Book Review

My Week In Books. [4]

Each Monday I review the books I’ve read in the previous week in mini reviews.

Brotherhood of Shades by Dawn Finch. Authonomy.
This book has a really strong plot pulling lots of historical fact into a fantasy plot filled with great tension and intrigue. Within a few pages I realised that this was the sort of book you could really sink your teeth into, it’s intelligent and densely plotted with lots of detail and lots to make you think – I found a couple of times I had to put it down for a while so I could ponder some of the more philosophical discussion. There were times where predictions I’d made about what would happen came true, but the ending of the book took me completely by surprise.

Finch has created a really intriguing cast of characters, I felt particularly drawn to D’Scover, the “Keeper of the Texts” who plays a central role in the book. The whole time that I was reading I felt that information, and knowledge were held in very high esteem within the book, it was a delight to discover when I reached the end, and Finch’s biography to discover she was as I hoped a librarian. This shone through in the book and only added to my enjoyment.

The Falcon Chronicles: Tiger Wars by Steve Backshall. Orion Children’s.
This was a thrilling read from start to finish, I had to stop reading at one point to answer the phone and spent the whole time wondering what was happening whilst I wasn’t reading! Backshall has used knowledge that he’s gained on his travels as a naturalist to create the world of these books making it jump vividly off the page. There’s a clear conservation message running through the book but it never feels preachy or shoehorned it, instead it’s fully part of the plot and will be all the more effective.

I loved the two lead characters, Saker and Sinter, and the way their relationship develops over the course of the book. I really loved that there was no hint of any romantic link between them, this felt very refreshing. As I was reading the book I found myself imagining reading it out loud, I think it would work really well as a class book for most year 5-7 classes – it would certainly keep the children wanting the next chapter, and there’s lots of potential for really good discussions of plot points. I’m really pleased that this is the start of a series, I’ll certainly be picking up the next book.

Tales From Outer Suburbia by Shaun Tan. Templar Publishing.
Whilst I’d known of Shaun Tan’s work for a few years now I’d never got round to actually reading any of it. After being introduced to The Arrival at a conference I attended (I’m still sad that only the first 20 pages or so were read, I wanted to listen to the whole story being told) I knew I needed to start catching up with his work and Tales From Outer Suburbia became my first port of call. As soon as I started reading I realised there’s something very special and magical about Shaun Tan, and then realised that in my new review everything approach I was going to have to find a way to talk about this book.

It’s hard to explain why this book is so lovely, and such a magical read. It’s a collection of short stories, they cross genres, they vary in length but they all captivate the imagination. The illustrations that go with the stories are beautiful, I spent ages poring over the detail in some of them. I liked each and every story, though there were of course stories I loved more than others, my favourites included Eric, No Other Country and Alert But Not Alarmed. This is a really lovely book, I know I’ll be recommending it far and wide.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The eagle eyed amongst you may have noticed that it’s Tuesday rather than Monday, the weekend was rather hectic and I just didn’t have time to finish this post yesterday. Also I’ve switched to mini reviews as I felt sticking to 100 words was just too constrictive and I was having to leave things out that I really wanted to say.

Book Review

My Week In Books. [2]

Each Monday I review the books I’ve read in the previous week in drabble form – exactly 100 words excluding title and publishing details.

Kill All Enemies by Melvin Burgess. Puffin Books.
This book tells the stories of three troubled teens, the sort of kids a lot of society just dismiss and look down on, and gives them a voice to tell their side of the story. Burgess doesn’t try to excuse the things they do but instead offers an explanation for their behaviour and shows that people aren’t simply good or bad. The teenagers feel very authentic, I could relate their behaviour to a couple of teens I know. This book is funny, poignant and thought provoking and a real page turner, I will be certainly be reading more by Burgess.

Big Change For Stuart by Lissa Evans. Doubleday Children’s.
I loved Small Change For Stuart and was looking forward to reading about Stuart’s next adventure. I wasn’t disappointed, this book is full of magic and mystery as he and April search for his Great-Uncle’s will to prove Stuart is the rightful owner of the magician’s workshop. I liked the way some of the minor characters got a bigger part to play in this book, particularly the other two triplets and Stuart’s dad. I really enjoyed the tasks Stuart had to complete and the worlds they were set in, Evans clearly has a wonderful imagination. A lovely middle grade read.

A Dog Called Homeless by Sarah Lean. Katherine Tegen Books
This book, aimed at the 8-12 market, is a deceptive read. Its title suggests it’s going to be a sweet animal story (not that there’s anything wrong with that) but it’s so much more. It focuses on how Cally and her family are adjusting to life without her mother but with the introduction of other characters shows how important it is to look beneath the surface of people. There are some lovely characters, I particularly liked the sensitive way Cally’s grieving father was portrayed and the friendship developed between Cally and Sam. This is definitely a book I’ll be recommending.

