Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Book Review: Solar by Ian McEwan

SolarA while back I started trawling a list of Booker prize winners to try and find some critically acclaimed books that I might actually enjoy (having so often been disappointed in the past) McEwan's Amsterdam caught my eye, but when I was in the library recently trying to decide what to take out they only had Solar in, so home it came with me.

Solar is book about science and human relationships, scattered with humour. Michael Beard is a Nobel prize winning scientist who has used the award to secure lucrative figurehead roles with numerous institutions and has managed to avoid doing any serious work ever since. Instead he's been busy acquiring and repelling five wives. The story starts in 2000 where he is dealing with his 5th wife's affair with a builder, and working on a wind turbine project, despite being unconvinced about the science behind climate change theories. His views change over time and through a twist of fate he finds himself with a set of notes detailing a way of harnessing the sun to provide unlimited cheap and clean energy.

At the start of the book I found myself pitying the ageing, balding cuckolded professor but as the story developed my attitude towards him changed regularly. Although he didn't turn out to be very likable he is a great character. There are plenty of other supporting characters but none written in anywhere near the same depth.

The plot contains lots of twists and turns and I was thoroughly entertained throughout, although it did take a little while for the story to really get going. I found some of the parts about climate change really interesting, but in places it was a bit heavy on the science for me. I was pleased that the tone of the book wasn't heavily weighted to either side of the argument about global warming though. The ending was a bit of a cliffhanger, leaving it open to the reader to wonder what direction Beard's life is likely to lurch in next.

Reading this book I was by turns astounded by what Beard was up to, and amused by some of the situations he got himself into. This was a really good book, if it wasn't for the scientific bits that were completely over my head probably would have been worth 5*, and I'll definitely be reading more of McEwan's work in the future.

Format: Hardcover, from the library
My Rating: 4*

Sunday, 29 May 2011

Book Review: Puttypaw by Tom North

PuttypawPuttypaw is a young adult book aimed at the upper end of that age group, and tells the story of Toby. He's in his early teens, has just lost his mum, is now being brought up by his step-dad and isn't really coping. One night his recurring nightmare is interrupted by the arrival of a giant tabby cat - Puttypaw - looking for his mousey. Life starts to get very strange for Toby but the pair build a strong bond and they face challenges together that start to help Toby face what is going on in his life and deal with it.

This is a really bitter-sweet story, and the fantasy element stops a book which is dealing with some fairly heavy topics, the loss of a parent and bullying, becoming too dark and depressing. I found Toby very likeable and perhaps as an adult had more of a connection with his older step-siblings and step-dad than the target audience might and also found them plausible and sympathetic.

This book was one I found myself getting quite involved in, and I kept reading to find out how the night time visits by Puttypaw would help Toby and also to discover whether the cat was imaginary or not. It's well written, I thought some of the vocabulary used was brilliant (I love learning new words and I think it's great when a YA author isn't afraid to stretch their target audience) and I don't remember spotting any typos or having any issues with formatting.

Despite the subject matter I came away from this book feeling quite upbeat, and where I had started it thinking a book with a cat befriending a young man might head into the realms of warm, fuzzy and cutesy, and was curious about how it might work for the target audience it was darker than I expected and even as an adult I found it an enjoyable read. I think the upper end of the YA bracket would be right for it to be properly appreciated and for some of the content and themes. This is a book I'd love to share with my daughter when she is old enough.

Format: Kindle, review copy
My Rating: 4*

Book Review: All Night by the Rose by Kevin Newman

All night by the RoseThis book looked like a good way to continue my recent forays into the world of short stories. I don't often use the product description in my reviews but as the author has done so it will help illustrate the range of stories within this book.

"A brief synopses of each story:

City on a Hill
This city is like your own in a time period reminiscent of the 20th century. It is filled with gleeful hedonists out in an urban landscape celebrating ‘Merry Day’. Its narrative is experimental and filled with sharp observations as the characters go about their constant partying lives. I was trying to channel Allen Ginsberg and Dr. Seuss at the same time.

The protagonist of this story is a misanthrope out to teach a lesson to a prior lover of his ex-girlfriend. This is an experiment in language. I wrote it after reading ‘A Clockwork Orange’ and wanted to try my hand at non-colloquial vernacular. Since I’m not a linguistic scholar, I chose a language that has been bouncing around in my head. I’d like to imagine that I’m an expert in the linguistic choice within my own mind.

Down with Me
This story takes place at a mental institution and is a slice-of-life narrative. The protagonist and his friend have disorders in which things that cannot be there are for them. It’s an experiment in meta-fiction.

