Wednesday, 12 December 2012

The Descendants by Kaui Hart Hemmings **possible spoilers**

This book follows a family having to cope with a tragedy in their lives. The husband, Matt King, is forced into a position where he has to take care of two daughters he barely knows whilst also dealing with the fact that his thrill seeking wife is lying in a coma with little chance of recovery. Add on to this the fact that he has cousins all grasping for various amounts of money from his large family business that he doesn't care for and you just know that it's going to be a rather interesting journey.

The story starts with the wife, Joanie, already in the coma and Matt being confronted with the fact that he is a poor father when it comes to dealing with the every day things necessary when caring for a child. He had obviously been a stay-away dad due to work and business and it is there as an under-current throughout the book. Things are made worse when he is informed by the doctor that Joanie will never wake up and had made a living will where she did not want to be kept alive by machines.

Right from the beginning you can sense that these are not the only problems this family will face, and you'd think they would be enough for anyone, and there are revelations and realisations that jump up and slap these people in the face (one or two punches too) throughout the book. This is a real tragicomedy, at times you find yourself laughing at some dry humour and then stop yourself as you remember the feelings behind the comment.

Matt King is a father who doesn't have a clue and a husband who hid in obliviousness. His business kept him away from his family to the point where he doesn't recognise who his daughters have grown into, one a precocious, spoilt bully and the other a recovering drug addict who'd been sent away to boarding school. Most of the humour, tinged with guilt or sadness, is based around his attempts to make up for his time away, trying to grab hold of little children he thought he knew but instead getting the older versions who don't even think they need him. The children are definitely the more intriguing of the characters.

Whilst there is a main plot twist that is focused on I found myself more interested just reading the family dynamics as they change and evolve, not a normal family but definitely better than they were before the tragedy.

This is a lovely book, if set around tragic circumstances, about different family members with different coping mechanisms and all with their own secrets who go off on a slightly different sort of 'family holiday'. I feel that the character of Matt King could have been expanded upon in that it was all too perfect - his only flaw was his total obliviousness to what was happening and even that's turned to his advantage at times.

I would recommend this for a holiday read, or for a book on a flight. It's not too long but will keep you reading.

Thursday, 13 September 2012

The Phantom Of The Opera - Gaston Leroux

Having seen the show and the more modern film I thought it was a crying shame that I had yet to read the book that started it all.

For those who don't know; this is a story of tragedy and (occasionally unrequited) love. It's so hard for me to write about this book as it's always been in the background of my mind for me and now I find myself back to the root of what started it and, whilst this was a lovely read, it was slightly disappointing  as it didn't quite live up to the hype I'd piled on it. Not to say it isn't a good book though but, as has been the case with the book for most of it's history, it has always been overshadowed by stage & screen (there were moments it even went out of print in the twentieth cent.).

This Gothic romance tells the story of a a chorus girl caught in a love triangle between the Opera Ghost, Erik, and the French nobleman she knew from her childhood, Raoul. As this story progresses Christine becomes an amazing opera singer who is even used as a replacement for the Prima Donna, this she attributes to her 'Angel of Music', who she wholeheartedly believes in being an angel.

This novel starts off in an investigative format, with the author setting the idea that what he is writing is an article to disprove the idea of the Opera House being haunted by a ghost and, what's more, that the same man (for he states he believes it's a human) is responsible for the disappearances and deaths that occurred around the same time the 'ghost's' activities were at it's highest. Leroux uses the idea of the unnamed author/investigative journalist to introduce us to the only character left who can really tell the story of what happened, including insights into the Phantom's previous life that's not been brought up on stage or on screen.

For those who have never read the book but been exposed to the story in another way, like myself, you may be forgiven for thinking that this is just a classic french tale of romance with just a touch of angst thrown in - but wait!! This book is not only romance but also a fine example of a gothic horror at the time of being written. You have a ghost that is never really seen except for his actions, he has the ability to be all over the opera house & yet not be caught. At the same time there is a young, impressionable girl caught up in the thrall of this unseen Angel of Music with an infatuated old friend trying to save her from his grasp.

