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Stephen King’s Mr Mercedes read by Will Patton

Mr Mercedes audio-book cover imageThe following is a review of the audio-book edition of Stephen King’s Mr Mercedes, a cat and mouse thriller narrated by Will Patton and first released in June 2014.

Author King and narrator Patton recently joined forces for Dr Sleep, the author’s last publication (that review can be found here), and a sequel to his classic The Shining. So I felt in safe hands as I began the latest offering from an author whose output remains as varied and engaging as ever.

Stephen King opens books well. I guess you could say that he is an expert in manipulating the ‘hook’, that magical something that draws the reader in within the first chapter and holds their interest for the remainder of the book. And Mr Mercedes utilises this ‘hook’ as well as any King novel. Picture this – it is very early morning, mist reduces vision to only a few feet and outside a job fair (this novel is set during the recent recession) job-seekers have queued to be first in line when the doors open, seeking to secure one of the few hundred jobs on offer. And from out of this mist suddenly emerges a powerful Mercedes motor car, clown-masked driver behind the wheel, which ploughs indiscriminately into those crowded close together at the front of the line, killing eight and injuring and maiming many others. This masked perpetrator was never caught.

I don’t know about you, but this opening caught me hook, line and sinker.

Moving on from this stellar opening the story jumps ahead a few years and the detective who led the hunt for the Mercedes killer, one Hodges DET RET, is now retired, overweight and contemplating suicide. But a taunting letter from Mr Mercedes arrives through his letterbox and any thoughts of suicide are banished as the retired detective finds himself reinvigorated and determined to catch the maniac who had eluded him while active. And so begins a game of cat and mouse as Hodges and Mr Mercedes mess with each others minds and lives.

The first half of Mr Mercedes is excellent, just as good as all of King’s recent books, by which I refer to 11.22.63, The Wind Through The Keyhole, Joyland and Dr Sleep. And as I’ve mentioned is all my recent King reviews – he is writing as well as he ever has. But then things, in my opinion, begin to take a bit of a turn for the worse and a rather lame, but fortunately brief, romantic interlude is followed by rather weak secondary characters, which I can only call caricatures, being elevated to leading roles in a manner that seemed scarcely believable. This made the second half of the book a let down. And I think many other King fans might agree that the book loses its way after the midway mark, it just wasn’t up to his usual high standard.

But it would be unfair to concentrate on the negatives as there is much within that is classic King, the product of a craft mastered over decades. And Hodges is not an alcoholic which was refreshing. There is as ever a strong focus on characterisation and back-story development (initially) which allows for a strong emotional attachment between the reader and characters written on the page. King also has a gift for building tension with his narrative.

Will Patton’s narration was once again very good, doing full justice to the leads of Hodges and the Mercedes Killer. He is a first rate narrator.

So my summary would be that a cracking first half is followed by a weak second. But every review is subjective and others may experience the book differently.

Recommended, but with caveats.

7.5/10

Mr Mercedes (unabridged) by Stephen King
Narrated by Will Patton
Length: 14 hours, 21 minutes
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton

Mr Mercedes is available only from Audible.co.uk

Fergus McCartan: My book addiction in review

2013 has been a good year for feeding my book addiction. The majority of my reads have gone well and while many of the books were not from a new series I tried to branch out into the undiscovered whenever possible.  However, there is only so much time for reading for those of us with everyday working lives so I remain true to my favourites.

Maybe you are now questioning why you should care what some random reviewer with access to Word and has to say about this year’s reading material? The simple answer is there is no particular reason you should but I like to talk, I am rather opinionated, but you never know where a good recommendation might come from…

If I’d had the time I would have liked to of reviewed each and every book I have read, but sometimes that’s just not possible. Thankfully others have the same love and passion and together we can complete the picture and bore you ad nauseam about why we love or hate a particular book.

This year my hits have been many, my misses few. There have also been some I have placed on the back burner, which will get a second chance even though the first read was a struggle.

Down to it then.

Good – Top picks first

Dodger by Terry Pratchett coverDodger by Terry Pratchett
One of the best Pratchett books I have read in many years and my top pick of 2013. Come one come all to  the greatest city in the world. In London, all men are free, the streets are lined with gold and the naughty ladies are friendly to all.

“Pratchett has beautifully narrated Dodger. The story has been written in such a way you can feel the cobblestones under your feet as Dodger works his way around London; thankfully you don’t have to feel some other things described. The quality of the writing takes me back to discovering Terry Pratchett for the first time.”

Read my full Dodger review

The Dirty Streets of Heaven cover image.The Dirty Streets of Heaven by Tad Williams
A very welcome surprise.  My preconceived expectations of this story were blown out of the water.  I went in preparing for the worst but it really came out as a cracker.

” I found the main characters and view to be engaging. The principle character, Bobby Dollar, is a nice balance of several characters types. If you have seen the movie or read the comics, you will find elements of Constantine, in his view of aspects of Heaven, Hell and Demons. I also found characteristics of Sandman Slim in the anthropomorphic depiction of demons and miscellaneous things that walk. Dresden is also in the mix in the elements of Bobby’s motivation and actions towards demons. Divine hero, wounded, beaten, and tired, out of his depth and trick but ever growing, evolving and becoming something more.”

Read my full The Dirty Streets of Heaven review

Steelheart cover image.Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson
Comic book superheroes that make Lex Luther look like a girl scout.  In a world turned upside down, humanity struggles to survive.  Great read, highly recommended.