Pave the Planet
This story takes place in the outdoor break area at Honda Manufacturing in Alliston, Ontario. The main characters spend their brief lunch period gossiping while the protagonist compares two time-periods in his life. It’s an experiment of flashbacks and description.

Red Backed Betty
The protagonist of this story is out clubbing. When he meets a beautiful girl, he spends the rest of his night wooing her. How he’s wooing her is reminiscent of the Red Backed Spider with metaphorically similar results. This is an experiment in theme.

Life and Times of 34 Empire Path
The protagonist of this story is a building located at the titled address. The eras span six decades and within the context of these decades a narrative is weaved throughout. It’s an experiment with time.

He’s Really my Brother
In this tale, the protagonist deals with the poor showing he made of being a good brother to a child adopted by his family. It’s a straight-forward story, although it plays with flashbacks and timing.

Kissing Eleanor
This is a modern-day romance between childhood sweethearts. It’s a pretty straight-forward love story, but as with most of what I write, it doesn’t really end up where Hollywood expects it to.

The Great Fall of a Mediocre Man
A Love story: kind of the opposite of Kissing Eleanor in that it doesn’t begin as you’d expect it, but it has a feel-good ending.

Saskatchewan Boulevard
The protagonist reminisces about his childhood friend when he drives by his old house and then imagines what his friend is up to in Afghanistan. Of course, his imagination runs rampant and the reader ends up with a tale of eastern fantasy.

Nabakan and Benikhir
This was written as a counterpoint to the standard western fantasy. It’s set in a fantasy world that is reminiscent of the Middle-East. Nabakan and Benikhir must save the people from the tyrant Po.

Janey Chu
This is a children’s story and a study of theology from that perspective. It’s representative of society and it’s fantastic.

Star Trek: White Trash
This is satire aimed directly at space opera. Captain Hicks and his crew of misfits deal with a new Vulcan communications officer and at the same time, trouble in the Neutral Zone."

I found the stories so varied there should be something for everyone within this book. While those with a sci-fi and fantasy bent weren't quite my taste I loved Kissing Eleanor and Life and Times of 34 Empire Path, which I thought was particularly clever. Many of the stories are vignettes and I liked the scope this leaves the reader to work out or assume more about the characters and the situations. Some of them have a gritty urban feel while others are more about the emotions and the backdrop feels less important.

The author has used a wide range of styles and narrative voices and I thought there was some very effective use of different literary techniques. There was also some beautiful prose employed. In places it maybe got a little overly wordy though. As an e-book it is largely well formatted, although a few little typos had crept in.

All in all this book made for an engrossing read that should have time taken over it in order to be fully appreciated, it doesn't deserve to be a quick easy read. With such a wide range of styles included I imagine a lot of people wouldn't love all of them but that's not really a negative when the writing is so interesting. In his descriptions of the stories the author mentions them being experiments in different ways, and I'd say they are largely successful experiments.

Format: Kindle, review copy
My rating: 4*

Thursday, 26 May 2011

Time for a little break...

While I love the Book Blogger Hop and Follow Friday I'm not going to be around over the next few days, so I'll have to pass this week. Hubby and I have both taken some time off work so we can take the Monkey on her first camping trip. We're meeting up with family by the seaside, where apparently it's pretty blustery right now. It'd be typical of my luck that we choose the weekend it's blowy and wet! Though some mud would be good, lovely hubby bought me a gorgeous pair of Hunter wellies today and I want to christen them. I don't think it's natural to be so excited by a pair of wellies.

I also realised the other day that I'll miss the TV coverage of the Hay Festival of Literature and Arts. I'd love to go one day and had been planning to watch as much as I could to see who's there and what they've got to say, but alas my scheduling has failed me again.

I'm hoping that with Nanny and Grandad on hand I might get some good reading time in over the weekend, so I'll be back soon with more reviews (I might even fit one in tomorrow morning before I go) Have a great weekend everyone, especially those of you at the Book Blogger Convention and in Hay, catch you on the other side.


Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Book Review: Technically Magic by D C Arnold

Technically MagicI stumbled across this book on Authonomy and enjoyed the first chapter so much I decided to buy the book for my kindle.

Simon is a computer technician, and self-professed geek, who is in turns shocked and overjoyed when he is told he is a wizard. He doesn't get a lot of time to enjoy this revelation though as his mentor is kidnapped on the first day of his apprenticeship and he is left with a sentient book and a demon with an attitude, named Sal, to help him save the world. Getting himself on the Wanted list in pretty short time doesn't improve matters much! Will he be able to get his potential Familiar, Charlotte, on side, figure out how to travel between the moon and earth undetected and prevent oblivion?

