Sunday, 28 March 2010

Candle Man by Glenn Dakin

It seems I’m reverting more and more to YA and children’s books for me entertainment, despite my age. I’m not sure if this is a good or bad thing, but in the end, I don’t really care. As long as they are enjoyable on one level or another, I’m not bothered about the genre.

Candle Man
is a story about Theo who grows up in an old mansion which could have been terribly fun, but wasn’t. Theo had a skin problem which required him to live a quiet life with a boring diet and to always wear gloves on his hands. Up until the story begins, Theo has only ever met three people, Clarissa the deaf maid, Mr. Nicely the butler and Dr. Saint, his guardian and head of The Good Works Society. They all do their best to keep Theo unexcited and bored, limit his knowledge of the world and keep him away from anyone else. As a treat for his birthday, the allow Theo a short trip out of the house to the local cemetery, where there is little to no chance they will run into other people, which is what Theo would like the most. When he’s not allowed to go anywhere near other people, Theo is disappointed. His luck turns, however, when he discovers a birthday gift to him placed in the cemetery which he manages to secret away before Mr. Nicely discovers it. This gift changes Theo’s life and helps him discover who his is and what he was born to be.

The writing was a little young for me, but other than that, I quite enjoyed the story. I think kids from 8 to 12 would love this book; I know I would have. The characters are engaging and identifiable, even to younger children, the villains scary, but not overly so and the plot is a good one. All in all, a great read to get children interested in books. I may or may not read the following books, as the opportunity presents itself. Like I said, the writing is just a little young for me, but I would certainly recommend it for children of 8 up, providing they aren’t terribly sensitive. Caveat: I personally think it’s a good idea for parents to decide for themselves which books are suitable for their children rather than rely on what someone else says about age suitability. Some 8 year olds are ready for much more and some would probably have nightmares after reading this. My age recommendation is based on what I think I could have handled at that age, and I think I would have been up to this one.

So, rating it as a children’s book to be read by children, a very subjective 4 out of 5.

