Throwback Thursday: Book Review: The Pillars of the Earth

First published: 16/09/2019
SPOILER ALERT

While every effort has been made to avoid spoilers in this post, anyone who has not read The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett is hereby advised that this post may contain a few unavoidable spoilers.

This review reflects only my own personal opinions and impressions.

Well last week it was all about children’s books; this week I’m reviewing a book that is definitely not suitable for children. The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett is a hefty tome about the building of a cathedral in the fictional town of Kingsbridge in 12th century England. It’s full of lovable and deplorable characters, political intrigue, technical details about medieval construction and just a little bit more sex and sexual violence than was necessary.

One of my favourite things about this story was how well paced it was. Given that this is a story about building a cathedral and is set over a period of several decades, and also bearing in mind that thrillers are Ken Follett’s usual racket, there was a very real danger of this story either being an absolute drag or being inappropriately fast-paced. I needn’t have worried. The blend of fast scenes and slow scenes is beautiful and appropriate, making this lengthy novel a constant page-turner from start to finish.

Now let’s talk characters. I honestly can’t decide if the characters in this story are one of its best qualities or one of its worst. In some ways I liked them. They’re all quite distinctive with clearly defined personality traits and its also pretty clear that each character is driven by firmly established motives and goals. Very good indeed. If we know what drives a character, it’s easy to care about what happens to him, even if the subject matter is foreign or uninteresting to us. This makes The Pillars of the Earth a real page-turner when it could have just as easily been a bore.

When I first began to talk about the idea for Pillars, some people hated the idea. “Nobody cares about building a church in the Middle Ages,” they said. But readers will care about it if the characters care.

Ken Follett, Goodreads Notes and Highlights on The Pillars of the Earth

Having said that, there was also something a little bit tedious about some of the characters (with the major exception of Philip and, to a lesser extent, Jack). The female protagonists are strong and beautiful (oh and Aliena has huge breasts, we’re constantly reminded); the male protagonists are brave and noble and the antagonists are devious and brutal. William Hamleigh, the primary antagonist, is the worst for this. He’s devious, cowardly, violent, greedy and licentious with absolutely no redeeming qualities. But just in case we’re in any doubt that he’s the bad guy, he rapes way more people than is necessary for one story. Seriously, this guy does a lot of raping, pretty much whenever he’s not tormenting the poor or burning villages. The good guys in this story never rape of course, but they do have lots of consensual sex to the point of implausibility. While most of the sex scenes are not explicitly described (though a few are), some of the characters are portrayed as being at it on a several-times-a-day-every-day basis and still find time to build a cathedral, overcome one disaster after another and fight the bad guys. I dunno, maybe they’re just really good at organising their time, but between this and the manifold references to the size of Aliena’s breasts, it sometimes just felt a bit like the authors’ mind was wandering. That’s just my opinion though.

In many respects, this is a story with several different layers to it. There are several protagonists whose stories we follow, each overlapping and interacting with one another while yet remaining distinctive. Tom wants nothing more than to build a cathedral but cares for his family. Jack is a boy who lived in the forest, now growing into a man who is consumed with questions about his deceased father. His very much a coming-of-age type story. Aliena is the daughter of a disgraced earl who has sworn to help her brother reclaim the earldom, and finds herself constantly pulled in all directions by her sense of duty to others. Prior Philip is driven by his zealous faith in God and his sense of righteousness. He tries earnestly to do what is right on earth and to glorify God by the building of the cathedral and yet is in constant conflict with his own sense of pride and self-doubt. These are just a selection of the main players in this story, all of whose individual story-lines overlap and diverge to create an intricate tapestry of skilfully executed fiction. It really is a thing of beauty.

All in all, The Pillars of the Earth is a great story. It’s got plenty of excitement, plenty of sentiment and Aliena has big breasts all of the characters are driven by goals and motives that we really care about. The many threads that comprise the plot are magnificently woven together to form a novel which is well constructed and handles potentially dry subject matter in a way which is enjoyable and entertaining. Worth a look, even if it’s not your usual preferred genre. Just don’t read it to your kids.

My rating: 🌟🌟🌟🌟


Thanks for taking the time to read this post. If you enjoyed it, don’t forget to ‘like’ this post and also follow us so you never miss another post. You can also follow Penstricken on TwitterPinterest and like Penstricken on Facebook.

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ATTENTION AUTHORS:

Every Tuesday, I post a new edition of Spotlight: a short post which shines a proverbial spotlight on a published novel or collection of short fiction. If you would like to have your book considered for a future edition of Spotlightdrop us an e-mail including a short synopsis of your book and a link to where we can buy it. Better yet, send me a copy of your book and I can include a mini-review.

I’m still looking to interview fiction authors here on Penstricken, especially new or indie authors. Whether it’s books, plays, comics or any other kind of fiction, if you’ve got something written, I want to hear about it. If you’re interested in having your work featured on Penstricken, be to sure to drop us an e-mail or message us on Facebook/Twitter/Pinterest.

Please be advised that due to a recent surge in interest, I am presently committed to a significant number of reviews/interviews over the next couple of months. If you would like an interview or review, I would still love to hear from you, though it is unlikely that I will be able to begin work immediately.

You can check out our previous interviews here:

Book Review: Beyond

Spoiler Alert

Anyone who has not read Beyond by Georgia Springate is hereby advised that this post may contain a few unavoidable spoilers.

Beyond by Georgia Springate follows the story of Alex Duncan: a fourteen year old boy who finds himself consumed with anxiety about what happens to us after we die when his sister is diagnosed with terminal cancer. Struggling to cope with the impact of his sister’s prognosis and feeling neglected by his family, Alex turns to the pastoral support teacher, Mrs Moss, who encourages him to research what lies beyond this life while he continues to face the added struggles of every day teenage life: bullies, friends, girls and school.

As always, good characters are what make a good story and Beyond is no exception. Most of the main players are teenagers or young adults and Springate captures the strange dynamics of the teenage social structures as well as the individual goals and motives of each character in a way which feels natural and believable.