Cracks by Caroline Green. Piccadilly Press.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book, it combines dystopia with thriller really well, both aspects of the plot feel very well balanced. For me the best dystopias are those that you can imagine happening, where you can see how our society could disintegrate to that point, and Cracks definitely ticks this box. This is a fast-paced read, I couldn’t hit the page forward button on my Kindle quickly enough at times. I didn’t always buy how Cal who’d missed the last 12 years and the changes in society accepted this new world, but that was my only niggle with the book.

The Beauty Chorus by Kate Lord Brown. Corvus.
I’d put off reading this book for ages, I’d heard it was a beautiful and emotional read and I needed to be in the right frame of mind (and have a good supply of tissues) and it never felt like the right time. I’m really glad I waited, a book like this deserves some proper indulgent reading time. It’s a truly wonderful read, I’m not sure I have the superlatives for it. Steeped in history, filled with the wonderful women of the ATA this book has it all – hard work, friendship, laughter, tears and love. An absolute must read.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

I did also read a few picture books this week but I’ve decided I’ll do a monthly round up of picture books or these posts will end up ridiculously long!

Book Review

Book Review : A Diary of The Lady by Rachel Johnson.

‘The whole place seemed completely bonkers: dusty, tatty, disorganized and impossibly old-fashioned, set in an age of doilies and flag-waving patriotism and jam still for tea, some sunny day.’

Appointed editor of The Lady – the oldest women’s weekly in the world – Rachel Johnson faced the challenge of a lifetime. For a start, how do you become an editor when you’ve never, well, edited? How do you turn around a venerable title, full of ads for walk-in baths, during the worst recession EVER? And forget doubling the circulation in a year – what on earth do you wear to work when you’ve spent the last fifteen years at home in sweatpants?

Will Rachel save The Lady – or sink it?

I watched the Channel 4 documentary about Rachel Johnson taking over the editorship of The Lady so I thought this book could be an interesting read. Before watching the documentary my sole knowledge of the magazine was that one of the porters who ran a Halls of Residence I lived in during my first degree swore by it as the place to find work.

The book’s written in diary form, it begins in June 2009 before Johnson is asked to interview for the post of editor, and goes through to June 2010 (my copy is the hardback version, the subsequent paperback and eBook releases have extra content and go through to early 2011). These diary entries include snippets of emails and letters that she receives and lists of the many and varied items that appear in her in tray.

The book does cover the same ground that the documentary covered, though with far more detail, and it’s with Johnson’s spin rather than the documentary maker’s. Before starting to read the book I knew I needed to put my own personal beliefs and politics to one side or I would more than likely end up wanting to throw the book across the room. Even after this I still found parts of the book difficult going.

Throughout the book my feelings were really mixed, and eventually I worked out why. When Johnson is talking about the job of taking over a magazine, and dealing with challenging staff and external influences my interest level was high. When she was talking about the endless parties and social events she attends, and drops names at a rate of knots my interest was low. I know that the two things do overlap, but I could really have done with less of the high society schmoozing.

One thing I did really love about the book was that each section that covered a month was preceded by a cover of the magazine. These dated back to 1899 and came right up to date, it was fascinating seeing how the covers had evolved over time – some of the older ones are absolutely beautiful.

Whilst this was a fairly interesting read I’m rather glad my version is the shorter one, by the time I got to the end I was definitely ready to finish reading. I’m sure lots of people will love this, but for me it was just okay.

A Diary of The Lady is published in hardback, paperback and eBook by Penguin in the UK.

Book Review

Book Review : An Officer and a Gentlewoman by Heloise Goodley.

When Heloise Goodley quit her City job and decided to attend the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, she had no prior military experience. On her arrival she was a complete army novice: she couldn’t fire a rifle; she couldn’t march; she couldn’t shine her boots; she couldn’t even iron her uniform.

An Officer and a Gentlewoman charts Goodley’s absorbing journey through Sandhurst and and on to Afghanistan, and gives an insight into the life and customs at this remarkable institution.

With wit and sensitivity, Goodley details her experiences as a cadet and the painful transition from civilian to soldier. Moreover, she rejects lazy preconceptions and sheds new light on what it is like to be a woman in the British Army.

An Officer and a Gentlewoman is the first female perspective on Sandhurst and the making of a female British Army Officer.