Friday, 26 March 2010

Just Read

• 140. Bone of Contention - AB
• The Babes in the Woods - AB
• A Christmas Carol - AB (4x)
• Another Round of Christmas Stories by the Fire
• Hide and Seek - AB
• The Christmas Stories - AB
• The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood - AB
• The Hermet of Eyton Forest - AB
• The Dogs of Riga - AB
• 130. Cobweb - AB
• Silas Marner - AB
• The Complaints - AB
• The Bell
• A Christmas Carol - AB
• Howard's End - AB
• Faerie Wars - AB
• The Girl Who Kicked the Hormet's Nest - AB
• A Tale of Two Cities - AB
• A Personal Devil - AB
• 120. The Cruelest Month - AB
• One Thousand and One Arabian Nights
• The Pilgrim of Hate - AB
• Syren - AB
• Watership Down
• Smiley's People - AB
• The Pillars of the Earth - AB
• The White Dragon
• Pride and Prejudice - AB
• Jamaica Inn - AB
• 110. Ptolemy's Gate - AB
• Inkspell
• The Golem's Eye - AB
• Dune - AB
• The Sword in the Stone - AB
• The Man Who Smiled - AB
• Behind the Scenes at the Museum - AB
• The Amulet of Samarkand - AB
• William's Happy Days - AB
• Martin Chuzzlewit - AB
• 100. King Solomon's Mines - AB
• Septimus Heap - The Magical Papers
• Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
• Rebecca - AB
• Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
• The Girl Who Played with Fire - AB
• Fahrenheit 451 - AB
• Catch-22 - AB
• The Stranger House - AB
• Dear Fatty
• 90. To The Lighthouse - AB
• Dead Man's Footsteps - AB
• American Gods
• A Cure for All Diseases - AB
• The Vampyre
• The Pickwick Papers - AB
• Breaking Dawn - AB
• Eclipse
• New Moon
• Twilight - AB
• 80. Eats, Shoots and Leaves
• The Spook's Apprentice
• Exit Music - AB
• Agnes Grey - AB
• Hard Times - AB
• Fortune and Fate - AB
• Reader and Raelynx - AB
• Dark Moon Defender - AB
• The Masterharper of Pern
• Fool - AB
• 70. David Copperfield - AB
• Dragondrums
• Dragonsinger
• Dragonsong
• The Secret Garden
• Mystic and Rider - AB
• Saturday - AB
• Island Realm - AB
• Great Expectations - AB
• Shades of Murder
• 60. Good Morning, Midnight - AB
• Neverwhere
• A Dangerous Fortune - AB
• The Grave Maurice
• Ivanhoe - AB
• Quest - AB
• The High Lord
• Over Sea, Under Stone - AB
• Physik - AB
• The Novice
• 50. The Magician's Guild
• The Tenant of Wildfell Hall - AB
• Flyte - AB
• The Ice House
• Magyk - AB
• Death's Jest-Book - AB
• Middlemarch - AB
• Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass
• The Moving Toyshop - AB
• I Claudius - AB
• 40. White Corridor - AB
• The Mysterious Affair at Styles - AB
• Spider's Web - AB
• Agents of Light and Darkness - AB
• Death of Dalziel - AB
• Doors Open - AB
• The Swords of Lankhmar - AB
• Not Dead Enough - AB
• The Children of Hurin - AB
• The Reader - AB
• 30. Ten Second Staircase - AB
• Undead and Unwed - AB
• One Step Behind
• Coraline - AB
• Titus Groan - AB
• The Water Room - AB
• The Shell Seekers - AB
• Making Money
• Quest - AB
• Physik - AB
• 20. Wizard's First Rule - AB
• The House of the Seven Gables - AB
• Flyte - AB
• Magyk - AB
• Prince Caspian
• The Private Patient - AB
• Barnaby Rudge - AB
• The Last Battle
• The Victoria Vanishes - AB
• The Tales of Beedle the Bard
• 10. Free Range Knitter
• The Edgar Allan Poe Collection - AB
• The Story of the Goblins Who Stole a Sexton - AB
• The Story of Bagman's Uncle - AB
• The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo - AB
• A Christmas Carol and Other Christmas Stories
• Little Dorrit - AB
• The Silver Chair
• Faceless Killers - AB
• The Count of Monte Cristo - AB

• A Christmas Carol
• Persuasion - AB
• 100. Oliver Twist - AB
• Bleeding Hearts - AB
• The Woodlanders - AB
• Witch Hunt - AB
• Peeps - AB
• The Time Machine
• The House of Mirth - AB
• Witches Abroad
• The Book Thief - AB
• The Screwtape Letters - AB
• 90. Nicholas Nickleby - AB
• Maskerade
• The Graveyard Book - AB
• The Gift of the Magi - AB
• Rikki Tikki Tavi - AB
• Rapunzel - AB
• Wyrd Sisters
• Book of the Dead - AB
• The Host - AB
• Blood Hunt - AB
• 80. Breaking Dawn - AB
• The Invisible Man
• Eclipse
• New Moon
• Twilight
• Breaking Dawn - AB
• Anna Karenina - AB
• Deception - AB
• Wings - AB
• In Cold Blood
• 70. Anne's House of Dreams
• St. Peter's Fair - AB
• The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
• Anne of the Island
• Lost - AB
• Anne of Avonlea
• Deadly Waters - AB
• The Lovely Bones
• The Horse and His Boy
• Anne of Green Gables
• 60. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader
• The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
• The Magician's Nehphew
• Catcher in the Rye
• The Misfotunes of Virtue and Other Early Tales
• Persuasion - AB
• Good Omens
• Robinson Crusoe
• Pandora's Daughter
• Whack A Mole
• 50. Interworld - AB
• To Kill a Mockingbird
• Emma - AB
• Brideshead Revisited - AB Abridged
• My Man Jeeves - AB
• The Time Traveler's Wife - AB
• Nothern Lights / The Golden Compass
• Inside Job - AB
• Eclipse - AB
• New Moon - AB
• Twilight - AB
• Moll Flanders
• Far From the Madding Crowd - AB
• Things I Learned About Knitting
• Miss Marple's Final Cases - AB
• Naming of the Dead - AB
• Governess - The Lives and Times of the Real Jane Eyres
• An Unsuitable Job for a Woman - AB
• Tess of the D'Uerbervilles - AB
• Shirley
• Blind Faith - AB
• The Thirteen Problems - AB
• Persuasion - AB
• Bleak House
• Careless in Red - AB
• The Reavers - AB
• Villette
• The Professor
• Jane Eyre
• Atonement
• The Secret Garden
• A Little Princess
• The Fifth Elephant
• Black Coffee - AB
• Soul Music
• Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens
• Peter Pan
• Pyramids
• The Great Big Treasury of Beatrix Potter
• Water Like a Stone
• Little Lord Fauntleroy
• Cat Among the Pigeons
• The Valley of Fear
• Evil Under the Sun
• Mansfield Park
• Pride and Predjudice
• Emma
• Arctic Lace
• The Old Wine Shades (2008)
• Sense and Sensibility
• Pride and Predjudice
• A Little Princess
• The Fifth Elephant