“Strength, speed and immortality are a few of the Epics powers, but ridiculously stupid evil villain names like Conflux, Deathpointer, Pink Pinkness: I am not sure whether to laugh or cry. I say laugh as it’s got to be some strange homage to Stan Lee. I will be honest, I went into this book not expecting to like it and came out pleasantly surprised. Don’t dwell too long on some of the comic book silliness and you will be pleased.”

Read my full Steelheart review

Ender’s Game & Speaker of the Dead by Oscar Scott Card
There is not much I can add to this that already hasn’t already been said over the years. My usual literary bread and butter is fantasy and I don’t often venture into sci-fi however, with the talk of the upcoming movie I wanted to get the original story before the edited movie version. Once I finished the first book it was suffice to say I choose not to see the movie. This may be a little harsh but after watching the trailers and reading the reviews I knew too much had been amended to give a true representation of the story. The quality, complicity, and nuances of the books where lost. The concepts behind the need for Ender’s existence, his treatment and isolation where not, could not be a tale for a children’s movie. The realism, pain and gut crippling fear just wouldn’t be possible in a PG movie. I would urge anyone who has seen the movie and found it lacking to redeem the story by reading the book, you will not be left wanting.

Hunted by Kevin Hearne
Book six in the Iron Druid Chronicles. If you are into these books, you need no further explanation. It delivers everything the other books have previously; fast paced, magical, Gods and the ever impending doom of the Apocalypse.  If you have read the series, get a move on – it’s great little read.  Book one, Hounded, will drag you into a world of the Last Druid, Atticus O’Sullian, 2,100 years old but doesn’t look a day over 21.  Old hatred doesn’t die for the Immortal Gods the Tuatha Dé Danann, hiding for centuries Atticus is tired of running and finally will face his enemies down.

Kill City Blues by Richard Kadrey
Book four of the Sandman Slim novels. While not as gripping and engaging as the other three novels, Kadrey gives it a red-hot go. Older Gods from before time, supernatural squatters in abandoned shopping malls where the dead roam free. What could go wrong? If you have not come across the series before, have a read of the review for the first book, Sandman Slim, absolutely awesome.

Broken Homes book cover image.Broken Homes by Ben Aaronovitch
Book four of the Rivers of London series and Aaronovitch is still going strong. Layer upon layer is built and we begin to see a world build around Peter and the Folly Team. Laughs, action, betrayal and the realisation that the Faceless Man is fallible.

“You can’t go past the humour in these books, reading Peters attempts to use dog barks as scientific measurement in his research into magic and let’s not forget Molly’s learning to cook and everyone still going hungry. The times when magical ‘kick-assery’ is employed are absorbing and energizing; Nightingale coming to the rescue of Peter and Lesley, a cottage collapsing around him and walking out fixing his tie in one hand and dragging the bad guy with the other, very Bond. Laughs, action, betrayal and the magic woof-scale. What more can you ask for?”

Read my full Broken Homes review

Promise of Blood book cover imagePromise of Blood by Brian McClellan
I was given this recommendation by my local bookmonger (which sounds better than just plain “guy in book store”).  I wasn’t lead wrong: French revolution, mixed with guns and magic.

“Love, betrayal, swords, magic, muskets and Kresimir returned, there is trouble on the horizon for Tamas in book two. I will say this now, Tamas will die; he is going to sacrifice himself to the Kresimir to save the world or his son or both. I just can’t see another out outcome for him. Thankfully we are a while away from that, maybe I should say hopefully…”

Read my full Promise of Blood review

Skulduggery Pleasant: Last Stand of Dead Men by Derek Landy
If you are this far down the rabbit hole you have to admit that your “dirty little secret read”. A fun, dark page-turner. Only one more book and it’s all done.  If you haven’t read it, pick up book one and pretend your going to give it to the kids…

Cursed book cover imageCursed by Benedict Jacka
Book two of the series and Jacka really begins to add meat to the bones of the Alex Verus world, and slowly move away from the Dresden stereotype. Assassins, Magical Councils, Martial Arts and angry women – what more can you ask for?

“In ‘Cursed’ we are starting to build into the back story and get some legs behind the world of Alex Verus, it’s still verging on a Dresden story but we are staring to see some breakout individuality. The more I read, the more I enjoy and the more I want to read.”

Read my full Cursed review

Happy Hour in Hell cover imageHappy Hour in Hell by Tad Williams
Bobby Dollar crawls through Heaven and Hell for love and we follow him every step of the way. Great second installment.

“That aside, in book two we begin to delve more into heavenly and demonly (yes I know that is not a word) affairs.  We are reminded that Bobby is a small fish in a big pond, mostly by himself. However, for such a small fish those in power are very interested. I am unsure if there is a hidden path for Bobby or if it’s just the depths of his abilities and determination flow from his forgotten history. I am currently favouring two options at the moment. One: Bobby is an Arch-Angel, disillusioned with Heaven and trying to regain some faith by doing some leg work on earth. Two: Bobby is actually a Fallen Angel who has been granted access to Heaven again. More than likely it’s neither, but it’s fun to guess.”

Read my full Happy Hour in Hell review

The Desert Spear by Brent Weeks
A great second installment in the Demon Trilogy. We begin to get the history behind Ahmann Jardir and Arlen.  Betrayal, from those we love cuts that much deeper. Brent Weeks has provided us with a depiction of a man trying his best to help a world in fear by teaching them to help themselves. And a man who thinks he can save the world by strength and will alone.

