Monday, 18 April 2011

Hi, remember me?

After several months of not blogging, I think it's safe to say that my blog has seen its better days.  That's why I'm moving on to new, and hopefully better things with a couple of friends, Inkysticks and Thepinksheep.  We've decided to band together and blog as a group which we hope will provide a more entertaining way of communication all 'round.  Unlike BlackSheepBooks, our new blog,, won't be a dedicated book blog, but will offer more variety.  All of us are knitters and readers and we'll be discussing these things and more. If you have the time and inclination, swing by and take a look.

N.B. I will still be updating my reading lists here, just because it's handy, so if you want to take a look at what I'm reading, that will still be here.

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

The Ghost by Robert Harris

Ghost, TheWhen the former British Prime Minister, Adam Lang, decides to publish his memoirs, he hires a ghost writer as per usual. Only not all too far into the project, the “ghost” dies after falling off a bridge. A replacement is procured and he becomes The Ghost who tells the story of writing Lang’s memoires.

The new Ghost is never named, but nevertheless serves as the narrator throughout the book. He knows that his predecessor is dead and that he cannot be certain that his death was a natural one, so he goes into the situation knowing that he needs to be careful. Just after beginning with the book, all hell breaks loose as Lang is accused of working with the Americans by approving the transfer of British citizens to Gitmo in clear violation of international law. As the Americans don’t recognize this law, they cannot be held to account, but Lang, as an Englishman, can be tried for his offenses. Suddenly the priority switches from writing the memoires to practicing damage control for Lang.

As the novel progresses, the Ghost begins to try and piece Lang’s stories together with known facts about him and keeps coming up short. He begins to dig and isn’t sure he likes what he finds. This puts him in direct conflict with his job and his conscience. Should he just do the job he was hired to do and write the book or should he go after the truth? The first option would make his wealthy, but a traitor to his conscience; the second might just be suicide. He settles for jostling for time so that he can gather information and make up his mind, but the situation continues to heat up and his time starts to run very short indeed.

The Ghost is basically a political thriller which is so blatantly based on Tony Blair that even I couldn’t have missed the connection. Frankly I’m quite surprised that Harris didn’t find himself in a liable suit after this book came out. However, I’m not looking to discuss politics or the rights and wrongs of Harris’ conjectures, so I’m just going to view the book as a generic political thriller and leave it at that.

In general, I thought it was OK. It was all a little vague and one-sided for my taste. There was a distinct lack of balance and counter argument in the book, i.e. there was The Ghost and his conjectures and that was pretty much it. Yes, it did look like he was following the right path, but there were too many questions that went unanswered and a distinct lack of hard evidence to fuel his search. There was too much conjecture and guesswork for my taste. I also never really felt the connection to the narrator since he himself didn’t really seem to know where he belonged. It was like he was floating out at sea being taken to wherever the wind and tides took him. Yes, he’d pick up things along the way, but he never really seemed to be in any control and couldn’t even really decide if he had an opinion one way or the other.

That said, it was entertaining enough that I read the whole book and didn’t feel like it was a waste of my time. However, that is all it was for me, entertainment. 3/5

Monday, 15 November 2010

The Alchemist by Paulo Coehlo

The Alchemist: A Fable About Following Your DreamSantiago is a young shepherd boy who continually dreams that he is destined to find a treasure near the Egyptian pyramids. As he travels with his sheep, he thinks about the soul and the language of the world. He believes if he listens long enough to the world, it will tell him how to reach his own destiny.

During his travels, he realizes that it would be easy to give up and settle for something comfortable like many people do. They ignore what the world is telling them because conventionality and society tells them they should do the sensible thing and settle down to a modest job with a modest income and start a family. The boy believes that they lose their meaning in life by doing to and that only the possibility of fulfilling a dream and following that dream gives life a purpose. Several times he is tempted to give in and compromise, especially when he finds his true love in the desert, but something always comes along to spur him on in his travels. Thus he comes to believe that the entire universe is there to help anyone who undertakes the journey along to find his dream and that only people themselves stand in their own way.

This was a quick, neat little read. I enjoyed the book, but found that it didn’t really live up to its reputation. Again it’s one of those I suppose would be better from a younger person’s perspective, but for me it didn’t offer much in the way of new or uncharted territory. The entire time I was reading it, I was reminded of Siddartha by Hermann Hesse. Despite the novel’s differences, they are both about the journey to oneself and learning the meaning of life. Their conclusions serve to show that there really is no universal meaning of life, but that each person must decide for himself if he wants to seek knowledge of the world or not and that the answer may be different for each person. Santiago’s journey does, however, lead him to believe that the world is all one and that it’s cohesive is love. This knowledge became his greatest treasure.