The protagonist and POV character, Alex, is by far the best example of what I’m talking about. He is anxious about his sister’s eternal destiny and this motive provides him with a clear goal which he pursues diligently throughout the story; however he is also burdened by the things that all teenagers are concerned with. He learns that the rest of life will not stop for him while he deals with his sister’s prognosis, forcing him to juggle school work, budding romance and the treacherous waters of teenage social structures under inordinate pressure with little support from his parents. Springate has manifested this complex web of life in Alex in a way which is absolutely believable and relatable, creating a character we can really care about.

I can only imagine what a challenge this novel was to write thematically, not just because of the emotive subject matter (though that is also undeniable) but because the protagonist’s goal is so heavily focused on finding out, with reasonable certainty, what happens to us when we die. This inevitably puts the author in the position of having to either come up with a single decisive answer (this would create an instant ‘preachy’ novel which would annoy most readers) or else leave the question unanswered but teach the protagonist something even more valuable in the process. The author has, quite rightly, done the latter and has walked the line between a hard preachy epiphany and meaningless fluffy one as well as could be hoped for.

A story like this one runs the risk of having a meandering pace as the protagonist wanders from one inevitable hospital visit (with more bad news!) to another; one inevitable person with an opinion on death to another; one inevitable encounter with the school bully to another until Jenna inevitably dies and Alex has his inevitable epiphany. Beyond doesn’t feel like that. True, the protagonist does spend a lot of time visiting people with opinions on death and avoiding the school bully, but each scene moves the plot forward, creating a definite sense of anticipation which makes this book unputdownable. No small achievement when a discerning audience should realise from the outset that Jenna is almost certainly going to die and Alex is almost certainly not going to find a decisive answer to his question.

While the main plot is expertly paced and drawn to as satisfying a conclusion as is possible for a story of this type, some of the less central elements of the plot seem to fizzle out a little towards the end, particularly the business with the school bully, Duce. This altogether unpleasant little bully torments most of the other characters throughout the novel, culminating in him leaving a threatening note in Alex’s locker only to suddenly change his ways and become a nicer person in the final chapter. Personally, I think a more decisive resolution to the bullying subplot would have really tightened up the ending.

This isn’t really the kind of book I normally like to read. While I generally reject any advice about avoiding certain subjects while writing a novel, a lot of books of this type are either clumsy and insensitive or else are so overloaded with sentiment that it dilutes the substance of the theme. Not so with Beyond. It is sensitively written, drives the protagonist towards a reasonably satisfying resolution and takes the audience on a coming-of-age odyssey of the full tapestry of teenage life. A strong debut from a promising new author.

My rating: 🌟🌟🌟🌟


Thanks for taking the time to read this post. If you enjoyed it, don’t forget to ‘like’ this post and also follow us so you never miss another post. You can also follow Penstricken on TwitterPinterest and like Penstricken on Facebook.

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ATTENTION AUTHORS:

Every Tuesday, I post a new edition of Spotlight: a short post which shines a proverbial spotlight on a published novel or collection of short fiction. If you would like to have your book considered for a future edition of Spotlightdrop us an e-mail including a short synopsis of your book and a link to where we can buy it. Better yet, send me a copy of your book and I can include a mini-review.

I’m still looking to interview fiction authors here on Penstricken, especially new or indie authors. Whether it’s books, plays, comics or any other kind of fiction, if you’ve got something written, I want to hear about it. If you’re interested in having your work featured on Penstricken, be to sure to drop us an e-mail or message us on Facebook/Twitter/Pinterest.

Please be advised that due to a recent surge in interest, I am presently committed to a significant number of reviews/interviews over the next couple of months. If you would like an interview or review, I would still love to hear from you, though it is unlikely that I will be able to begin work immediately.

You can check out our previous interviews here:

Book Review: Chino & The Boy Scouts by Nancet Marques

SPOILER ALERT

Anyone who has not read Chino & The Boy Scouts by Nancet Marques is hereby advised that this post may contain a few unavoidable spoilers.

I’ve written many a book review here on Penstricken before, but this is a first for me. Most books I review here are written by authors whom I have little or no prior relationship with but I consider Nancet Marques, author of Chino & the Boy Scouts, to be a personal friend, as well as my colleague. I see him every day in life and I know exactly how much work has gone into this novel and how excited he is to finally have it completed. I’ve promised him an honest review and that’s what I intend to deliver but I don’t mind telling you I feel a both delighted and burdened by the responsibility of writing this review, so I do hope you’ll bear with me as I share some of my thoughts and impressions on this debut novel. So here we go.

In preparing for this review, I’ve spent quite a bit of time considering which audience Chino & The Boy Scouts is best suited to, as I always do whenever reviewing a book. I’ll be honest and say it is difficult to pin down an obvious target audience. For the most part, it reads like a YA fantasy, vaguely reminiscent of Harry Potter: the main characters are all teenagers and the action largely concerns school, scouting and the hunt for a legendary artefact, all of which suggests a novel ideally suited to young adults or older children. As such, there is a lot of ‘coming of age’ material where the teenagers go on a quest, endure hardship, suffer loss, and come out the other end a little more mature for it. That being said, I have a small note of caution for any parents out there: this story does include a small smattering of words you might not want to teach your children and a few scenes which may be a little too dark for children.

The plot itself tells the fun and occasionally dark tale of a group of boy scouts and a secret quest to find the fabled Golden Whistle. Digging a little deeper, we find there are also more profound themes at play such as friendship, family and ambition. If you like a story with a goodly helping of both heart and adventure with a surprising twist at the end, you will definitely like Chino & The Boy Scouts. I don’t want to give too much away about what happens, but suffice to say it is revealed that there are darker forces at work than was previously imagined, leaving me eager to read the next instalment in the series while the coming-of-age themes are handled with a delicacy and je ne sais quoi which made it easy to care for the characters and their goals.

The characters are, for the most part, reasonably well developed, some more so than others. All of the key players, at least, have reasonably well defined goals and motives, distinctive personalities and simple but well structured character arcs which make for a well rounded and satisfying conclusion. The minor characters could have perhaps done with a little bit more development to make it easier for the reader to keep track of who was who. They were okay, they just weren’t quite distinctive enough for my taste given the sheer number of them.