Raising Steam by Terry Pratchett
All of the Discworld feel but lacking in that quirkiness. In a universe of magic and anthropomorphised characters, steam power has come to Ankh-Morpork, hot, dangerous and alive. Raising Steam has all the elements of our Discworld favourites: Vimes, Vetinari, dwarfs but for me the spark was missing.  Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed the book but I did walk away feeling it was a little lacking.  Maybe I am still looking for that first Discworld hit, that pee in my pants, sniggering on the bus like a mad man while everyone is looking at you moment and maybe I should realise you can’t have that very time. Read and judge for yourself.

Death Most Definite by Trent Jamieson
Death is a business and it runs in the family. Even when people die they need help. Help to let go and move on.  Death Most Definite is a nice twist on the tale of death and the afterlife. Death is a business, broken down into regions, nice bite size pieces and business is good.  When the people who facilitate death begin turning up dead themselves, the recently deceased are left stranded. A cataclysm is coming, someone wants promotion and nothing will get in their way. This is a great little read from a Brisbane local and I particularly liked the concept for the afterlife; death, recycling and the tree of life. Dark, funny and mythic.

Magic Bites by Ilona Andrews
Cheesy, somewhat predictable modern fantasy with hard notes and a nice twist of a future, alternate world. Mages, monsters and necromancers abound the main character Kate is an underdog with teeth. Surprisingly fun little read, it won’t take up to much of your weekend.

Already Dead by Charlie Huston
Vampire fiction is not my usual could of tea but this was a recommendation and I decided to give it a go. You know how the story go, man becomes vampire, man BECOMES the vampire, man eventually see the errors of his ways and tries to redeem himself. In a city of vampire loyalty and divided territories, a single vampire walks a path of survival and maybe do a little good. Just because you’re dead doesn’t mean you can’t have a heart. Don’t get me wrong here, he will rip the still beating beat from the chest of the bad guy, but he’ll feel bad about it.

Bad – Worst first

Prophecy’s Ruin by Sam Bowring
On the plus side was well-written and the story had legs.  However, the characters where flat and a quarter of the way through, we still hadn’t progressed past the character build up and back-story.

City of Bones by Cassandra Clare
I just don’t know what I was thinking – young adult drivel at it best. At least there aren’t any sparkly vampires. If you were a fan of Edward or Jacob, then this is for you.

Daylight War by Peter V Brett
I was really looking forward to the third installment in the Demon Cycle books. The first two books were very good, and while I can understand the concept Brett was trying to put across, it just didn’t work. In book one we had Arlen’s story, in book two we had Jardir’s and for book three we focus on Inevera’s story. The problem with this is that Inevera is not a relatable character. I developed no empathy for her or her back-story and while Inevera’s story depicts a harsh upbringing it was unmoving and dry, in the end I just put the book down half way through. I will most likely read about the book online before trying to progress to book four, I just hope that we don’t have to go through this Robert Jordan-esque character development again.

Magician's End book coverMagician’s End by Raymond E Feist
This one was bitter sweet for me, I didn’t want it to end but after the stretching of the plots over the last couple of books it was time. Magician’s End had so much potential, we could have really had a real tearjerker but Feist played it safe and as such it was all very deflating. It really shouldn’t be in the bad pile, maybe in the “to revisit”, but it could have been so much more. It deserved to be so much more.

“There is an old saying “whoever brought me here must also bring me home”. Feist brought us to Pug and Midkemia many years ago and has finally brought us home to an ending; unfortunately I am just not sure that it is an ending worthy of the life of Pug and the Midkemia Universe. When I read a series I have a tendency to not read the last novel, I guess I don’t want it to actually be over. Nevertheless, it felt like it was time to close the page on Pug (pun intended); I just wish it were more. In Magician’s End I found the plot to be lean, the sub-stories unconnected and I found no empathy or connection with a lot of characters laid out in the story.”

Read my full Magician’s End review

To revisit

The Gunslinger by Stephen King
No need to shoot the messenger here (pun intended) and I am sure to get come flack for this, but I just couldn’t make myself like it. I just found the story too laborious, the characters to be monotonous and we just don’t seem to be going anywhere. Time and perspective are a great boon.

Clockwork Vampire Chronicles by Andy Remic
I will be honest: I found the story and world to be vivid and compelling, Remic has an excellent writing technique and makes the world jump out from the page. Unfortunately the characters did not.  I am not sure if it was just my frame of mind but I felt they lacked a certain spark. I will sit on it for a while and give another go, as I can really see this being a very good series.

Stephen King’s Doctor Sleep read by Will Patton

Doctor Sleep audio-book cover.The following is a review of the audio-book edition of Stephen King’s Doctor Sleep, a sequel to The Shining and narrated by Will Patton, first released in September 2013.

I came to listen to Doctor Sleep with the advantage of having just recently read The Shining. Although it is not essential that all read The Shining beforehand it is certainly recommended. The first two thirds of Doctor Sleep concern the life and times of Danny Torrance, the young boy from The Shining, and what happened to him following the terrible events at the Overlook hotel. The first thing that struck me was that although Doctor Sleep and The Shining obviously share much in common, there is still a decidedly different feel to each. The Shining, by its nature, is a claustrophobic, insular book with a main cast of just three but Doctor Sleep has a more epic feel to it, both in terms of involving a war against an ancient evil and in the larger size of the cast.

So what has happened to Danny Torrance after his experiences in the Overlook Hotel? He is still haunted by those events and has been drifting for decades, desperate to shed his father’s legacy of despair, alcoholism, and violence.
Meanwhile, on highways across America, a tribe of people called The True Knot travel in search of sustenance. They look harmless – mostly old, lots of polyester, and married to their RVs. The True Knot are quasi-immortal, living off the ‘steam’ that children with the ‘shining’ produce when they are slowly tortured to death. Now working at a hospice in rural New Hampshire, where his remnant ‘shining’ power provides the crucial final comfort to the dying Dan is slowly getting his life back together. He then meets Abra Stone, a very special 12-year old girl he must save from these murderous paranormals.