Death at the Bar by Ngaio Marsh

Ngaio Marsh is New Zealand’s own Agatha Christie and I’ve been wanting to read one of her books for a long time but hadn’t had the opportunity. I finally got a hold of one in the last Audible sale and dug straight in. It took me a while, but I finally cottoned on that these are the books to the series The Alleyn Mysteries which I loved.

In Death at the Bar, three gentlemen meet up for their annual vacation in a small Devonshire town. The local pub has both a public and a private tap. These gentlemen meet in the private tap and are joined by a few others in the evenings for a game of darts and a drink. Amongst them is a relative stranger to the area, but who is an excellent darts player, dares Watchman, a famous London Barrister, to a game of darts where Watchman must hold his hand up to the board while this man, Legg, throws the darts between his fingers, with a storm raging outside all the while. Unfortunately, one of the darts his Watchman then the lights go out and suddenly Watchman is dead. Inspector Alleyn is then called in from London to ferret out the killer.

I wouldn’t have said this is one of the better mysteries, although I think it might make an excellent play. In novel form, it drags a bit because most of the action and deduction takes place in the pub where the murder occurred giving it a bit of a stifling feeling. Although Marsh introduced enough characters to keep you guessing whodunit, the scene and motives were still a little too obvious. On the plus side, it’s a good, comfortable murder mystery of the kind I like and I’ll probably read it again sometime, even if it isn’t up to Christie standard. 3 out of 5 for this particular book, but I’ll be giving the author another try to see if it was just this one that didn’t overwhelm me.

Thursday, 25 March 2010

Challenge Crazy

As you can see from my side bar, I've gone a bit challenge crazy lately. I've joined the:
Agatha Christie Reading Challenge Carnival hosted by Kerrie
The Typically British Reading Challenge 2010 hosted by Book Chick City
The Marple Poirot Holmes Challenge hosted by At Pemberly.

See the side bar for the buttons etc. They're cuter than links. I'm also taking part in the 100+ Challange and the Classics challenge 2010, but I have already blogged about those, so if you'd like to check those out, click on the icons in the side bar and they'll take you to the challenge (provided I didn't mess up the code...).

Of course, they are kind of all cheating a bit since they pretty much criss cross. Plus, about 80% of the books I read are from Brits, so that one's sewn up any which way you look at it. Cheater, Cheater! Hey, I never cheated in school, so I have to make up for it now when it doesn't really count, right?

I'd like to go into this a bit more, but I'm tired and need a shower, so I'll save that for another day. I did want to get this in though, so I can consider myself officially participating.

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

The Wire in the Blood by Val McDermid

When Home Office profiler Tony Hill puts together a new National Profiling Task Force, he knows the new members are going to need training, so as an exercise, he sets them the task of scrutinizing the disappearance of a group of girls to search for links between them. All of the girls are presumed runaways and no one really expects to find anything, but one member does come up with a connection, one which would set Britain on its head if it were found to be true. No one takes this link seriously, until the officer doesn’t show up for work one morning. Suddenly, the impossible looks like it might be all too true.