One of the things on my Things Before 30 list is to read a non-fiction book every month. I’m forever seeing non-fiction books that I think sound interesting but really rubbish at getting round to reading them instead of my usual diet of as much fiction as I can get my hands on. I thought this book sounded really interesting, I come from a family with a lot of ties to the army and an old uni friend went through Sandhurst and is currently serving as an officer in the British Army so I thought I could really enjoy reading it. If nothing else it would give me a bit of an insight into the experience my friend would have had at Sandhurst as he attended at a similar time.

The book does begin with two caveats, one from the Ministry of Defence explaining that since Goodley attended Sandhurst in 2007 a lot of alterations to the process have been made so the experience she had is no longer the same as that of current recruits, and one from the author explaining that it has been necessary to apply some fictional licence in the telling of the story. Whilst I completely understand the need for both of these, I did find that as I was reading I did end up wondering for example which of the characters were entirely fictional.

The book is definitely a very interesting read. The first chapter follows Goodley as she flies out to Afghanistan for the first time, the book then jumps back to when she was working in the City in the banking industry and then follows her making the decision to join the army and then from the third chapter on her year at Sandhurst. I found the descriptions of the Sandhurst experience really interesting. Whilst there were things in there that I’d heard a little about before such as the rigorous room inspections, there was so much I didn’t know – so many times throughout the book I was surprised by the details and extreme nature of some of the rules, regulations and procedures.

The book is also an entertaining read. There were a number of times where I found myself chuckling away at something that Goodley described, as I’m writing this there’s one scene that springs to mind that has had me laughing all over again. At times it is also quite a touching account, there are moments of personal achievement and also of reflection that help to ground the book in its reality.

I’m really glad that I read this book, I don’t know if the author plans to write a follow up at some point about her experiences post Sandhurst but if she does then I’ll definitely be reading it.

An Officer and a Gentlewoman is published in hardback by Constable in the UK. Whilst I was provided with a review copy of the book all of the opinions expressed are my own.

Book Review

Book Review : Dirk Danger Loves Life by Chris Rothe.

Dirk Danger Loves Life, the début novel by Chris Rothe, is a comedic tale of a sad little man who cannot function in any self-​​sufficient capacity. As his life swirls down the drain, serendipity provides a phone number that launches him into the world of Dirk Danger.

What follows is a not‑so-​​typical coming of age story involving scuba gear, terrible poetry, a fish eulogy, a walrus, pop music, terrible puns, marijuana, a fake attorney, homelessness, death, and far, far too much pornography. The road to recovery is a twisted and ridiculous one indeed.

The plot of Dirk Danger Love Lifes is pretty straight forward, our protagonist is a young man who’s finding that he’s a bit rubbish at pretty much everything he turns his hand to. He’s lost countless jobs, is about to be evicted and can’t even keep his pet fish alive. So he responds to an advert that leads him to talk to Dirk Danger and agrees to meet with him and tell him just how much he sucks at life, and Dirk in turn decides he’s going to take on the he responsibility for fixing our nameless protagonist’s life.

The book then follows this plan of action through, and that’s when things really take a turn for the strange. Dirk Danger’s plan involves a series of lessons that seem utterly random, but as the story progresses slowly start to fall into place. There are bits of the story however that I still haven’t quite been able to make my mind up about, the fox and the walrus for instance, but after trying really hard to work them out I realised that it didn’t really matter.

Along with the two main characters in the book there are a number of more minor characters who appear throughout the book. I liked the way that even a character who only appeared briefly once of twice was created in such a way that I had a clear idea of them.

Whilst this book is in places rather bizarre, it is ultimately a rather positive, almost nurturing read. The final chapter in particular leaves you feeling really glad that you’ve read the book. I certainly felt entirely satisfied as I read the final page.

Dirk Danger Loves Life is published in paperback and eBook by Atomic Fez. Whilst I was provided with a review copy of the book all of the opinions expressed are my own.

Book Review

Book Review : Ponthe Oldenguine by Andrew Hook.

Ponthe Oldenguine is one part fictional biography of a former television impresario who claims he’s been hounded out of media history, and one part biography of the journalist commissioned to write his story. Where the tales merge, there is madness.

Madness? This book has it in spades. It is narrated by a journalist who decides to go undercover and sleep rough as that will surely allow him to find the story that will elevate his career to the lofty heights he dreams of. On the very first night he is approached by Ponthe, a man who has a life story or two to tell and wants the journalist to do so. Over the course of the book we get to discover these stories, and the effect hearing them and sleeping rough has on the journalist.

It’s hard to describe much of what happens in the book without spoiling the reading experience, this really is a book that needs to be discovered page by page. As I was reading it my feelings veered between feeling that it was downright outrageous and then all too believable, a somewhat unsettling read but one that’s near enough impossible to put down.