Over the past decade I have listened to over a dozen Stephen King audio-books and they are all either good, very good or superb. For Doctor Sleep I would put the first two-thirds at very good but the final third as just good. The narrative reminded me strongly of Wolves of the Calla as a major part of that fifth Dark Tower novel involved the life story of Father Callahan, a recovering alcoholic who once wandered America to escape his past and his fears, finding solace at the bottom of a glass. And as the book begins we discover that Danny is now a alcoholic, something he thought he would never become after witnessing they effects alcohol has on his father, and as we follow Danny from place to place King recounts his life since the Overlook burned down to the present day. Initially it makes for compelling but of unavoidably depressing listening as the life of an alcoholic is nothing but tragic – this is something Stephen King understands from first-hand experience (write about what you know as the old adage goes). But thankfully we get to see redemption due to friendship and the AA, but just as Danny is once again beginning to enjoy his life, working and helping old people in a retirement home, the ancient threat of the True Knot rises to cross his path and that of a very special little girl.

I enjoyed the the first two-thirds of Doctor Sleep immensely, finding Danny’s life both fascinating and heart-breaking. It was a dark tunnel down which he was travelling and one which I hoped there was light at the end of. But the final third was a problem for me some major characters began behaving in classic horror-movie idiot style – doing the stupid things you know they simply shouldn’t and probably wouldn’t do. And so the book looked like it was going to finish on a bit of a dud note for me but luckily things picked up again as the end neared and King delivered a fine coup-de-grace, as he does more often than not. When trying to pin-point the other reasons I felt the spell broke for me slightly I would mention that as the book enters its final third becomes more action and less character-driven and the Stone family (Abra, her parents and her great-grandmother) began to irk me somewhat, with the parents in particular being rather stereotypical, something I feel King is hardly ever guilty of. But the overall impression of the book was definitely positive and I would happily recommend, but feel compelled to mention that I felt it lost a bit of its mojo towards the end.

The book is read by Will Patton, a winner two Obie Awards for best actor (Fool for Love and What Did He See?) and the narrator of almost 50 audio-books. As with all Stephen King audiobooks the quality of the writing helps the narrator, especially with credible dialogue, and Patton is comfortable with both male, female, young and old. At times you forget that it is just one person doing all the voices, which is always a very good sign. I liked Patton’s voice and reading style and would certainly listen to more books read by him.

8.5/10

Doctor Sleep (unabridged) by Stephen King
Narrated by Will Patton
Length: 18 hours, 32 minutes
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton

Doctor Sleep is available only from Audible.co.uk

I definitely recommend the Doctor Sleep audio-book as I think it is one of King’s “good” books. And if your are on the look-out for more then I can strongly recommend It (read by Steven Weber), ‘Salem’s Lot (read by Ron McLarty), 11/22/63 (read by Craig Wasson), Under the Dome (read by Raul Esparza) and all the Dark Tower audio-books (now totalling 8), read wonderfully well by George Guidall and the much-missed Frank Muller.

Publisher uses Stephen King’s new novel to support UK bookshops

Best-selling author Stephen King returns June 7th with Joyland, a mystery novel set in an amusement park in the 1970s, published by Hard Case Crime, an imprint of Titan Books. Joyland will be published in original paperback and will only be available in print edition, which is in keeping with the author’s request, made in a recent interview with the Wall Street Journal, for people to "stir their sticks and go to an actual bookstore."

Encouraging UK book lovers to act on King’s call to arms and buy paperback copies from traditional retailers, a team of ‘Hollywood Girls’ from the world of Joyland will be touring shops and literary events during the week of the book’s publication to give away free Joyland-branded bags of popcorn. Bookstore shoppers will also be able to win free books and exclusive Joyland prizes by tweeting pictures of the Hollywood Girls.

Sales Director of Titan Books, Tim Whale, elaborates: "We believe that the excitement galvanised by the Hollywood Girls with their popcorn machine will ensure that fans will respond to King’s rallying cry and buy their copies of JOYLAND from their local bookseller".

Dressed in the costume designed by Glen Orbik for the cover of the book, four ‘Hollywood Girls’ and their vintage popcorn machine will start their tour at Crimefest in Bristol on June 1st and end at Stoke Newington Literary Festival on June 9th. They will travel via Foyles Charing Cross Road [June 4th] and Forbidden Planet Shaftesbury Avenue [June 7th]. There will also be 50 bags handed out by booksellers on June 4th at Foyles Royal Festival Hall, Foyles St Pancras, Foyles Westfelds Statford City and Foyles Westfield White City.

Hollywood Girls from the world of Stephen King's Joyland.

Lavie Tidhar’s Osama wins World Fantasy Award

clip_image002Lavie Tidhar’s Osama has beaten competition from Stephen King and George RR Martin to scoop the World Fantasy Award for best novel.

Tidhar accepted the prestigious award at the World Fantasy Convention in Toronto yesterday. The judges of the award acknowledged that Israeli-born Tidhar has produced a work of extraordinary power and imagination, which has shown genre’s ability to examine and illuminate contemporary events in a way that other literature struggles to do.

“I am absolutely delighted for Lavie,” said editor-in-chief Jonathan Oliver. “This award is well-deserved and it is heartening to see the judges of the World Fantasy Awards choose a controversial and challenging title in what was already a very strong field.

“Lavie continues to a writer who pushes the boundaries of genre and is one of the most exciting writers around in any field.”