The tone of the book is quite conversational and Simon is so self-deprecating I found him likeable and felt like a friend was chatting to me. I also really enjoyed sweet Familiar Charlotte and grumpy Sal. Overall the book is written with a humorous edge and doesn't take itself too seriously. It's just silly enough without undermining the story.

There are some scenes I loved while others I have to admit left me a bit confused. In places I didn't find it totally clear who was doing what and why, and a bit more clarity would have been welcome. One thing that jarred a bit was the continuous references to the iPhone, at times it felt more like product placement than anything else. My final minor moan would be that the formatting isn't great. There are some large gaps between paragraphs and I noticed a few places were just a sentence or couple of words were in the middle of a great bit space.

Despite a few little niggles this book has a real charm about it and a few changes by the author could make it even better. On the strength of the characters and the fun of it I think it has to be a 4* for me.

Format: Kindle, bought by me
My Rating: 4*

Sunday, 22 May 2011

Book Review: The Skull Ring by Scott Nicholson

The Skull RingThis is the first of the author's books I have read, although he has several books. It is described as a psychological thriller which appealed to me. Scott is another author I have found thanks to kindle broadening my horizons.

Julia Stone has moved to a small Appalachian town to try and find some peace. She is haunted by the disappearance of her father when she was just 4 years old. With the help of therapist Dr Forrest she is uncovering disturbing memories of that night and is struggling to keep panic attacks and paranoia under control. The memories evoke images of satanic rituals. Strange things start to happen in her home and she starts to question her sanity but when she returns to her old family home she finds a skull ring with an engraving "Judas Stone" that seems to be solid proof of what she's remembering.

This book made me feel really uncomfortable and on-edge, and I felt so sorry for Julia struggling to make sense of what is happening to her. Was she the victim of a satanic cult, is she being pursued by that same cult now or is her therapist planting false memories under hypnotherapy with some ulterior motive? Julia also has to contend with an unsympathetic fiance who seems to have an agenda of his own. Until close to the end I was as unsure as Julia of who she could trust and what secrets really lay in her past.

At one point I found myself drifting a bit but as the story picked up pace I was pulled into it more. I also found Julia almost irritatingly childish in places, although I suppose this was intentional as she becomes more and more needy being dragged back to her childhood repeatedly by her therapist. It didn't stop me rooting for her through. My main gripe would be the ending which I found a bit trite and not entirely satisfying. However as a psychological thriller it gave me what I expected, a tense read, and I had no complaints on the proofing and formatting front. I'll definitely be looking at other books by the author.

Format: Kindle, bought by me
My Rating: 3*

Friday, 20 May 2011

Book Blogger Hop & Follow Friday

This week has felt like a long one, so I'm glad Friday is finally here. With 2 weeks off work, a camping trip with family and my scuba refresher course coming up it's shaping up to be a good fortnight! As usual I'm joining in with Jennifer and Parajunkee, to find great blogs and chat to others, so here are this week's questions:

Book Blogger Hop
At crazy-for-books.com Jennifer is asking "If you were given the chance to spend one day in a fictional world (from a book), which book would it be from and what would that place be?"

Oooh, this is hard! Plenty of places spring to mind but they are real places. I could go for the obvious and say Hogwarts but that is just too obvious. I'll have to think some more on this one.

At Parajunkee.com "It's circle time. Time for us to open up and share. Can you tell us FIVE quirky habits or things about you? We all have them..."

5? Right, let me think...I don't have a lot of quirky habits (at least I don't think so) so mainly things about me.

1) I talk to myself. A lot. All the time. It's great having a little person, you don't look quite so nuts as people assume you're talking to them. I was very pleased to read recently that talking to yourself is good for you, your mental health in particular. Apparently it helps reduce stress.

2) I'm a bit obssessive about checking whether I remembered to lock the car. I'll be 100m down the road and manage to convince myself I didn't lock it, then have to go back and check (sometimes more than once) Not sure why I'm so paranoid about it.

3) I really want another tattoo, one made up of 3 elements to represent hubby, Monkey and I, but I can't decide what to have done. I've been thinking about it since I got pregnant, but still no joy.

4) I'm learning British Sign Language. I absolutely love the logic behind a lot of the signs and one day I'd like to get the formal qualifications. My parents are also learning and they think it's great that they can communicate by sign through the window to one another.

5) I love Farmville on Facebook. I spend far too much time tending my farm and my husband thinks I'm bonkers, but I know I'm not alone

Thanks for dropping on by, have a great weekend everyone!

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Book Review: In Odder Words by E D Lindquist & Aron Christensen

In Odder Words
This book was a recent freebie that I picked up based on the short synopsis - "A thousand worlds, a thousand words." Pretty good tagline I thought! It is a book of short stories and flash fiction and as a recent convert to the short story it looked worth the space on the kindle.

