thirteen people? And should she? The Symbol Man is a nightmare that the city thought had ended three years ago. Now he’s back for an encore and leaving every indication on the flesh of his victims that he, too, is well versed in demonic lore.

Kara may be the only cop on Beaulac’s small force able to stop the killer, but it is her first homicide case. Yet with Rhyzkahl haunting her dreams, and a handsome yet disapproving FBI agent dogging her waking footsteps, she may be in way over her head…

My Review

Rating: 4*

So this was an interesting one for me as it was a little outside of my usual fare. It was a real combination of police-procedural and urban fantasy, with a healthy dose of humour and just a dash of eroticism. I think Ms Rowland did a seamless job of blending all those elements together and the one constant throughout was Kara. She was a great lead character as she was imperfect, flawed and ordinary except for when she was extraordinary. I like her vulnerability, it makes her extremely human in sometimes inhuman situations.

I must confess to taking an immediate and very shallow liking to Rhyzkahl. Ryan, on the other hand, was a slow burner, intentionally so I think. The two male leads really make you question the concept of good and evil, reminding me a little of Anne Rice’s Memnoch the Devil.

All told, an enjoyable read and I look forward to finding out what happens to the trio in the next one.

The Great Zoo of China by Matthew Reilly–Book Review

 

Goodreads Blurb 

GET READY FOR ACTION ON A GIGANTIC SCALE

A high-concept, action-packed thriller from the bestselling author of SCARECROW AND THE ARMY OF THIEVES.

It is a secret the Chinese government has been keeping for 40 years. They have found a species of animal no one believed even existed. It will amaze the world.

Now the Chinese are ready to unveil their astonishing discovery within the greatest zoo ever constructed. A small group of VIPs and journalists has been brought to the zoo deep within China to see its fabulous creatures for the first time. Among them is Dr Cassandra Jane ‘CJ’ Cameron, a writer for NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC and an expert on reptiles.

The visitors are assured by their Chinese hosts that they will be struck with wonder at these beasts, that they are perfectly safe, and that nothing can go wrong…

 

My Review

Rating: 4*

I always look forward to a new Matthew Reilly book and I’ve been spoilt of late. First, there was the pleasure of The Four Lengendary Kingdoms which I listened to in December, then this book, and I have just downloaded The Tournament which I will be listening to next. I mention these other books here to highlight the versatility of this author and how his writing is constantly evolving and improving. One thing that remains the same throughout all of his books, however, is how much fun they are!

What was different about this book is CJ, the first female lead in a Matthew Reilly action book. Matthew Reilly never spends much time delving into the depths of his characters personality and yet, throughout the course of his stories his characters come to life and their personalities shine through. CJ as the hero was no different, except maybe she’s a little more ordinary than Scarecrow and Jack West Jnr, which just goes to make her feats of derring-do all the more impressive. She’s kick-ass, intelligent and brave and I hope we see more of her in the future. I’d like to see where Mr Reilly takes her.

As far as the story itself goes—well, that’s a little more tricky to describe. Let’s say it’s a slightly different take on a story we’ve been told many times before. Comparisons with Jurassic Park are inevitable but I think Reilly’s attention to the details of his creations just about makes it work. And let me tell you, once the action gets going it doesn’t let up, not for a minute. The stage is big, the players are huge and the action is relentless.

All told, it’s not one of my favourites but it’s a solid addition to the Matthew Reilly catalogue that gave me two days of fun.

The Four Legendary Kingdoms by Matthew Reilly–Book Review

 

Goodreads Blurb

There are 16 contestants, but only one will survive.

The last thing Jack West Jr remembers is arriving for a meeting at a top-secret military base with his family in tow. Now he awakens to find himself in a hellish scenario.
Jack has been selected to take part in the Games, a series of deadly challenges designed to fulfil an ancient ritual. If he chooses not to compete, both he and his daughter will be killed.

With the fate of the earth at stake, Jack will have to traverse diabolical mazes, fight ruthless assassins and face unimaginable horrors that will test him to the limit. In the process he will discover the mysterious and powerful group of individuals behind it all: the four legendary kingdoms.

 

My Review

Rating: 5*

I cannot begin to describe my excitement over this book!

Maybe it’s because I haven’t read a good action book in a while. Maybe it’s because it feels like ages since Matthew Reilly‘s last Jack West Jnr book. Actually, it has been ages since his last Jack West Jnr book. Eight long years, to be precise. But now I’m rambling. And I’m rambling because, not only is this another adrenaline-fuelled rip-roaring yarn from one of the best action story tellers out there, it also has the mother of all spoilers that I really want to tell you about but absolutely won’t! I can’t! I mustn’t!

What I can talk about is how much I loved the premise of this book. It has a slight feel of the Hunger Games but for adults. Jack, amongst others, is kidnapped and taken to an arena in order to take part in the Hydra Games. In short, nine spheres have to be acquired from the arena—whilst also surviving what the arena throws at you—in order to save the world. The arena is creative, imaginative and utterly without mercy. The odds are definitely stacked against Jack in this one. And if you thought the Hunger Games were brutal, this is brutal squared. I don’t know how he does it but just when you think Matthew Reilly has taken Jack to the point of no return he pulls it out the bag.

One of the pluses of having waited so long for the next Jack West Jnr book is that Lily, Jack’s adopted daughter is now twenty and has a featuring role in this story. It was also cool to catch up with Stretch and Pooh Bear. I was totally absorbed by this book right from the beginning even if much of the foundation idea is somewhat unbelievable.

But that’s exactly what makes a Matthew Reilly book so engaging. You leave your disbelief at the door and hop on board the Matthew Reilly Crazy-train to Funsville.

The Martian by Andy Weir – Book Review

Goodreads Blurb

Six days ago, astronaut Mark Watney became one of the first people to walk on Mars. Now, he’s sure he’ll be the first person to die there.