The outspoken and controversial Israeli-born author delivers the most exciting, daring and sensitive, fictional engagement with the post-9/11 era. Tidhar was in Dar-es-Salaam during the American embassy bombings in 1998, stayed in the same hotel as the Al Qaeda operatives in Nairobi, and narrowly avoided both the 2005 London, King’s Cross and 2004 Sinai attacks – all of which has informed this vital book.

The critical reception of Osama has been nothing short of astonishing – making it a must-read novel for both genre and mainstream readers. Plaudits have poured in since Tidhar’s win, including one from George R R Martin himself, as the industry acknowledges an important victory for the kind of genre fiction that breaks boundaries and avoids cliché.

One of the most significant genre books of the year, Lavie Tidhar’s highly-praised and BSFA Award-nominated novel Osama was published in paperback by Solaris in October.

The others nominations for best novel were:

Osama by Lavie Tidhar
£7.99 (UK) ISBN 978-1-78108-076-4
$9.99/$10.99 (US & CAN) ISBN 978-1-78108-075-7

New pulp-style crime novel from Stephen King

Hard Case Crime, the award-winning line of pulp-styled crime novels published by Titan Books, has announced it will publish Joyland, a new novel by Stephen King, in June 2013.

Set in a small-town North Carolina amusement park in 1973, Joyland tells the story of the summer in which college student Devin Jones comes to work as a carny and confronts the legacy of a vicious murder, the fate of a dying child, and the ways both will change his life forever. Joyland is a brand-new book and has never previously been published. One of the most beloved storytellers of all time, Stephen King is the world’s best-selling novelist, with more than 300 million books in print.

“I love crime, I love mysteries, and I love ghosts. That combo made Hard Case Crime the perfect venue for this book, which is one of my favourites. I also loved the paperbacks I grew up with as a kid, and for that reason, we’re going to hold off on e-publishing this one for the time being. Joyland will be coming out in paperback, and folks who want to read it will have to buy the actual book,” commented Stephen King.

King’s previous Hard Case Crime novel, The Colorado Kid, became a national bestseller and inspired the television series “Haven,” now going into its third season on SyFy.

“Joyland is a breath-taking, beautiful, heart-breaking book. It’s a whodunit, it’s a carny novel, it’s a story about growing up and growing old, and about those who don’t get to do either because death comes for them before their time. Even the most hardboiled readers will find themselves moved. When I finished it, I sent a note saying, ‘Goddamn it, Steve, you made me cry.’ ” said Charles Ardai, Edgar- and Shamus Award-winning editor of Hard Case Crime.

Most Anticipated Books of 2012 – 2012 Heavyweights

Well would you look at that. 2012 has arrived, and is already starting to fly by. Resolutions have already fallen by the wayside, but the holiday fat is beginning to disappear (hopefully). Work is starting back, school as well, and the days are getting shorter or longer, depending on where you live.

And there is a new crop of books just waiting to be printed, pressed and delivered.

Ryan Lawler and Josh Hill have set out to give you the run down on the best, biggest, and … the rest, of the fantasy books being published in 2012. So have a read, and stick around all week as we build up to their personal choices for Most Anticipated Books of 2012.

This time around it’s those books of 2012 that aren’t necessarily our favourites, but we’ll be reading, enjoying, and looking forward to. They are the big name authors of the year that just miss our cut for Most Anticipated, coming the beginning of next week.

Check out the first part of this series, ‘The Rest’ and the last part, Our Favourites.

 

the 2012 Heavyweights

The Wind Through the Keyhole (Dark Tower) by Stephen King

We join Roland and his ka-tet as a ferocious storm halts their progress along the Path of the Beam. As they shelter from the screaming wind and snapping trees, Roland tells them not just one strange tale, but two–and in doing so sheds fascinating light on his own troubled past.

In his early days as a gunslinger, in the guilt-ridden year following his mother’s death, Roland is sent by his father to a ranch to investigate a recent slaughter. Here Roland discovers a bloody churn of bootprints, clawed animal tracks and terrible carnage–evidence that the ‘skin-man’,
a shape-shifter, is at work. There is only one surviving witness: a brave but terrified boy called Bill Streeter.

Roland, himself only a teenager, calms the boy by reciting a story from the Book of Eld that his mother used to read to him at bedtime, ‘The Wind Through The Keyhole.’
‘A person’s never too old for stories,’ he says to Bill. ‘Man and boy, girl and woman, we live for them.’

A Memory of Light (Wheel of Time) by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson

Currently in the 2nd Draft stage, according to Brandon Sanderson’s own website, ‘A Memory of Light’ is blurb-less for the moment, but we are very excited to see the conclusion of this mammoth and industry-shaking series.

King of Thorns (Broken Empire) by Mark Lawrence

To reach greatness you must step on bodies, and many brothers lie trodden in my wake. I’ve walked from pawn to player and I’ll win this game of ours, though the cost of it may drown the world in blood…

The land burns with the fires of a hundred battles as lords and petty kings fight for the Broken Empire. The long road to avenge the slaughter of his mother and brother has shown Prince Honorous Jorg Ancrath the hidden hands behind this endless war. He saw the game and vowed to sweep the board. First though he must gather his own pieces, learn the rules of play, and discover how to break them.

A six nation army, twenty thousand strong, marches toward Jorg’s gates, led by a champion beloved of the people. Every decent man prays this shining hero will unite the empire and heal its wounds. Every omen says he will. Every good king knows to bend the knee in the face of overwhelming odds, if only to save their people and their lands. But King Jorg is not a good king.