I believe this novel is a significant accomplishment for the author, not only because he has written an enjoyable story, but also because he has written it entirely in English, despite the fact English is not the author’s first language. While it could have benefited from one more re-edit, I nevertheless believe this is an achievement not to be sniffed at.

All in all, a very entertaining read. I enjoyed this novel. It was a good story with all the mystery, excitement and emotion a story of this kind needs and I, for one, am chomping at the bit to find out what happens next in this promising saga.

My rating: ⭐⭐⭐

Thanks for taking the time to read this post. If you enjoyed it, don’t forget to ‘like’ this post and also follow us so you never miss another post. You can also follow Penstricken on TwitterPinterest and like Penstricken on Facebook.

Want a blog of your own? Start writing today with WordPress.com!

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ATTENTION AUTHORS:

Every Tuesday, I post a new edition of Spotlight: a short post which shines a proverbial spotlight on a published novel or collection of short fiction. If you would like to have your book considered for a future edition of Spotlightdrop us an e-mail including a short synopsis of your book and a link to where we can buy it. Better yet, send me a copy of your book and I can include a mini-review.

I’m still looking to interview fiction authors here on Penstricken, especially new or indie authors. Whether it’s books, plays, comics or any other kind of fiction, if you’ve got something written, I want to hear about it. If you’re interested in having your work featured on Penstricken, be to sure to drop us an e-mail or message us on Facebook/Twitter/Pinterest.

Please be advised that due to a recent surge in interest, I am presently committed to a significant number of reviews/interviews over the next couple of months. If you would like an interview or review, I would still love to hear from you, though it is unlikely that I will be able to begin work immediately.

You can check out our previous interviews here:

6 Excellent Book Reviews

It’s that time again where I step aside to share the limelight with some of my fellow fiction bloggers from across the internet.

This time, the posts I’ve listed here share a unifying theme: they are all excellent book reviews. As ever, I have listed these in no particular order. So without further ado:

‘COLLEEN’S 2020 #BOOK #REVIEWS – “Marriage Unarranged,” BY AUTHOR, Ritu Bhathal, @RituBhathal’ by Colleen M. Chesebro

‘Smorgasbord Book Review by Sally Cronin- #Fantasy – The Hat by C.S. Boyack’ by Sally Cronin

‘Review by LITERARY TITAN for TALON, COME FLY WITH ME’ by Literary Titan

‘Book Review: Eventide by Mae Clair’ by Jay

‘Book Review Tuesday: Dark Hollows @stevefrech’ by Mae Clair

‘#Book Review #The Absolution by Yrsa Sigurðardóttir’ by happytonic


Thanks for taking the time to read this post. If you enjoyed it, don’t forget to ‘like’ this post and also follow us so you never miss another post. You can also follow Penstricken on TwitterPinterest and like Penstricken on Facebook.

Want a blog of your own? Start writing today with WordPress.com!

WordPress.com Jetpack WooCommerce

ATTENTION AUTHORS:

Every Tuesday, I post a new edition of Spotlight: a short post which shines a proverbial spotlight on a published novel or collection of short fiction. If you would like to have your book considered for a future edition of Spotlightdrop us an e-mail including a short synopsis of your book and a link to where we can buy it. Better yet, send me a copy of your book and I can include a mini-review.

I’m still looking to interview fiction authors here on Penstricken, especially new or indie authors. Whether it’s books, plays, comics or any other kind of fiction, if you’ve got something written, I want to hear about it. If you’re interested in having your work featured on Penstricken, be to sure to drop us an e-mail or message us on Facebook/Twitter/Pinterest.

Please be advised that due to a recent surge in interest, I am presently committed to a significant number of reviews/interviews over the next couple of months. If you would like an interview or review, I would still love to hear from you, though it is unlikely that I will be able to begin work immediately.

You can check out our previous interviews here:

Throwback Thursday: Using Notebloc to Add Handwritten Notes to Scrivener

Originally published 25/02/18 under the title ‘Want to Add Handwritten Notes to your Scrivener Project? Try Notebloc.’

If you’re anything like me, the bulk of your writing projects will be done on computer, probably using a purpose-built piece of novel-writing software like Scrivener. Nevertheless, as I’ve mentioned before, there are some stages of the writing process (especially in the early days of planning) where I find the only way to make any progress is to sit down with a physical notebook and pen and scribble all my thoughts down. You might also be the sort of author who, like me, feels the need to keep a writer’s journal. Finally, if you’re like me, you’ll also be the sort of person who likes to hold on to every scrap of work you produce (including your brainstorm-scribbles) and keep it all neatly organised in one place.

Which is a pain. After all, you can’t add your handwritten notes to your Scrivener project.

OR CAN YOU? 

Let me introduce you to Notebloc for Android and iPhone. This handy little app not only uses your smartphone’s camera to capture images, but it also automatically adjusts the colour and angle of your image(s) before easily exporting them as jpg or pdf files, making adding your handwritten notes to Scrivener (or wherever it is you keep your project files) a breeze. I should note, I’ve only tested the Android version of this app. If anyone has used the iPhone version and found it to be different from what I describe here, do let us know in the comments.

The first thing you have to do when you use this app is add images of your handwritten notes either by using your phone’s camera to capture an image or by importing a pre-existing image from your phone’s storage. Once you’ve done that, you will find yourself faced with an intuitive little screen (fig. 1) which allows you to adjust where the borders of your image should be. You can also rotate your image from this screen. So far, however, I’ve never had to actually do any manual adjusting; Notebloc does it automatically and with remarkable accuracy. However, in the unlikely event that it does not accurately identify the borders of your page, it’s a cinch to fix by simply long-pressing and dragging the borders to wherever you want them to be.

Once you’ve done that, Notebloc will then automatically adjust the shape and colours for you to create an image which favours readability. As you can see from fig. 2, the image it produces is pretty darn decent. The text is still clearly legible (poor handwriting notwithstanding; it’s a smartphone app, not a magic wand) and the colours have been reasonably well preserved. It even handles pencil with surprising ease. If, however, you’re not satisfied with the way it adjusts the colours, there are a few other colour adjustment styles you can choose from (see the menu along the top of fig. 2).

