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Archive for the ‘Recommended Reads’ Category

Forbidden Game Trilogy

L J Smith is more famous for her series The Vampire Diaries which has been adapted for television. But, in the early nineties, she put pen to paper for the Point Horror imprint from Scholastic and created three of my all time favourite books.

This last week, with Christmas drawing in and the dark nights being especially cold and wet I scanned my (new) bookshelves for something to read. I had finally brought over the remainder of my books from my parent’s home, now that my husband had hung the custom shelves, so as I scanned the titles I found myself looking at a fair few books that I have had for a long while.

I made the transition from Point Horror to more grown-up horror stories such as those by James Herbet and Stephen King at around the age of twelve. Whilst the majority of my Point Horror collection got relegated to the dusty confines of my parent’s loft (a.k.a attic to Americans) these three books have always remained on my book shelf. Next to text books about Shakespeare and various Oxford World Classic books they began to look a little out of place but I have always kept them out.

We all have our guilty pleasures. A cheesy song we can’t help but dance or sing to. An outrageous film you know you should scorn for its obvious poor quality but once it’s on your butt won’t move till the credits roll. A book you know anyone in their adult years would scoff to read but whose characters have stayed with you for so long they are like family.

The Forbidden Game Trilogy includes the books The Hunter, The Chase and The Kill. I have always found the titles a little jarring. The first should be called “The Hunt” if it is to fit in with the pattern of the other two titles. However, choices have been made for a reason and I am sure the Scholastic editor knows more about how to title a book than I do.

The Hunter begins with the main protagonist, Jenny Thornton, in the wrong part of town trying to find some entertainment for her boyfriend’s birthday party. She is madly in love with her boyfriend and always has been since second grade. Being English I have no idea how old that would have made her, but I assume it has been a while. Then she meets Julian with his luminous blue eyes. These eyes get mentioned a lot. She buys a board game from him and takes it to the party.

This game is no ordinary game. As you could probably have guessed from the title. Soon after they begin playing, Jenny and her friends realise they are playing for their lives.

It turns out that Julian is in love with Jenny, and has been since she was five years old. Don’t scrutinise the moral implications of that too closely. It’s not that sort of book. Jenny is sixteen before he makes his move so technically, its all legal and above board. Apart from the kidnapping and the attempted murder of her friends of course.

In the Victorian paper house that becomes real around them, the players face their worst nightmares. The area around them reacts to their inner fears, changing as they move up through the floors towards their goal to reflect that terrifies them most.

Whilst her friends struggle to survive, Jenny struggles to remain faithful to her childhood sweetheart. Julian is dangerous and sexy compared to the innocent, safe love she already has. But always she keeps fighting for survival and ultimately freedom.

The second two books extend this chase. Each book is a different game. All of the characters go on their own internal journeys as they face up to their fears (or not) and by the end they have all gained experience whilst losing some of their innocence. As with most Young Adult books this is a coming of age, but with a supernatural twist.

Smith combines the romance genre (which I found pretty boring in my youth) with the danger and excitement of the the horror genre giving a page turning read with enough emotional impact I still can’t part with the characters fifteen years later. And no matter how many times I read it, the ending is still the same…

The Forbidden Game trilogy, I think, has its qualities as a Gothic text. There are firstly the Gothic settings that appear throughout. The dangerous part of town, the game shop with its mystical foreign games, the Victorian house. And that is all in the first book. There is also the Gothic Hero, Julian, who seems to be more ‘real’ than everything else around him. There is also the Norse mythology that underpins all of the magic and explains the existence of the Shadow World. Though this book was written for a mass-market imprint aimed at Young Adult readers, Smith has imbued her trilogy with enough of the Gothic genre that I believe with the support of a well argued essay this series could be a good example of a Gothic text.

Is it possible that there are other books, dismissed as YA fiction with no literary value, that have been overlooked? What are your favourite books from childhood?

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I feel like I have been reading for years. In fact, it has only been a couple of months of marathon reading. Since January I have read seven books. That  averages at what, 2.3 books a month? (I did read books in the space of four weeks which killed my brain for a while!)

When you try to quantify reading it sounds pretty unimpressive. But it does take hours to read a book, even more so if the words trip you up and you have to read back a few pages to remember which man is leading which faction! Of course I’m referring to Tolkien here … Howell’s writing was much easier and fun to follow.

The first time I tried to read Lord of the Rings I was about fourteen. I had watched the first film knowing nothing else about it except that Elijah Wood was in it – one look at those hairy feet cured me of my young obsession I might add. I was most disappointed to get to the end of the first film and realise he was nowhere near the mountain. I had absolutely no clue it was a trilogy and that I had another two films to sit through to find out if he managed to destroy the ring or not.

Unable to wait until the next instalment I went out and bought the trilogy, as one complete paperback. A huge mistake! The book was far too heavy to read comfortably and I always painfully aware of how far I had to go. I ploughed through the first book and got stuck midway around the second. I tried vainly over the years to pick up and restart but never could I get anywhere. I think I managed to get to Shelob’s Lair after watching the second film but that was the extent of it.

Then last year I talked myself into trying again. I finally had all three books on my kindle which gives a handy % to spur you on reading and the book was never too heavy to read in bed.

Again I struggled around the Entish part of the second book and the names started to get a little muddled but I powered on through, supported by simultaneous watching of the films in order to keep the names in my head. Then I got a little distracted with a side reading project and by the time I returned to the third book I had pretty much forgotten all of the names.

However I kept reading and most of it was about war anyway so the names were not paramount to understanding the action. I did eventually pick up who was who and who fathered who else. Then I was relieved to realised that the last 40% of book three were appendices!! I’m hoping no one expects me to read all these in order to claim I have finished reading Lord of the Rings as I will most likely break down into tears, pummel my fists against the floor and vow never to read again.

Although I do like the story of and the never ending ending, the book is simply too hard for me. There is too much detail and too many names for me to remember. But I did enjoy reading and feel fully satisfied with myself for sitting there to the very end. Of the book. Not the Appendices!

Now … what do I read next? The Fractal Prince or another unknown ebook from the wonders of Amazon’s free kindle book list … ?

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howellpsionicbookfourthequesthowellpsionicbookfiveguardianangels

 

The Psionic series is a pentalogy revolving around a highly detailed world of humans and Psionics. Psionics refer to people who have acquired extra mental capacities such as telekinesis, mind control and a whole range of completely original abilities too.

The Pentalogy follows the story of Adrian Howell who coincidentally shares the name of the author. (Henceforth if I refer to Howell I mean the author and Adrian, the character.) After initially discovering he has the power of telekinesis he is plagued by headaches sent by an agent of the Angels. After his parents are murdered and his sister goes missing Adrian is alone with two rival factions vying for his allegiance.

I decided to review books four and five together as I read them without a break. A testament to the building of plot and suspense: I simply could not wait to find out what happened next after I turned the final page of The Quest.

The first three books set up and build upon the endearing characters of Adrian, Alia, and Cindy. As they inhabit the world of Psionics so they accumulate other equally rounded characters (Mark and Terry as examples). By the time you reach book five, every character whether minor or major are recognisable. The cast is truly staggering but each character Howell chooses to embellish with back story and personality is integral to the finale.

Book four had an unusual plot structure with most of the dramatic action happening at the beginning and then journey-style action happening in the middle. The final portion of the book slows down a beat or two but Howell still manages to keep the intrigue high. Although unusual the plot structure works immensely well. A whole host of new characters are introduced. I was concerned at first that they would overshadow the existing characters but they get roped into the overall story well and Book Five could not have worked without them. Although introduced towards the latter part of the series Howell gives enough time and attention to each character so that they do not get disregarded as another name or faceless character.

Book Five was a satisfying solution to the pentalogy. All loose ends were seen to and all plot points were given ample attention. Again a few more new characters were introduced with ample amounts of detail balanced with keeping the plot moving forward. Unlike Book Four, Guardian Angel had no let up of action. A points there may have been a little less action and a little less life-in-danger at points but the pace was unforgiving. After all the building of tension between the factions, high drama was to be expected and Howell definitely did not disappoint.

I do not want to say too much more about the series as I do not want to give any more away about the plot than I have already. The whole pentalogy is truly worthwhile reading. For anyone who wants to try a book by a self-published author this is definitely the place to start and the bench mark to set against the others in the market. Just because it is self-published Howell has proved quality does not need to be compromised.

On a personal note I’m a little sad that I’ve finished the series. Back to Lord of the Rings I guess!

The complete series is now available for download via Amazon.

If you want to know more about the author or the series you can read Howell’s blog here. It is not written in character but he has retained his pen name for the time being. There you will find details and links to all of the books in the Psionic Series and more detailed information about the author and contact details.

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howellpsionicbookthreelessergods 

The Psionic series is a pentalogy revolving around a highly detailed world of humans and Psionics. Psionics refer to people who have acquired extra mental capacities such as telekinesis, mind control and a whole range of completely original abilities too.

The Pentalogy follows the story of Adrian Howell who coincidentally shares the name of the author. (Henceforth if I refer to Howell I mean the author and Adrian, the character.) After initially discovering he has the power of telekinesis he is plagued by headaches sent by an agent of the Angels. After his parents are murdered and his sister goes missing Adrian is alone with two rival factions vying for his allegiance.

Books one and two explore the finding of his new powers and how he adjusts to live without the family he has grown up with. He develops strong bonds with Cindy and Alia and accepts them as a kind of new family but he never stops hoping for his lost sister Cat. Foolish mistakes and an escalating level of danger lead Adrian to claim he will never put himself in a dangerous situation again. Of course, that doesn’t last for long.

Lesser Gods picks up soon after Book Two finishes. Adrian is starting to go on missions for the Guardians in the Ravens team. However a mission goes awry and Adrian finds himself once again in captivity. Howell doesn’t spare any details here. The reader is treated to detailed descriptions on all the suffering and abuse Adrian suffers at the hands of his captors.

The second part of the book feels almost as though it should be a separate book altogether considering all the suffering and healing Adrian has to go through. But really it is a long crescendo that doesn’t really slow down until the end of the book. The series feels as though it has really been building up to a showdown between the Angels and the Guardians and the blood-trial is the first real taste of large scale action. This isn’t just a mission with a few highly trained individuals, this is two factions in the same living space. Howell builds the scene for the trial well and the … events that ensue don’t skimp or detail or tension.

On a personal note, this is my favourite of the series so far. You know you are reading a good book when you race through it to find out what happens and then feel slightly disappointed at the end because there’s no more to read. I consoled myself with the fact that I still have two more books to go and the war is really heating up now so I will get straight onto them.

As always the style and quality of writing is excellent showing that self-published fiction can be just as worthy of shelf-space and readers’ time as anything produced by the Big Six.

The complete series is now available for download via Amazon.

If you want to know more about the author or the series you can read Howell’s blog here. It is not written in character but he has retained his pen name for the time being. There you will find details and links to all of the books in the Psionic Series and more detailed information about the author and contact details.

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howellpsionicbooktwothetower

 

The Psionic series is a pentalogy revolving around a highly detailed world of humans and Psionics. Psionics refer to people who have acquired extra mental capacities such as telekinesis, mind control and a whole range of completely original abilities too.

The Pentalogy follows the story of Adrian Howell who coincidentally shares the name of the author. (Henceforth if I refer to Howell I mean the author and Adrian, the character.) After initially discovering he has the power of telekinesis he is plagued by headaches sent by an agent of the Angels. After his parents are murdered and his sister goes missing Adrian is alone with two rival factions vying for his allegiance.

He narrowly escapes Ralph and manages to find a quasi-family he can just about tolerate. But the new family isn’t enough, he is still haunted by the idea that his sister is captured and alone. So he risks it all to find her. Landing himself and Alia in an underground prison.

Book Two: The Tower sees the return of Adrian, slightly older and yet still facing a mass of trouble due to his recently gained powers.

Fresh out of captivity, Adrian looks forward to respite in a safe environment surrounded by people like himself. Cindy and Alia live with him and they find between them a semblance of normal family life. Then he meets Terry. She abuses, humiliates and bullies him, all in the name of education.

The safe environment doesn’t stay so for long. At the welcoming ceremony a spy is released from their prison and it looks like an inside job. The Angels seem to be able to obtain alarmingly detailed information about Cindy putting everyone’s lives in serious danger. The guardians are convinced there’s another spy. And Adrian seems the likeliest suspect…

Howell does a lot of character development with the younger members of the cast. Alia no longer cowers and whimpers in the presence of strangers but she still relies on her older brother to keep her safe. Adrian is learning to listen to authority but still struggles to surrender complete control. Terry is an enigma to Adrian in the beginning and their eventual truce impacts both of their developments.

It is interesting when characters develop because of their interaction with each other rather than the happenings in the plot. It gives the characters an extra dimension of humanity. Alia is able to communicate with strangers because she feels safe and protected by Adrian and also through being desensitised to it after her incarceration. This shows she is overcoming her past demons and accepting her current situation as her new family.

The Tower takes place in very few locations compared to the first book but the development and dilemmas faced by the characters are increased ten fold as the Angels seek what they are truly after and doubt creeps into the mind of Adrian. What do his dreams really mean?

The complete series is now available for download via Amazon.

If you want to know more about the author or the series you can read Howell’s blog here. It is not written in character but he has retained his pen name for the time being. There you will find details and links to all of the books in the Psionic Series and more detailed information about the author and contact details.

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howellpsionicbookonewildborn

 

The Psionic series is a pentalogy revolving around a highly detailed world of humans and Psionics. Psionics refer to people who have acquired extra mental capacities such as telekinesis, mind control and a whole range of completely original abilities too.

The Pentalogy follows the story of Adrian Howell who coincidentally shares the name of the author. (Henceforth if I refer to Howell I mean the author and Adrian, the character.) Adrian is just about thirteen years old in Book One: Wild-Born although because of his size most people think he is a lot younger. Throughout his younger years things just happened around him. Things fell off walls and shelves. Because it had always happened he thought it was normal. Until he went camping and people started to call him weird.

Imbued with curiosity and the imagination of a young child he starts to experiment. Nothing really comes of it until he has an accident. Lying in hospital recuperating his returns, out of boredom, to his experiments. For reasons he can’t explain he simply can make things happen. Weakly at first he manipulates his environment. Then, out of hospital, his experiments become more ambitious to the delight of his younger sister, Cat.

Adrian has absolutely no idea the consequences of this sudden power, but he is about to find out. He is tortured by headaches more painful than he has ever known. Then one night, a storm blows in and upsets the entirety of his life as he has known it.

Howell’s YA Urban Fantasy has enough gore, conspiracy and heart to appeal to the maturer reader also. It is set within our world but there is a secret undercurrent of warring factions and Psionics in hiding from various threats. Between the spaces of reality a whole world exists where anything is possible. A man with nightmares so powerful it shakes the very ground and warps anything near him; a entire underground operation that captures and tortures psionics to death or insanity, and an unlikely family that find and save each other.

There are many characters that populate just the first book, but each is rendered in such detail and with such empathy that regardless if they are a main character or a side character holding the door open for them on their way out, they feel as real and as tangible as anybody else.

The real action starts when the source of Adrian’s headaches is explained. His whole world is turned upside down and a touching journey begins to bring his sister back to him. Howell maintains the pace without tiring the reader. Each setting is created with the same level of literary skill as the characters making for an entirely vivid read without getting too bogged down in the details.

The Psionic series is entirely self-published by Howell and to date it is the best produced e-book I have seen. Not even a typo has managed to escape the author’s notice. It really is a pleasure to read a book that has had so much care taken over it.

The complete series is now available for download via Amazon.

If you want to know more about the author or the series you can read Howell’s blog here. It is not written in character but he has retained his pen name for the time being. There you will find details and links to all of the books in the Psionic Series and more detailed information about the author and contact details.

(Will be reviewing Book Two: The Tower just as soon as I finish reading it. I’m already at 27% and I only started it last night!)

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This is one of those books where I watched the film first and instead of being compelled to see the originator of such heart wrenching drama I was completely put off.

You can’t judge a book by its film adaptation any more than you can from its cover, blurb or glowing amazon review. However, each source of unreliable information does indicate the prowess of the writing on some level.

I did not enjoy or hate the film. I was moved by the story but anything remotely related to cancer seems to reduce me to a jibbering wreck.

So, background out of the way, I’ll get to my point now. From the first blast of Anna’s perception of the world I knew this was a great work. The story encompasses six points of view, each with a strong voice and a unique story to tell. Kate’s condition has a profound affect on everyone who meets her and it is how their lives change accordingly rather than the disease itself that forms the heart of the narrative.

Picoult spins an intricate web of emotional suffering and strained relationships. The story flits between present and past without losing the pace or crowding the narrative. It is a cliche to say the book is better than the film but it is a cliche for a reason.

My Sister’s Keeper reminded me of a book I picked up in a local charity shop about three years ago. Again it deals with a parent with a child suffering from an acute form of lukeamia. I would recommend Harvest of Heartache to anyone who was touched by the suffering of families in cancer-stricken times. The recommendation comes with a warning, the latter book had me in floods of tears compared to the sniffle of the former. Then again real life always seems more harrowing than Hollywood.

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