Faced by an enemy many times his strength Jorg knows that he cannot win a fair fight. But playing fair was never part of Jorg’s game plan.

A Path to the Coldness of Heart (Dread Empire) by Glen Cook

At long last, the conclusion to Glen Cook”s Dread Empire saga has arrived! King Bragi Ragnarson is a prisoner, shamed, nameless, and held captive by Lord Shih-kaa and the Empress Mist at the heart of the Dread Empire. Far away in Kavelin, Bragia”s queen and what remains of his army seek to find and free their king, hampered by the loss or desertion of their best and brightest warriors. Kavelina”s spymaster, Michael Trebilcock, is missing in action, as is loyal soldier Aral Dantice. Meanwhile, Dane, Duke of Greyfells, seeks to seize the rule of Kavelin and place the kingdom in his pocket, beginning a new line of succession through Bragia”s queen, Dane”s cousin Inger. And in the highest peaks of the Dragona”s Teeth, in the ancient castle Fangdred, the sorcerer called Varthlokkur uses his arts to spy on the world at large, observing the puppet strings that control kings and empires alike, waiting… For the time of the wrath of kings is almost at hand, and vengeance lies along a path to coldness of heart.

And it is already out, available to purchase.

The Blinding Knife by Brent Weeks

No cover and no blurb, as of yet, but the first three chapters are available on Brent Weeks’ website here.

A Crown Imperiled by Raymond E. Feist

The penultimate volume of the mighty Riftwar Cycle

War rages in Midkemia but behind the chaos there is disquieting evidence of dark forces at work.

Jim Dasher’s usually infallible intelligence network has been cleverly dismantled; nowhere is safe. He feels that the world is coming apart at the seams and is helpless to protect his nation.

Quiet palace coups are underway in Roldem and Rillanon; and King Gregory of the Isles has yet to produce an heir. In each kingdom a single petty noble has risen from obscurity to threaten the throne.

Lord Hal of Crydee and his great friend Ty Hawkins, champion swordsman of the Masters’ Court, are entrusted with the task of smuggling Princess Stephané and her lady-in-waiting, the lovely but mysterious Lady Gabriella, out of Roldem to a place of greater safety. But is there any safe haven to be found?

Meanwhile, Hal’s younger brothers Martin and Brendan are attempting to hold the strategic city of Ylith against an onslaught of Keshian Dog Soldiers, and a mysterious force from beneath the sea. The Kingdom might lose Crydee and recover; but if Ylith falls, all is lost.

An unknown player appears to be orchestrating these conflicts. Can Pug and the Conclave of Shadows track down this source before Midkemia is destroyed?

The Wards of Faerie (Shannara’s Dark Legacy) by Terry Brooks

The Wards of Faerie, Book I in the Legacy of Shannara series, will be published in August 2012. It is the story set 100 years after the events of the High Druid of Shannara trilogy, where the people of the Four Lands have become largely distrusting of magic after the failed Third Council of Druids. But when a Druid stumbles upon information that might lead to the re-discovery of the lost Elfstones of Faerie, Ard Rhys of Paranor and Khyber Elessedil must decide to undertake the most dangerous of missions to acquire them—at all costs.

The Dark Tower series read by George Guidall and Frank Muller

Cover image of The Gunslinger audio-bookI read the Dark Tower books as they were published, ordered each new instalment as it was released, and thought the first three books were excellent. However, I found the going tough from there until, after reading book six, The Song of Susannah, I simply gave up. But I found that the story never left me and found it increasingly difficult to remember exactly why I never finished a series on which I had dedicated so much time.

So, after stumbling across the audio-book of the first book in a series of seven, The Gunslinger, I decided to listen, back-to-back, to the entire series. And it provided me with the most enjoyable 132 hours and 45 minutes of commuting time that I have ever experienced, so well do the books lend themselves to the format and in George Guidall and Frank Muller they showcase the talents of 2 excellent voice actors.

Yes, I still had big problems with the sixth book but it did not detract from the overall magnificence of the production.

For those who know absolutely nothing about the Dark Tower books, here is a brief outline of  Stephen King‘s magnum opus.

Set in a world that is weirdly related to our own, The Gunslinger introduces Roland Deschain of Gilead, of In-World that was, as he pursues his enigmatic antagonist to the mountains that separate the desert from the Western Sea. Roland, the last gunslinger, is a solitary figure, perhaps accursed, who with a strange single-mindedness traverses an exhausted, almost timeless landscape of good and evil. The people he encounters are left behind, or worse, left dead. At a way station, however, he meets Jake, a boy from a particular time (1977) and a particular place (New York City), and soon the two are joined, khef, ka, and ka-tet. The mountains lie before them. So does the man in black and, somewhere far beyond… the Dark Tower.

The Gunslinger is the shortest book of the series, and accordingly the shortest listen at 7 hours and 24 minutes. The narration is very good with George Guidall (who has recorded over 900 unabridged novels) fitting perfectly with the book’s western feel. But good as The Gunslinger was the second book, The Drawing of the Three, saw a change of narrator as Frank Muller took over the reins.

One thing is obvious – Frank Muller was born to read these books. He is simply magnificent and the way in which he brings each character to life is stunning. When I first heard him speak in Roland’s voice it was like hearing the voice I personally had for the character repeated back to me.

I had never heard of Frank Muller before but a little research showed that it was he that Stephen King always wanted to narrate his work and I instantly realised why. It is difficult to find the words to describe how good he is and so I will repeat an earlier point – when I read a book the characters will form a look and sound within my mind and somehow Muller managed to capture these perfectly (and I know I will not be alone in finding this).