Once you’re happy with how the image looks, it gets added to your Notebloc document file (fig. 3). You can add as many pages to a document as you see fit and re-order the pages simply by long-pressing and dragging each page to wherever you want it to go (they will appear in the order in which you added them by default). From there you can print your document, share it online or copy your pages to another document if you so desire. Alternatively, you can do what I do and convert the document into a pdf or jpg format to be easily imported into your Scrivener project (fig. 4). I should add that if you opt for a jpg file, you will actually end up with numerous jpg files; specifically, one for each page. If, however, you opt for a pdf file, all the pages will be compiled into a single document, which makes it the best option for my money if you’re planning on adding it to Scrivener.

I’m pleased to say I haven’t found any glaringly obvious bugs in this app and it does what it says on the tin to a fairly impressive standard. It doesn’t have much in the way of bells and whistles and while I generally think that’s a good thing (too many superfluous features make an app cumbersome), I do think it would benefit from a few additional features; character recognition being the most obvious. The tools for manually adjusting the shape and colours of your image could also be more flexible; as it is, your options are quite limited if you don’t like the adjustments it makes automatically.

Oh and before you ask, this app is completely free and, best of all, it contains no ads. Go and get it!

TV Review: Star Trek: Picard, ‘Remembrance’

Spoiler Alert

Anyone who has not seen the first episode of Star Trek: Picard (entitled ‘Remembrance’) or any episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation and the subsequent movies is hereby warned that this post may contain a few unavoidable spoilers.

It’s been eighteen years since Star Trek: The Next Generation’s Captain Jean-Luc Picard bowed out of our lives in the disappointing movie Star Trek: Nemesis. Now he’s back in a much anticipated brand new show, Star Trek: Picard, chronicling later life of the now former captain of the USS Enterprise.

As regular readers of this site and it’s related social media accounts may know, I haven’t been overly impressed with recent additions to the Star Trek franchise. It all started to go wrong with Star Trek: Enterprise and it was a bit of a downward spiral from there, but I had much higher hopes for Picard. We’re only one episode in but so far, I have loved, loved, loved it.

Picard (Sir Patrick Stewart), now a retired admiral, is living in relative seclusion at his family vineyard with his dog, Number One, and a couple of Romulan refugees who work for him and also act as his only real confidants. He is now retired from Starfleet and has become jaded and embittered towards the organisation he once served and perhaps even towards the Federation as a whole for their failure to learn the lessons from history. His tired old zeal is awakened, however, when he is a approached by a frightened young woman called Dahj (Isa Briones), who begs him for help and who may well be the offspring of his deceased friend and colleague, Lt. Commander Data (Brent Spiner), who continues to haunt Picard’s dreams twenty years after his death. As much as I loved Data in The Next Generation, and am generally not a huge fan of dream sequences, I am glad to see that he has so far only appeared as a dream and nothing more. There’s nothing spoils a good story more than sucking the permanence out of death by contriving some lame excuse to resurrect a dead character.

This show accomplishes something in a single episode which Discovery has, in my opinion, failed to accomplished throughout its entire run: create continuity between the original story we all know and love and still create a well written brand new story. Star Trek: Picard begins with Jean-Luc very much at the end of his previous character arc and at the beginning of a new one, having lost much of his zest for life only to now be given an urgent and deeply personal reason to reawaken it. In spite of this, Picard has lost none of his sense of righteousness or his passion for history, as we see when he becomes angered by the TV journalist’s questions about why he left Starfleet. The first episode was also full of little Easter eggs and other references to The Next Generation which fans of the show couldn’t fail to appreciate, such as the ‘Captain Picard Day’ banner (TNG: ‘The Pegasus’), Picard’s Dixon Hill fedora and, best of all, the singularly beautiful opening sequence with Irving Berlin’s ‘Blue Skies’ playing over a starscape moments before the Enterprise D appears.

If I was forced to say something critical (and I must confess, I find it difficult to say anything truly bad about this episode, but I’ll give it a go), I would say that some of the other characters besides Picard, and perhaps Dahj to a lesser extent, seemed rather under cooked by comparison, especially the two Romulans who live with Picard. That’s not a criticism of the acting, but it feels a bit like Picard and Dahj were the only characters who were written with any real depth; clear motives, clear goals, obvious demons and things that matter to them. I am, of course, very conscious that it was only the first episode and first episodes of brand new shows take time to heat up so I’ll reserve any further judgement on that point until the series is finished.

All in all, a very encouraging beginning to a show which I was anticipating with both hope and fear. I am counting down the seconds until the next episode, partly because of the cliffhanger ending but mostly just because it was the best offering I’ve seen from the Star Trek franchise in a long, long time.

My rating: 🖖🖖🖖🖖🖖


Thanks for taking the time to read this post. If you enjoyed it, don’t forget to ‘like’ this post and also follow us so you never miss another post. You can also follow Penstricken on TwitterPinterest and like Penstricken on Facebook.

Want a blog of your own? Start writing today with WordPress.com!

WordPress.com Jetpack WooCommerce

ATTENTION AUTHORS:

Every Tuesday, I post a new edition of Spotlight: a short post which shines a proverbial spotlight on a published novel or collection of short fiction. If you would like to have your book considered for a future edition of Spotlightdrop us an e-mail including a short synopsis of your book and a link to where we can buy it. Better yet, send me a copy of your book and I can include a mini-review.

I’m still looking to interview fiction authors here on Penstricken, especially new or indie authors. Whether it’s books, plays, comics or any other kind of fiction, if you’ve got something written, I want to hear about it. If you’re interested in having your work featured on Penstricken, be to sure to drop us an e-mail or message us on Facebook/Twitter/Pinterest.

Please be advised that due to a recent surge in interest, I am presently committed to a significant number of reviews/interviews over the next couple of months. If you would like an interview or review, I would still love to hear from you, though it is unlikely that I will be able to begin work immediately.