Thursday, 28 October 2010

City of Bones by Cassandra Clare

City of Bones (Mortal Instruments)Clarissa Fray is a young girl who has been raised in New York by her single mother. Until now, her life has been ordinary. Then one evening when she goes out with a friend, she begins to see people her friends can’t see. Then her mother is abducted from their apartment and her whole world is turned upside down. Clary discovers that she is not ordinary, but is a shadowhunter as was her mother. Until now, her mother had protected her from the magical side of New York, but now that she’s gone, Clarissa will have to learn to fend for herself in this new world the best she can. Fortunately she has her new friends, Jace, Isabelle and Alec, as well as her old friend Simon to help her out as she finds her feet and begins to search for her mother.

Usually I like YA books and I’m quite fond of supernatural type stories, but this particular book didn’t do anything for me. It was if “Clary” was too shallow a character to really get into her and the story too predictable to be of interest. Having said that, I’m fairly certain teenagers will find this a good read, but it wasn’t for me and I won’t be reading the sequals.

Monday, 25 October 2010

Skulduggery Pleasant: The Faceless Ones

Skulduggery Pleasant: The Faceless OnesThe Faceless ones is the third in the Skulduggery Pleasant series. For those of you who have never read any of these, here are the basics:

Skulduggery Pleasant – a detective for the other world who is actually a skeleton who is held together by magic. He does not remember how he came to be as he is, but he spends his days fighting crime and saving the world from evil. Skulduggery was the friend of Stephanie’s uncle.

Stephanie Edgely (aka Valkyrie Cain) – is the niece of a famous novelist who apparently had more than his imagination available for the creation of his stories. Stephanie inherits her uncles estate after his untimely death, only to her surprise, she inherits just more than weath and material goods. Skulduggery seems to have been thrown into the bargain and she becomes his apprentice in crime fighting (greatly reducing the odds of a long life).

China Sorrows – A “librarian” who has a lot of sides to her you just don’t want to meet. Status as good or evil: variable.

Tanith Low – a warrior (one of the good guys)

The Sanctuary – The Law of the magical world. These are supposed to be the good guys, but don’t always act the part.

There are sundry other characters vital to the story, but these are the main ones. Skulduggery and Stephanie are fighting to prevent the ancient gods, The Faceless Ones, from being recalled to earth. Their return would bring about the ultimate destruction of the world so it’s kind of vital that they do. In The Faceless Ones, the an organization known as the Diablerie returns to try and bring The Faceless Ones back into the world using teleporters to aid them in the creation of a portal from one world to the next. Stephanie and Skulduggery are alone in their fight against the Diablerie as the Sanctuary has cut Skulduggery off and hired another, rather inept detective. The story heats up as all three parties search for the last of the teleporters who are vital to everyone’s plans.

Personally, I’m quite fond of this series. I love the dry humour, I love the one liners, I love that they’re easy to read and relaxing and don’t take themselves too seriously. If you’re looking for a fun, light read, (or are in the target YA age range) this is a great series. 4/5

Thursday, 21 October 2010

A Crown of Lights by Phil Rickman

A Crown of Lights (Merrily Watkins Mysteries)Merrily Watkins is the diocesan exorcist for Hereford and is the one they call in when things seem a little out of the ordinary. That is, she gets called in any time anything seems spooky or inexplicable. In the beginning, Merrily was unsure if she had found the right place for her within the hierarchy of the church. In the meantime, she still has her doubts, but has become much surer of herself and is less inclined to doubt her instincts. In a Crown of Lights, after Merrily answers a call to look in on an older gentleman who is taking the care of his dead wife’s body to extremes she becomes embroiled in the feud between the growing pagan movement, the church and an odd Christian sect which seems to have sprung out of nowhere. As events unfold and Merrily, with the help of her teenage daughter Jane, finds out more and more about the background of those involved, the pieces start to come together to form a rather unsavoury picture on all sides and she begins to wonder if she’ll be able to extract herself from the situation with life, limb and reputation intact.

This is the third book in the Merrily Watkins series and I quite liked it. Rickman manages to give the books and his characters a touch of the supernatural without going overboard. He’s left the series realistic by creating situations that are just a little bit off, thereby not requiring the reader to decide if he actually believes in the supernatural or not. You could choose to see the events in that light if you wanted to, but you can just right it all off as one of those things men create to spook themselves. Even if you choose not to put too much faith in the otherworldly, the books remain entertaining. Merrily is a down to earth, realistic woman who brooks no nonsense and only half believes in the whole business herself. She certainly believes in evil and the power of evil, but she’s not the type to go in for an all out supernatural frenzy. She’s belief without fanaticism, which is probably much more appealing to the average reader than if she were to go to one extreme or the other.

Jane’s daughter also adds a good layer to the book as Jane is more inclined to believe in all things mystical than her mother is. As a teenager with alternative beliefs, Jane often goads her mother into thinking about things more than she might do otherwise. She also incites her to act where Merrily wouldn’t. So while much of their relationship is pretty much the same as between any teenage daughter and her mother, Jane keeps the story moving along. She provides normalcy with a kick.

All in all, the books are entertaining without actually entering into the “Twilight” Zone (pun intended because I just couldn’t help myself). A Crown of Lights still holds as much interest as the first two novels while developing the characters at the same time. 4.5/5.

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher

Thirteen Reasons Why
Hannah Baker committed suicide. She opted out of life and now she wants people to know why. Shortly after her death, Clay receives a package of audio tapes made by Hannah before her death detailing the 13 reasons why she no longer wants to live. These 13 reasons translate into 13 people and Hannah makes it clear that if any one of them doesn’t pass the package along after her death, a second set of the tapes will surface publicly exposing them to their peers, and in some cases, the law.

Clay has no idea why he should be one of the reasons, but curiosity and a certain respect for Hannah drive him to listen to the tapes. As he does, the cruelty of his fellow students is revealed to him and a picture of what Hannah’s life was like began to form. It all began with a simple lie that only teenagers could take seriously. But they did and it changed Hannah’s life. That lie caused more and more little events to happen which snowballed into one great burden which Hannah could no longer carry and when even her teacher failed to understand and help, Hannah ended her life, but left the tapes as a way of getting back at the life and people that so disappointed her.

I’ve seen some reviews which paint Hannah as a whiny, weak person who should have had more courage, and in a sense, this is true. A stronger person would have been able to deal with the situation and would probably have never allowed things to go as far as they did. However, the book is about more than just her failings. It’s about social interaction and the failure of society as a whole. Humans are supposed to differentiate themselves from animals by their compassion, sympathy and capacity to support those who need help. In Hannah’s case, not only did they not help her, they didn’t even bother to get to know her before they started wearing her down. They didn’t know what kind of a person she was, whether she was good or bad, whether she was kind or unkind, whether she could take the kind of punishment they were handing out. In the end, you find yourself asking what kind of people we are raising today and if society will continue to develop or if we’re reverting back into a bunch of compassionless Neanderthals. Granted, her peers will probably have learned something about themselves after having listened to the tapes and may become better people for it.

The second question you’re left with is how often you yourself have unknowingly, unwittingly participated in such a campaign yourself. We often forget that we are not the only force in the universe and the things we do can be like drops of water on stone. One drop alone does no damage, but every drop contributes to the destruction of stone over time. Humans are, in general and always to some extent, egocentric. Everything we do or experience is always viewed in relation to ourselves, which often gets in the way of seeing the full picture. Seen in this light, some of what Hannah experienced is understandable, if not excusable. Might we have unknowingly acted the same? How does that leave us in the end? Are we really better than animals that kill their own in an attempt to survive themselves? It’s all really quite complex. The 13 reasons throw up a lot of questions about ourselves and the human race, which is what makes the book so powerful. It’s not just that Hannah committed suicide or that she could have gotten help, it’s that we all could have been as guilty as the 13 without intending it.

Frankly, I think this is a book everyone should read. It’s compelling and thought provoking without being soppy and over dramatic. It’s Hannah saying, I did this and this is why without asking for pity or tears. Yes, she is getting her own back in a way as it will surely wound those who listen (unless they are psychopaths), but it’s not a vicious attack and may even have a positive effect in the end.


Monday, 11 October 2010

Percy Jackson and the Sea of Monsters by Rick Riordan

by Rick Riordan (Author)The Sea of Monsters (Percy Jackson and the Olympians, Book 2) (Paperback)
After having read The Lightning Thief, I had to see where Riordan was going to take his series, thus The Sea of Monsters.

Percy Jackson is half human, half god (his dad’s Poseidon) and as such, leads a very non-ordinary life. This year, he’s in a new school waiting for the end of the year so he can take off for Camp Half Blood where he’ll learn the things he really needs to know to survive in the world like sword fighting, archery, Mythodic History, Monster Identification…you get the gist. Being normal during the rest of the year is difficult for Percy and this year, although better than most, has been no exception. Still, he manages to make it to the last day with nothing worse than poor grades, until PE. Suddenly he is attacked my monsters on the dodge ball court with his only help being the large, but not particularly bright, Tyson. They manage to fend them off and with Annabeth’s help, run off to Camp Half Blood, where Percy finds there is yet more trouble which he must help fend off. His new adventure leads him to the Sea of Monsters where he meets up with, and fights, many creatures straight from the Odyssey.

Although Percy is sometimes as dense as granite, he’s still a pretty likeable guy with good friends and an interesting life. Riordan really knows how to cobble together all the elements to make a good story which will appeal to younger generations. What he really should be applauded for though was actually making me want to go back and read the Iliad and the Odyssey, neither of which I really cared for much the first time around. Then it was just a long, boring story about a guy running around sticking his nose in a lot of business that wasn’t his. Riodan’s version takes on new life with his younger and not quite so arrogant character. He makes it all sound so much more adventurous.

Again this is a YA book, so it’s geared towards a younger crowd. Nonetheless, it’s a good tale and worthy of a read. 4/5

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

The Southern Vampire Mysteries by Charlaine Harris

The Southern Vampire Mysteries

1. Dead Until Dark
2. Living Dead in Dallas
3. Club Dead
4. Dead to the World
5. Dead as a Doornail
6. Definitely Dead
7. All Together Dead
8. From Dead to Worse
9. Dead and Gone
10. Dead in the Family
11. A Touch of Dead

I came a little bit late to the Sookie Satckhouse party. I was never quite sure that I really wanted to read these books, especially after Twilight. I think I’ve mentioned that I find the whole idea of Twilight stupid (teenage vampire romance, UGH!), the writing is poor, the teenage angst and romance bits are annoying and generally I should hate everything about those books. That’s why I’ve read them all. Twice. I don’t know what it is, but once you get started, they kind of grab you. Since Twilight, I’ve read a lot of similar books, like the House of Night series (I have yet to make myself finish, huge ugh!), and Shiver, which I hated, so going down the Sookie Stackhouse road didn’t appeal that much. Then Audible offered one on sale. And I was hooked.

Sookie Stackhouse lives in the little backwoods town of Bon Temps, Louisiana, works at the bar as a waitress and is a telepath. Most of the residents of Bon Temps know there is something wrong with Sookie, but they just assume she’s stupid or strange and leave it at that. Because of her abilities, she finds it hard to make and keep friends and dating is next to impossible (how do you date a guy when you really know he’s only got one thing on his mind?). Sookie tries to fit in, but it’s difficult.

Ever since Vampires had come out of their coffins, she, like just about everyone else, had been eager to meet one, and lo, one fine night in walks Bill the Vampire. Bill changes Sookie’s life in a whole lot of ways. Not only can she not hear his thoughts, which she finds terribly relaxing, but he introduces her to the super natural world. Her life suddenly becomes a whole lot more interesting as she tries to navigate and survive both the natural and the supernatural worlds by both hiding and using her telepathic abilities without falling under control of either side.

I’m not going to say a whole lot more about these books and I’m not going to review them all individually. I might have had I not read them all in one lump go, but it seems silly to review all ten in a row. So, I’m just going to say that no, they will never win any nobel prizes and no they aren’t going to become great literature, but they are highly entertaining. They’re also charming. The characters are likeable and real, in that you could see that this is just the way real people in Louisiana would react if Vampires and things that go bump in the night did come to town. Some think it’s cool, some are enamored, some want them all destroyed and a few are completely indifferent. It’s like a slice of life that you (the reader) don’t have to take seriously. The whole series reminds me of a phrase we used to use for an internet site I visited when discussions got a little heated – pretendy fun-time games. It’s not real, it’s just fun, don’t get your knickers in a twist over it. The Southern Vampire Mysteries are pretendy fun-time games for when you want to block out the world as it is and have a little fun.

If you’re looking for a good, light, fun read with a little supernatural and a little romance thrown in, you’ll like these books. On the basis of being fun and entertaining, they merit 4.25 out of 5.

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

The Spook’s Curse by Joseph Delany

This is the second in the Spook series by Joseph Delany. The Spook and his apprentice Tom roam the country seeking out and containing all things that go bump in the night so that the residents of their county can sleep safely. Many of the elements they battle are fairly harmless; indeed, the Spook’s home help is a temperamental boggart who’s behaviour is largely dependant on the Spook’s manners (he could teach many neglecting husbands a lot about manners and showing appreciation for their wives!).

Mr. Gregory is poorly and Tom now has to shoulder much of his responsibilities. Meanwhile, a darkness is growing and taking over those who live above the catacombs below Priestown. Those who were once good people are being infiltrated and controlled by The Bane, a dark creature who seeks to become master and destroyer of all. When he realizes that the Spook himself is concerned about his own ability to stop The Bane from taking over, Tom becomes worried and no longer knows who he can trust. His only allies are the Spook himself, the Spook’s brother and Alice, a witch of questionable moral character. Tom must learn and grow up very quickly if he wants to prevent the worst from happening as the Bane grows stronger and tries to escape his prison.

I read the first of these over a year ago, and have wanted to read more. However, they are children’s books and thus not really high on my list of books to purchase. Still, Delany tells a good story and it made a great weekend read. There’s just enough darkness and action to keep it interesting without becoming too scary. The series lacks the wit of Derek Landy’s Skullduggery Pleasant, but it’s still quite good, especially if you’re in a more serious mood. Perfect for a relaxing weekend when you can let your inner child out to play.

As a children’s book, I rate it 4 out of 5.