However, my research into Muller also uncovered the tragic news that, in early June 2008, he died at the age of 57 following a courageous six-year battle to recover from a devastating motorcycle accident (Stephen King reads a dedication to Muller at the end of Wizard and Glass). And from that point on the recording was always tinged with a touch of sadness.

The following 2 books, The Waste Lands and Wizard and Glass, were great, with the latter book being much more enjoyable second time around. The 5th book, Wolves of the Calla, finds George Guidall once again behind the microphone and although he might not scale the same aural heights as Muller, he was the perfect choice to complete the series and, after a short period of transition, I found myself once again comfortable in his capable hands.

And then we come to Song for Susannah and I remembered the 2 reasons why I hadn’t enjoyed the book first time around. Firstly there is the fact that King had begun to write himself into the story. Not as a brief cameo (which would have been acceptable) but as an almost demi-god that was all-powerful. I found that this broke the spell under which the series has previously held me and King almost seemed intent on shouting “This isn’t real you know! These are just figments of my imagination!” from the highest peaks. To enjoy a series such as this you need to suspend your disbelief and as such the direction the author took seemed a peculiar one. Secondly there was the way the Japanese were portrayed in a section of the book. Now this might be by explained by stating that they could have been Susannah’s thoughts and words but it seemed completely out of place and reminiscent of George Lucas and his cringe-inducing Trade Federation in the newer Star Wars films. I have read a lot of Stephen King and have never found him the least bit racist (quite the opposite in fact) and this is why I was so surprised by the base ridiculing of the Japanese race.

And so, more than 10 years after I read the first page of The Gunslinger, I finally reached the 7th and final book, The Dark Tower. And once King himself finally (and belatedly) took a bow, the story moved towards a fitting climax. In fact, the ending still resonates with me now, many weeks after having listened to it, and I could not see a way in which it could have been done better. And so the decision to listen through the series in its entirety was rewarded amply as the series became a fine companion over the period of many months. As winter turned into spring and as spring turned into summer, I followed Roland Deschain across the desert all the way to the foot of The Dark Tower itself. It is a journey I will never forgot and one I will always remember fondly.

If, like me, you have a lengthy commute, I could not recommend more highly that you spend that time in the company of Stephen King’s epic, so wonderfully brought to life by Guidall and Muller.

Listen and enjoy.

9.3/10

The Dark Tower series (unabridged) by Stephen King
Narrated by George Guidall (The Gunslinger, Wolves of the Calla, Song of Susannah, The Dark Tower) and Frank Muller (The Drawing of the Three, The Waste Lands, Wizard and Glass)
Length: 132 hours, 45 minutes
Publisher: Penguin Audiobooks

The World Book Night top 100 books to read, give and share

An image of the front cover of the Pullitzer Prize winning book, To Kill A MockingbirdThe folks over at World Book Night – www.worldbooknight.org – asked readers to nominate the 10 books they most love to read, give and share. Over 6,000 people nominated more than 8,000 titles and the top 100 are displayed below.

I am pleased to say that I have read 22 of the listed titles and have many others on my shelves ready to read. I was shocked to realise that I still haven’t read Dune, The Lovely Bones and The Wind-up Bird Chronicle despite having owned them for so long – this must be remedied.

I was also pleased to see Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell on there. As you can see from the reader reviews on this site not all were as smitten by it as me but I still think it is one of the best books I have read over the past decade (not for the casual reader though).

I would happily read every book on this list:

  1. To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee
  2. Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen
  3. The Book Thief, Markus Zusak
  4. Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte
  5. The Time Traveler’s Wife, Audrey Niffenegger
  6. The Lord of the Rings, JRR Tolkien
  7. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams
  8. Wuthering Heights, Emily Bronte
  9. Rebecca, Daphne Du Maurier
  10. The Kite Runner, Khaled Hosseini
  11. American Gods, Neil Gaiman
  12. A Thousand Splendid Suns, Khaled Hosseini
  13. Harry Potter Adult Hardback Boxed Set, JK Rowling
  14. The Shadow of the Wind, Carlos Ruiz Zafon
  15. The Hobbit, JRR Tolkien
  16. One Day, David Nicholls
  17. Birdsong, Sebastian Faulks
  18. The Help, Kathryn Stockett
  19. Nineteen Eighty-Four, George Orwell
  20. Good Omens, Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman
  21. The Notebook, Nicholas Sparks
  22. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Stieg Larsson
  23. The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood
  24. The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald
  25. Little Women, Louisa M. Alcott
  26. Memoirs of a Geisha, Arthur Golden
  27. The Lovely Bones, Alice Sebold
  28. Atonement, Ian McEwan
  29. Room, Emma Donoghue
  30. Catch-22, Joseph Heller
  31. We Need to Talk About Kevin, Lionel Shriver
  32. His Dark Materials, Philip Pullman
  33. Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, Louis De Bernieres
  34. The Island, Victoria Hislop
  35. Neverwhere, Neil Gaiman
  36. The Poisonwood Bible, Barbara Kingsolver
  37. The Catcher in the Rye, J. D. Salinger
  38. Chocolat, Joanne Harris
  39. Never Let Me Go, Kazuo Ishiguro
  40. The Five People You Meet in Heaven, Mitch Albom
  41. One Hundred Years of Solitude, Gabriel Garcia Marquez
  42. Animal Farm, George Orwell
  43. The Pillars of the Earth, Ken Follett
  44. The Eyre Affair, Jasper Fforde
  45. Tess of the D’Urbervilles, Thomas Hardy
  46. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Roald Dahl
  47. I Capture the Castle, Dodie Smith
  48. The Wasp Factory, Iain Banks
  49. Life of Pi, Yann Martel
  50. The Road, Cormac McCarthy
  51. Great Expectations, Charles Dickens
  52. Dracula, Bram Stoker
  53. The Secret History, Donna Tartt
  54. Small Island, Andrea Levy
  55. The Secret Garden, Frances Hodgson Burnett
  56. Lord of the Flies, William Golding
  57. Persuasion, Jane Austen
  58. A Prayer for Owen Meany, John Irving
  59. Notes from a Small Island, Bill Bryson
  60. Watership Down, Richard Adams
  61. Night Watch, Terry Pratchett
  62. Brave New World, Aldous Huxley
  63. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, Mark Haddon
  64. Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, Susanna Clarke
  65. The Color Purple, Alice Walker
  66. My Sister’s Keeper, Jodi Picoult
  67. The Stand, Stephen King
  68. Cloud Atlas, David Mitchell
  69. The Master and Margarita, Mikhail Bulgakov
  70. Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy
  71. Cold Comfort Farm, Stella Gibbons
  72. Frankenstein, Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley
  73. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, Mary Ann Shaffer
  74. The Picture of Dorian Gray, Oscar Wilde
  75. Gone with the Wind, Margaret Mitchell
  76. The Graveyard Book, Neil Gaiman
  77. The Woman in White, Wilkie Collins
  78. The Princess Bride, William Goldman
  79. A Suitable Boy, Vikram Seth
  80. Perfume, Patrick Suskind
  81. The Count of Monte Cristo, Alexandre Dumas
  82. The God of Small Things, Arundhati Roy
  83. Middlemarch, George Eliot
  84. Dune, Frank Herbert
  85. Wolf Hall, Hilary Mantel
  86. Stardust, Neil Gaiman
  87. Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov
  88. Midnight’s Children, Salman Rushdie
  89. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, JK Rowling
  90. Shantaram, Gregory David Roberts
  91. The Remains of the Day, Kazuo Ishiguro
  92. Possession: A Romance, A. S. Byatt
  93. Tales of the City, Armistead Maupin
  94. Kafka on the Shore, Haruki Murakami
  95. The Magus, John Fowles
  96. The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, John Boyne
  97. A Fine Balance, Rohinton Mistry
  98. Alias Grace, Margaret Atwood
  99. Norwegian Wood, Haruki Murakami
  100. The Wind-up Bird Chronicle, Haruki Murakami

Fantasy news round-up, June 17, 2011

JK Rowling launches Pottermore.com
JK Rowling, the author of the Harry Potter fantasy series has launched a new website, Pottermore.com. A Harry Potter fansite, the Leaky Cauldron, said it got a preview of the new site reporting that “it is one of the most amazing, engaging, and breath-taking additions to this fandom imaginable.” No word on when the seemingly in-the-works site will launch or exactly what it will be about. Right now, it shows the name “Pottermore,” the words “coming soon…” and Rowling’s signature. The site has its own Twitter account, @Pottermore.

Source: The Wall Street Journal

Winnie the Pooh: Which character are you?
With the new Winnie the Poof film due out in US theatres next month Disney have put together a personality quiz so that you can find out which character is closest in persona to you! Take the test by clicking here (link removed as it no longer worked).

The Winnie the Pooh personality test

Tor.com publish prologue and chapter one of Brandon Sanderson’s fourth Mistborn novel, The Alloy of Law
Tor.com have published excerpts from Brandon Sanderson’s fourth and latest Mistborn novel,The Alloy of Law, out November 8th. Tor.com will be releasing six excerpts in all from The Alloy of Lawas the weeks go on.

Wax crept along the ragged fence in a crouch, his boots scraping the dry ground. He held his Sterrion 36 up by his head, the long, silvery barrel dusted with red clay. The revolver was nothing fancy to look at, though the six-shot cylinder was machined with such care in the steel-alloy frame that there was no play in its movement. There was no gleam to the metal or exotic material on the grip. But it fit his hand like it was meant to be there.

Read the rest of the prologue here.

Stephen King returns to the Dark Tower
Stephen King is set to return to the world of his bestselling fantasy series, the Dark Tower books, in a new novel out next year. Just acquired by UK publisher Hodder & Stoughton, The Wind Through the Keyhole is set between the fourth and fifth books in the Dark Tower series, and addresses the “hole in the narrative progression”, as King himself put it, between “what happened to Roland, Jake, Eddie, Susannah, and Oy [when] they leave the Emerald City (the end of Wizard and Glass) and the time we pick them up again, on the outskirts of Calla Bryn Sturgis (the beginning of Wolves of the Calla)”.

An image of Roland Deschain and a horse from Stephen King's Dark Tower series.

Source: Guardian.co.uk

Enid Blyton charity “to close because of cheque downfall”
A charity established by Enid Blyton’s daughter to maintain the British author’s generosity is to close after nearly three decades of work because of the phasing out of cheques, it has emerged. The Enid Blyton Trust for Children, established 29 years ago in memory of the author of the Famous Five and The Secret Seven, has distributed more than £500,000 to children’s charities across the country. But its 75 year-old founder, Imogen Smallwood, has decided to retire, partly because banks were insisting she use “new technology” rather than pay her bills by cheque.
On Friday Mrs Smallwood, who ran the Midhurst, West Sussex-based Trust with her daughter Sophie, lamented her decision. “Everything is automatic now. It’s all technology,” she said. “The Enid Blyton Trust has been sending out cheques up till now. It could hardly go on like this.

Source: Telegraph.co.uk