You can check out our previous interviews here:

My Thoughts on Kindle Paperwhite

After a whopping ten years of blissful happiness, my trusty old third generation Kindle Keyboard was finally starting to show its age and so I decided it was time for an upgrade. New decade, new Kindle and all that, and so I asked Santa Karen and she very kindly obliged by leaving a shiny new Kindle Paperwhite under my tree.

So, I hear you cry, what has it got that the old Kindle Keyboard hasn’t got?

Well the hardware itself is certainly easier on the eye. As well as being smaller, the Kindle Paperwhite has no physical keyboard, page turn buttons or any buttons of any kind save a titchy little power button and despite being smaller and thinner, it also feels a lot sturdier than the Kindle Keyboard. It is, apparently, waterproof and although I have no interest in personally testing that claim, I could certainly believe it to be so. There are no obvious cracks in the hardware for water to seep into when compared with its 3rd Gen progenitor. According to Amazon, ‘Paperwhite is IPX8 rated to protect against accidental immersion in up to two metres of fresh water for up to 60 minutes.’ How you could accidentally leave your Kindle under two meters of water for as long as 60 minutes is a mystery to me, but it’s reassuring to know if that does happen, I still won’t have to fork out for a new one.

So, let’s turn it on. At first glance, the home screen appears a lot busier than the Kindle Keyboard, which essentially just gave us a list of all the books we owned. The home screen on the Paperwhite, on the other hand, displays both your own library and reading lists as well as key lists from the Kindle Store, such as book recommendations. The menu bar along the top of the screen provides links to everything you’ll need to start reading right away, while everything else is tucked away neatly in the side menu. You can link into your GoodReads account, listen to your Audible books and even browse the internet on the ‘experimental browser.’ Book covers and other images are also beautifully rendered in crystal clear high-resolution.

The front-lighting is very nice indeed. One of the things I liked about my old Kindle Keyboard was how easy it was to read the screen for hours on end without hurting your eyes, even in brilliant sunshine, thanks to its unlit anti-glare screen. I was a little bit concerned that by introducing illumination, it might become a little less kind to my eyes (as someone who wears glasses and suffers from frequent headaches, this was not something I wanted). I needn’t have worried. I don’t know exactly what sorcery they’ve used to illuminate the screen, but the illumination is soft, milky and even, giving it just enough of a glow to make it visible in the dark without any harsh glare. When reading in a well lit room, the screen appears just slightly more luminescent than would be natural if you were reading on white paper (hence the name, I guess) and when reading in the dark, it does not flood the rest of the room with light, meaning I can read in bed even while the wife is trying to sleep. Of course, if you find the front-lighting a little too brilliant, you can adjust it to just the right level for your own needs (though it took me ages to figure out how to do).

The complete lack of any physical buttons means everything is controlled by touch screen. If you are familiar with using touch screen on your phone, you’ll already know the basic principles: tapping, swiping, long pressing and so forth. It all works the same as on your phone and I personally find it a lot smoother to use than physical buttons, especially when it comes to typing notes. The majority of books that I read on Kindle are books that authors have gifted me for author interviews or book reviews, and so I often want to add notes to what I’m reading. You could do this with the Kindle Keyboard, but the tiny little buttons were just so fiddly and awkward that I often resorted to a crude form of short hand and wilfully ignored all my typos because it just wasn’t worth the fuss. Not so with the Kindle Paperwhite! The on screen keyboard is a breeze to use and I can write long winded notes to myself until the cows come home.

If I was being hypercritical, I would say the touch screen takes a little bit of getting used to while reading. It’s not overly fiddly, just takes a bit more practice than its predecessors. For instance, you need to tap just the right point on the screen to bring up the menu bar and if you tap anywhere else by mistake, it turns to the next page. In a similar way, you turn the page back by swiping left but if your swipe isn’t quite swipey enough, you’ll find yourself turning forwards instead of back. It is possible to temporarily display touch screen while reading so all controls are locked save the ability to turn to the next page, however this is probably more trouble than its worth since you have to lock the Kindle and then unlock it again to turn this feature off. You can’t even turn the power off without first turning touch screen back on, so it’s not really worth the trouble. Hardly a deal breaker though.

All in all, a fantastic piece of kit. I fully expect it to provide me with another decade or so of reading pleasure (and audio-book listening pleasure, if that’s your bag) and would highly recommend it to anyone looking for a snazzy new e-book reader that won’t burn your eyes out.

My rating: 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟


Thanks for taking the time to read this post. If you enjoyed it, don’t forget to ‘like’ this post and also follow us so you never miss another post. You can also follow Penstricken on TwitterPinterest and like Penstricken on Facebook.

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ATTENTION AUTHORS:

Every Tuesday, I post a new edition of Spotlight: a short post which shines a proverbial spotlight on a published novel or collection of short fiction. If you would like to have your book considered for a future edition of Spotlightdrop us an e-mail including a short synopsis of your book and a link to where we can buy it. Better yet, send me a copy of your book and I can include a mini-review.

I’m still looking to interview fiction authors here on Penstricken, especially new or indie authors. Whether it’s books, plays, comics or any other kind of fiction, if you’ve got something written, I want to hear about it. If you’re interested in having your work featured on Penstricken, be to sure to drop us an e-mail or message us on Facebook/Twitter/Pinterest.

Please be advised that due to a recent surge in interest, I am presently committed to a significant number of reviews/interviews over the next couple of months. If you would like an interview or review, I would still love to hear from you, though it is unlikely that I will be able to begin work immediately.

You can check out our previous interviews here:

Book Review: From Men and Angels by H.L. Walsh

SPOILER ALERT

While every effort has been taken to avoid spoilers in this post, anyone who has not read From Men and Angels by H.L. Walsh is hereby advised that this post may contain a few unavoidable spoilers.

Imagine a world where Angels and Demons are not just spiritual beings but physical beings we can see an interact with. How would that change our world? If humans fought alongside with and also against these titans; what kind of world would that be?