I was introduced to Val McDermid because I like mysteries, but I personally think her works qualify more as thrillers than mystery since they are more about finding and substantiating the path from A to B than following the trail from A to see where it leads them. You know where she’s taking the story, you just don’t know how she’ll get there. I also have to admit that she reaches the verge of my comfort zone. I’m a bit of a chicken and prefer a nice, comfortable murder to one where you have to enter the brain of a killer. I don’t care for reading or listening about torture and pain and frankly prefer murders which are quick and as painless as possible so we can get on to the whodunit part. I once listened to a book where there was at least an hour of torture and pain and I just can’t see the point of going into it until it almost becomes boring and you lose interest because the plot’s not going anywhere in the meantime. Fortunately for me, McDermid does keep the blood, gore and torture scenes to a very minimum and the plot was good with good characters. Rating this one for what it is, I’ll give it a 4 out of 5. Great for its genre, but not brilliant enough to really entice newbies into that genre.

Sunday, 21 March 2010

A Caribbean Mystery by Agatha Christie

Agatha Christie takes murder and Miss Marple, to the West Indies. I suppose there are only so many murders one little village can absorb without becoming wholly eerie, so Christie solves this problem by removing Miss Marple, as a form of respite after a long illness, to the Caribbean and plonking her down in a setting both unfamiliar and uninteresting to her. She becomes rather bored with the irritating and superficial guests at the hotel, who provide her with little food for thought and no great conversation. Even the weather is irritatingly uninteresting as the climate is so constant. Miss Marple is an old English lady who prefers her old English countryside to the more exotic, yet unvarying, climate of the West Indies. It seems she hardly knows how she will get through the next weeks until her return to her own beloved island.

Then Major Palgrave dies quite unexpectedly. At first it seems above board, but not having anything else to occupy her mind, Miss Marple begins to consider the situation and ultimately realizes that Major Palgrave must have been murdered, the only question is, why? The only visible solution is because he claimed to have a photograph of a murderer. Miss Marple gently eases the local doctor around to her way of thinking and suddenly the whole island seems to be full of danger instead of rest and relaxation.

I’m biased. I love Agatha Christie and I love Miss Marple, especially as played by Joan Hickson, so I’m loath to give this anything other than a 5 out of 5 for being a good, comfortable English murder, for all its being set in another country altogether, in the Christie tradition.

Friday, 19 March 2010

Archangel by Robert Harris

Archangel is a thriller/mystery novel about an historian, Kelso, who specialized in Stalinist history and was invited to a conference in Moscow. Kelso’s interest in academia has waned over the years and the conference seems rather unappealing to him, so when Papu Rapava shows up to tell him of a notebook which once belonged to Stalin, Kelso has no problem in ditching the conference to indulge himself in chase of the illusive black oil-skinned diary. Even though it’s modern day Russia, the chase quickly becomes very dangerous as Stalin is still worshipped by many in Russia; his greatest followers willing to risk much to protect his heritage. It’s as though Glasnost was only a surface element and the KGB were slumbering below the surface ready to re-take Russia at a moment’s notice. Kelso must evade these elements in a chase that takes him halfway across Russia with him running the risk of being stuck in Northern Russia until the Spring thaw, if he doesn’t lose his life first that is. Hampered by lack of a visa, colleagues who think he’s gone insane, a dysfunctional father/daughter relationship and a really, really annoying American reporter, Kelso is never sure if and when he’ll ever get out of Russia alive.

The book gets off to a slow start with flashbacks to the Stalin era and the events of the days leading up to and just after Stalin’s death, which explain the possibility of the existence of such a diary. The story picks up a bit when Kelso becomes the main focus, but never really reaches a very fast past tempo. It focuses more on Russia and the issues confronting it today in regards to the past. One memorable passage tells of how Stalin’s memorabilia is sold freely on the streets to the still interested masses and compares with modern day Germany where every trace of Hitler has been wiped out of daily public life. The Russian’s still worship Stalin, while the Germans abhor Hilter. It’s rather a disturbing thought because it means that Russian society may not be quite as free and away from the past as we would like to think. The further Kelso goes into the country, the more apparent it becomes. At least in Moscow the focus of life seemed to be the future and how to cope with Russia as it is today and not on how to return to the past.

The novel is a cross between spy novel, historical fiction, thriller and social commentary. I can’t say I enjoyed it hugely because it is quite dark and the Russian mentality is difficult for me to fathom. I took a couple of Russian literature courses at Uni and the logic never really clicked, so I’m not surprised that I had problems with this one. The ending though, the ending makes up for a lot. That was something I understood, so for me, Harris saved the book with that. Still, I’m giving it a 3 out of 5, but keep in mind that rating is a matter of taste rather than a reflection on the writing

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

Listening vs. Reading

I don’t think I mention this all too often (or maybe I have and have forgotten), but many, aka most, of the books I “read” I actually listen to. I don’t get much reading time and even when I do have the time, I usually wind up falling asleep. Ergo, it took almost no time for me to fall in love with audio books since they mean I can “read” while I clean, walk the dog, drive to work, file papers, bill, etc., etc. I even have loudspeakers now so I can listen while I shower or bathe.

There’ve been a lot of discussions about this since some people don’t consider audio books reading, or only reading to a certain extent or they do consider it reading and think people who don’t consider it reading are snobs. Everyone seems to have a different view. Personally I think that it doesn’t much matter if you’ve read or listened to the words, if you’ve comprehended what’s being said, you’ve “read” the book. If I go back and actually read a book I’ve already listened to, I’m repeating the story. I already know what happens, what’s said, what the characters think and feel, so for me it’s a re-read, even if I “only” listened the first time.

Having said that, I think the experience is different for every person. Some people don’t do well with audio input, others don’t do well with visual input. There are people with learning difficulties who can’t assimilate the written word and use simulated speech software in order to read and write and I personally consider that to be as valuable as any input from anyone else. As long as you understand the text, you’re “reading”. So, just because someone hasn’t physically read a book, doesn’t mean they haven’t read it, in my humble opinion.

The point of all this? Well, Audible had another sale. I swear Amazon practically owns my soul by now. OK, they don’t really own my soul, that’s not something I would sell, but you know what I mean. Anyway, 100 plus books for $5. This is a seriously clever tactic because what’s $5 for 10-20 hours of entertainment? You can’t even find paperbacks for that nowadays (not here anyway). So, I bought 9 of them. I won’t be eating much for the rest of the month, but I need to diet anyway.

What I bought:

The Alchemist's Pursuit - Dave Duncan - I like a little fantasy/sci fi now and again.
The French Lieutenant's Woman - John Fowles - Always heard of it but have never read it. This one will be added to my classics challenge list, just on the strength of it being one of those ones you hear about.
Death at the Bar - Ngaio Marsh - I’ve heard much about Marsh, but have never read/listened to any of his books, mostly because Audible isn’t authorized to sell them in my geographical region (I’m hoping this improves now that they’ve been bought out by Amazon).
The Enchanted April - Elizabeth von Arnim - This one just sounded good and the narrator is excellent.
The Winter Garden Mystery - Carola Dunn - Same as above, and it was rated well too.
The Forgotten Garden - Kate Morton - Ditto
Uncle Tom's Cabin - Harriet Beecher Stowe - I tried to read this one but never got very far. I think it might be a lot better in audio format since what I had trouble with was the written dialect. I’m hoping to get through it this time anyway. Combined with the Classics Challenge incentive, maybe I will.
The Secret Garden - Frances Hodgson Burnett - I like the narrator and when isn’t this one just pleasant to read?
The Chorister at the Abbey - Lis Howell - This one sounded like it might be a good fluff mystery and I liked the narrator.

Like I said, the price was good and if I don’t like them all, well, I’ve spent much more on books I ended up not caring for. At least this way, I’m not losing my shirt on them. Has anyone read/listened to any of them and if so, what did you think?

Tuesday, 16 March 2010

Ruler of the Realm by Herbie Brennan

Ruler of the Realm is book three in the Faerie Wars series and follows the tale of Pyrgus, his sister Holly Blue and Henry, a boy from the analogy world, i.e. our world. Holly Blue suddenly finds herself Ruler of the Faerie Realm after her brother Pyrgus abdicates out of personal and political reasons. The arrangement suits both of them, although Holly is still quite young and must now find her way in the world of politics and political intrigue. She’s not allowed much respite between her coronation and her first political crises. The Realm’s enemies, The Faeries of the Night, have suddenly and unexpectedly offered her a peace treaty and she doesn’t know whether or not she can trust it to be a true offer or if it’s simply a ruse. Being a self-reliant person, she reasons that it’s better for the Realm if she personally sets off in search of the answer. This sets off a chain of reactions that does indeed lead the realm into danger.

In the meantime, in the analogue world, Henry is slowly beginning to believe that he’s slowly going insane, that the Faerie Realm doesn’t exist at all, but is simply his mind’s way of escaping the chaos in his real life. His parents are divorced, his father has a new girlfriend, his mother has a new girlfriend, who is coming to live with them, both parents are playing the kids off one another and his sister is simply annoying. Why then would he not want to live in a new and exciting world with faeries and magic rather than in his own life? This idea solidifies after he is seemingly abducted by aliens and returned to earth days later. He must be going crazy, mustn’t he?

It’s a bit difficult for me to judge this one. I like the characters and the story is complicated and cleverly woven which holds your interest. What surprised me was that after weaving such a complex tale, Brennan suddenly, truly abruptly, ends the story. It almost felt like the climax was just completely cut out. And I actually went back to see if I’d not been paying attention. It was very odd and quite unsatisfying, almost like dropping your ice cream half way through. You’ve had too much to want another cone, but not quite enough all the same. Having said that, I can see that there’s room for more in this series and I would read them if there were.

My second beef wasn’t actually with the story and has no reflection on the book itself. I listened to this one in audio book format. The first two were narrated by Gerard Doyle, who is an excellent narrator. For whatever reason, they switched to a different narrator, James Daniel Wilson, for the third book. Now it would be unfair to hint that Wilson isn’t a good narrator, because he is and I would gladly listen to other books he narrated. However, it bugged me to no end that he changed some of the pronunciations for this third novel. It took me a while to figure out that the new character wasn’t actually a new character, but one of the main characters Pyrgus. His pronunciation was completely different and that threw me. In my opinion, everyone would have been better served had he stuck to the same pronunciations in this volume as in the others. It took me personally half the book to get used to it and I find it difficult to rate this book because of the change. I don’t know whether I’m rating fairly or not. However, since I have to rate it somehow, I’ll give it a 3 out of 5, but keep in mind that it might be better with the same narrator or read on paper.

Monday, 15 March 2010

A Study In Scarlet by Arthur Conan Doyle

Long ago when I was a wee little tyke, I read A Study in Scarlet. It was my fist introduction into Victorian England and I’m afraid it didn’t make a good impression. I found it dark, dirty and rather repugnant in general. In the meantime, I’ve learned to love Victorian literature, but I think I have to admit that my first impression of Victorian England was probably more accurate than the romantic view of it I have today. Fascination goes a long way when overlooking the negative points in the past.

Rereading A Study in Scarlet was interesting from that point of view. I still found it quite a dark book with its description of lodgings that are less than elegant and people who are less than savoury. However, my imagination is now more prepared to clean up the picture Doyle draws and make the setting more palatable. Concentrating less on the setting allowed me to concentrate more on the story this time around and I have to say, it wasn’t very pretty. Holmes’ bit of detection work was a fascinating as ever, but the perpetrator’s tale of how motive evolved felt evil, all the more so because, from what I’ve read and heard from others, much of that particular setting was true. On the one hand, I can’t really say much without giving the plot away and on the other, I don’t want to get involved in any religious/historical discussions or to offend anyone with my opinion.

So, that all being about as clear as mud, I liked the book, although it wasn’t a particularly pleasant read. I find Doyle often dwelled on the less pleasant side of humanity and used it to underline Holmes’ brilliance as a detective, while making his own social statements without actually preaching. I give it 4 out of 5 for being a cleverly woven story.

Thursday, 11 March 2010

The Maze Runner by James Dashner

I ran into this book courtesy of Audible/Amazon who recommend books based on earlier purchases, in this case, The Hunger Games. Like The Hunger Games, it’s a young adult dystopian novel which takes place in a presumed state of affairs sometime in the future, only The Maze Runner is much more enigmatic and speculative, at least in this first book of the trilogy.

Thomas finds himself in a box travelling upwards with no memory of how he got there or where he came from. Although he can remember general things about life, he cannot remember specifics, like who his parents or friends were. He arrives at a glade where 50 or so other boys are waiting for him. What they introduce him to is a world that makes no sense where the boys are just trying to survive from one day to the next. They are stuck in The Glade, surrounded by walls hundreds of feet high whose only exits lead to a maze, which the boys hope will one day provide them with a way out. In the meantime, they focus on surviving not only the day to day challenges of growing their own food, but also the deadly enemies found in the Maze, who seem to have no other purpose than to hunt and kill them. Thomas struggles to make sense of this new life and find his place in it, confounded by the reluctance of the other boys to provide him with any information at all. His questions either go unanswered or are received with inexplicable hostility, for those boys who have been there the longest, no longer have the patience to answer questions that they already know will lead nowhere. Thomas barely has a chance to make a start when a girl, the only girl ever seen in the Glade, arrives with a message for them all.

Although occasionally frustrated by the lack of information, the bizarre hostility and unfriendliness of many of the boys and the failure of Thomas to do the logical because he is afraid to face his fears, I really liked this book. It was a good read that kept me guessing at the outcome. I think if you had given me this book when I was a teen, it would have ranked up there with A Wrinkle in Time. I can see where a young adult would be fascinated. Having more experience and years behind me made it a bit easier to guess where the story was headed, but it was pretty good all the s

Saturday, 6 March 2010

The Silver Pigs by Lindsey Davis

Marcus Didius Falco is ancient Rome’s equivalent of a cynical gumshoe just looking for another job to keep his landlord’s thugs off his back. Fortunately, he doesn’t have to look far the day Sosia Camillina runs into him on the steps of the Forum. Falco instantly recognizes that she is in need of help and grasps opportunity, and Sosia, with both hands. Sosia, the daughter of an influential senator, is being chased by ruffians who kidnapped her. Knowing that Rome is corrupt and that it’s all about who you know and what they owe you, Falco returns Sosia to her home, only to become embroiled in a complex web of treachery and deceit that chnges direction as if it were spinning on a dime. Falco follows the trail from Rome to Brittanica and back again, risking life and limb, all the while earning the pittance of a regular gumshoe.

At first I thought this was going to be a terrible Sam Spade kind of book, including all the horrible clichés. Fortunately, Davis doses the cliché with a hefty spoonful of humour. She gives Falco a domineering mother who cleans his flat, tells him off and chases unsuitable girls out of his flat. I quite liked that the women were all fairly strong people who didn’t take any crap from the men just because they’re supposedly the lords and masters of all they survey. Falco’s constantly being beaten up by someone for various reasons, not all having to do with his current case, but he takes it all in his stride as if it were completely normal and understandable. Davis also reveals some rather quirky and sometimes unsavoury facts about life in ancient Rome.

All in all, a good, entertaining read. 4 out of 5.

Thursday, 4 March 2010

Classics Challenge 2010 Reading List

I’ve needed to get my reading list out for the Classics Challenge 2010 for a while now. I’ve been saving up my classics for this, especially since I’m going for the Classics Feast. Some of them I’m dreading, some I’m looking forward to. I’m sure I’ll pick up a few more on the way too. Plus, I still need to decide on a Future Classic. Ooo! I see The Name of the Rose is on the list. I think I might just read that. I liked the movie and books are usually better, plus I love mysteries, so there you go! Almost feels like cheating.

I’m looking forward to reading:
Tristram Shandy – Laurence Sterne
Cranford – Elizabeth Gaskell
The Woman in White – Wilkie Collins
Our Mutual Friend – Charles Dickens
A Room With a View – E.M. Forster
The Voyage Out – Virginia Woolf
The Name of the Rose – Umberto Eco

Neutral/have no idea how they will be:
The Mayor of Casterbridge – Thomas Hardy
The Idiot – Fyodor Dostoevsky
The Death of Ivan Ilyich – Leo Tolstoy

Am dreading:
The Old Curiosity Shop – Charles Dickens (this one is an audio book which is inexplicably narrated by an American. It just doesn’t seem right somehow.)
Dombey and Son – Charles Dickens (Another audiobook. I didn’t realize this one was narrated by my all time least favourite narrator Fredrick Davidson. The man recorded under several names and I didn’t realize it was him until it was too late. I’ll be listening to this one on fast mode to compensate for the over-exaggerated drawl the drives me up a pole.)
Crime and Punishment - Fyodor Dostoevsky (I tried to watch the movie once and it was really dreadful, in the sense of the story being fairly horrifying. I’ll be saving a cheerful book as a treat for finishing this.)

Bleak House – Charles Dickens

Finally, I’d also like to nominate Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaimen as a new classic. It’s such a good book. I’ll be reading this one too, regardless of counting or not counting. I might even use it as my treat after Crime and Punishment.

The Classics Challenge runs from April 1st to Sept. 30th, so you still have plenty of time to sign up and participate!

Tuesday, 2 March 2010

Bone of Contention by Roberta Gellis

Magdalene la Bátarde, mistress of the Old Priory whorehouse, is summed to Oxford to help William of Ypres as he tries to manoeuvre his way through the politics of King Stephen’s court. Magdalene’s slightly dubious position allowed her to do many things for him that other women, and even some men, could never have done. It is fortunate for William that he had the foresight to make this arrangement as his man quickly becomes implicated in a murder which could have far more repercussions than usual as it comes during the King’s Council where suspicion and intrigue are ripe. William asks Magdalene to find the killer and clear his man before any more damage can be done to his reputation. With the help of Sir Bellamy, Magdalene sets about her task, but gets more than she bargained for.

I think I’ve said before that the Magdalene la Bátarde mysteries aren’t ever going to be classed as great literature, but they are good, quick comfort reads for those days when you just want t a good mystery. These are particularly good for those who like historical novels as they are set in the 12th century. This is an era I’ve become rapidly familiar with in the last year or so as I’ve read several books which take place during Stephen’s reign and even though they’ve all been fiction, it’s still given me a new appreciation for history, especially how our lives have changed throughout the ages.

This book in particular provides insight into the world of women in the middle ages. Most women during this period were pretty much powerless to control their own destinies. Magdaglene, however, because of her profession, has already been outcast from good society and therefore is not longer subject to the same constraints as other women. She not only understands and accepts her position, she’s intelligent and level-headed enough to know how to use it to her advantage. She plays by the rules, but manoeuvres within them to use them to her own advantage rather than just accepting the position men would like to put her into. Some of Gellis’ other women characters also refuse to let themselves be defeated before they even begin so even though it’s not any great Oeuvre, it’s refreshing after characters such as Dorcas Slythe (A Crowning Mercy by Bernard Cornwell) who are pretty much wet dishcloths in terms of spirit. It’s nice to see women sticking up for themselves instead of just letting themselves be used. I’m not actually any great feminist in the sense of “we must wage war on men and their laws” feminist, but I do believe with getting on with life as opposed to just allowing it to buffet you around as it sees fit. Action, any action, is better than inertia. That’s why I like Magdalene so much. She gets on with it and uses what she has to get where she needs to go. Maybe not in the straight line that would be nice, but at least she gets there.

So, as a good wet Sunday read, I give this one a 4 out of 5.