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.

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbary

The Elegance of the Hedgehog
I picked up The Elegance of the Hedgehog after having read so many rave reviews on it in different blogs and sites. I’m normally a bit wary of books that tend to capture the masses because what makes it onto the best seller list isn’t always to my taste. However, it sounded intriguing so I went ahead and got it. Unfortunately, I’m afraid this book did not live up to its reputation, at least not for me.

Renée Michel is a concierge in a posh apartment building in Paris where the young girl Paloma Josse lives. Neither person is what they seem to be. Renée is an autodidact who has taught herself much which a normal concierge wouldn’t normally even be interested in. Paloma is a highly intelligent child who is too old for her age. Both of them hide their intelligence so they can melt into the crowd and remain anonymous spectators who watch the world around them going by as if the rest of the people were ants in a farm who have no idea what their purpose in life is. Paloma decides that there is no point in living such a life, so she plans to commit suicide on her 13th birthday. Before she does this, she takes it upon herself to write down as many meaningful things as possible, through which the reader realizes that Paloma suspects Renée’s deception. Renée also begins to realize that Paloma is more than a vapid child and becomes interested in her.

The whole premise is interesting and the characters are well drawn, thus I hoped for more out of the book. However, two things got in the way of making this a really great work. The first was the attitude of the child. She was arrogant and annoying and I spent much of the time wanting to slap her. Yes, she was just a child and it was a phase, but I could have lived without this being the centre of attention for so long. The second is that it read a bit like a philosophy primer. It was as if I were back at uni in a philosophy 101 course going through the basics instead of reading about the relationship between and old woman and a girl. The two things did not mesh well together and it disrupted the rhythm of the story; it was a bit like talking as you bump down stone steps while on a cart. Had the story been smoother, the book would have been fantastic. As it was, I spent the first two-thirds wanting to slap the child and the last third regretting that the author hadn’t arrived at that point sooner.

All in all, I give the first half 2/5 and the last half 4/5, so a decisive 3/5.

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Unplanned Hiatus

I should have realized that I woulnd't be blogging last week and mentioned it, however, it never occured to me that between a visit from my cousin and a company outing that I wouldn't have time to blog at all. Add a few sick days to that and voilà, you have a blogging outage! So, just to get me started again, I'll post the meme I did a while back and forgot to post before going on vaccy.

1. Why did you start blogging? I frankly just don’t remember.
2. If you could travel anywhere in the world with no restriction of costs, where would it be and why? Canada and Alaska including a kayaking trip somewhere cool.
3. Did you have a teacher in school that had a great influence on your life? If so, what? I don’t remember many of my teachers and I don’t think any one particular teacher had any great influence.
4. If you could spend the day with a famous person, who would it be, and what would you do? I don’t think I’d want to spend the day with a famous person. It would be too odd. I also think their lives weren’t/aren’t as great as we think they are and finding out that were true would just be depressing. Just imagine visiting Victorian London. That would just kill the romance of the age methinks.
5. Toilet paper – over or under? Is under an option? I wasn’t aware that it was.
6. Name one thing in your life that you would do over if possible. My whole education and choice of occupation.
7. Tell about your pets – if any. I’m down to one dog, Biscuit the Great Dane and Sydney the really annoying cat. Biscuit is 6 and is a lovely dog who is so well behaved she’s very nearly boring (but not quite and I would take boring over misbehaved any time!). Sydney is a 10 year old second hand cat who was abused at her former home. I’m the only person she’ll let near her and she would turn herself into Velcro and attach herself to me if she could. It’s terribly irritating.
8. Do you live in a small town or a large town. A small village.

Now back to our normal programming.

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

The Sacrifice by Kristine Kathryn Rusch

The Sacrifice: The First Book of the Fey
The Fey are a race of conquerors with fighting and battle in their blood. Thus far, they have conquered all the lands within their reach and to extend their empire even further, they will have to take Blue Isle. As the people of Blue Isle are peace loving traders, the Fey assume that it won’t take more than a morning’s work to overrun the isle and claim it for their own. When this proves impossible for them, they must come to terms with their shock and create new battle plans, for the Fey never lose and to do so now against such a weak opponent would be more than an extreme embarrassment. The Islanders, however, are far from willing to relinquish what is theirs and set out to do the impossible and defeat the Fey.

From the beginning, I struggled with this book. The idea was good but the story never really gripped me. There were two things that really bothered me about the story. The first was that both parties were introduced on an equal basis with the introduction to the Fey being the first. Then, just as the affinity for the main character, Jewel, starts to set in, you realize that her race is actually entirely reprehensible and you really don’t want to know her. I got the feeling that Rusch was trying to convey that the same situation can look very different from different perspectives, but the effect was off-putting. Jewel and her father were evil by modern standards, so it was hard for me to care about what happened to them. Nicholas and his father were much more sympathetic characters, but earned relatively little page time. The second thing that irritated me was the repetition and lack of much action. It felt like she kept covering the same ground time and time again and after having spent a lot of time listening, not much actually happened. Finally, after having many times considered whether or not to finish the book, the ending wasn’t actually an ending but a lead in to the next book, which left me with no satisfaction at knowing the outcome and little desire to read the next book.

There are many good things about this book, the setting is good, the idea is good, there are several intriguing ideas about religion and magic which I’d never run into before and some of the characters have real potential. I could also see the next book being better than this first one. However, I’m going to have to give this one a 3/5 because, as I mentioned, it just never grabbed me like I had hoped it would.

Monday, 6 September 2010

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson

The Strange Case Of Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Hyde
This is another one of those books we’ve all heard of but few people have actually read. As a result, people often have the impression they know what the book is about, but don’t actually because much of the story has been dramatized and Hollywoodized over the years. I don’t actually mean that as a criticism even if it does sound like one. It’s brilliant that people can take an idea and expound on it to create other stories and I wouldn’t want to give up our Mr. Hyde of today, or our green Frankenstein, or our Coca-Cola Santa Claus. It’s just that often the successors wind up overshadowing the original to the point where it almost disappears except to the few who choose to look at the origins. Granted, there still are a lot of people out there who have read the originals, but the average person hasn’t.