H.L. Walsh, author of From Men and Angels

Debut author H.L. Walsh answers his own question in his new book, From Men and Angels, chronicling the adventures of Malach, a hunter and son of an angel and Amara, an exiled thief living in a world of fully corporeal angels and demons. These two protagonists, despite their very disparate origins, come together in the city of Newaught where they are quickly caught up in an ancient war which has been silently raging between angels and demons for over two thousand years.

The world-building in this novel is excellent. The blending together of fantasy with real-world religious elements can be a tricky business but Walsh accomplishes this masterfully, creating a world which is vividly imagined, inspired by certain aspects of Christian theology without creating obvious allegories to patronise the reader or crude caricatures to offend the believer. Indeed, where most authors writing this type of story might be tempted to create allegorical ‘God figures’ and ‘Satan figures’ with different names, Walsh has taken the bold step to make specific references to God and Satan, as well as one more indirect reference to Christ. A risky move in some ways, but one which I feel has paid off.

Many fantasy authors create detailed and vivid fantasy worlds only to be let down by presenting them in a way which bogs the reader down with tedious descriptions of the world’s political, historical and geographical landscape and forcing the reader to constantly refer back to the map(s) on at the front of the book. From Men and Angels does not have this problem. Thanks to Walsh’s clear and direct writing style, the reader is fed a gentle and steady diet of everything they need to know about Walsh’s fantasy world in a way which feels natural and enjoyable to read without info dumping.

The characters in this story are, for the most part, all reasonably well rounded with clear motives driving their actions. Malach is a hunter with of unusual physical strength, owing to his angelic ancestry. All he wants is a quiet life of hunting in his home village, but his life is quickly turned upside down when it is revealed that his parents are alive in a demon prison and that he personally has a crucial role to play (for some reason?) in the coming conflict between the Angels and Demons. In some ways, he’s a little bit typical for a fantasy hero: strong, solitary, plagued by demons and reluctant to follow the call of his destiny. He is accompanied throughout the story by his friend, Daziar and his wolf, Skie.

As much as I liked Malach, I liked the Amara character just a little bit more. She seemed just a shade or two more complex than Malach, more driven by her own needs rather than having other characters popping out of the woodwork and telling her about her destiny. My only real criticism of this character was how she responded to Malach. Given the life she has lived until this point, it struck me as more than a little odd that, in her darkest hour, a streetwise thief like Amara would turn to a relative stranger (not to mention a natural enemy) simply because she finds him attractive and perhaps a little mysterious.

There’s one more character I’d like to mention: Malach’s sword, Reckoning. It’s an angel blade: a living weapon Malach liberates from a demon early in the story, with a personality all of its own, which is a fascinating concept in and of itself. When Malach first acquires this weapon, he is cautious, fearful of its ability to read his thoughts. In spite of this, he quickly comes to trust Reckoning and the reader is left wondering if Reckoning really is to be trusted. Having now finished the book, the short answer seems to be: yes, Reckoning is exactly who he claimed to be. In some respects, that was a bit of an anticlimax. There’s nothing wrong with Reckoning being a good guy as such, but it might have been nice to find a few darker shades to Reckoning’s character or even just to learn that he does have a few secrets or agendas of his own. Having said that, I’m also conscious that this is only the first book in the series so you never know what’s still to come!

I don’t have many seriously bad things to say about this book. If I was being hypercritical, I would say the romantic subplot is this story’s biggest let-down. There’s nothing wrong with the idea behind it or the basic path it follows but the execution felt a bit rushed and sloppy. The two characters don’t meet until fairly near the end of the book, which is fine, however the circumstances of their meeting don’t naturally lend themselves to the kind of relationship which develops between them. Amara, having just lost everything and having no where else to go, decides to go looking for this guard (Malach) whom she barely knows and who has every reason to arrest her. When she finds his house (through educated guesswork, I might add) she breaks in and after a rather tense encounter, the two quickly become as a thick as thieves to the extent that she goes out hunting with him and joins him on a dangerous quest to liberate his father from a demon prison. That just didn’t seem natural or believable to me, especially not while both characters were pre-occupied with their own issues.

All in all, From Men and Angels is a strong debut and I can’t wait to get my hands on the next book in the series. The premise of a world with flesh and blood angelic forces is simple but fascinating and I was chomping at the bit to read it from the moment I heard about it. I was not disappointed. Well imagined, well written and with plenty of excitement; its few and minor let-downs were not nearly enough to stop this being a great read and a real page turner. If high fantasy with respectful and non-preachy religious elements is your thing, be sure to grab a copy of this book with my fullest blessing. It’s great.

My rating: 🌟🌟🌟🌟

Keep an eye out for my author interview with H.L. Walsh — coming soon!


Thanks for taking the time to read this post. If you enjoyed it, don’t forget to ‘like’ this post and also follow us so you never miss another post. You can also follow Penstricken on TwitterPinterest and like Penstricken on Facebook.

Want a blog of your own? Start writing today with WordPress.com!

WordPress.com Jetpack WooCommerce

ATTENTION AUTHORS:

Every Tuesday, I post a new edition of Spotlight: a short post which shines a proverbial spotlight on a published novel or collection of short fiction. If you would like to have your book considered for a future edition of Spotlightdrop us an e-mail including a short synopsis of your book and a link to where we can buy it. Better yet, send me a copy of your book and I can include a mini-review.

I’m still looking to interview fiction authors here on Penstricken, especially new or indie authors. Whether it’s books, plays, comics or any other kind of fiction, if you’ve got something written, I want to hear about it. If you’re interested in having your work featured on Penstricken, be to sure to drop us an e-mail or message us on Facebook/Twitter/Pinterest.

Please be advised that due to a recent surge in interest, I am presently committed to a significant number of reviews/interviews over the next couple of months. If you would like an interview or review, I would still love to hear from you, though it is unlikely that I will be able to begin work immediately.

You can check out our previous interviews here:

Throwback Thursday: Doctor Who (Series 11) Review

Originally published 13/01/2019 under the title ‘Review: Doctor Who, series 11’
SPOILER ALERT

Anyone who has not watched any part of Doctor Who reboot series 11 (including the New Year special, Resolution) is hereby advised that this post may contain a few unavoidable spoilers.