After a dust storm nearly kills him and forces his crew to evacuate the planet while thinking him dead, Mark finds himself stranded on Mars’ surface, completely alone, with no way to signal Earth that he’s alive — and even if he could get word out, his supplies would be gone years before a rescue could arrive.

Chances are, though, he won’t have time to starve to death. The damaged machinery, unforgiving environment or plain-old “human error” are much more likely to kill him first. But Mark’s not ready to quit. Armed with nothing but his ingenuity and his engineering skills — and a gallows sense of humor that proves to be his greatest source of strength – he embarks on a dogged quest to stay alive, using his botany expertise to grow food and even hatching a mad plan to contact NASA back on Earth.

As he overcomes one seemingly insurmountable obstacle after the next, Mark begins to let himself believe he might make it off the planet alive – but Mars has plenty of surprises in store for him yet.

Grounded in real, present-day science from the first page to the last, yet propelled by a brilliantly ingenious plot that surprises the reader again and again, The Martian is a truly remarkable thriller: an impossible-to-put-down suspense novel that manages to read like a real-life survival tale.

My Review

Rating: 5*

If a book could be Christmas dinner this book would be it. All your favourite foods on one plate, from crispy goose fat roast potatoes to Yorkshire puddings filled with gravy. You have a few tasty extras, like cranberry sauce and stuffing balls, and a few less tasty extras, like Brussel sprouts and bread sauce, but Christmas dinner wouldn’t be the same without them. In other words, this book is a real feast, a treat for the literary glutton.

I’m not going to talk about the plot, I hate to give spoilers. So I’ll talk about everything but the plot. From the opening line I was hooked. From the opening line I was dreading the final page. I didn’t want it to end and yet I couldn’t put it down. I had to know what became of Mark Watney, Space Pirate.

The miracle of this book is that it reads like the telling of a true story. It is dense with science yet understandable to lay people like me. The fact that it contains so much science I believe is vital to the success of the story. I am by no means an expert but the science feels real and accurate, and it really lends itself to the authenticity of the story, the characterisation, and builds trust between the author and the reader.

Now I want to talk about the humour in the book. It’s not a comedy, it’s not a screwball and it’s not slapstick but, boy, is it funny! Not since I read Grant Naylor’s Red Dwarf twenty-five years ago have I burst out laughing because the funnies were so — well, funny. The humour feels so natural, so effortless, that it adds yet another layer to the already familiar and likeable character of  Mark Watney. It’s the delivery and the timing that creates the much needed humour. The balance that Weir finds between fact, science, fiction and comedy is perfect. He pitches it just right, adding the perfect amount of seasoning to my Christmas dinner.

I’m rather fascinated with space and astronomy, though I have no desire to experience it first hand, being partial to things such as air and gravity. But watching other people explore it and discover it’s hidden secrets is awe inspiring to me. Many a night has passed with my eye pressed up against my too heavy binoculars looking at the moon and thinking of when man walked on it’s very surface. I wasn’t born at the time of the moon landing and have often felt the disappointment of not having been a part of it, even merely as a viewer. Now, though, I feel as though I’ve had my very own voyeuristic space adventure courtesy of Andy Weir and, of course, the indomitable Mark Watney.

And, my, what an adventure it was.

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline – Book Review

 

Goodreads Blurb

It’s the year 2044, and the real world is an ugly place.

Like most of humanity, Wade Watts escapes his grim surroundings by spending his waking hours jacked into the OASIS, a sprawling virtual utopia that lets you be anything you want to be, a place where you can live and play and fall in love on any of ten thousand planets.

And like most of humanity, Wade dreams of being the one to discover the ultimate lottery ticket that lies concealed within this virtual world. For somewhere inside this giant networked playground, OASIS creator James Halliday has hidden a series of fiendish puzzles that will yield massive fortune — and remarkable power — to whoever can unlock them.

For years, millions have struggled fruitlessly to attain this prize, knowing only that Halliday’s riddles are based in the pop culture he loved — that of the late twentieth century. And for years, millions have found in this quest another means of escape, retreating into happy, obsessive study of Halliday’s icons. Like many of his contemporaries, Wade is as comfortable debating the finer points of John Hughes’s oeuvre, playing Pac-Man, or reciting Devo lyrics as he is scrounging power to run his OASIS rig.

And then Wade stumbles upon the first puzzle.

Suddenly the whole world is watching, and thousands of competitors join the hunt — among them certain powerful players who are willing to commit very real murder to beat Wade to this prize. Now the only way for Wade to survive and preserve everything he knows is to win. But to do so, he may have to leave behind his oh-so-perfect virtual existence and face up to life — and love — in the real world he’s always been so desperate to escape.

A world at stake.
A quest for the ultimate prize.
Are you ready? 

My Review

Rating: 5*

I love books like this. Why? Because the writing is outstanding? No. Because the characters are so three dimensional that they feel real? No. Because it’s educational? No. I’m not saying that any, or all, of those things aren’t true about “Ready Player One,” but that’s not why I love it so.

I love it so because Ernest Cline made me want to be in it, in the story. I wanted to be a “Gunter” with Parzival and Artemis. I wanted to hang out in the basement with Aech playing Pac-Man. It made me want to go back to my youth, a child of the ’80’s, and watch all of those movies and play all of those games through Wade’s eyes. I wanted to find the pot of gold at the end of Halliday’s rainbow.

In simple, I love books like this because they’re so much fun! I never wanted it to end. And the fact that, not only did I enjoy it, but so did my 17 year old son and my 67 year old dad, well, if that’s not recommendation enough for you to strap on your visor, pull on your haptic gloves and dive head first into the OASIS I don’t know what is.

Happy hunting!