Dr. Henry Jekyll has gone a bit soft in the head. He shuns visitors, changes his will in an odd manner leaving all to Mr. Hyde should he die or disappear, and his friends are becoming increasingly worried. Most of all they are concerned about his connections with the man Mr. Hyde who is seen running down a small girl in the street. Mr. Hyde gives a check signed in Jekyll’s name to the father in the way of compensation, but doesn’t show much remorse. Jekyll swears afterward that he is finished with Hyde, but when Jekyll’s friends find his cane at Hyde’s house, they know he’s still under Hyde’s influence and soon they find out that the truth is even more horrible than they had imagined.

It won’t be giving anything away to mention that Jekyll and Hyde are one in the same. Hyde is the creator of a potion which changes him into a being free from moral subjugation and Jekyll revels in the freedom this gives him at first. However, like most addictive substances, it soon takes over his life and his free choice is removed so that he is subjugated to the beast he has created. Here’s where “fact” and fiction separate though. Hyde is often portrayed as a larger than life figure with great strength and power. However, in the book, Jekyll is the larger of the two men and Hyde much the smaller, more crude looking figure with no particular powers except his lack of morals which allows him to do things forbidden to most humans. Stevenson also doesn’t present the case from Jekyll/Hyde’s point of view, instead choosing to tell the tale through the rather clinical and Victorian observation of his friends. This lends the book a bit of a dry air as opposed to making it a thriller. Thus, Stevenson wasn’t actually trying to create a monster for our Halloween pleasure, he was presenting us with the dichotomy of man vs. the monster within himself, or what we would be without voluntary moral or ethical subjugation.

I think he also, perhaps unknowingly addresses the subject of addiction and its ends. As mentioned, the potion becomes the master of the man until the effect is no longer the one desired, and instead reflects the essence of the potion which is evil. Many drugs have the same effect of being pleasurable in the beginning, but soon grow to control the user instead of the user controlling the drug. Finally, he also, rather obviously, addresses split personalities and mental illness. Jekyll and Hyde being one and the same makes that pretty much a given. Although, to his credit, Stevenson doesn’t make the split black and white, as Jekyll tells his friends, while Hyde was wholly amoral, this did not make Jekyll his diametric opposite and render him wholly good. Jekyll remained much as he was while Hyde only embodied the evil in him. Thus, it was less of a split than a personality graft, like cutting off one pit of a plant so that it grows into its own plant, only this particular bit only contained certain parts of the makeup of its parent plant. In essence, this is a more accurate reflection of mental illness as it is seldom comprised of a simple black and white split.

I could babble on about this forever because it is a terribly interesting book which opens up a lot of room for discussion. Yes, it is a bit on the dry side as a read, especially if you’re expecting fast paced action, but the subject matter makes up for that in leaps and bounds. It’s one I can recommend to anyone, so it’s another 5/5 book.

Thursday, 2 September 2010

Requiem Mass by Elizabeth Corley

Five girls went out onto the cliffs during a school outing, only four returned. One of the girls fell off the cliff in a horrible accident which went unwitnessed by her friends. Her loss was tragic but life went on and the girls’ lives continued as planned. Twenty years later and one of the girls, now a wife and a mother, disappears after leaving for a day trip. Her husband is shocked and upset but knows his wife would never leave the children. Unfortunately, the police don’t believe him and her disappearance is only a blip in their records, and only then because the husband lodged a complaint. Had it not been for DCI Fenwick, no one would have ever looked at the case again, but Fenwick feels there are just too many warning bells about the case and can’t leave it alone. Then another crime is committed which may be connected and Fenwick sets off down the path which will lead him to investigating the girl’s death 20 years ago while trying to prevent even more murder.

I can’t even remember where I came across this book, but I’m glad I did. Corley creates some interesting characters from remarkable perspectives and presents her detective with several moral dilemmas which make the reader stop and think about justice in its entirety. What is justice and can it be wrong to pursue it in every case and at all costs? She also created a rather incongruous detective. Many of the protagonists in modern crime novels are young and single with no children or have a drink problem etc. etc. Fenwick is a family man who cares deeply about his children and his own effect on their lives. As such, Corley adds an element of reality by introducing a man who, like the rest of us, has to juggle his career and desire to rise in the ranks with his life without dropping the ball on either. I suppose the potential for the dysfunctionalism which is so prevalent in today’s society and modern literature, but it’s refreshing to find a character who is fighting it and hasn’t just given in and accepted that he must sacrifice his family to his career. Not that Fenwick doesn’t have his problems, but they don’t take pride of place in his life as they so often seem to nowadays.

Interesting plot, engaging characters, enough tension to keep it interesting and a depth which is often lacking in crime novels. 5/5

Monday, 30 August 2010

Skullduggery Pleasant: Playing with Fire by Derek Landy

Playing with Fire (Skulduggery Pleasant, Book 2)
Valkyrie Cain has taken a liking to her dead uncle’s friend Skullduggery Pleasant and is now something of an apprentice in his detective agency. Only it’s a bit special this agency. For one, Skullduggery is a skeleton, for another his clients and cases are seldom normal. They mostly belong to the parallel world where vampires and demons really do exist and are usually trying to escape or find something that isn’t really walking on the right side of the law. Valkyrie vastly prefers this life to the dull, boring one she grew up in and cleverly ditches school on a daily basis to learn much more interesting and useful things like how to kill a vampire and use elemental magic.

When Baron Vengeous escapes from his jail cell somewhere deep in the heart of Russia, Skullduggery knows that problems are bound to appear soon. Vengeous wants to continue his quest to return the Faceless Ones to power (anyone called Faceless has just got to be evil, haven’t they?). With the help of Dusk the Vampire, the assassin Billy-Ray Sanguine and various other unsavoury characters, he intends to reanimate his grotesquery as a first step. Skullduggery knows he must stop this before it goes to far to stop it and so he and Valkyrie set out to save the world, again.

I love Skullduggery. Yes, it’s a children’s book, yes, it’s a bit silly, but it’s fun. I especially love the really dry humour that keeps it from taking itself too seriously. Right up my ally. It’s also not always easy to discern where the plot will take you, so it’s a bit of a roller coaster ride and never gets boring. Again, it’s an easy, enjoyable read, perfect for Sunday afternoons when you don’t want to think too much. It’s not going to win a Nobel prize any time soon, but I don’t care. I loved it. 5/5 for sheer fun.

Sunday, 29 August 2010

The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton

The Forgotten Garden: A Novel
How to go about reviewing this book. I almost don’t know where to start, so I guess I’ll start by saying that I thought it was a really, really good, well told story which earns a 5 out of 5 rating. I don’t know where to start because it’s a complicated story which spans generations. Some of which the reader is privy to before the characters in their own time and some of which the reader doesn’t know.

Morton essentially tells us the story of Nell, an English woman who was sent to Australia as a small child. No one knows her story, not even Nell. For a long time many things were hidden from her in an assumption to best let things Nell herself forgot remain forgotten. Nell’s granddaughter Cassie, sets out years later to find out what happened all those years ago.

I can’t actually say much more about it without giving parts of the book away. The story is written in a complex manner crossing time and space to fill in the pieces of the puzzle one at a time and although Nell’s story is central to the novel, hers is not the only story told. Understanding the one story requires knowledge of other’s pasts and futures. The events of one era come crashing together to cause waves which will be felt far into the future and, in turn, create further waves of their own. By including so much in the novel, Morton conveys that understanding is imperative; that to judge without knowledge is to judge falsely and unwisely. Not even the figures central to the plot understand how things came to be as they are until the past comes together to explain the future.

In a sense, the book is a mystery in reverse. You know where you’ve gotten to, but not how you arrived there and nothing in the past seems to make much sense. Little bits of the future are revealed as the stories are told. Morton uses this to her advantage by omitting or revealing small facts or clues by way of which she keeps enough tension in the plot to coax the reader along without creating unnecessary tension. It’s almost as if she’s leading you through the maze to the forgotten garden, but all of the maze and not just the path that leads through. She takes you down all of the twists and turns that lead to dead ends, but instead of letting it frustrate the reader, she uses it to help them understand the maze as a whole. Understanding the construction of the maze helps in understanding the way through the maze and what is at the other end. As such, the maze is really a metaphor for the whole story. She repeatedly refers to people getting lost in the maze; even those who once knew the way through can no longer find the correct pathway without thought and reflection. The maze came to be a way to hide and bury the past from the future as family secrets and letting it become overgrown only helped ensure that the past remained buried.

This is another one of those books I could write volumes about but as that would pretty much give the whole thing away, I won’t. I can say that it reminds me a bit of Rosamund Pichard’s novels (the books, not the much less praise worthy films) as far as style is concerned, only The Forgotten Garden adds a mysterious element which I thought added a lot to the book, especially with it’s well-timed revelations. Like I said, 5/5.

Thursday, 26 August 2010

Nation by Terry Pratchett

I may have mentioned a few times before that I adore Terry Pratchett. Just maybe. Well, I do. With the exception of the Bromeliad Trilogy, I’ve loved everything I’ve ever read by him. Some books more and some less, but they are consistently good and always entertaining. The Bromeliad Trilogy are children’s stories and knowing that Nation is essentially a children’s book made me wonder if I’d like it, but it’s Pratchett, so the risk is low and of course I wanted to try it. My opinion in general? It was worth the read. It’s not one that will list very high on my favourite read list, but it’s still a good book. It’s also another one of those so chock full of sly comments that you could read it ten time and still not have cottoned on to all the remarks. It’s one children will go back and read in ten years time and think, wow, I missed all of that the first time around! As such, it’s not strictly a child’s book and I can recommend it to anyone who has a sense of humour. It helps if you know a little bit about Polynesian and Victorian culture as well, but it’s not absolutely necessary.

Mau is set to become a man. He goes off to the little island alone, finishes his tasks and is already tasting the BBQed fish and hearing the congratulations that will welcome him when he arrives back home. Then the wave hits and wipes out Mau’s world as if the Gods wanted a gigantic do-over. At a total loss, Mau carries on as best he can alone, that is until he meets the shipwrecked Ermintrude, oh, sorry, Daphne. Daphne is the diametric opposite of Mau. She is the product of an English Victorian aristocratic family (her father is 138th in line for the throne; her grandmother is plotting 138 ways of death). She considers being barefoot just short of nudity, eating with your hands is just not done and talking to strangers without a written letter of introduction is a brazen act of wantonness. Consequently, neither understands the other. Fortunately, Ermin…Daphne is intelligent enough to realize that when needs must, convention has just got to pick up and go on an extended vacation and the two rapidly, as children tend to do, begin to understand each other and get on with the business of living and integrating the other stragglers into their Nation.

Nation is a very eclectic book. It tackles any theme that gets in its way and a few that don’t. The obvious ones are coming of age, the excesses of Victorianism, religion, idolatry and belief, but Pratchett really takes on anything that happens to come up. To say much more would be giving too much away, so if you’re interested, I recommend you read the book. It’s a quick and pleasant read but offers a lot to think and to laugh about. 5/5

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson

Treasure Island
If I were a more outgoing person, I might start this post with something like “Avast ye hardies!” or Yo Ho Ho and a Bottle of Rum! But I’m not, so a quiet dram of rum and the dog wanting a cracker will just have to suffice.

Treasure Island is a book I had been beginning to think never existed. Growing up, we heard about all the Pirates like Long John Silver, Bluebeard etc. but never really knew where they came from. I personally never ran across any pirate stories and I doubt my brother did either or I would have known about it. Anyway, I was beginning to think it was all just random bits of history when I finally found Treasure Island. I can’t for the life of me figure out why no one ever thought to give us this book to read. It’s a brilliant story. This is the stuff little boy’s pirate dreams are made of. Ships, mutiny, maps, buried treasure and gold doubloons, they’re all in there.

Jim Hawkins is a young boy living with his family on the south west coast of England. His parents run an inn there and one day an old seaman, Billy Bones, shows up seeking refuge. He’s a very mysterious character and it quickly becomes apparent that he has something to hide. He even goes so far as to pay Jim to keep his eyes peeled for a sailor with one peg leg. All goes fairly well for a while when suddenly Billy Bones starts receiving visits from fellow sailors who he’s not overly pleased to see. One of them agitates him so much that he has a stroke and must be cared for by Jim. While Jim is nursing Billy, Billy lets slip that he has a map which leads to a mass of buried treasure and that’s what the others are after. Not long afterwards, Billy dies, Jim snatches the map out from under the other seamen’s noses and sets off with the village doctor and squire to find the buried treasure.

It’s an old story, but I won’t give away any more just in case there are people out there like me who manage to spend half their lives avoiding this book like me. As mentioned, I loved it. It’s full of adventure and danger and is just really fun. One surprising feature is that Long John Silver is never really quite as bad as you expect him to be. I always assumed that such a character would be portrayed in the blackest of lights, but he’s actually quite congenial and takes a genuine liking to Jim. In retrospect, the man is a masterpiece because he can wear more than one face as it pleases him. Although this doesn’t actually fit in to the stereotype of a Pirate aux Pirates of the Caribbean, it creates an even greater aura of evil about him as you’re never quite sure which side of himself he’s going to show. In this sense, he translates well into modernity where it’s long since been expected that really brilliant criminals aren’t laden with the neon “I’m the Villain” sign, but are multi-faceted and can adapt themselves to their environment.

The story also belongs to an era where right and wrong, good and evil are clearly marked (with the aforementioned exception of Silver) and as such provides a good role model for children whose world really is still pretty much black and white. While I’m not always for dumbing down things for children, I’m of the school of thought where avoiding confusion in role models for young children is a good thing. They’ll grow up and realize the world is more complex soon enough. If we had more of these types of stories, kids might be a little less confused nowadays. Now I think I’ll just stop before I begin to sound too much like my grandmother. Brilliant book, a good read for all ages: 5/5

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater

I’d heard of this book from other bloggers and thought the idea sounded intriguing. After all, I like fantasy/paranormal/vampire stories, so the idea of Werewolves in the forest sounded interesting. It’s also gotten great reviews and was on the bestseller list for quite a long time. Unfortunately, I didn’t read the reviews and blurbs well enough, or didn’t grasp what they were saying because this basically turned out to be a teenage romance story which was completely overrated in my opinion.

A young girl, Grace, is attacked and hauled off into the forest by a wolf during a particularly hard winter. As she is being bitten, one single wolf steps in and saves her from certain death. Ever after, this wolf becomes her wolf. What she doesn’t know is that the wolves in the forest are werewolves. They are people doomed to the transition into a wolf every winter as the temperatures drop, the transition period becoming shorter with each passing year until they no longer turn into humans at all. That end is nearing for Sam, the wolf Grace thinks of as her wolf.

I was disappointed that the main focus of the book turned out to be romance and not the werewolves or even tension within the pack or tension with the human community. There were one or two lines the author picked up and then just sort of dropped as the romance took total control of the book. The whole thing would have greatly benefitted from a branching out to include more of the peripheral characters in the story or including more lore and a longer, more complex plot.

If you’re a teenager looking for a romance story requiring little to no challenge, then this would be a good book for you, otherwise I cannot recommend it.


Thursday, 19 August 2010

Maximum Ride by James Patterson

Thanks for Sync for this free audio book! I know I don’t actually belong to the target audience for either the book or the free book offer, but I do appreciate anything that doesn’t cost me and is entertaining.

Maximum Ride is the first in a series of 7 books for young adult readers. Maximum, or Max, is one of several children who grew up as a lab rat, cage and all. They are, in short, all the products of scientific experimentation. They are also the most successful of the experiments. Most of the creatures created in the lab don’t last very long, so after so many years, Max isn’t sure how long she and the others have. What’s so special about Max and Co? Well, for one they have functioning wings and can fly. They are also faster and stronger than normal humans, so it’s no wonder the scientists want to keep them under lock and key. However, four years prior to the beginning of the book, one of the scientists, Jeb, took pity and helped them escape. Ever since, the children have lived together in a cabin, fending for themselves even after Jeb disappears. Everything is going smoothly and they are all fairly happy until one day, their idyllic existence end abruptly as the lab security personnel drop in on them unexpectedly. They only get away with one of them, but one is too many for Max who sets out to find the lab again and free her friend.

I liked the characters, the plot and the creativity in this one. I think a young reader would find it quite fascinating and I’m not at all surprised there are more in the series. Personally, however, I found the writing geared too much to a younger audience to be really enjoyable. There was too much repetition and too much explanation. Sometimes I felt like I was being hit over the head with a hammer in that Max’s character would stop and explain a reference like the reader wouldn’t be able to get the point on their own. I got it the first time and didn’t need the explanation so it bothered me. A younger audience on the other hand, might have found the references useful and a skilful teacher could even put it all to good use in teaching the basics of literary tools such as foreshadowing, metaphors, symbolism, etc., so I don’t really want to add that as a general negative, just a personal negative. One thing that did bother me as a whole is that the ending is rather abrupt and isn’t really an ending. It feels more like a new chapter should start than a new book. Even if you are going to have a series, some sort of conclusion is in order, otherwise why bother finishing the book?

This is the kind of series I would continue reading if I had access to a free library, but since I haven’t got that option and I don’t have children who would read them as well, I won’t. It just wasn’t good enough for me to justify spending my money on more.


Paloma: A Retrieval Artist Novel by Kristine Katryn Rusch

Miles Flint is a Retrieval Artist. He finds people who have gone off to hide from alien governments who are searching for them. In a universe full of different races and peoples, sometimes even picking a flower can earn you a death sentence and people often wind up fleeing for their lives. As treaties between worlds shift and change, so do the results of those treaties and often people who are on the run no longer need to be, some of them have inherited money, some are proven innocent. Flint has made a business out of finding these people. After returning from a prolonged absence from the Moon, he receives a call for help from his mentor, Paloma. He arrives to find Paloma dead in odd circumstances with himself at the top of the list of suspects. Now Flint must use the resources, wealth and knowledge he gained from his years as a Retrieval Artist to find Paloma’s killer and exonerate himself.

This is another one of my Audible sales purchases. It’s a little bit outside my normal comfort zone, but I thought I’d like to try something new for a change. Unfortunately, it wasn’t really what I was expecting. Basically, it’s a murder mystery set in the far, distant future. The setting was neither different nor exciting enough to really capture my imagination. The characters were realistic, but predictable and not really very interesting. It’s a bit of a B novel, not really very good, but not really bad either. I was able to finish it, but I won’t be reading any more of these. Still, if you’re looking for a non-challenging fluff read and enjoy futuristic settings, you may want to give it a try.


Wednesday, 18 August 2010

Who Guards a Prince by Reginald Hill

Royalty is always a target and Doug McHarg spent many years of his life protecting the prince’s life. Only when he own wife falls so ill she can no longer spare him does he leave the job to protect her and becomes a policeman. His wife’s death creates a rift between him and his daughter which leaves him virtually alone in the world. Then one day, a tongue is found buried on the beach. It looks human, but when the results come back that it was a dog’s tongue, McHarg smells a rat and, terrier like, refuses to let it go. Meanwhile, on the other side of the Atlantic, The Connelly Family has problems of their own. The clan’s leader Dada has found out that Dree is having a relationship with the English prince and cannot stomach what he deems betrayal to their Irish roots. He makes the entire family’s stake in the will dependant on her behaviour, leaving Dree in an impossible situation. What no one realizes is that there is a plot against them all which may take down some of the most prominent people in the world unless McHarg can figure it all out in time.

This one started off a bit on the slow side, or maybe that’s just my take on it. I hadn’t realized there would be an Irish/IRA side to the book and was worried that the story would go down the same old roads with the same old problems. It does to a certain extent, but it also goes much further as Hill pulls the Masons into the whole scheme, which adds an element of interest. The whole plot quickly becomes quite involved with unknown and uncertain alliances taking place as several groups strive to gain or retain control. McHarg is unknowingly stuck in the middle of it all and may possibly be the only one who could figure the whole thing out as the shadowy figures start to take shape. It turned out to be quite a good read in the end. By the last half of the book I was riveted. I also think this one is going to be a good re-read someday. Kind of like the movie Sixth Sense where the connections all come together when you watch it for the second time. Warranting a re-read is always a sign of a good book.


Monday, 16 August 2010

Deadly Intent by Lynda La Plante

Deadly Intent is the first in the Anna Travis/James Langton Series by Lynda La Plante. I reviewed the second of the novels in June. Having bought the book in a sale, I didn’t realize it belonged to a series, and even thought it was a good stand-alone read, I liked it well enough to go back and read the first and will continue to read the rest of the series.

DC Anna Travis is a young, green detective who is following in her famed father’s footsteps as a police detective. She gets her break when another of the DCs is taken ill and James Langton needs someone to step in. He takes on Travis more out of curiosity than anything else; with the hope she will prove to be her father’s daughter. He isn’t disappointed. Travis quickly becomes fully embroiled in a serial murder case where the victims have hitherto been older prostitutes but are becoming younger. With the death of a teenage girl, things begin to heat up very quickly indeed. Anna swiftly proves her worth as a team member with her dogged determination to be of use to the team and her quick mind which picks up on details and avenues others have missed. Unfortunately for her, she is a little too good and winds up playing roles even the most experienced police officers would find difficult.

Again, this is just a really good read if you like detective/crime novels. The characters are brilliant and I found myself often trying to give them advice of the, “no don’t open that door!” type because I actually cared what happened to them. La Plante has finally created a female heroine who is insecure, but doesn’t let those insecurities encroach upon her life. She gets on with things and as such is a good role model. I find a lot of female characters who have to have strength do when they need to, but only when they need to. The rest of the time they lean on others for support. Travis avoids this by using her own strength without making it an issue that gets in the way of her life. She seems balanced and well rounded as a person, which is just such a nice change.

The story itself is well written and contains enough suspense to make it interesting without losing plausibility. It’s also creepy without dipping into Horror, i.e. simply reading it will not give you nightmares. All in all, a really good book.


Sunday, 15 August 2010

Bloody Jack by L.A. Meyer

Mary’s family dies in an outbreak of disease and she is forced onto the streets of London and must live as an urchin. She does so for a while under the protection of a gang, but when that gang’s leader dies, she sets off on her own. She soon realizes that her chances as a boy are much better because at least she’d be able to find work. So she changes her appearance and her name (to Jack) and sets off as a ship’s boy on the Royal Navy ship, the HMS Dolphin. Even though the work is hard, it’s still an improvement on her previous life and she is content for the time being. She always knows that she will be discovered at some point, thus her time is limited and she sets out to make the most of it, engaging in all the adventure she can while she can.

I got this book from the ABC Sync site during their free summer download program. All of the books are YA and are designed to get young readers interested in books, reading and listening so there’s something for all age ranges. I think this particular book would be more suited to younger audiences, despite the references to swearing and carousing (she was on a ship in the early 1800’s so it was appropriate and only referred to, not spelled out, so to speak). The story is one that would appeal to young girls. Even though I like YA books, this one didn’t really do much for me. It was too unrealistic and fanciful for my personal taste. However, I was able to listen to the entire book and be mildly entertained, so it’s still a good book, somehow I just don’t think it’s one that would be universally appealing.


Wednesday, 11 August 2010

The Power of One by Bryce Courtenay

I’ve never found myself particularly attracted to the African continent (it’s hot there and I hate the heat!), nor am I at all fond of boxing so The Power of One isn’t a book I would have normally picked up. It’s actually an Audio Book and was offered for free last month from Sync, so I thought I’d give it a try. It was worth it. I was pretty much riveted from start to finish. The book is well written with a good style that flows, the characters had a lot of depth to them, even though many of them weren’t on the scene for very long and the story was just superb.

Courtenay himself prefaces the book by saying that the reader should remember that it’s all a little larger than life, but most fiction is, so we should be forgiving of that particular flaw, but being larger than life is what made this book really. At this point I have to draw the parallel to Forest Gump. Although the circumstances and stories are totally different, the method is the same. The things that happen to the protagonist, Peekay, are fantastic through their realism. Peekay, as Forest, handles them unknowingly and sometimes unwittingly with a finesse and grace that endear them to the reader/viewer (I’ve never actually read Forest Gump, just seen it).

Peekay is a little boy growing up in South Africa in the early 1940’s. He is happy at home with his black nanny and grandfather, but when his mother has a nervous breakdown, Peekay is packed off to an Afrikaner boarding school where he is derided as being an English Rooniek and is bullied by the other students. Peekay’s experiences at the school help set his character and form the rest of his life as our early experiences often do. The bullying forces him for the first time to use his intelligence to help himself since he doesn’t yet possess the stature to protect himself physically. Peekay eventually leaves the school when his family moves to the East Transvaal where he meets the two most important influences in his life. The first is a German doctor of music who teaches Peekay about botany, music and life. The second is the local boxing group where he hopes to learn the art of protecting himself, and to further himself in his goal of becoming the welterweight champion of the world. The story goes on to follow Peekay through the Second World War and finally prep school, learning and boxing all the while. The older he becomes, the more Fate seems to be moulding him into someone great, although Peekay himself feels quite distanced from it all. It is perhaps this distance that endears Peekay to the reader. While his schemes at prep school can be a bit wild and self-serving, he remains true, honest and fair through it all. Unspoiled is the word I’m looking for. He’s never spoiled by his good fortune and retains his sense of fairness for others.

As mentioned, it is all a bit larger than life but it never crosses the boarder into the impossible or even ridiculous. It all remains quite plausible. The amazing variety of characters helps with this as they each have something different to impart to Peekay along his journey. They also prevent the book from becoming tedious or boring. It is a very long book, but one that’s well worth the read/listen in my opinion. I didn’t often find myself becoming bored and my concentration rarely lagged, which is quite a feat for such a long book. I give this one a resounding 5 out of 5 and would recommend it to anyone looking for a good read.

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan

Percy Jackson has constant problems at school and home. At school because he is dyslexic and has ADHD, at home because of his horrible step-father Gabe who treats his mother like a slave and Percy as if he were an intruder. Because of his learning difficulties, Percy is vaulted from school to school, finally landing at Yancey where he meets his friend Grover, who has difficulty walking and his teacher Mr. Brunner, who believes in him and challenges him to do his best. Then one day the school takes a field trip to a museum where one chaperone, Mrs. Dodds, turns into a Fury and nearly kills him. Percy’s world is turned upside down over night when he finds out he’s not quite as human as he thought he was and the Greek Gods weren’t quite myths after all.

This is the kind of book that makes me glad I still enjoy reading young adult books from time to time, or perhaps even more often than that. There are just some really fabulous stories out there and The Lightning Thief is one of them. I enjoyed reading this and can recommend it to anyone who wants a light, fun read. The only negatives I have about the book are: sometimes the writing doesn’t flow as well as it could and Riordan occasionally demands a little too much willing suspension of disbelief, or better put, his explanations for some phenomenon fall a bit short. However, for someone who wrote the book for his kid, he does pretty well for himself and I’m fairly certain he’ll get better as he goes along. I will certainly be checking out the rest of the series to see if I’m right or not.

Where the book gets huge plus points from me is with the integration of mythology. Learning about the Greek gods can be a bit tedious, especially when learning the list of “Zeus is and he did this”. It’s easier in the context of the stories and will be even easier in this context. It might even inspire some to go on and read the original stories. Any book that gets someone interested in learning for learning’s sake is a good book in my opinion, so big thumbs up for that.

Overall, 4 out of 5 for The Lightning Thief.

Monday, 9 August 2010

A Meme Stolen from The Scrabblequeen Knits, Too

1. Favourite childhood book:
I have absolutely no idea how to go about choosing one. There were the Laura Ingles books, The Wrinkle in Time series, The Narnia series, The Nancy Drew Mysteries, etc. etc. etc. There are so many fabulous books out there for kids that I could never choose just one, especially as I may have forgot a few of them in the interim. I love rediscovering those!

2. What are you reading right now?
The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morten. It’s about a little girl who was “left over” from the passengers of a ship which arrived in Australia from England. That’s really just the starting point as the story engulfs the lives before and after the event. It’s turning out to be very good indeed.

3. What books do you have on request at the library?
I don’t go to the library because I lack the time to go to the only one with a good English selection (and I really don’t like reading in German for pleasure)

4. Bad book habit:
I cannot pass up an Audible sale and Amazon really knows where to get me too. I have enough books to keep me for a while and yet I still buy more.

5. What do you currently have checked out at the library?
See #3

6. Do you have an e-reader?
NO. I dislike reading books off a screen and only do so when there is absolutely no alternative.

7. Do you prefer to read one book at a time, or several at once?
I would say I prefer one at a time, but there are many exceptions. I usually have one audio book going and one DT version for pre-bedtime reading. Sometimes I will switch audio books at the weekend when I'm feeling like something for frivolous than the book I already have on the go.

8. Have your reading habits changed since starting a blog?
Yes and no. I read more and I think more about it. I also get a lot of great ideas about new books to read from other's blogs. So rather than change my habits, it's gotten me to branch out a bit more and read genres I otherwise wouldn't have.

9. Least favourite book you read this year:
Don Quixote hands down. I didn't actually finish this one. 2/5ths of the way through I was ready to scratch my eyeballs out at the stupidity of it all and gave up. I've just never found stupidity funny and this book was no exception.

10. Favourite book I've read this year:
Again with the favourites! How to choose?I loved The Power of One by Bryce Courtenay. There were also a few good YA books like The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins and The Maze Runner by James Dashner which I really enjoyed. Then there was Unseen Academicals by Terry Pratchett which is a new favourite.

11. How often do you read out of your comfort zone?
I do try and make the odd foray out. It doesn't do to be stuck in one zone and be nice and comfy when it’s possible that there's a lot out there you’re missing. Reading other people's blogs has helped with this immensely as have audio books which give me more reading time so I’m less miserly with that time and am more willing to take a chance on something I may or may not like.

12. What is your reading comfort zone?
Mysteries, crime and some fantasy

13. Can you read on the bus?
I could if I ever rode the bus.

14. Favourite place to read:
On my couch or in the hammock on the balcony in summer.

15. What's your policy on book lending?
I loan more books than I should, but never anything I'm not willing to risk losing because they so seldom get returned.

16. Do you dogear your books?
No, but I used to. I will always remember what my mother told me about dog-earing in reference to library books: You may do what you like with your own books, but never cause any damage to a book which isn't your own. I live by this. I don’t dog ear because I want my books to live as long as possible, which is silly because I regularly break the spines when necessary to my comfort. I like being able to read in comfort, which one cannot do when one constantly has to peer into the dark fissure the words in the middle of the book disappear into. If only the publishers would get a clue and print them properly! Sheesh! :P

17. Do you write notes in the margins of your books?
Not unless I’m planning on discussing the book with someone or writing an essay on it. Even then, post its are more helpful.

18. Do you break/crack the spine of your books?
See #16

19. What is your favourite language to read?
English. I could read in German, but don't often as it's not as relaxing as in English. Plus I get German all day and want the comfort of English when I read. That said, I won’t read a book which was originally written in German in English because that would just be silly. I do read some French now and again for learning purposes. My vocab goes down hill so fast since I don’t often use it. I haven’t even tried to read in Italian for years so I don’t know how well that would actually work nowadays.

20. What makes you love a book?
The characters and the language. It must be well written and I have to care about what happens to the characters. Plot is important too since there’s no point in having great characters who spend the whole book sitting at the kitchen table eating cheese sandwiches (or doing something else equally mundane).

21. What will inspire you to recommend a book?
If I liked a book and I think someone else would like it, I'll recommend it. That said, reading taste is very personal and individual, so I'm careful about my recommendations.

22. Favourite genre:
Mystery and sci-fi and classical lit.

23. Genre you rarely read (but wish you did):
There isn't one that's applicable here. If I wish to read something, I do, end of story. See the next question for more.

24. Favourite Biography:
I would love to want to read biographies, but I don't. They don't interest me in the slightest. This probably screams that I'm anti-social and uninterested in people, but there you have it. Wish I weren't, but I am. Forcing myself to read something I'm not interested in is not going to change this.

25. Have you ever read a self-help book?
I was probably given books to read on how to lose weight when I was a teenager, but they never did any good so I've disregarded the whole genre ever since.

26. Favourite Cookbook:
Backen für Weihnachten (Baking for Christmas). I dislike cooking, so cookbooks are out. Backen für Weihnachten gets used copiously every Christmas.

27. Most inspirational book you've read this year (fiction or non-fiction):
I can't honestly say I've read anything inspirational, but then I tend to be very non-inspired, so maybe I just missed the point.

28. Favourite reading snack:
Jelly Bellies – This is a very, very, very unhealthy habit and not one I often indulge in.

29. Name a case in which hype ruined your reading experience:
Well, I just finished Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater and it most certainly didn't live up to the recommendations it got. I’ll be blogging about this one soon.

30. How often do you agree with the critics about about a book?
I don't really care much what the critics have to say. I'm usually only worried about whether I like a book or not. Recommendations I get from other bloggers and the reviews on Audible or Amazon. They’re much more reliable than critics.

31. How do you feel about giving bad/negative reviews?
I don’t like railing on books and usually try and point out its positive features as well as the negative. I also always try and point out that it's my point of view and that someone else may find it a brilliant read (case in point, Dan Brown and just about any book he’s written. I don’t like him; he cares all the way to the bank.). However, there’s no point in giving a book a good review if I didn't like it. That would be tantamount to lying. Finally, only books I finish make it into my blog. The really bad ones don’t even get that far.

32. If you could read in a foreign language, which language would you choose?
Latin. I really wish I knew Latin (well) since it's the basis for a lot of modern language. Baring that, I suppose I'd choose French. I can read some, but I'd love to be able to read perfectly.

33. Most intimidating book I've read
I'm not sure I've ever been intimidated by a book, unless it was a math book.

34. Most intimidating book I’m too nervous to begin:
See #33

35. Favourite Poet:
Ouch, here's where I have to admit to not caring too much for poetry. *ducks*

36. How many books do you usually have checked out from the library at any given time?
See #3

37. How often do you return books to the library unread?
See #3

38. Favourite fictional character:
Ebenezer Scrooge

39. Favourite fictional villain:
I suppose I could use old Eb for this answer too, but he's really not a villain, or is at least a redeemable one, so in lieu of Eb, Fagin.

40. Books I’m most likely to bring on vacation:
Something light that takes little to no brain power and can be put down at a moment's notice to go do other vacationy things.

41. The longest I've gone without reading:
A day. Maybe three when I was in the hospital. Oh wait, there was the time of the concussion which lasted about a week. So voluntarily maybe 24 hours. Involuntarily, a week.

42. Name a book you could/would not finish:
Don Quixote. See #9

43. What distracts you easily when you’re reading?
Easily? The noise from the kids next door. I'm not JUST a grumpy old woman, they own a vuvuzela and a trampoline which is apparently not fun unless they are screaming at the top of their lungs.

44. Favourite film adaptation of a novel:
As The Scrabblequeen said: Pride and Prejudice, the Colin Firth version.

45. Most disappointing film adaptation:
There is a Mansfield Park adaptation (1999) which should really be renamed Mansfield Park as I would have written it had I been a 21st century woman living in the 1800s. It was so bad it's put me off watching the adaptations.

46. Most money I've ever spent in a bookstore at one time:
$200 when I was buying books for the semester at Uni

47. How often do you skim a book before reading it?

48. What would cause you to stop reading a book halfway through?
If it’s ridiculous, has become painful to read or just can't hold my attention.

49. Do you like to keep your books organized?
Yes, I have sections like Fiction and Classics and then by author's last name.

50. Do you prefer to keep books or give them away once they've been read?
Keep. I am loathe to relinquish books once they are in my possession.

51. Are there any books that you've been avoiding?
Why would I avoid reading a book? If I want to read it, I do, if I don't, I don't.

52. Name a book that made you angry:
Angry is relative. I wouldnt read a book that was likely to make me angry, or was geared to do so, like political books etc. T'his is mostly because the more they intend to play with your emotions, the less likely they are to be true. The point of playing with people's emotions is to distract them from the failings in a book, so if it makes me angry, I ask myself where I'm being duped. I did, however, get angry reading The Power of One and Uncle Tom's Cabin because of the racist attitudes of some of the characters. That's not really the same kind of angry though, since those are archaic attitudes. (I'm not saying they don't exist today, because I know they do, I'm just saying they are archaic, like believing the god's will strike you dead if you don't sacrifice a lamb to the oracle on St. Peanut’s day kind of archaic. People may still believe it, but those who do are not really playing with a full deck if you see what I mean.)

53. A book I didn't expect to like but did:
The Power of One by Bryce Courtenay. I know I keep banging on about it, but it was a good book. I did^'t expect to like it because it’s about boxing and S. Africa, neither of which are subjects that fascinate me.

54. A book I expected to like but didn't:
Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater. It sounded good but turned out to be mostly teenage romance, which is just not my thing.

55. Favourite guilt-free guilty pleasure reading:
Terry Pratchett and cosy mysteries. Some fantasy.

Friday, 6 August 2010

Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus by Mary Shelley

Viktor Frankenstein is a wealthy Swiss scholar who becomes obsessed with science and chemistry. He takes his studies in his own direction and eventually comes upon a method of giving life to inanimate objects. Although he knows that the creation of life in a laboratory is morally reprehensible, as a scientist, his drive to discover if his theories work and can be expanded upon pressures him into doing just that. He creates his own monster made from bits of the human body he has collected from various places. Upon finishing his creation, he is appalled by what he has done and neglects to take any further responsibility for his work. The monster is therefore forced to learn to survive on his own wholly without the help of Frankenstein, who himself falls ill with the shock of his own audacity and exhaustion from working so hard. Before it is all over though, Frankenstein will be forced to confront both the monster and the true and widespread consequences of what he has done to the monster, himself and the world.

After all these years, it’s good to read the real story about Frankenstein and clear up the inconsistencies between how it all began and what it has become. Today we refer to Frankenstein as the monster when in reality he was the creator, at least on the surface of it all. It’s arguable which really was the monster, the man or his creation. After all, what Frankenstein did was monstrous from start to finish. Not only did he take on the role of God and mess with Creation, he then proceeded to wilfully neglect his responsibilities towards his own work. He created a soul and then left it to itself with no guidance and no help which ultimately caused great harm to himself, his family and his creation. He played God and failed miserably making him the real monster of the two.

The Monster himself shows great depths of feeling and humanity. Instead of laying the land to waste in order to survive, his first thoughts were to learn about the world so he could eek out his own place in it instead of living off others. He showed desire to help and be generous with his time and effort. The reader is left with the distinct impression that the Monster was intrinsically good, or at least better than his own creator. It was his own maker who was determined to make the Monster into something evil. The only evil in him was created out of a desperate loneliness, which really only proves how human he was despite his appearance. The monster really was a Modern Prometheus. He took the blame for the evil of his creator and the lack of humanity in the world at large despite his own innocence.

Frankenstein, on the other hand, was not a good man. It’s not really possible to say outright that he was evil, but he lacked all those things he “gave” to his creation: social responsibility and compassion being the greatest of these. Had he lived up to the responsibilities he incurred with his experiments and shown compassion for the monster, the harm done would have been greatly lessoned. However, he did not and therefore showed himself to be the lesser of the two beings.

Mary Shelley intended this to be a warning about the evils of modernisation and the industrial revolution, but it became so much more. The story is teaming with lessons for humanity, all of which still apply today. There are also the more abstract themes such as conflict between father and son, good verses evil and just what it means to be human. It’s a great story and well deserved of its status as a classic. 4.5 out of 5 for this one. The loss of the half point is debateable since I felt the telling of the story was a bit convoluted, but that’s probably down to the old-fashioned style of writing. More shame on me I suppose.

Thursday, 5 August 2010

The Joy of Sales, or, The Victim in Victoria Station by Jeanne M. Dams

Audible sales are deadly, especially since they really know that if they give you one book of a series and you like it, you’re going to want to by the others, ergo, more sales for them. On the one hand, this is a good thing, on the other, it can truly be evil.

• You can pick up a lot of books on the cheap (especially their $4.95 sales)
• If you don’t like it, at least it didn’t cost a fortune
• If you do like it, it still didn’t cost a fortune
• The sales are usually limited to a about 100 books or so, so it limits your focus and makes you look at and buy books you might otherwise not have given a second glance
• Said books can widen your horizons by introducing you to new authors and genres
• It helps to keep you from running out of reading material and the resultant state of shock and horror. This is especially important once you’ve gotten used to cleaning with a book. Not having a book to clean to now usually results in little to no cleaning of living area/car/dishes…you get the point.

• You spend more money on books than you wanted to
• You spend more money on books that you needed to
• You spend more money on books than you really should
• You spend more money on books than is good for you
• You spend more money on books period

The entire con section can, however, usually be overruled with the argument “there are many, many worse things to spend your money on”, and besides, needs be you can always just go hungry at the end of the month – if you’re me, this will not hurt you in the slightest.

So, brought to you courtesy of Audible and their sales (again) is The Victim in Victoria Station.

Dorothy Martin is an elderly middle aged woman with a penchant for finding herself in the middle of a lot of trouble, mostly because she can’t leave it alone. On this particular occasion, her husband, a recently retired chief of police, is out of town and she is recovering from a broken leg. While on the train to London, she chats with her fellow passenger for a while before settling down to their own thoughts. She assumes that he has drifted off to sleep, but when she tries to wake him upon arrival, she realizes he’s dead. A doctor happens by and confirms that the man is indeed dead. After noting her name and address, he assures her he will take care of the situation. Dorothy, reassured and relieved, goes off to her appointment. Only later when strange things start to happen does Dorothy realize she has landed herself in the middle of another murder and has made herself a target to boot. With the help of friends, she sets off to get to the bottom of the whole business.

At first I was a little shocked that the reader read with an American accent, but Dorothy is an American, as is the author. Well done to Dams for this because if an American is going to write an English Murder Mystery, it’s a great point of view to write it from. Neither author nor character is pretending to be something they aren’t, so it works well. The narrator was also a good choice, even though her voice is quite a bit younger than the character. Kate Reading, a.k.a. Jennifer Mendenhall and Johanna Ward, is an American who grew up in England and Switzerland, so she’s good with all of the accents. I’ve heard her before under Johanna Ward and like her a lot.

The story itself was a good, comfy English murder which relies more on the characters than action. Dorothy and her friends are likeable, there’s little violence or language and the plot is fast-paced enough to hold the reader’s interest without becoming hectic. All in all, I found it quite a pleasant read, which is what this particular genre is really all about. Since I like me a good, comfy mystery to relax to, I’ll certainly be trying out more of the books in this series.

As a cosy mystery, 4 out of 5.