Well, well, it may feel like it’s only just begun but Jodie Whittaker’s first series as the titular character in the BBC’s Doctor Who is finally over. Actually it was over almost two weeks ago but I had to do 6 Six Word Stories for the 6th last Sunday so you’re getting the review this Sunday instead. Lap it up.

I’ve already written in some depths about the first episode, so I’m not going to waste too much time talking about that today. What I really want to do is give an overview of the series as a whole.

Let’s start with the most important question of all: characters, specifically the four regular ones.

The Doctor in this series is lively, kindhearted and generally likable. My biggest criticism is that she seems to have completely lost all her demons, and with it, her motivation. She still abhors violence but previous Doctors (especially in the reboot) have been somewhat weighed down by the violence they’ve witnessed and committed themselves. One of the things I loved about Peter Capaldi’s Doctor, for instance, was how plagued he was by his own sense of guilt. This motivated him to chase around the galaxy seeking vindication. As a result, I cared about the Doctor’s goals, even in rubbish episodes like Into the Dalek. The Thirteenth Doctor, alas, lacks this depth.

Graham wins the ‘best character’ prize by a million miles. He is haunted by the death of his wife and is travelling with the Doctor mainly as a way of fleeing from his own grief, only to be faced with it everywhere he goes, finally culminating in his showdown with Tim Shaw whom he (quite rightly) blames for his wife’s death. My only real criticism is how suddenly his hunger for revenge comes upon him in ‘The Battle of Ranskoor Av Kolos’ (which, by the way, was the most forgettable last-episode-of-the-series since the show rebooted in 2005). It might’ve been nice to see hints of this slightly darker side to him before he finally encountered his wife’s killer again but this is the only minor grievance I have with Graham.

Ryan started strong. His dyspraxia gave him an inner struggle to overcome, as did the loss of his grandmother; he apparently had a tense relationship with both Graham and his absentee father and there was some chemistry between him and Yasmin in the first few episodes. That should’ve been more than enough to make a really interesting character. Unfortunately, most of these issues came to nothing. His dyspraxia was barely mentioned and in no way hindered him; he deals with his grandmother’s death fairly easily and the sexual tension between him and Yasmin fizzled out into nothing after a few episodes. Only the business with his dad came to any sort of resolution, and even this in a fairly clumsy manner in the New Year special.

Speaking of Yasmin, I’m still trying to think of anything I can say about her, whether good or bad. She seemed like a nice person but as characters go, she had all the substance of the Speaking Clock. That’s not a criticism of the actress. She brought Yasmin to life as well as anyone could, but the fact of the matter is, the character could have been completely cut out of this series with almost no loss to the story as whole (even in ‘Demons of the Punjab’ — arguably the only real ‘Yas episode’ — she was just there enough to make the story happen and no more). The character was, in a word, only half-written written.

Now, what about monsters? Doctor Who has always been famous for its monsters, though since the 2005 reboot, it’s been an almost constant barage of Daleks, Cybermen and Moffat’s pet invention, the eye-gougingly tedious Weeping Angels. Not so this time! Every monster (barring the New Year special) was brand spanking new, which was a breath of fresh air for me at least. Although while I’m on the subject of Daleks, I just need to say one thing: since when could the sonic screwdriver disable the Dalek’s gun arm?! If sonic screwdrivers can do that, why was there ever a Time War?

This series has come under some pretty heavy criticism, especially on social media (where all the vitriol of society coalesces, kind of like in that Star Trek: The Next Generation episode, ‘Skin of Evil’, but I digress), for being too ‘politically correct’. I don’t know if that’s because the Doctor’s a woman, because they finally wrote an episode where the racism of modern history is shown in all its ugliness while still being a family friendly TV show (complete with a time travelling white supremacist bad guy) or what but in any event, I see nothing wrong with this. Oh, sure, you might not always personally agree with the message behind each episode, but that doesn’t make it bad writing. Quite the reverse. Give me a real life theme that offends my sensibilities over Moffat’s meaningless, sentimental fluff any day of the week (though just to be clear, I wasn’t offended by this series at all). When it comes to the themes that were explored in this particular series, my only real criticism is how poorly executed they were, often feeling obvious and preachy.

I have only one more criticism (and I know, it sounds like I hated this series, but I really did enjoy it): there was no series-long story arc whatsoever. Since the reboot began (and now and again in the old series, too), Doctor Who has boasted some excellent story arcs. This series just didn’t have one. Just a bunch of time travellers with no discernible motive (apart from Graham) going on lots of pointless but mostly entertaining mini-adventures, finally (anti-)climaxing in them bumping into Tim Shaw again who was, frankly, less scary second time around.

I know it sounds like I’ve really slammed this series. That notwithstanding, I did enjoy it. Really. And since I know you’re all just dying to know what I think about having a woman Doctor, I really did like Whittaker’s portrayal of the character. Please don’t come away from this thinking I hate series 11 or Jodie Whittaker. I do not and I’m really looking forward to series 12. It could’ve just done with a bit of tightening up here and there on some of the most basic principles of serialised story-writing: characterisation and development, subtle execution of themes, story arcs and so forth. But please, watch it with my blessing. It was, for the most part, entertaining and certainly not the worst series in the show’s mostly excellent history.

My rating: 🌟🌟🌟


Thanks for taking the time to read this post. If you enjoyed it, don’t forget to ‘like’ this post and also follow us so you never miss another post. You can also follow Penstricken on TwitterPinterest and like Penstricken on Facebook.

Want a blog of your own? Start writing today with WordPress.com!

WordPress.com Jetpack WooCommerce

ATTENTION AUTHORS:

Every Tuesday, I post a new edition of Spotlight: a short post which shines a proverbial spotlight on a published novel or collection of short fiction. If you would like to have your book considered for a future edition of Spotlightdrop us an e-mail including a short synopsis of your book and a link to where we can buy it. Better yet, send me a copy of your book and I can include a mini-review.