The stories in the book range greatly in length, and while I thought getting as short as a kindle page and a half would be taking it too far a couple of those very short pieces were probably the ones I enjoyed the most, they were quite clever. Generally the stories had a death or fantasy theme and while I'm coming round to the idea of fantasy many of the stories with a fantasy take weren't entirely to my taste. Some of the stories link up to other books by the authors, and I imagine in a similar way to Dean Koontz and Patrick Ness releasing short stories that provide more background to their novels those would probably be a good companion to the relevant books.

There were a couple of stories that need some serious attention with missing words making sentences nonsensical, and elsewhere I spotted some missing punctuation. For a free book you can't expect too much but it doesn't make me inclined to look for other work by the authors.

The synopsis didn't reveal much about the style of the stories so it was always going to be a bit of a punt. I enjoyed some of the tales, wasn't keen on others and wasn't very impressed by the quality of proofreading in yet others so overall it was ok. At least it didn't cost me anything and it kept me amused for a while.

Format: Kindle, freebie
My Rating: 2*

Monday, 16 May 2011

Book Review: Blue Shoes and Happiness by Alexander McCall Smith

Blue Shoes and Happiness (No.1 Ladies' Detective Agency)

This book is the first I have read of the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series. Typically I managed to pick up the 7th book in the series, but this was a Borrowed Book Challenge book and our library is only small and just had 2 books from the series. (This is the same library that has the second book in The Hunger Games series but not the first - go figure) I had been recommended the series by a couple of colleagues who were amazed I had never read any of them before.

Mma Ramotswe is the principal of the No.1 Ladies' Detective agency, operating out of her husband's garage premises. Mma Makutsi is her assistant and a big fan of what Mma Ramotswe considers unsuitable shoes. In this book the ladies deal with a number of cases including identifying a blackmailer and a fraudulent Doctor. They also ponder the role of women and feminism and drink a lot of tea. The chapters almost read like a series of independent stories, with none of the mysteries visited in great depth but with plenty of charming anecdotes.

The term "cozy mystery" is a relatively new one to me but I have seen it applied to this series and having read the book I now think I understand that term. It is an undemanding read, which raised a few smiles and the odd chuckle. It depicts aspects of Botswana beautifully and I enjoyed reading about the country and various characters and the problems they are facing. My favourite thing about the book is the concept of a "traditionally built" woman, it sounds so much better than big boned!

I'm not sure cozy mysteries are going on my list of preferred genres, but I did like this book and can definitely see the appeal. In fact I can think of a couple of family members who would really like the series.

Format: Hard cover, from the library
My Rating: 3*

Sunday, 15 May 2011

So Excited!

Before anyone starts reading this expecting it to be book related I'm afraid it's not, well apart from a couple of tenuous links. It's not the imminent release of a book by a favourite author or getting into the top 1000 new reviewers on Amazon that has got me hopping up and down. Nope, it's diving. Scuba diving to be more precise.

I learnt to dive almost exactly 7 years ago, with my boyfriend (now husband) We've been fortunate enough to dive in some really lovely places, as well as off the coast near our home but being pregnant put a real spanner in the works. Baby on the way? No diving! Then there was the recovery from having a caesarian, then getting used to being a parent, and finally general wimpiness at the thought of getting into water that was less than 10 degrees hot (or more to the point cold) But, now we're thinking of visiting our fave holiday spot in the autumn and we're planning on diving again. Having had such a long break we're in need of a refresher, but rather than wait until we're on our hols I've gone and booked myself on a course locally. Yeay! It sounds terrible but I'm thinking it'll be one of the only times and places I'll just be me, rather than a mummy, it's proper grown up escapism.

I've been having fun this afternoon rummaging, searching for various bits of kit (and believe me there is a lot of it) and generally getting myself worked up about it. I forgot just how many items of gear we'd collated, I could probably stock a small dive centre. My pool dive is a week Tuesday, so not long to wait, then I can get back in the sea. Watch out marine life of Devon!

Oh and a couple of tenuous reading links to justify this post on my book blog - I won't be reviewing it but there will be a PADI manual involved, and far more interesting, I've been reading excerpts of my dive log detailing all my previous dives. It's brought back all sorts of memories and made me laugh, it's a bit like keeping a diary but with only good stuff in. Are there any other book blogging divers out there? Where did you last dive?

Saturday, 14 May 2011

Book Review: Appalachian Justice by Melinda Clayton

Appalachian JusticeBilly May Platt is the daughter of an Irish father and a Cherokee mother, and with that background living in a small town in West Virginia in the 1940s already presents difficulties. When she's 14 a group of boys launch a terrible attack on her, having witnessed a scene that drew her sexuality into question, and orphan Billy May retreats into the wilderness shunning her former friends. Thirty years later Billy May discovers the daughter of one of her attackers hiding out in the mountains where she has effectively done the same, and suspects he hasn't changed. She doesn't want to forgo her seclusion but feels for the girl. Events unravel bringing the story to a dramatic conclusion and affecting a number of the town's families.

This book skips between the 40's, 1975 and 2010, where Billy May who is now in her 80s is in hospital. She recounts her story and we gradually find out what actually happened to change many lives as a result of one incident. We also find out whether Billy May gets any justice for what has happened to her.

I'm not usually the sort of person who cries reading books (I think I can count the ones that have affected me in that way on one hand) but this one had me in tears. I was so moved by everything that had happened to Billy May, and the way in which the story reaches it peak in the 70s. To start with I wasn't sure about the author's use of lots of apostrophes to recreate the Billy May's manner of speech, but once I got into it I felt it actually helped me better imagine her and get closer to the character.

The story is very sad, one of prejudice, abuse and ignorance yet with all the threads tied up and knowing how everything turned out, seeing the good in people as well as the bad, it was strangely uplifting. In places Billy May is reading a book about a seagull and the excerpts reflect a story very similar to hers. I thought it was a very clever device to readdress the issues in a more simple way and emphasise them.

I love this book and really didn't want to put it down. In fact I'm kind of sad to have finished it. I think this will be a book that stays with me and one I'll probably re-read in the future. If it sounds even vaguely interesting to you get a copy!

Format: Kindle, review copy
My Rating: 5*

Friday, 13 May 2011

Book Review: The Heart Specialist by Claire Holden Rothman

The Heart Specialist
Agnes White's father was a renowned physician in 1870s Montreal, but when he is embroiled in a scandal he leaves her, and her pregnant mother, and disappears. When her mother dies Agnes is left to be raised by her Grandmother who had very strict ideas about appropriate behaviour for a young lady. Agnes though was fasinated by her father's work and, having salvaged some of his equipment, furtively sets up a laboratory that would horrify her grandmother and sister.

When a new governess with an interest in natural history arrives Agnes' horizons are broadened significantly. Although there are limited opportunities for a woman at the time Agnes pursues her desire to become a Doctor. The book tells the story of her battles to achieve that title, and of the continued influence of her father and his protege on her life. The afterword tells the reader that inspiration for the book was taken from the life of one of Montreal's first female doctors, and this was the aspect that most interested me. To think how far opportunities for women have grown in 100 years or so is wonderful.

In additional to this the story encompasses the very gradual romance between Agnes and her assistant, the impact on her circle of acquaintances of World War I and the mystery behind her father's disappearance. The various elements of the story worked well together & I liked Agnes and appreciated her tenacity. We can also see her flaws, making her very real. This is book was a good combination of history, romance and mystery and well worth a look if they are genres that appeal to you.

Format: E-book, review copy (I received an ARC but a paperback version with a different cover already appears to be available in the UK)
My Rating: 3*

Book Review: Royal Wisdom by Kate Petrella

                                                                                I Royal Wisdomchecked the product info for this kindle book earlier and was shocked when I saw the current kindle price of nearly £5! If I had paid that much for it I'd have given it just one star I'd have been that hacked off. I picked this up when it was free as a couple of the quotes mentioned in the synopsis amused me and I've always been a closet Prince Philip fan.

Yes, this book has some fun quotes included, and yes there were some I wasn't familiar with. I hadn't really appreciated how good a (dry) sense of humour Anne and Charles have before either. But, and this is a big but, it is a short book. By the time you have taken out about a quarter of the length for a list of sources and probably the same again for illustrations of various things British and regal you are left with maybe half an hour of reading if you're lucky. Some of the quotes, especially Sarah Ferguson's were quite repetitive, saying the same thing slightly differently and some just weren't very interesting. It also missed some of my fave Prince Philip gaffes, and it really could have done with them. It was also have been better if the quotes at least had the year they were from to give some context. Looking at the sources most people reading this probably could have compiled the quotes online themselves in very little time and saved themselves the money.

This book gave me a few chuckles and as a free book it was ok, but had I paid more than about the 70p you can pick up a lot of great short stories for I'd have been seriously disappointed.

Format: Kindle, freebie
My Rating: 2*

Good to be back!

Phew, it's good to have Blogger back, what was going on there then? Typically it goes down when I have 2 reviews to write and I'm looking forward to FF & the Blog Hop! Hey ho, just let's hope it's fully fixed now. I lost one post that was only partly saved in Drafts but hoiked it over from Goodreads and all is well again.

No word from Parajunkee or Jennifer yet so I'll add the memes later.
EDIT: It's later, so here's the blog hop:

Book Blogger HopOver at crazy-for-books.com the question is  

Are you going to Book Expo America (BEA) and/or the Book Blogger Convention (BBC) this year?

I'm assuming both are based in the States, I'm not aware of similar in the UK, so no I'm not going to either. To be quite honest while they sound interesting and a great way to meet people my holiday time is limited and I'd rather be somewhere sunny, diving.

And at parajunkee.com  - The Blogger Apocalypse made me a little emotional. What is the most emotional scene in a book that you have read lately?

I don't often cry reading books, so the only example I can think of is a scene towards the end of a book called Richard Wilde by Mary Fitzgerald. I loved the book, and I did have a bit of a blub!

I had a nice little trip to the library earlier and found myself dithering over which books to borrow and how many. I've got a few review copies that need attention first, so no point going overboard. In the end I plumped for Solar by Ian McEwan and Blue Shoes and Happiness from the No 1 Ladies Detective Agency series. I haven't read any of the others and I know now that this is the 7th book, but it's only a little library and they only had 2 of them so it was a random pick. These will be the next books towards ShelleyRae's Borrowed Book Challenge over at Book'd Out (there's a link to the challenge on my sidebar for anyone who wants to find out more)

I'm off now to sort out those reviews, have a great weekend everyone!

Book Review: Pigeon English by Stephen Kelman

Pigeon EnglishI picked this book up recently in Amazon's spring sale, interested a the story of two worlds coming together. Pigeon English is narrated by Harrison Opoku, an eleven-year-old who has recently moved from Ghana to a high rise flat in inner city London. When a boy is stabbed near his home Harri teams up with CSI fan and friend Dean to try and solve the murder. He's also busy trying to fit in and learn the street smarts necessary to survive while showing a more innocent side, caring for a pigeon that appears on his family's balcony.

Harri is fond of showing that he's learning the rules, creating lists to demonstrate he knows what's what, and desperately wants to be part of the in-crowd, turning his cheap trainers into Adidas lookalikes with a marker pen and talking the talk. The vocab he uses is spot on, reading the book was like listening to my teen step-daughter. However while he is fully aware of the gang activity going on around him and the dangers it presents he is still quite naive and too willing to believe everything he is told.

This really is a book of contrasts. While he is being pulled into a very grown-up world he is still a child. A couple of phrases that appear repeatedly are that something was the funniest thing he ever saw, or that he'd bet a million pounds on x or y. It comes across as typical, childish exaggeration. While he is doing tasks to be accepted into the Dell Farm Crew, the local gang, he is also concerned for the pigeon he adopts and joins in superstitions like avoiding the cracks on the pavement to make sure something good happens.

Harri's family has been split, with his mother bringing him and his older sister Lydia to the UK, while his father and grandmother remain in Ghana with his baby sister. Harri dotes on his baby sister and is looking forward to them all being reunited. While his mother apparently brought her family over on a legitimate visa Auntie Sonia lives in whatever country takes her fancy, coming and going with no apparent regard for the legalities required. Her boyfriend is a thug, but while Harri seems aware of what use he puts his baseball bat to it doesn't look to bother him. Unfortunately while Harri has plenty of hope he doesn't have enough fear and his forays into the bad wide world are threatening the safe home his mother has tried to establish for the family. Hearing some stories about life back in Ghana serves to further highlight the differences in the places and the communities.

I found Harri a very sweet character, a good kid who has been dropped into a threatening environment but still trying (mostly) to do the right thing. I was rooting for him and Lydia, who has found herself a poor example of a best friend, to get a happy ending. The parts narrated by the pigeon made for an interesting diversion, and its pieces were both funny, sweet and thoughtful, although in some places I did have to work to see how it fitted into the plot. It makes for a good picture of how life might be for a recent immigrant in a big and, initially, completely alien city.

I had to have a good think about whether to award this 3 or 4 stars, but on reflection while it was a decent read I didn't feel it was quite a 4* book, maybe because a naive 11-year-old's grasp of the world he's living in wasn't clear enough to enforce the messages in the book as well an older narrator might have, and because as much as I liked the pigeon I wasn't sure what its narrative added.

Format: Kindle, bought by me
My Rating: 3*

Friday, 6 May 2011

Book Review: On Dark Shores 1: The Lady by J A Clement

On Dark Shores: The LadyWhen I was offered this book for review I was a little hesitant as I don't think of myself as a fantasy fan. However when I thought about it I do read a bit of fantasy and sci fi, so agreed to review it with the author being aware it wasn't one of my usual genres. Once again opening my mind to something different has paid dividends though.

The harbour town of Scarlock is a virtual prison for its inhabitants, who are controlled by the moneylender Copeland.Those who get on the wrong side of him have to deal with his enforcer come bodyguard Blakey. Nereia is related to Copeland but this means nothing, she has had to become a master thief to support herself and protect her sister. However change is afoot and while Copeland starts losing control others are asserting themselves. Elsewhere the Mother of the Shantari, "guard and guide to her people", has to find The Lady and stop anything happening to her.

The majority of the action occurs in Scarlock, which has a faintly Dickensian feel about it, with its taverns and brothel, and the moneylender whose sharp practices trap the people in a cycle of poverty. I was captivated by Nereia's story and the way she remained determined to protect her younger sister despite the consequences to herself. I wanted to keep reading to see where the tale was going to go. I also found myself questioning whether Blakey was a bad person, inflicting violence under the guise of just doing his job, or himself a victim.

The role of the Mother of Shantari remains a bit of a mystery, no doubt to be addressed in future books in the series. She and the dark shore of the title provide the real fantasy element, and I was pleased to find I really enjoyed that aspect of the book and wanted a little more of it, rather than being put off by it. This is a dark and, in places, violent story that sets up what looks to be a grand epic.

While this book does set up a lot of threads to be picked up in the next one, and introduce a lot of characters I expect we will learn more about in future, I did feel that end was a little too abrupt and I felt a bit disappointed that I'd reached the end at that particular point. I need the next book in the series to be available pronto so I can pick up the threads again! This is a book that has been released after a decent edit and proof-reading, which always pleases me and I don't recall noting any typo's. That and the attractive cover make for a polished end product.

This is a great debut novel for J A Clement. The second book is one I'll be keeping an eye out for & I'm definitely going to have to reconsider what genres I say I enjoy in future.

Format: Kindle, review copy
My Rating: 4*

Book Blogger Hop & Follow Friday

It's the beginning of the weekend, so it must be time for some book blog visiting!

Book Blogger HopFirst up, the Book Blogger Hop, hosted by Jen at Crazy-for-Books.com. Her question this week is:

Which book blogger would you most like to meet in real life?

This is a hard question, there are some really nice people I've met on blogs but none I know well yet on a personal level. I think it would be great to meet up with anyone with similar tastes who is happy to talk books though. As a sensible adult of course if I was going to meet up with someone I'd met online I'd be meeting them in a public place to start with, and letting someone else know who I was meeting, where and when first, be safe people!

And moving on to Follow Friday, hosted at Parajunkee.com the question is

What character in a book would you most like to be, what character in a book would you most like to date?

Oooh, that's a goodie. I think I'd quite like to be a character in a Jane Austen book. The women of that period might not have had as much freedom as we do now, but for a woman of means life sounded pretty sweet. Alternatively I'd like to be a kick-arse character like Jaclyn Johnson in Sean Sweeney's Model Agent. I always thought Lara Croft was cool and she's probably the closest character I've found in fiction.

Who would I date? I've always had a soft spot for Dirk Pitt Jr, from Clive Cussler's Dirk Pitt/NUMA novels. He's good looking, athletic and adventurous and has a good brain too. Almost sounds too good to be true, so a few dates might help find out whether the guy has anything wrong with him.

Thanks for visiting my blog, I love to read people's comments so please say Hi, and have a great weekend!

Thursday, 5 May 2011

Book Review: The Miracle Inspector by Helen Smith

The Miracle InspectorI have read a couple of Helen's other books but this is the one that sounded closest to my taste, described as a dystopian thriller set in the near future.

Lucas and Angela live in a very different London, one that has been partitioned, where schools and theatres are shut, women are not allowed to work and may only visit family, going out veiled, and men are employed by an abundance of new government departments. Lucas is the miracle inspector, checking out many and varied reports of potential miracles. They are a young couple who believe they love each other but can't quite work out where their relationship is going wrong. They decide to try and escape London to get to Cornwall, envisaging a wonderful new life there, Angela it seems mostly looking for a more fulfilling life, Lucas to please Angela and get out before his connection to rebellious elderly poet Jesmond is discovered. In a place where most men die young, having joined the ranks of the Disappeared, he has reached a good age living underground and is a legendary figure.

The worrying thing about this novel is that it isn't too hard to believe this dark and very miserable picture of the future, where women are imprisoned in their own homes and lives are governed by fear of paedophiles and rapists. Yet despite the gloomy setting there is humour to be found in the book, albeit mostly dark humour. I very much like Helen's style of writing, her satirical humour and wonderful descriptions.

I have to admit I didn't particularly click with either of the main characters, although they do seem more hopeful and less downtrodden or cynical than the others we encounter. I think my favourite was Jesmond, and I would have liked to have found out more about him and his past. In fact generally I would have liked to have found out more about the intervening period and what had happened to get to the London featured in the book. Was it one major event or a series of rights being eroded and gradually accepted?

This was definitely a book that got me thinking, was well formatted for the kindle, and left me wondering whether ultimately Lucas had found his own miracle.

Format: Kindle, won in a giveaway
My Rating: 3*

Finding time...

It's been a while since I've posted anything other than reviews, interviews or memes on here so I thought as I have some time to myself today I'd actually post some thoughts on here for a change. The monkey is at nursery and I have a day off work so all things being equal I should have blissful hours of me time to surf the web and read.

With a toddler I don't get a lot of time to myself, and since getting my kindle and starting the blog the amount of time I spend on other things like watching TV and playing daft games on Facebook has nose-dived. I think the problem is that one book website leads to another, which then leads to another. In fact with so many websites to visit I'm not sure how I find any time to read. Despite this I'm always on the look out for new and exciting sites that might be worth visiting. At the moment I'm visiting Amazon and the kindle forum in particular (kind of goes without saying), Goodreads, Netgalley and Authonomy, as well as visiting other blogs and tweeting about the whole thing. I find Smashwords useful but that takes a bit of a backseat, and  ereaderiq is really helpful but another I don't visit often. Soooo, am I missing any really good sites that other bloggers would recommend?

I love Goodreads, but I think I'm suffering from a form of book envy, if such a thing exists. I often look at what other people are reading, see their reviews and then really want to read it myself. I'm having to accept there are only a certain number of hours in the day, and a finite amount of time for reading and that I can't have every book I see that catches my eye though.

And on a completely unrelated note, this week is Deaf Awareness Week. It is an issue that affects my family and I've realised what a massive lack of awareness there is about how to communicate with deaf people and the problems they face. I'm using "deaf" to cover the whole spectrum of hearing loss, rather than just meaning profoundly deaf here. Therefore this week is a great idea and deserves any publicity it can get. One site that has more info, for anyone who is interested, can be found here. To get a feel for what life is like with a deaf child in the family this series of pieces is great, and I think Tiger Mother is to be applauded for Sounding Off! If anyone has read any good books about or including deaf characters I'd be interested to hear about them.

I think it's probably now time to get on with the day and maybe even curl up with the kindle, back with more soon though!

TC x

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Book Review: Uncivil Liberties - A Pug Connor Novel, Book 2 by Gordon Ryan

Uncivil Liberties (A Pug Connor Novel #2)This book is the second in the Pug Connor series, I reviewed the first (State of Rebellion) back in January. The book starts with a hijacked KLM plane en-route to an unknown destination in the USA. The newly inaugurated President has to make a quick decision, shoot it down over the sea killing 300 people or allow it to fly over the US and potentially kill thousands. This terrorist attack is followed by a wave of smaller scale attacks, random shootings across the country.

In this installment we meet some familiar characters again. Pug Connor, who played a lesser role in the first book, comes to the forefront. He is now working for the deceptively named Office of Public Relations and Information, heading up a small group who are working to counter terrorism. They are among those battling with the best way to counter the new threat from Al Qaeda. Meanwhile politicians are battling with whether to enact new legislation that would hand massive powers to private security firms and erode civil liberties. The issue of secession is still front and centre in California and indeed in many other western States. Dan Rawlings continues to be involved in a movement which is growing and causing major political waves.

This book is another great political thriller, but in addition to all the action it contains a lot of thoughtful commentary on the power and influence of lobbyists and private companies in the USA, the perceived move towards a socialist state and what form future terrorist attacks might take - very current especially in light of the events of the last few days. There's even room for a bit of romance. The character of Pug Connor is fleshed out more, and he is a nice mix of brawn and brain. There are a lot of minor characters, the only one I didn't particularly like is Pug's Irish contact who comes over a something of a stereotype.

At the start of the book the author suggests if you haven't already done so you should read book 1 before starting this book. However as I read the book I thought there was enough reference to the events of the first book to make it work as a stand alone novel. The end clearly leaves the way open for book 3 though, which doesn't make for the most satisfying ending if you are planning on reading it on it's own. As I've got Book 3 on the kindle to read soon it isn't an issue for me.

It's a good thing the author has plenty more books available as I really like his style and his interesting plots, if you like thrillers in the spy/CIA/political intrigue vein definitely give Mr Ryan a try.

Format: Kindle, bought by me
Star Rating: 4*