The characters in the book are vivid creations, I never felt like I truly got a handle on them but that actually added to the reading experience. Both Ponthe and the journalist come across as being somewhat unreliable in their narration meaning you find yourself questioning everything and trying to second guess where the plot may be going. I soon gave up trying to work things out and just enjoyed the ride.

I’m not sure that I’ve done a great job of reviewing this book, but that’s because I really want people to experience it for themselves. It’s a fairly quick read but it’s one that’ll stay with you long after you’ve finished.

Ponthe Oldenguine is published in paperback and eBook by Atomic Fez. Whilst I was provided with a review copy of the book all of the opinions expressed are my own.

Book Review

Book Review : The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey.

Alaska, 1920: a brutal place to homestead, and especially tough for recent arrivals Jack and Mabel. Childless, they are drifting apart–he breaking under the weight of the work of the farm; she crumbling from loneliness and despair. In a moment of levity during the season’s first snowfall, they build a child out of snow. The next morning the snow child is gone–but they glimpse a young, blonde-haired girl running through the trees.

This little girl, who calls herself Faina, seems to be a child of the woods. She hunts with a red fox at her side, skims lightly across the snow, and somehow survives alone in the Alaskan wilderness. As Jack and Mabel struggle to understand this child who could have stepped from the pages of a fairy tale, they come to love her as their own daughter. But in this beautiful, violent place things are rarely as they appear, and what they eventually learn about Faina will transform all of them.

I heard lots of wonderful things about this book from friends whose opinions I really trust so when I won a proof copy I was really excited to discover what all the fuss was about. I picked a suitably cold and rainy day, curled up and let myself be transported back to 1920s Alaska.

This book is absolutely beautiful. It tells the story of Jack and Mabel who have moved to Alaska in the hope of a new life after the heartbreak of losing a baby. The book follows the couple as they adjust to a whole new way of life, we get to experience the life of the homesteaders from hunting to coping with the cold and lack of sunshine, and to becoming a part of this small community. Then the mysterious Faina appears in their life, everyone has their own theory on where she has come from and why. Whatever her story, her influence on both Jack and Mabel is both instantaneous and significant.

There are so many wonderful characters in this book. I found myself drawn to both Jack and Mabel, and I loved the way that the book took into account both of their feelings rather than focusing solely on Mabel. The way they related to one another was beautifully written, at times I almost felt like I was peeking through the window and eavesdropping on them. I also loved Garrett, and the way we got to see him grow from a boy into a man over the course of the book. And then of course there is Faina, mysterious, magical Faina. She’s such a quiet character, yet she fills every page she appears on, and when she disappeared (as she periodically does) I found that I was missing her as much as the other characters.

The book is written in such a way that you are entirely transported into it. The descriptive writing really brings the reader into the harsh world of wintery Alaska. As I got towards the end of the book I tried to slow down my reading, I wasn’t ready to return to the real world. I did of course reach the end, and there was only one thing to do – I sat there and hugged the book, still captured under the spell it had cast over me. It’s been a long time since a book has made me feel like this, I know I’m going to be going back and re-reading this book many times to recapture that feeling.

The Snow Child is published in hardback and eBook by Headline Review in the UK from 1st February 2012. Whilst I was provided with a review copy of the book all of the opinions expressed are my own.

Book Review

Book Review : Blood Mining by Laura Wilkinson.

Megan Evens appears to have it all: brains, beauty, a successful career as a foreign correspondent. But deep down she is lonely and rootless. Pregnant, craving love but unable to trust after the destructive affair with her baby’s father she returns to the security of her birthplace in Wales.

When Megan’s son is later diagnosed with a terminal condition, a degenerative, hereditary disease, everything she believed to be true about her origins is thrown into question. To save her son Megan must unearth the truth; she must excavate family history and memory. Enlisting the help of former colleague Jack North, a man with a secret of his own, Megan embarks on a journey of self discovery and into the heart of what it means to be a parent.

I loved the sound of this book as soon as I read the blurb, as readers of this blog will know I’m a real Walesophile (I know I discovered the actual word for this but don’t remember it any more) so just the mention of it made me think this was a book I wanted to read. I was a little surprised when I started to read it to discover that the book takes place in a near future version of our world, the book opens in the year 2048 and to begin with the reader just has to accept that the world has changed. I found that the plot was straight away interesting enough that I could cope with the slight confusion I had about the world, and I got stuck into reading it.

The plot is structured in three sections, the first focuses on Megan’s story, the second flashes back to Elizabeth’s story in 2015-2020 and then the third moves back to Megan’s story. To me there were two key plots, there was Megan’s story where she is trying to find a way to save her son, and there was Elizabeth’s story of what happened to change the world. I found both plots interesting, but whilst Elizabeth’s story was there to fill in the gaps of Megan’s I think I found it the more interesting of the two.

The decision to set the novel in the near future worked for the subject matter at hand, however this meant there was the need for sections of exposition and at times these felt a little heavy. I often find this sort of exposition hard going though so I think this was probably a personal taste thing. I very much liked the way that I could see the world we live in becoming the world in which this book is set, it made for a thought provoking read.

I actually found Megan quite hard to like, I couldn’t identify with her at all. I liked Elizabeth much more, and I think my favourite character was actually Jack who we didn’t get to know all that well.

I liked this book, but I really wanted to love it. It was definitely nice to read a novel that had a good portion based in Wales, and I liked the fact that the book left me thinking about some of the topics it had raised after I’d finished the last page. This is Laura Wilkinson’s debut novel, I’m curious to see what she will write next.

Blood Mining is published in paperback and eBook by Bridge House Books in the UK. Whilst I was provided with a review copy of the book all of the opinions expressed are my own.

Book News

Bookish Brilliance – The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey.

I’ve been seeing a lot of great buzz online already for Eowyn Ivey’s debut novel The Snow Child so I was thrilled to win a copy in a Twitter giveaway. Here’s the blurb:

A bewitching tale of heartbreak and hope set in 1920s Alaska

Jack and Mabel hope that a fresh start in ‘Alaska, our newest homeland’ will enable them to put the strain of their childless marriage behind them. But the northern wilderness proves as unforgiving as it is beautiful: Jack fears that he will collapse under the strain of creating a farm, and the lonely winter eats its way into Mabel’s soul. When the first snow falls, the couple find themselves building a small figure – a snow girl. The next morning, their creation has gone, and they see a child running through the spruce trees. Gradually this child – an elusive, untameable little girl who hunts with a fox and is more at ease in the savage landscape than in the homestead – comes into their lives. But as their love for the snow child and for the land she opens up to them grows, so too does their awareness that it, and she, may break their hearts.

I’m going to be reviewing it in the new year (sneak preview – I loved it), but when I saw this gorgeous trailer I knew I couldn’t wait to post it.

The book is a truly beautiful read and this trailer couldn’t be more perfect for it.

Book Review

Book Review : Breakfast at Darcy’s by Ali McNamara.

When Darcy McCall loses her beloved Aunt Molly, she doesn’t expect any sort of inheritance – let alone a small island. Located off the west coast of Ireland, Tara hasn’t been lived on for years, but according to Molly’s will Darcy must stay there for twelve months in order to fully inherit, and she needs to persuade a village full of people to settle there, too. Darcy has to leave behind her independent city life and swap stylish heels for muddy wellies. Between sorting everything from the plumbing to the pub, Darcy meets confident Conor and ever-grumpy Dermot – but who will make her feel really at home?

I had heard lots of great things about Ali McNamara’s debut novel From Notting Hill with Love… Actually so when I was offered the chance to read her new novel I was pleased to be able to give it a go.

For me the book started pretty slowly, I wasn’t particularly grabbed by the plot – Darcy is introduced as your typical city dwelling chick lit protagonist, image obsessed and career focused. When she discovers that she has inherited an island providing she builds a community on it for a year she of course is pushed into accepting the challenge and sets about it. It was once the “casting” of the islanders and the move had taken place that I started to enjoy the plot more. I particularly liked seeing how they built the community, and the involvement of Eamon – the island’s only established resident, though I would have liked to get to know some of the new islanders more.

I initially found Darcy to be a very hard to like character, as the plot developed and her character did too I did find myself warming to her more. I found the same with Dermot, one of the two men who have their eye on Darcy. When we first meet him he’s not very likeable at all, I actually found that he bothered me so much that in my dreams the night I started reading the book he was there being all disapproving. Again though he became more likeable over the course of the book and eventually I did find myself rooting for him.

The island, Tara, is almost a character in herself. I loved the idea of this little island, and I loved the hints of folklore that were sprinkled throughout the book though for me these could have been expanded on more – there were a couple that I kept expecting to see become integral parts of the plot but this did not happen.

Overall I found Breakfast at Darcy’s to be a fairly enjoyable read that started off slowly but left me feeling content by the end. It sadly did not live up to my expectations based on the hype around From Notting Hill with Love… Actually but I’m certainly glad I kept going with it.

Breakfast at Darcy’s is published in paperback by Sphere in the UK priced £6.99. Whilst I was provided with a review copy of the book all of the opinions expressed are my own.