I’m still looking to interview fiction authors here on Penstricken, especially new or indie authors. Whether it’s books, plays, comics or any other kind of fiction, if you’ve got something written, I want to hear about it. If you’re interested in having your work featured on Penstricken, be to sure to drop us an e-mail or message us on Facebook/Twitter/Pinterest.

You can check out our previous interviews here:

Super Snappy Speed Reviews: TV Edition (Vol. 3)

Spoiler Alert

Anyone who has not seen The Crown, Dickensian, A Touch of Cloth, Star Trek: Voyager, Fawlty Towers or ‘Allo ‘Allo is hereby advised that this post may contain a few unavoidable spoilers.

It’s that time again! I’ve selected a random assortment of TV programs and reviewed them all in just a few short sentences. As ever, these reviews reflect nothing but my own personal opinions and impressions, abridged,  compressed and foreshortened into a few brief statements of my opinion. The TV shows I have selected have nothing in common, save the fact that they are all fictional. They are not necessarily shows I particularly liked or disliked, nor are they sorted into any particular order. So, here we go.

The Crown

I love this show, far more than I thought I would. Compelling drama concerning both the personal and public lives of the British royal family, masterfully written with well rounded characters and contemporary themes delivered in a subtle and sensitive manner.

My rating: 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟

Buy The Crown (series 1-2) on Amazon

Dickensian

I am outraged and incensed that this show was cancelled after a single series because it was fan-dabby-dosey. Combining characters and settings from all your favourite Charles Dickens stories, this story focuses primarily on Inspector Bucket (Bleak House) investigating the murder of Jacob Marley (A Christmas Carol) though interweaving subplots also abound. It doesn’t really feel like a massive crossover; it feels (I am pleased to say) like a single story in its own right, with characters who naturally belong together, despite their disparate origins. A strange program, but in the best possible way.

My rating: 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟

Buy Dickensian on Amazon

A Touch of Cloth

A spoof British police drama which balances the traditions of teeth-clenching British crime drama grit with non-stop low brow humour, cheap gags and general silliness. A bizarre program to be sure, one which I felt faintly sullied by watching– but I have to admit, it made me laugh for the first episode or two. Got a bit bored after that though.

My rating: 🌟🌟

Buy A Touch of Cloth (series 1-3) on Amazon

Star Trek: Voyager

Arguably the last great Star Trek spin-off before it all went downhill with Enterprise, Star Trek: Voyager follows the adventures of a single Starfleet crew stranded on the other side of the galaxy trying to find their way back to Earth. It’s certainly not my favourite Star Trek series, but it stands up well next to Deep Space Nine and The Next Generation, featuring story-writing which ranges from okay to excellent. Some episodes are very obvious rehashes of former Star Trek glories, but the more original episodes are generally worth a watch.

My rating: 🌟🌟🌟🌟

Buy Star Trek: Voyager (The Complete Collection) on Amazon

Fawlty Towers

What can I say about Fawlty Towers that hasn’t already been said? An elder statesman of British comedy despite (because of?) its subtle-as-a-brick and fairly formulaic humour (Guests annoy Basil, Basil gets a bit more mad, hits Manuel, harasses guests, climaxing in one final embarrassing disaster). In terms of writing, acting, production and just about everything else, it shouldn’t be able to stand shoulder to shoulder with other classic British sitcoms… but it does. I love it.

My rating: 🌟🌟🌟🌟

Buy Fawlty Towers (The Complete Collection) on Amazon

‘Allo ‘Allo

Another classic British sitcom based on the life of a French cafe owner during the German occupation of France who finds himself unwillingly embroiled in the French resistance while at the same time trying to run a cafe, conceal two stolen paintings, conduct two extra-marital affairs, stave off the unwanted advances of a male Nazi officer, and hide two British airmen from the Nazis. I’ll be honest: it didn’t quite tickle me to the extent it should have given how well written the humour was (though it did tickle me), perhaps because it relied too heavily on that one comedy trope I can’t stand: repeating only slight variations on the exact same joke in every episode. Still, a good show, worth watching if you’re in a silly sort of mood.

My rating: 🌟🌟🌟

Buy ‘Allo ‘Allo (The Complete Series 1-9) on Amazon

DON’T FORGET TO CHECK OUT ALL THE PREVIOUS EDITIONS OF SUPER SNAPPY SPEED REVIEWS
Super Snappy Speed Reviews: Children’s Edition (Vol. 3)Super Snappy Speed Reviews: Books (Vol. 4)
Super Snappy Speed Reviews: Children’s Edition (Vol. 2) Super Snappy Speed Reviews: Doctor Who Edition
Super Snappy Speed Reviews: Children’s Books Edition (vol 1) Super Snappy Speed Reviews: TV Edition (vol. 2)
Super Snappy Speed Reviews: Writing Apps for Android Super Snappy Speed Reviews: Books (vol. 3)
Super Snappy Speed Reviews: Games Edition Super Snappy Speed Reviews: Star Trek Edition
Super Snappy Speed Reviews: Books (vol. 2) 8 Super Snappy Speed Reviews: Film
5 Super Snappy Speed Reviews: TV Edition 8 Super Snappy Speed Reviews

Thanks for taking the time to read this post. If you enjoyed it, don’t forget to ‘like’ this post and also follow us so you never miss another post. You can also follow Penstricken on TwitterPinterest and like Penstricken on Facebook.

Want a blog of your own? Start writing today with WordPress.com!

WordPress.com Jetpack WooCommerce

ATTENTION AUTHORS:

Every Tuesday, I post a new edition of Spotlight: a short post which shines a proverbial spotlight on a published novel or collection of short fiction. If you would like to have your book considered for a future edition of Spotlightdrop us an e-mail including a short synopsis of your book and a link to where we can buy it. Better yet, send me a copy of your book and I can include a mini-review.

I’m still looking to interview fiction authors here on Penstricken, especially new or indie authors. Whether it’s books, plays, comics or any other kind of fiction, if you’ve got something written, I want to hear about it. If you’re interested in having your work featured on Penstricken, be to sure to drop us an e-mail or message us on Facebook/Twitter/Pinterest.

You can check out our previous interviews here: