Saturday 30 April 2011

Book Review: Cave by Ali Cooper

CaveAli Cooper's first novel, The Girl on the Swing, was one of the first books I read on my kindle and had I been applying star ratings back then it would definitely have been a 5* book. When I heard her second novel was out I downloaded it straight away.

Cave is Marty's story, told in the first person. Marty is stuck in a Welsh cave after someone has tried to kill him. He details his attempts to survive and escape from this potential tomb, and tells the reader the story that has brought him to this point. Marty started caving at uni and was part of a tight group. Meeting Carole and getting married ultimately brought his caving expeditions to an end, but when they undertake a trial separation Marty meets up with the gang again for this first time in ten years. He is re-bitten by the caving bug and drawn back into the group, which includes his first love Beth.

I loved the way the book started with Marty's current predicament and wove together recent events and the group's history to finally reveal at the end how it was all inter-linked. I couldn't imagine any of the characters being the culprit so I was hooked and couldn't wait to see whodunnit. Towards the end of the book there are a lot of revelations that make things clear.

I found it interesting that Marty comes across as pretty likeable, although a bit of a lad. Then late in the book he is subjected to a bit of a character assassination from one of his friends which cast him in a different light. I was still rooting for him though. As it is all told from his viewpoint the other characters are developed to the best extent possible without Marty being omniscient.

I have never been caving, but this book made me want to give it a try and made me realise I probably wouldn't be very good at it - not keen on the idea of tight crawls at all. To help the non-caver the author has put a definition of various caving terms at the start of each chapter, usually in relation to a new term that appears for the first time in that chapter. I thought it was a really good way of putting in a glossary without the reader needing to go backwards and forwards to an actual glossary, and while I'd have understood some of the terms in context others wouldn't have been so obvious.

This book has been well written and proofread, and if I was trying to be critical I would say that the very end, an epilogue of sorts, maybe wasn't necessary. I might have been happy without that and left to surmise for myself what might have happened next. That said, if it hadn't been included I would probably have wanted an epilogue to find out what happened next, so this is just being picky. I loved this book, the setting, the characters and the tension throughout. In a way it's another example in my recent run of bloke lit. The description says it's a coming of age story, the age being 40, but it's a whole lot more too. It's another great read by Ali Cooper.

Format: Kindle, bought by me
My rating: 5*

Tuesday 26 April 2011

Book Review: Fallen Star by Ian Barker

Fallen StarKarl Weston left school to join band The Fallen Boys at the age of 16. Since then he has had fame and adulation, women throwing themselves at him and the lifestyle that apparently goes with being a young pop star. It all comes to an abrupt end when the lead singer dies of a drug overdose.

All but dropped by the band's management company Karl is forced to make a quick re-assessment of his life, and has to lower himself to considering roles in panto and the like to keep himself afloat. His disapproving dad seems quick to get the digs in so when he meets the lovely Lizzie in a cafe she's a welcome distraction. Considering her father was an IRA member who blew himself up arming a bomb and his dad lost both legs serving as a soldier in Northern Ireland the chances for the two of them long term don't look great though. Their relationship is tested when he appears on a reality TV show and has to decide what is really important.

This book is a really good read, it was sweet and funny (very funny in places) and is an interesting portrait of fame and celebrity. It was an easy read that I whipped through, helped by the quality of the writing and editing. The romance between Karl and Lizzie is one of the main threads, but I thought the development of the relationship between Karl and his dad was just as compelling. I did find the ending a little bit abrupt but may be that's because I warmed to the characters and wanted to see what would happen in the longer term. Karl never comes across as the big I am despite his stardom and Lizzie is worried about whether an ordinary girl, let alone one with her family history, will ever be enough for him. It was easy to like them both and want to see them get their happy ending.

I suppose if chick lit is about a female character and her challenges in life, be they romantic or job related, then this must be bloke lit (or lad lit) With that sort of label I probably would have passed on it as I generally don't read chick lit or romance, but lately between this book and Scratch in particular I think I'm going to have to revise my list of preferred genres again!

Format: E-book, review copy
My rating: 4*

Sunday 24 April 2011

Coming Soon Book Review: The Restorer by Amanda Stevens

The Restorer
The Restorer is the first in a new trilogy, being released 26th April 2011, November 2011 and May 2012, with a free prequel available from publisher Harlequin's website. Amelia Gray is the Graveyard Queen, a cemetery restorer and archeologist who sees ghosts. She has always lived by the rules dictated to her by her father to protect herself from the dead. In this, the first book in the series, when a body is found in a cemetery she is restoring, Amelia is asked to help Detective Devlin with the case. If there are clues to be found in the headstones she is the one to interpret them. However allowing him into her life could have serious consequences for her.

The story is told in the first person from Amelia's point of view. Having the narrator be a taphophile (a great new word in my vocab, meaning a cemetery enthusiast) gives the reader a murder mystery told from a completely different angle to that of a police detective or medical examiner. For a start she provides some really interesting information about the symbolism used in headstones. There is also such an enthusiasm conveyed for the beauty that can be found in cemeteries that I doubt I'll look at them in quite the same way again.

As a character Amelia is clearly burdened by her ability to see ghosts, and lonely as she can't share it with anyone. I felt for her, having to deal with her conflict about letting Devlin get close. He is suave and mysterious, and appears to put up barriers as a result of the events in his life to date but is irresistibly attractive to Amelia. There are several supporting characters, drawn in less depth but all with their quirks and their role to play in the story.

As a murder mystery it wasn't one where I looked at the cast of characters and could see a whole list of them as potential suspects. I actually appreciated that, I think I became more involved with the story as I wasn't sat trying to look for more clues and figuring out who was the most likely suspect. This book also proves you can tell a gruesome story without labouring over the gory details.

One of the aspects of the book I enjoyed the most was the setting, Charleston, and the beautifully descriptive prose the author uses to describes the places, including the cemeteries. It conjured up some wonderful and some gothically scary images for me. The only thing that is stopping me giving this book a 5* review is that there were a couple of scenes that could have had my heart thumping as main characters are placed in serious peril but they didn't quite reach enough of a pitch to have that effect. I thought this was really good read though and the epilogue leaves the way temptingly open for the next book in the series which I will definitely be looking out for.

Format: Advance review copy, anticipated release date 26th April 2011
My Rating: 4*

Friday 22 April 2011

Book Review: The Company of Fellows by Dan Holloway

The Company of FellowsI previously read another book by this author, which I liked, but when I saw this book the synopsis sounded much closer to my usual taste. This line particularly caught my attention: "Imagine the Hannibal Lecter novels set in Oxford University. The Company of Fellows is a dark psychological mystery for anyone who loves Thomas Harris, Val McDermid, Minette Walters, P D James, or anything to do with Oxford." The only author on that list who doesn't feature several times on my bookshelves is P D James (think I'll have to rectify that soon) so it sounded right up my street.

Tommy West had a bright future as an academic until a breakdown halted his career in its tracks. He has since forged a successful career in interior design but his old life is brought back to the forefront when a former employer drops dead on his doorstep and his mentor, Professor Charles Shaw, kills himself. Armed with the research the Professor had done for his last project and urged on by his 18 yr old daughter, who is convinced her father was murdered, Tommy finds himself drawn back into the claustrophobic world of academia. As well as revisiting his academic past old flame Emily is now a police officer, investigating Shaw's death.

This is a dark and quite disturbing thriller. Some characters appear on par with Harris' Hannibal Lecter in terms of potentially sociopathic tendencies, their acts justified in the name of academic study. Some readers may find the themes make for uncomfortable reading, it made my stomach turn at one point in particular, but this isn't a blood and gore thriller. It is beautifully descriptive and brooding, and I found the Oxford setting and the author's style made a very pleasant change from the bulk of mainstream thrillers.

As well as the complicated story surrounding Shaw's demise the reader gets drawn into worrying about the impact going back to these surroundings is having on Tommy, and wondering whether he will find romance. There are plenty of suspects if Shaw has indeed been killed and the plot twists and turns - I certainly didn't see the end coming. Tommy is a very cultured man, surrounded by erudite people, and his consideration of Shaw's research to try and unlock the key to the mystery brings up some really interesting theological questions. I liked Tommy and was concerned for him as he got deeper into the mystery, wishing he hadn't.

I'm afraid there was a bit of a negative for me though. Unlike the other book I have read by this author there were more than a couple of typos. Compared to some books I've read it wasn't too bad but in places the typos made me chuckle where I shouldn't have, which is a bit off-putting. The formatting was fine and the typos are nothing a good proofread and update won't fix.

In the main this was a really good thriller, not quite as literary in style as the author's other book but still enough to set it apart positively from many other offerings, and well worth the bargain 70p price tag.

EDIT: Dan has been in touch to let me know that the book has now been amended on Amazon having been passed to a professional proofreader, so the errors I noted should now be gone. It also has a new cover, shown above, that suits the book much better.

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

Book Blogger Hop

Book Blogger HopWow, I've totally lost the plot as to what day it is today. It's almost bedtime and I've just realised it's Blog Hop day! This fun hop is a fab way to find other book bloggers and have a nosy at other people's answers to the question. This week it is:

 If you find a book you love, do you hunt down other books by the same author?

My answer is Yes, absolutely. If you were to look at my bookshelves you'd see loads of books by James Patterson, John Grisham, Val McDermid, Ian Banks, Ian Rankin, Patricia Cornwell, Kathy Reichs, Charles Dickens and probably others too. I think it is possible to go into overload though. My Dad and Grandad both read a lot of Jack Higgins, Clive Cussler and Colin Forbes so I used to borrow a lot of them but having read umpteen and one they get a bit formulaic so I'm taking a break from them.

Tuesday 19 April 2011

Book Review: Coming Home (Dicky's Story) by Sarah Yoffa

Coming Home (Dicky's Story)When I was offered this book for review what first struck me was the description of genre as Jewish Inspiration Fiction/Romantic Comedy set in a post-apocalyptic world. It sounded like a really novel mix and I wanted to see how it would work.

Dicky is a Thief living in a post-apocalyptic underground colony. He has barely been above ground, only when the gamma levels are low enough to assist his thieving. He's most definitely a ladies man and surrounded by laid back family and friends. He's been brought up with a dislike of the Black Coats, similar to Chassidic Jews, who preach to the unconverted. However on his 32nd birthday he meets 6 year old Itzick and his family friend and companion Leah, Black Coats. Itzick seems to have a special connection with Dicky and when they are forced to spend some time together Dicky finds his pre-conceptions challenged and his lust needing to be controlled.

This book is an amazing mixture. The author uses, and where necessary translates, Hebrew and Leah and Itzick expose Dicky to a lot of their religious practices. A lot of the Hebrew is not translated but this serves to let the reader get a sense of Dicky's exclusion from their conversations. Inevitably I feel that I have learnt something from the book, but without be preached at in the way Dicky and his friends have been.

The romance is very sweet and tender, although there is a lot of sexual tension and some sex scenes. It was definitely steamier than I was expecting for Jewish Inspirational Fiction. I loved Dicky who in the past has been a bit of a lothario but now find himself faced with straight-laced Leah. He grows so much during the book, discovering a completely different way of life.

The setting, after a Great War, with a massive underground colony only able to venture out in optimal conditions and very limited communications and trade is really interesting. It adds another dimension, especially towards the end of the book where it comes into sharper focus and of greater importance.

This is quite a long book but I had a hard time putting it down and it didn't feel lengthy. I thought the characters were great, Dicky is charming, Leah warm and sweet and Itzick precocious but cute. It was such a great read and so different, I'm so pleased Sarah asked me to review it otherwise it is the sort of gem I might have missed out on.

Format: E-book, review copy
My rating: 5*

Friday 15 April 2011

Book Review: King's X Episode 4: Thieves by Stephen Harper

King's X Episode 4: ThievesI was expecting a long wait at the dental surgery yesterday so I thought getting into the last book of the present installment of King's X would be a good idea. Typically just as I was about to settle down they called me through. However I managed to finish it off in bed this morning recovering from the remains of the sedation instead. It took me no time at all, being pacey and exciting.

This last book in the present series once again picks up the stories of Book and Molly in L.A and Broussard and Khali back in the 13th Century. This installment is quite dark, with a lot of action and more than a couple of the main characters facing death. Shahin plays a greater role and I felt he developed a lot as a character in this book.

Once again we find out more and more about the power of King's X, and more links between the two time frames are exposed. They gave me a feeling of a circle being completed and were very satisfying but I felt a bit daft for not seeing some of them coming. Book, who has really suffered throughout the books is finally starting to come to terms with what happened to his father before his death, and realising his life has changed beyond recognition but his greatest concern is still for Molly. This installment was pacey and action packed, but I was still emotionally invested enough in what was happening to the characters to feel my stomach sink, or to feel enormous relief at parts in the story.

The end is very dramatic and while lots of threads have been tied up, due to the nature of King's X, I was left wondering if all was as it seemed. I'm slightly sad to have finished the final book in this part of the series but mollified as Stephen has talked on this blog about a new installment later this year, moving from the Crusades to the Elizabethan era. I'll definitely be keeping an eye out for that! I would heartily recommend the series, and suggest you try and read them close together to save any hopping back to previous installations to refresh your memory.

Format: Kindle, review copy
My Rating: 5*

Author Q&A with Danny Gillan

After a bit of a break I'm happy to bring you a new Friday Author interview. Paraphrasing Danny, as a youth his main ambition was to find success as a musician, playing in and writing songs for a number of bands in and around Glasgow, with varying degrees of failure. As he grew older he came to realise that rock godhood was no longer a viable option, but it has always stuck with him how much he enjoyed the writing process. His career history isn't all that different to the main character in his book Scratch, and he now works in social care. On with the questions!

ScratchWhen did you first think of becoming a writer and who or what got you interested in writing?

Before I began pretending to be a writer I used to pretend I was a musician. Writing (generally very bad) songs in my teens and twenties were my introduction to playing around with words on paper.
The transition to writing fiction wasn’t something I planned. I’m old enough to remember the days when people had PCs but no internet to play on. I remember wondering what I was supposed to do with that grey box in the corner of the living room, and eventually started filling up the screen with random thoughts and words when the telly was rubbish.

At around the same time I started reading the novels of Christopher Brookmyre. Although I had read and enjoyed many Scottish authors previous to this, it was Brookmyre’s books that showed it was okay to write in a ‘normal’ Scottish voice, about ‘normal’ Scottish characters. This was a revelation to me. Okay, his characters tended to go around shooting people and blowing things up, but beneath that he creates a collection of very real, recognisable people with familiar, everyday problems.

This was at the back of my mind when I had, pretty much out of the blue, a story idea. That was – What if an unsuccessful, depressed musician (not remotely connected to my own circumstances, of course) committed suicide, then got a record deal? That became the basis of my first novel, Will You Love Me Tomorrow. I played around with this idea for the next couple of years, until I eventually found myself typing the words ‘The End’.

When you write do you have a particular routine you follow, and what do you find the most difficult part of writing a book?

Unfortunately my writing routine tends to include far too many late nights, cigarettes and glasses of red wine. However, once I’m confident that whatever I’m working on is going somewhere I do try to become more disciplined, and generally set myself a minimum of 1000 words per day. I have a bad habit of editing as I go, and it can therefore take me a while to reach those 1000 words, but I try not to stop till they’re down. Of course I tend to end up deleting most of them the following day.

The most difficult part of writing for me is coming up with the story idea in the first place. I’m always jealous of other writers who say they have so many ideas that they can’t get them all on paper. They’re just showing off, I reckon. I’m constantly trying to come up with ‘story questions’ or ‘what ifs’ that I hope will lead me to another novel length story. So far I’ve had two that were strong enough to get to those final two words. I’m hoping another one will appear soon.

How would you describe your books and style?

When I started writing the first chapter of WYLMT I had no real idea what I was doing, and certainly had no ‘style’ in mind. Given that the chapter was basically a suicide scene, I was surprised to find it ended up being funny. That wasn’t my intention, it just happened that way.  As the book progressed I did deliberately start looking for ways to get the reader laughing, or at least smiling – not always easy in a story about clinical depression and bereavement.

With Scratch, however, I went into it with the single intention of making the book as funny as possible. Something made easier by the lack of death etc in the story.
I’ve never felt the desire to write ‘literary’ fiction, and would hope that my future writing follows the same pattern as WYLMT and Scratch, i.e. stories about flawed, believable characters reacting to whatever circumstances may throw at them with humour, bafflement and occasional bouts of idiocy. One thing I do try to be careful of is ensuring that my characters react realistically and treat serious subjects seriously. I don’t want to write parodies or spoofs, just human stories. Most people I know socially are always trying to find the laugh in any situation, and that’s what I try to reflect in my writing.

Style-wise, I suppose I aim for ‘conversational’. If the reader feels like they’re in the pub sharing a pint and a giggle with my characters then that’s more than good enough for me.

Do you start a book knowing what the beginning, middle and end will be or does it take on a life of its own as you write?

A bit of both, really. WYLMT was roughly planned out from start to finish before I began writing it. However the final book reflected this plan only vaguely, as the situations and characters reacted to events in ways I hadn’t expected.

Scratch began life as a short story. When I decided to expand it into a novel I had only a rough idea of where it would end up going. The original ending I had in my head was, frankly, rubbish, and I was delighted when it went off in a different direction. I was aware throughout the writing of Scratch that I was, essentially, writing a rom-com. I therefore made sure I avoided as many of the clich├ęs associated with the genre wherever possible.

One of the main joys of writing, for me, is when the plot or characters change in surprising ways as I write. In both books, entire subplots evolved out of random bits of dialogue that came out of nowhere.

Are you self-published or traditionally published, and what has been the best and worst thing about the route you have taken?

I’ve been both. WYLMT was traditionally published after winning a book deal in a competition back in 2007. Unfortunately, although it was gratifying to see the book in print, the publishers were small, independent and financially precarious. It hasn’t been a great experience, to be honest, and I’m in the process of terminating my contract with them and regaining the rights to the book. (If anyone wants to read about it, have a look at my blog post ‘The Perilously Painful Path to Publication’.)

Scratch is self-published through Amazon Kindle. The reason for this was simple. Unlike some authors, I don’t pretend it’s because the world of traditional publishing is too closed off for new writers (though it is), or that my work is too ‘unique’ or ‘experimental’ to attract a contract. I put Scratch on Kindle because it was sitting on my PC doing bugger all and I was (am) skint. The main aim is to generate a modest second income to top up my very modest first income. If that works out then I’ll do the same with WYLMT when I regain the rights.

In both cases, the hardest thing is the self-promotion. Unless you’re with one of the bigger publishing houses, authors have to do this no matter what route they take. Some are naturals - I’m not one of those. I find it uncomfortable to ‘tout my wares’ on forums etc, but it has to be done. I’m still in the early stages with Scratch. That’s why it was such a pleasant surprise to find that you’d read and reviewed the book without my specifically asking you to. In an ideal world this would happen more and often, thus eliminating my need to do anything. I’m essentially very lazy.

If this isn't too much like asking a dad which of his children he likes best, which of your characters is your favourite?

Although I’m very fond of both Claire Rivers from WYLMT and Jim Cooper from Scratch, it’s actually the supporting characters I usually end up liking best. In Scratch it would be a close run race between Simon/Joe, the Bruce Lee obsessed psychologist and father of Jim’s ex-girlfriend, and Abe the foul-mouthed, perma-stoned chef. They were both so much fun to write that they’ve stayed with me as firm favourites.

What do you like to read and do you have any other passions?

I have pretty varied tastes in reading.  Christopher Brookmyre continues to be a big favourite and I always eagerly anticipate his new novels. But I am as happy to be reading the latest Mark Billingham thriller as I am Terry Pratchett’s Discworld books. I’m not a huge fan of literary fiction, but I’ve been very impressed by David Mitchell’s books over the last couple of years.

Music continues to be a big passion, though my guitar has been looking a little unloved and under used recently.

Finally, what are you working on at the moment that you can tell us about? 

I don’t have a current work in progress, still waiting for that elusive story question to hit me. That’s one of the reasons I didn’t push Scratch round the agent circuit, as I know the first question anyone interested would ask would be ‘what’s next?’ and ‘eh, dunno,’ probably isn’t the best answer to give them.
Most of my writing time these days is devoted to helping write for and edit Words With JAM, the free writing magazine. We’re about to have a big push for the upcoming June issue to coincide with managing to get an exclusive interview with JK Rowling and also introducing a print and Kindle edition of the magazine (it’s been purely online up till now).

Thank you so much Danny for taking the time to join me, I hope inspiration for a new story hits soon!

You can find Danny's blog here. Scratch is available for the kindle in the UK here and to the rest of the world here via Amazon, while his first book is available in paperback. You can also find Scratch on Facebook here.. If you want to know more about Words With Jam take a look at the website here.

Follow Friday & Book Blogger Hop

This week has been one of those good day/bad day mixes. The particularly good days were the ones I had off work, today which is my wedding anniversary and a family day out on Mon. The not so good days were yesterday, when I had a tooth out under sedation and today as I'm still feeling a bit woozy and definitely sore. Hopefully it'll soon be healing though.

On the book front I've read a few over the last week and a bit later I'll be bringing you a Q&A with the author of one of those book - Scratch - Danny Gillan. And I'll be really happy if I make it to 100+ followers today, am sitting at 98 right now and that would feel like a huge milestone for my little blog. For now, moving on to Follow Friday...

Over at Parajunkee's the question is:

Do you have anyone that you can discuss books with IRL? Tell us about him/her.

The only person I really discuss books with is my Dad. He loves to read too although his tastes aren't quite as wide as mine, so we only tend to talk about and share action, thriller and crime novels. I used to have a colleague who would chat about books, we'd suggest new authors to each other but she's retired now.

Usually I join in the Blog Hop, but not entirely sure what's going on with that, no Hop last weekend but then a midweek one and no indication of whether this weeks will be posted later or not. Will keep an eye and update later if it is posted.

Book Blogger Hop
Yeay, we now have a question or rather an activity!

Pick a character from a book you are currently reading or have just finished and tell us about him/her.

I have just finished the 4th book in Stephen Harper's King's X series (will review it later) I love the character Wendell Book. He's a vice cop, but hasn't been on the job long enough to be jaded. He's tough but cares about the people he meets on the job. During the series he has to deal with some massive, life changing revelations including what happened to his dad before he died. Yet at the same time he's looking out for teen runaway Molly. I'm just sad I've finished the first part of the series, the bright light being that Stephen has promised more King's X installments!

Have a great weekend everyone!

Thursday 14 April 2011

Book Review: Replica by Lexi Revellian

ReplicaAfter reading and loving Lexi's first book Remix as soon as her second book was released it went straight onto my Kindle.

Beth Chandler works in a Government research institute, and is too passive, letting people like boyfriend Rob and boss The Prof talk her into saying yes when she really wants to say no. This is how she finds herself accidentally duplicated by The Prof in an experiment designed to create clones for military use. However instead of Beth being in control of her clone Beth 2 is an exact replica and a sentient being. When Beth 2 overhears a discussion demanding they test then destroy her she goes on the run. This book is written partly in the first person, detailing her life on the cold streets of London. Meanwhile Beth is unaware of the existence of her clone and is fed a story about needing protection from terrorists to explain the presence of Spec Ops personnel. She finds herself falling for her protector Nick, unaware that he is trying to find and liquidate her double. We see their side of the story written in the third person.

The idea of a Government lab somewhere creating clones is slightly disturbing but with advances in science presumably not completely beyond the realms of possibility, so the basic premise is really interesting even if it may require a small leap of faith on the part of the reader. It certainly threw up some good questions for the characters the rights of sentient beings even if they are clones created in a lab and effectively non-people.

Once again Lexi has written some great characters, and although the two Beths are the same person they show different personalities, driven largely by the circumstances they found themselves in. To start with Nick was the MI5 spec ops guy, determined to hunt down Beth 2 for termination, but I felt a bit sorry for him as he tries to deal with the conflict he faces in hunting down Beth's double once he has fallen for the original Beth. I did feel that Beth got involved with Nick too quickly though, it didn't feel in character for her.
I enjoyed the descriptions of London and the places Beth 2 visits while trying to survive on the streets, I got a real sense of how hard it must be.

This seems to be an average length book, judging by the number of kindle locations, but it took me no time to finish as the pace and tension kept me reading. It has been well proofed and formatted and was a really enjoyable read, another action with a bit of romance on the side.

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

Book Review: The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness

The Knife of Never Letting Go (Chaos Walking)I reviewed the short story prequel to the Chaos Walking series back in January, after I picked The New World up as a freebie. As I enjoyed that I decided I'd take a look at the series and picked Book 1, The Knife of Never Letting Go, up from the library.

Todd Hewitt is the last boy in Prentisstown, just a month away from turning 13 and becoming a man. Prentisstown is a place where there are no women, and everyone can hear exactly what everyone else is thinking because they live in a state of perpetual Noise. Todd is even able to talk with his dog. What Todd doesn't know is that, despite being able to hear their thoughts, the men of the town are keeping secrets from him. These secrets force him to go on the run to try and save his life and that of Viola, the first girl he has ever met.

I'm a bit old to be the young adult target audience but it is still a very good book. It throws up some interesting ideas, like what it would be like to live in a world where there was very little privacy, with every thought overheard by others. It's a fast paced book and it's very easy to warm to Todd and his faithful dog Manchee. There is a lot of suspense as the reader wonders why Todd is being hunted and what the great secrets are that unite the men of Prentisstown. Unlike The New World Viola takes more of a back seat, with the story told from Todd's viewpoint. The way it is written, with almost phonetic spellings and a very colloquial style, gives a real feel for this young man. The story ends with a massive revelation that is obviously going to lead perfectly into the next book in the series.

This looks like it is shaping up to be something of an epic, Todd and Viola travelling through foreign lands, encountering strange creatures like the Things and the Spackles, trying to battle evil, and I'm certainly planning on reading Book 2, The Ask and The Answer.

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

Saturday 9 April 2011

Book Review: Scratch by Danny Gillan

ScratchThis book came to my attention on a forum at a point in time when I was thinking I could do with a funny read, so onto the Kindle it went. This is Danny's second novel, both have a bunch of good reviews on Amazon so it looked like a good choice.

Scratch is the story of Jim Cooper, as told by him. He works in a call centre, fobbing off customers and has been plodding along until one day a complaint letter appears from an ex's dad. This sparks something in Jim who decides it is time for a fresh start. He leaves his job, with nothing new lined up and sells his flat to clear his debts rendering himself homeless. Age 33 he finds himself living at home again, and working back in the same pub he was working in 12 years earlier - not exactly progress!

However ex Paula's crazy dad befriends him and reveals that she is moving back to Glasgow (with her husband) When she comes back she announces to Jim that her marriage is all but over, and that she loves him, but she can't leave her husband until his seriously ill grandad either recovers or dies. Jim being newly grown up insists on no sex until she has told him, while she insists they keep their non-affair a secret.

The book is is very funny in places, getting me laughing out loud on the train. I loved Jim's relationship with best friend Terry which was a good source of humour, as was Paula's Bruce Lee mad, lonely dad. It was also touching and sad, as Jim and Paula struggle to renew their relationship in less than ideal circumstances. By turns it was also uplifting and made me smile. Seeing the change in Jim's relationship with his parents made me really happy for all three of them. I suppose that must mean the characters were well-drawn, to make me feel like that. Jim is certainly likeable and he and his group of friends and colleagues certainly reminded me of people I have known and been friends with.

If you don't like bad language in your books you'd be well advised not to pick this one up, it gets a bit colourful. It didn't bother me unduly as it seemed to fit with the characters and how they would speak.

If I had anything negative to say about this book it would be the length of it. When I looked at the number of locations when I started reading (if you don't kindle locations were in place of page numbers because of issues with changing font sizes) it was probably the longest book on my kindle by some way. I think a slightly harsher edit might have been worthwhile as in a couple of places I started skimming a bit as conversations rambled or Jim pontificated. The author probably could have made the story closer to the usual length of a novel without losing any of the impact, and in fact possibly tightening the book up a bit.

By and large thought I thought this was a really good read, an honest look at life, growing up and the joy and pain of relationships.

Format: Kindle, purchased
My rating: 4*

Friday 8 April 2011

Friday has taken me by surprise!

I have just realised with a start that it's Friday, so that's made me happy - especially as it's a beautiful day and I'm off work next week. I think I was thrown by changing my work days this week, I'm easily confused! Of course Friday means meme time for me, thanks as always to Parajunkee and Jennifer for running Follow Friday and the Book Blogger Hop. The Hop has been delayed until later (probably tonight for me, so will update as soon as I can) but for now here's FF.

This week's question is:

Do you judge a book by its cover?

When I was mostly reading physical books I'd have said the answer was no, I'd look at the author and the blurb, browsing the shop by genre. When I got my kindle I thought as the picture was small and black and white that they'd be even less relevant. However I've found that browsing the kindle store I look at the covers first and foremost, make instant judgements about what sort of book it is and only pay much attention, going on to look at the product page of the ones that catch my eye.

I do love striking art, my walls are covered with water colours, prints and photos, and I think this is one of my fave covers, I have picked the book off my shelf in the past just to look at it.

City of the Beasts

Wednesday 6 April 2011

Coming Soon Book Review: Growing Up Amish by Ira Wagler

Growing Up Amish: A Memoir

I don't often read biographies and autobiographies but growing up across the road from a family of Quakers I've always had a bit of an interest in religious groups within the same family.

The author was Amish, born and bred, one of eleven siblings. His father was a respected and well-known member of the Amish Old Order. At the age of 17 he decided to leave the confines of the community he lived in, walking out in the middle of the night and leaving a note for his parents. The book details life growing up in an Amish community, the Rumspringa rite of passage, and life as a young Amish man. He did return home, and for years battled with where he really belonged, finally leaving for good at age 26.

I was absorbed by the details of daily life and hadn't previously appreciated how different the rules governing Amish life can be, depending on which community a family lives in. The book also exploded some myths about Rumspringa for me.What really captured me though was the author's battle between his desire to experience the wider world and his fears about being excommunicated and the consequences, drummed into him from an early age.

This was a quick read for me, well-written and interesting. In some places I laughed, in others I smiled and was so happy for Ira, and in other parts again I could feel how distressing his lonely struggle must have been. All in all it was a really good read and as a bonus I have learnt a little from this book.

Format: Advance review copy, anticipated release date 1st July 2011
My rating: 4*

Monday 4 April 2011

Book Review: Deed to Death by D B Henson

Deed to Death

This book is D B Henson's first, and one I picked up a while ago as a freebie. Scott Chadwick is found dead on the site of a hotel his firm is building, having fallen from the top floor. Immediately it is treated as suicide, despite the fact he was due to marry in less than 72 hours time. The only person who questions this is fiancee Toni Matthews who is convinced he either fell or was pushed. Having buried her fiancee on the day she was supposed to be married she is determined to prove everyone wrong. However in her attempts to uncover what happened she puts herself in danger.
This felt like quite a short novel, I read it in a matter of hours over the course of one day, but it is a respectable length so I think this shows I found it an easy and enjoyable read. There were plenty of twists in the plot, and a myriad of suspects. As I read I came up with plenty of motives for the various characters and in some cases I was right, in others not so much.

I liked Toni, I could empathise with the position she was in, with friends and the Police all ignoring what she had to say but convinced she was on to something, and not knowing who to trust. I really wanted a happy ending for her, or at least as happy as possible in the circumstances. The other characters had much less depth but as the book is from her viewpoint and I knew understand their motivation it wasn't a big concern. Despite all the twists and turns the plot was easy to follow.

I liked the author's writing style, I didn't think there were a lot of words wasted with flowery descriptions of the surroundings, and this helped advance the story at a decent pace. In addition there were very few typos, which should go without saying but sadly not always the case with e-books.

This book wasn't challenging and I wasn't exactly blindsided by any of the revelations in the plot but it was a quick and easy read that I liked. The worst thing about the book was the slightly naff title! As a footnote I got this as a kindle freebie but at present it only appears to be available on Amazon as a paperback for pre-order with a publication date in July 2011. After doing a bit of research it appears having self-published this for the kindle and doing so well with it the author was taken on by a publisher. Well done to DB Henson.

Format: Kindle, freebie
My Rating: 3*

Sunday 3 April 2011

Book review: The Queen's Dollmaker Christine Trent

The Queen's DollmakerThis is one of the books I picked up for £1 back during the "12 days of kindle" promotion and as I haven't read any  historical fiction for a while I thought it was high time I took a look.

Claudette Laurent lives in a France in turmoil in the latter half of the 1700s. Fire destroys her home and her father's workshop and then her parents die in the aftermath. Young and alone, unable to find her betrothed, she finds herself on a boat to England to start a new life. She begins life in service but is determined to make a better life and sees an opportunity using skills she learnt from her father. Eventually her name becomes well known and she is offered an audience with French Queen Marie Antoinette. The story takes the reader between London and Paris, showing the intricacies of English society and the dangers prevalent in France during the revolution.

To start with I found the story enjoyable and thought it would be a book I would really like. Unfortunately the more I read the more issues I had with it. From early on there were inconsistencies with how old Claudette was. At the start, in 1765, she is meant to be 5 years old. Then in 1781 she has been assisting her father for 16 years, but later in 1779 she turns 14, then in 1784 she is meant to be nineteen. I also noticed things like errors in the spelling of character's names. These aren't major issues but it seems poor that neither have been picked up before publication.

On the theme of inconsistencies I felt the way Claudette and her betrothed behaved seemed inconsistent. She is meant to be totally in love with Jean-Philippe, but when her parents die and she tries to find him she spends all of hours looking for him then visits the police station where she is told to go to the docks to look. She heads to the docks, is told no family with his name is there and promptly agrees to board a ship to England. Not exactly what I'd expected for a besotted teenager. When she later returns to France for a second time she does so knowing of all the troubles the country faces, yet with all she has going for her in her life in England she still goes to Paris on the whim of the most hated woman in France.

Jean-Philippe confused me greatly. He was a political creature in his teens, against the excesses of the King and Queen's court, yet when we catch up with him years later he has been working there for what must have been years (even with the off-kilter ages and years) just so he can see the abuses for himself. It seemed strange to have spent years in service of those he stood so strongly against.

Another of my problems with the book was the language used by the author. Some of her turns of phrase were awkward and while I don't mind the use of American spellings there were Americanisms creeping in. For example while in America you might say you walked x number of blocks it's not something I have ever heard anyone English say, and I very much doubt back in the 1700s London was laid out in blocks.

My final gripe about this book was that later on the parts focusing on Marie Antoinette and the unfolding situation in France became too much tell and not enough show, it was like reading from a history textbook rather than a novel. It almost felt like the author couldn't figure out a way to impart the information by weaving it into the text.

This book had a lot of potential, I liked the basic plot premise and the way it was interwoven with the story of Marie Antoinette and the French Revolution. However the execution really let it down, so I don't think I could say more than it was ok. I'm glad I picked it up when it was on offer!

Format: Kindle, purchased
My Rating: 2*

Saturday 2 April 2011

Coming Soon Book Review: The Keeper of Lost Causes by Jussi Adler-Olsen

The Keeper of Lost Causes
There aren't a lot of TV programmes I make an effort to watch but the show Cold Case used to be one of them. When I read the synopsis for this book it sounded like it could be along similar lines so picqued my interest. The author is considered Denmark's premier crime writer and has won various crime-writing awards which made it even more attractive to me, a lover of a good crime novel.

Carl Morck is a homicide detective who has just returned from work after a period of leave. His last visit to a crime scene left one colleague dead, another seriously injured and Morck with wounds of his own, including self-imposed ones as he blames himself for not doing more to save them. When he does return he is initially amazed to find he has been promoted until he finds himself working in the basement as the head of a the brand new Department Q, tasked with reviewing (and ideally solving) cold cases.

This is the first crime novel I think I have read based in Scandinavia and at the start of the book I was a little concerned about keeping track of such unfamiliar place names, and that I was missing out on some cultural references. However I needn't have worried, the place names weren't all that important and any references I might have missed didn't impact upon the plot.

I felt that the book was a bit slow in getting started, but once the story took off and gathered pace I was keen to keep reading and find out how the various threads to the story would play out. The story accelerates to a dramatic conclusion. Having read that this is the first installment of a Department Q series there is a reasonable argument that setting up how the Department comes about is important in the wider scheme of things. I found the author's style economical with descriptions but without sacrificing too much detail, a welcome change from some other books I have read recently which have been unduly wordy.

The book is told from Morck's viewpoint and that of politician Merete Lynggaard, whose disappearance years before was never solved. It also moves around in time, but moves are well signposted, and although at the beginning it isn't entirely clear how the two narratives link up it soon becomes obvious. Carl is a man with flaws, and plenty of them, but I found myself liking him for the way he deals with all of the problems he encounters. However I felt Merete and the other characters were less well developed, although there is plenty of scope for some of them in future installations.

I liked the plot, but won't say anymore to avoid giving the game away, and although the first part felt laboured the rest of the book redeemed itself and I'd be interested in reading future episodes in this series.

Format: E-book, advance review copy - anticipated release date 18th Aug 2011
My rating: 4*

Friday 1 April 2011

Booked Review: Songs from the Other Side of the Wall by Dan Holloway

Songs from the Other Side of the WallThe fall of the Berlin Wall is probably one of the earliest events I remember seeing on the news and really being aware of, I hadn't quite made it into my teens when it happened. Having always had an interest in eastern Europe and having visited some of the places mentioned I found the synopsis of this book appealing and decided to download it.

The story is about 17 year old Szandi. Her mum left her, at just a week old,  to return to England the day the wall came down. So Szandi is brought up by her father on a Hungarian vineyard. She has grown up part of the internet generation, debating how to right the world's wrongs in chatrooms, planning on becoming a singer. She later decides to move into visual art and adopts a bohemian lifestyle with her sculptress lover Yang. When her father becomes ill she starts to reconsider her life, herself and her relationships ,and whether she should stay in the East or move to the West.

Szandi is an intense character, given to falling in love in an instant and believing her community of forum friends have the answers to all of life's problems. Frankly reading the book I was glad I didn't have any friends like her when I was younger as I think all of her questioning conversations about life and who she is would have made my brain explode. However there were parts of the book that I thought were wonderful, where I really felt I connected with her and could see the personal development and an increasing self-awareness. I got a sense of isolation and dependence on her online friends and so loved it when she opened her eyes to the wider world and realised that life offline was probably more important.

Unsurprisingly, for this sort of character, in places the language and references she uses can be complicated. Combining this with jumps around in time that I, particularly at the start, had problems keeping track of meant that it wasn't the easiest of reads. However this could be addressed by changing the formatting, making a clearer break in the text , and as a positive I spotted few typos .

A lot of people, while their story may not be so dramatic, will be able to identify with that stage in your life where you really start to discover who you are and where you want to be, and there were definitely parts that resonated with me and made me take pause. It is a good book, although the style of the narrative wasn't entirely my taste.

Format: Kindle, purchased
My rating: 3*

Book Blogger Hop and Follow Friday

My fave day of the week has rolled around again astonishingly quickly (yeay, means work is out of the way for another few days!) so it's that time of the week, to meet other blogs, find out what they have to say on certain questions and to nose at other blogs.

First up, with thanks to Parajunkee, Follow Friday. The question is: What is the book that you really don't want to admit to loving?? 

I think the answer to that has to be the Red Dwarf books by Rob Grant and Doug Naylor. I have one of those in particular that has almost fallen apart from repeated reading as they're so funny. I don't usually admit to loving them because they come from a TV series and it seems a bit lame when there's so much amazing literature out there.

And moving on to the Hop:
Book Blogger Hop Since today is April Fool's Day in the USA, what is the best prank you have ever played on someone OR that someone has played on you?

Honestly I barely notice April Fools day, it's the same date here and even as a kid it was something I never really bothered with. I'm sure my sister and I did some of the stupid kiddie pranks but it's not really my thing. I hope you guys have better stories than me!