Although I believed this to be a well known story I found parts that were completely new to me and put the whole thing in a different light. It was a lot more horrifying and terrifying than I thought and the romance seemed, at times, to play second fiddle to the phantom's devious acts.

Although I found Erik to be well written I must confess to believing that Raoul and Christine seemed to only be written as two-dimensional characters for Leroux to compare Erik against. They had moments but most of the time they fell flat and couldn't hide from the fact that they really were just supporting characters in this tale about a man's descent into darkness, literally and figuratively, as he tried to hold onto the light the only way he knew how.

I enjoyed this book, though at times it was slow due to the style of writing, and for such a short read (I thought it'd be a lot longer) it ould definitely hold it's own, probably why it's become a classic!

I recommend this book to anyone who has enjoyed the various adaptations of this story as it will give you a whole new outlook. Also a good read for lovers of the gothic novels.

Friday, 20 July 2012

Tony Hogan Bought Me An Ice Cream Float Before He Stole My Ma by Kerry Hudson

Janie Ryan is born to a long line of Aberdeen fish wives and into a childhood of living in hostels, B&Bs and council estates. This book follows the trials and tribulations of growing up with a mother who, whilst always wanting to provide the best for her child, has poor taste in men and really does get close to hitting rock bottom all shown through the eyes of a child.

The book starts with the birth of the latest Ryan woman, who's father is a mysterious, married American, and it is from there that things are seen to go downhill with her first 4 weeks in this world being spent in a women's help centre. This is Janie's first introduction as to what to expect in her life and, to begin with, she sees it all with the childish innocence that makes it seem all that much worse for the reader.

As fear and shame are gradually introduced into her life far too soon for our liking she comes to see the differences between her family and home compared to others, usually coming out worse. This, however, is a slow process and throughout most of the book I'd say that her innocence protects Janie from what could've been some devastating truths for a young girl. Eventually though the bitterness and awareness win out and the last third of the book is told through the eyes of an angry, teenage cynic who see's her mum as she really is and doesn't want to become her, despite the groups and habits she falls into.

There are some really touching moments in this book that push the reader along to read 'just one more page' until you find you're at the end and, for me any rate, very grateful for having the family I have. I found Janie to be a character that I started to invest my feelings in as I followed her through her childhood. Ms Hudson does well to make sure the reader relates and empathises with Janie as well as her mum and you find yourself hoping that the next move and the next guy will be the right one for all of them.

On the surface this appears to be a tale of woe about a single mother being given all the short straws and the daughter having to suffer too. If you look deeper, however, it's a tale about the strength of a bond between a mother and her child, how it didn't matter how bad things got for her because she could handle it as long as she had her daughter with her and knew she was safe.

This is a very interesting read and an emotional piece of modern fiction that gives the reader an insight into a life which they possibly have never had to experience. It leaves you hoping for more, hoping for better and really hoping that Janie Ryan does good with her life. Kerry Hudson has managed to make a potentially depressing subject into something laced with wit and occasionally humourous observations.

What makes this all the more interesting is that the 'About The Author' bit in the back of the book lets us know that Kerry Hudson is not writing this without any knowledge of her subject but has lived in council estates and B&Bs (and I really hope that's as far as her knowledge goes because some of it is heart wrenching) so you just know that she knows.

I recommend this book for anyone looking to pick up a new author (her twitter mentions she's working on a second book so she hopefully isn't a 'one-time appearance' sorta woman) as well as people who are interested in modern fiction that isn't just women sipping wine in their flats, deciding to take on the world and picking up a guy on the way - this is a far more interesting and thought provoking stance on the genre.

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

50 Shades of grey by E. L. James **possible spoilers**

WARNING: Mature content will be mentioned & mature language in quotes used as this is a mature book.

There is a section in this book where the male character claims that he is 'Fifty shades of fucked up' and I'll be honest - that's an accurate description for this book and the entire premise behind it.

I thought it was worth me reading at least the first book in the trilogy so that I could form an honest opinion based on actual knowledge instead of listening to hearsay - In a way I'm glad I did that but I would've been happier avoiding it and the furore surrounding it and just carried on with reading Les Miserables.

This is definitely a 'Marmite' book - you'll either love it or hate it. I am now going to try to keep my anger to a minimum in order to not just sound like some harpy spewing hatred through this blog.

The story behind this (I know, there is a story folks, it's not just about BDSM and a virgin who can then have orgasms at the drop of a hat!) follows a completely innocent & naieve 21 year old Anastasia Steele who finds herself interviewing the suave, sophisticated, drop dead gorgeous, billionaire Christian Grey. There is chemistry between them and Mr Grey has taken a definite interest in Ana, showering her with expensive gifts and treating her to helicopter rides. This all culminates in him introducing her to the BDSM lifestyle in the hope that she will accept him and this lifestyle in order to stay with him. However, it must be noted, he doesn't 'do' relationships. It is an arrangement - contract drawn up and everything - that he'd like her to agree to.

What follows is Ana becoming emotional, confused, eager and curious as she debates with herself whether this is something that she really wants. She does work out halfway through that, whilst this may scare her, it will let her be with Mr Grey and that's all that matters to her.

Now, whilst the idea behind this book is a good one, I found there were a few too many instances that had me gritting my teeth and feeling like I was the only one who saw this as a bad way to start any relationship with another person (I'm not talking about relationship in it's romantic sense, I mean what exists between two people getting to know each other). I found the characters were too predictable and cliche. With Ana being your typical clueless main character who admires her best friend for being able to attract all the men but not being able to see that every guy she's come into contact with has fallen head over heels for her and Christian being the billionaire, untouchable, looks to die for guy who happens to have a dark past that's hidden from the world it just all seemed a bittoo predictable and unbelievable.

Throughout this book Ana believes that if she goes with what Christian wants (despite her trying to appear as an independent, strong young woman) then she'll be able to do what no other woman has yet managed and change the unfeeling Mr Grey. This is not a good idea for a woman to take away from this book (yes, it's fictional, but people do still look for lessons to take away) as if I had a man find out where I lived and worked after our first meeting, tracked my mobile phone after our second and then find out where my mother lived and 'conveniently' end up staying in a hotel where my mum and I were drinking - my thoughts would not be running along the lines of 'Oh how romantic'. I also would not be willing to overlook his actions and emotional/sexual manipulations just because he's more knowledgeable than I am - there should be something along the lines of common sense telling me to get out (oh wait, she did want a break from him to think about it but then he followed her).

In my mind there is nothing normal or healthy about what happens between these two in this book but it is made acceptable with the reasoning that Mr Grey was abused when he was younger so he can take it out on any woman who falls under his spell.

What the author initially had here was a good idea for a plot, unfortunately the lack of character building, some rose tinted glasses on certain actions and some rather immature writing let her down. It felt choppy and hard to get into - in fact the best written parts were, surprisingly, the erotic scene, although I have read many people's comments on how it was poorly portrayed and threw a dark light on the BDSM lifestyle and as I personally have no knowledge of this I will refrain from commenting.

All in all I did not enjoy this book at all (as those who have read my social networking posts can attest to) and will not be continuing on to the next book. However, if you are able to gloss over the poor writing and two-dimensional characters as well as passing off questionable actions on just a guy being in love then please, pick this book up. If you want a quick, steamy read and have read the blurb and what others have said and feel it's for you - pick it up. This is just my own personal take on the book and I did not care for it.

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell

I have a confession to make, before realising this was a book I first saw this as the BBC TV adaptation and fell in love with it (no, of course it had nothing to do with Richard Armitage playing the lead male character, I'm offended by your insinuations). although the books and their screen adaptations always vary I knew that this was a book I HAD to read.

Now, I should first like to note that, at the start of my copy there was a preface mentioning that N&S originally came out as entries in a newspaper and so Elizabeth did not feel she had included everything she could and some vital parts to the story had to be omitted, this was corrected in some parts when she was to have the book published but at other parts it does feel that some of it has been rushed *cough* the ending *cough*.

The story follows Margaret Hale as she moves back to live with her parents in her beloved old parish home in Helstone only to be faced with leaving it as her father, the vicar, has a crisis of conscience (not faith, he doesn't lose his faith only finds that his views on it differ from the church's - or something like that, not completely explained).

With their income cut down, and unable to live in the cottage as it is for the parish priest, the Hale's must find a place that is affordable and all signs point to that place being up in the North of England (as opposed to the South where they currently reside). By contacting an old friend Mr Hale finds them a good deal on a house but apart from that it appears that responsibility for everything else falls on Margaret and this seems to remain one of the underlying themes throughout the book.

The differences between the manufacturing North and the agrarian South are made clearly evident through Margaret's eyes, at first as she favours her home the south, and is obviously looking at it through fond memories and rose tinted spectacles. This comes in direct contrast with our male lead character, Mr Thornton, who is a Milton man born and bred and is the epitome of the what Gaskell believes the north stands for; someone who has worked his way from destitution to a place of prominence in the eyes of the other mill owners, who is sought for advice and known for being honest and open. The south is represented in a softer, kinder way that relies a lot on words and less on action, where it would seem the (supposedly) warmer climate and more laid back way of life has become a part of the people themselves.

What follows is a story of understanding, love, tragedy, friendship and one or two things that made me get a bit teary as well as Gaskell's more political views on class barriers, how women are perceived and expected to act as well as the relationship between an employer and his employees. These are usually the lines Austen refuses to step over and barely hints at with her well-veiled hints at her political standings covered in lines of poetic descriptions and fun, light hearted debates.

I found this book to be just as enjoyable, if not moreso, than the BBC adaptation - and I love the adaptation (seriously, it's not all about Armitage, I swear!). Gaskell delivers a work that reminds you of Austen but goes deeper into the personalities and psyches of the main character. Where Austen gives you a strong-willed heroine Gaskell adds on the deeper thoughts this woman has. At some points I truly felt sorry for Margaret, at others I wanted to slap her before then acknowledging that maybe she had a point. Mr Thornton is not just there to be the male lead who has the ladies at his feet but has a brain and business sense that would make even your modern day man proud.

Managing to grasp the changing moods of the time, Gaskell really doesn't sugar coat too much for the poor readers delicate senses at the time, although nowadays we'd barely bat an eye at some of the descriptions of the slums, but then we have history lessons and resources to draw on to already have an idea of how bad it really was.

A brilliant read that will stay with me for a long while. I recommend this to anyone who enjoys fiction from this time period and if you happen to get your hands on the BBC adaptation after reading this I suggest chucking out th other half when watching it!

First Men In The Moon by H. G. Wells

One of H. G. Wells lesser known books (in comparison to the likes of The Time Machine, The Invisible Man, War of The Worlds) I still thought it was worth going into it with the feelings that reading his other books gave me.

First off I’d like everyone to remember that this book was published in 1901 and, as with many of Wells’ books, he is well ahead of his time. 

Set in England, Wells introduces us to Bedford – a man who’s trying to find an easy way to earn money to pay off the debt collectors chasing him. He decides upon writing a play, as he believes it to be relatively easy (someone really should’ve told him the truth) but becomes distracted by a figure out of his window. 

This eventually introduces him to Professor Cavor, your run-of-the-mill eccentric scientist who has just hit upon an idea for an invention but has no idea what to do with it. This is where Bedford spots a business investment and a way to not only pay off his bad debt but to also make themselves rich. The new invention is Cavorite, a material that can block ‘gravity waves’ thus making the object float after the correct scientific treatment. To his credit, Wells doesn't do a Verne and try to go into great scientific explanations, making his narrative character excuse himself as the man with the business brains and not the scientific one.

Bedford and the professor (mainly the professor) come up with a plan to make a sphere container out of the material that's large enough to carry them and some supplies up to the moon. With a large explosion and then some very complicated shutter opening and closing in certain sequences the two eventually find themselves on the cold satellite. At first all is as it would appear to the reader of the time, freezing cold, rocky with minimum atmosphere, just enough to be breathable. It isn't until the sun shines that things start to change. With quick growing flora sprouting up the two men suddenly find themselves on a wholly different world and the events that ensue would've caused some readers of the time to look at this familiar rock in their night skies in a different way.

Some of the aspects in this book were very much ahead of Wells' time and I enjoy being able to look back with my 21st Century knowledge and marvel at how things were perceived, either accurately or differently from the reality we now know. The idea of the moon coming to life and being inhabited by beings that live underground in it's hollowed out shell may be pushing the realms of belief too far but this is what science fiction is all about and Wells is one of the original masters as far as I'm concerned.

 Wells style of writing can be hard to get into and it is a slow start with some parts that seem to just be put in there for the heck of it, but I imagine they exist in order to pad out the story or give it some depth... or something. Overall I can see why this book has lasted but at the same time there is a reason it is a little less well-known than his others. It doesn't have that extra something (in the case of War of the Worlds we'll call it fear) that draws you so into the book it becomes something you carry with you.

A book that really can be nothing but early 20th century sci-fi it lives up to the expectations but, in certain parts, can't seem to break through and go beyond. From a modern point of view I didn't find myself overly excited upon finishing this, but I can see how it would have grabbed the imaginations of contemporary readers.

If you're a fan of Wells' other works then please, by all means, read this book. If you're interested in early 20th Century works then, again, read it. If you're interested in any part of this book then I can tell you that you will not have wasted any time reading it, but I don't think you'll come away from it changed or affected by it in any way.

Sunday, 10 June 2012

The Devil In The White City by Erik Larson

Despite reading like a fiction novel this is, in fact, classed as non-fiction. Based upon the events leading up to and during the 1893 World's Fair in Chicago this book interweaves the lives of the the architect behind the fair, Daniel H. Burnham, and Dr H. H. Holmes, a serial killer who lured mainly female victims to his 'Murder Castle'.

This book is filled with accurate details and descriptions that bring the scenes and the troubles and tragedies surrounding the World Fair that has to follow the Paris spectacular that brought about the Eiffel Tower. As well as this we have the facts from letters between architects, from the court documents and police files on the case. Everything quoted is from a source with references at the back.

Having been told that it was a non-fiction I wasn't quite expecting it to have been written in such a novelistic form.

We start with the build up to which city is going to host the World Fair, Chicago isn't seen as a big competitor until later on and the shock when it gets the honour is aptly described with all the reactions from other cities press articles etc. On the World Fair point of view  Larson gives us a comprehensive and intriguing telling of the gambles and high stakes that architects, inventors and engineers alike all had to deal with in order to gain the public's admiration and not be considered a failure after Paris' showing.

Drawing on rich tapestry of press articles and meeting minutes as well as insightful personal journals and letters we get a glimpse into the mind of Daniel Burnham and the pressure he was under to enlist the right architects and engineers and sell them his and his partner's, John Root's, vision. This way of setting things out breaks apart the tediousness that many would feel reading about political movements, weather, money and egos at war and instead brings life to the characters and shows how they had to work around each obstacle to try to get it all to open on time.

On the other side of the story we have Dr Holmes, born as Herman Webster Mudgett (that'd make me change my name too!). Early on he became skilled in scams and later murders, he had a mind that seems just twisted enough to come up with inventive ways to kill and easily dispose of victim's bodies. With a string of marriages, annulments and wives/lovers & their families disappearing he was still clever enough to make sure he didn't get caught.

Holmes created himself to appear as a successful businessman and, with the Columbian Exposition becoming popular, he raised himself in people's expectations and designed a hotel as part of his business, with a few 'extras' that the guests wouldn't know about until it was too late. Holmes himself decided who he would allow to stay at this hotel allowing only women who were travelling alone in the city, especially those whose personalities allowed him to charm them and become the dominant one in a doomed relationship, whilst he turned away any males by claiming to be full up. It was this way of thinking, of choosing his victims, that made him even more fearsome - he could get away with a lot and could've done so a lot longer if he hadn't slipped up near the end.

Thankfully, in my opinion, Larson doesn't go into analysing Holmes' mind, instead he sticks to giving us the facts (apart from one or two injectures that are mainly there to make it appear more like a novel) and allowing us to come to our own conclusions. We are left to come to our own conclusions and search out the juxtaposition of the two stories ourselves, with barely noticeable nudges from Larson.

The contrast between Holmes' psychopathic mind and the glory of human achievement created from those of the fair's directors can fail to impress upon the reader at first, but it is there, somewhere amongst the tragedy and horror and the glorious descriptions of the breaking ground architecture.

I have never been a big non-fiction fan but if it were all written like this, with such an eye for detail and an engaging way of writing, I'm sure I'd invest in more books. Larson has created a time machine in his book yet still managed to leave enough unsaid for the reader to fill in themselves. Sometimes a book can be better for what is left out.

A highly recommended read that I didn't put down (seriously, done in a day).

Saturday, 9 June 2012

The Blade Itself by Joe Abercrombie

The first in a fantasy series (the First Law trilogy & two stand-alones) I have been keeping this book in the back of my mind for a while now.

As the first in a trilogy we are given the introductions to the main (and not so main) characters: Logen the barbaric Northmen who actually has a good head on his shoulders and has quite a few pacifist moments, Inquistor Glokta the crippled soldier turned torturer who has a dry, slightly twisted sense of humour (he made me laugh!), Captain Jezal dan Luthar the epitome of careless selfish officer/playboy/man about town who is only taking part in a tournament for the glory it'll bring him and then we have the Magus Bayaz who remains mysterious and aloof from the moment we meet him to the end of this book.

This book is split between different character's viewpoints (which I'm rather enjoying recently) and each point of view gets something worthwhile or significant before moving on, thus making sure we don't feel the need to start skipping over any particular character's section.

The book begins with Logen Ninefingers (go on, guess how many fingers he has :P) being chased/attacked in a forest by Shankas - what appear to be a ruthless race of creatures that are trying to take over the North lands. From there it moves south to the main city, Adua, where we find most of the Union's army, including Captain Luthar - the current golden-boy, practising or getting excited for the upcoming competition. Deep in the dungeons of the castle we find the crippled Inquisitor Glokta and his dry sense of humour, working away to get prisoners to confess by any means necessary - and he has some rather effective means. We learn that he had once been the golden boy and competition winner before being captured and held by enemies for two years, returning as just a shadow of his former self. This past doesn't exactly make him enamoured with Captain Luthar (though Luthar's attitude alone would turn most people off, I'm sure).

Unfortunately events are unfolding that will make the competition seem like child's play, if events weren't happening in a fantasy book I'd probably be rather disappointed to be honest, and Logen finds himself brought down from the North Lands to Adua in fairly intriguing circumstances that he has absolutely no interest in. Where most heroes/anti-heroes would want to know the ins and outs of what's going on Logen just needs to look out for himself, have a small bit of revenge on an old foe and make sure not to die. Outside of this he doesn't want to get involved in the politics.

The set up of the 'Union' kingdom itself reminded me slightly of the Roman Empire with the main, more civilised city in the centre of things but it's more outlying settlements facing threats. The first book is more concerned with Angland's threat from the Northern ruler Bethod, who brought together the warring tribes of the north under him in order to all focus on taking on the Union. We do, however, get hints of trouble down south from an empire that surrounds their most southern settlement.

In all I found this book to be rather a good read and much different from a lot of your average fantasies, even some of the ones that are trying to be different. Joe Abercrombie has given us a different insight into your typical fantasy characters and has done it well. The descriptions he gives and lack of reader's hand holding that he doesn't do helps you get into the story more without having to worry about stopping mid-flow for a quick run-down of why someone is doing something.

If you enjoy fantasy but find that most of the books on offer are becoming a bit too predictable then I suggets this as a way of getting out of that slump. Funny at times, dark and confusing at others this was definitely a good choice on my part - but might I suggest getting the second book on hand before starting - these first in a series books do leave you hanging!

Friday, 25 May 2012

The Mystery Of Edwin Drood by Charles Dickens

I'd like to start by saying, to any who don't already know, that this is Charles Dickens unfinished book. He died before he could finish it (and left no useful notes for anyone to let us in on the ending - very careless).

The book is set in fictional Cloisterham, thought to be based on Rochester in Kent, and follows the main character Edwin Drood and his uncle John Jasper, the cathedral's choir-master.

Edwin has been betrothed to Rosa Bud since they were young children and both were orphaned young. As they were given no choice over the engagement they seem to take it for granted that they will marry but are constantly seen arguing with one another. It is not thought that, given the option, they would've ended up with each other as they seem such an imperfect match.

Edwin and his uncle's relationship, however, is a lot friendlier. With only 6 years age difference between them John seems to worship 'Ned' as incapable of doing anything wrong. This is more of a friendship relationship with Jasper occasionally giving advice, than that of an uncle and nephew. However, this relationship turns out to be sliughtly blighted by Jasper's fascination with Rosa and his use of Opium, taking him up to an opium house in London on occasion. He passes his withdrawal symptoms off as bouts of pain and Rosa doesn't tell Edwin too much about her tutor's infatuation with her due to their close relationship.

The story follows the inhabitants and clergymen of Cloisterham, the arrival of two new characters, Neville & Helena Landless, from Ceylon, Rosa and Edwin reaching the conclusion in their relationship and tragedy befalling the city of Cloisterham. This is a great work by Dickens and would've been one fo my favourites so far... if it had been finished. Unfortunately the conclusion of events and the tragedy/foul play never happens and we are left guessing what happened through whatever clues we have been given.

As Dickens last work I found this to be well written, with all the long windedness of previous works out of his system and pages upon pages of descriptions cut down to just a paragraph. The characters were well-rounded individuals, or as well-rounded an individual can be when written in Dickens way of parodying the typical characters of his time whilst also dealing with his morbid moods near the end of his life. John Jasper with his dark secret hidden behind the mask of a caring choir-master and music tutor is definitely the better written of all the characters because of his multi-layered characteristics.

I thought that, by going into this book knowing that it didn't have an ending, I'd be alright with that fact. I wasn't, at all, not even a little bit! That bloomin' Dickens had the audacity to write a gripping murder mystery, drag the reader in and then keel over before telling us what happened - how rude!

Aside from that though I highly recommend this book. Not just to Dickens lovers, not just to murder mystery lovers but to everyone. This is a classic that needs reading (and I just want everyone to feel as annoyed and confused as I do) and as it's only half finished it's not exactly a 'Great Expectations' feat.

Sunday, 20 May 2012

The Insidious Dr Fu-Manchu by Sax Rohmer

Written in 1913 I feel it best to warn anyone who picks this book up that you will find racial slurs and prejudices in there that were acceptable at the time.

Following the sudden appearance at his home by his old friend and rather mysterious man with connections, Nayland Smith, Dr Petrie finds himself embroiled in a chase about London after the mysterious Dr Fu-Manchu. Skilled in sciences beyond their (and, at one point, our) comprehension their foe is always two steps ahead and increasing his body count as he goes.

Smith describes his foe as "tall, lean, and feline, with a brow like Shakespeare and a face like Satan," which really says it all about the sort of character we're expecting him to be.

Smith & Petrie go tearing through London trying to save the lives of rather influential figures in a way rather reminiscent of Holmes and Watson (though Smith isn't as glorious in his deductions and Petrie's quicker on the uptake than Watson). In fact, at the beginning of the book there were one or two scenes in which a man had been found dead in a locked study with no clue of how it happened and I started thinking that maybe I'd already read this book!

Looking past the non-pc terms we are given a good action book that would do well for any of the more grown up 'Boys Own' reader and with the fast paced action and mysterious plot twists it does well to keep the reader enthralled.

Unfortunately this book is all about the action and we learn nothing about the characters involved. They all seem to be one-dimensional with no building of personalities beneath the obvious 'what you see is what you get' written on paper.

I enjoyed this book for what it was, a quick read for action and an attempt to cash in late on the Holmes style of plot. Don't expect your mind to be particularly stressed when reading this and put your modern day political correct thinking on the shelf and read this as an example of popular 'pulp book' fiction back in it's day. If you enjoy this then I have found out that it is only the first in a series. If you carry on with them then feel free to drop me a line and let me know how you found them!

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Unnatural Time by Julio Angel Ortiz

A short story (about 40 pages or so on my eReader) that follows a retired grim reaper and a discharged cherub as they investigate a Mr Kite's Cavalcade.

The premise is that Peter (the cherub) and Palequus are to investigate Mr Kite's innocuous seeming cavalcade for more sinister reasons. In the meantime, however, they are invited to look around what appears to be a travelling fair of the great mysteries and such stuff from around the universe in order to see that nothing out of place was happening. This is when we could've been given brief glimpses of background stories and more character build-up but I'm afraid that wasn't the case.

The story itself would work if it was one of many cases that appeared in a longer book format - this is almost like a tease of what could be something that I'd happily buy. The characters, whilst not built on much, are just interesting enough for you to want to know more about them and how they ended up working together. The premise of a company being out there to investigate any illegal going-ons in the universe is quite intriguing to me.

This is an entertaining quick read and good to just pick up - especially if this sort of premise interests you in any way, shape or form.... now I just need to convince the author to make a big case studies type book out of it :)

Sunday, 13 May 2012

Just An Announcement

I've looked through my eReader and realised I have one or two indie eBooks from when I first got my little eReader that I haven't got round to reading.

This seems unfair that I have all these popular books marked down as 'dusty' and seem to have missed off some of these ones so I shall endeavour to change that and add in the indie ones - heck, I've found a fab author from Smashwords so who knows what I'll find :D

I'm also hoping, in future, to be putting myself out there for any authors who are wanting reviews for their work. Anyone talented and brave enough to put the culmination of all their hard work out there for the public to see deserves all my support and unbiased reviews :)

Next book to read will be Unnatural Time by Julio Angel Ortiz.

Saturday, 12 May 2012

A Game Of Thrones by George R. R. Martin Part Two

So this is it - Book one of this series is finished and, as much as I loved it, I can't move straight on to the second book. This isn't because I don't have the second book, I have the first four, it's because the first book asks the reader to give it your feelings and brain power, screws around with both for the entire time you're reading and then hands them back to you at the end as a screwed up, drained mess before daring you to pick up the second book. Now I don't know about you folks but I need time to straighten my head and heart out again and let them fill back up before jumping back in the ring!

What also doesn't help is the fact that all of the chapters (as mentioned in review Part One) are written from the perspectives of different main characters (about eight of them taking turns) so you do end up sympathising with all of them at some point or another which means that a fondness for them all takes root - and this is deadly! Martin's world isn't one where bad guys always get their come-uppance (points if you get the bad movie reference) and the good guys come out on top. No, this world is life, this is reality in a book dealing with the fact that there are real shades of grey and keeping to your honour or doing the 'right thing' won't always get you rewarded.

Unfortunately I can't really tell you much about the plot without giving anything away and being lambasted for even the slightest spoiler so I'm really just sticking to my feelings here.

This book, this series probably, is fantasy writing on a dark, gritty scale. No magic, no foolish wand waving, this is all about creating a believable world with believable, flawed characters. Even the most honourable appearing person is shown to have flaws on some level and it is that sort of thing that will make you keep coming back to the book even after you've had to put it down for making you upset or angry.

The whole setting of the lands and the people in them are believable in that you're pretty sure that's exactly how real people would act given their statuses and situations they find themselves in, they all have doubts and all make mistakes - which is human nature - and it's captured and written down well. This sort of political intrigue and trickery along with the battles and suspense has ruined me for other fantasy books out there as I found myself in a bookshop today thinking 'hmm, doesn't sound as good as...' and putting books back on the shelf!

What George R. R. Martin has created here is something that may come close to my favourite fantasy book, Gormenghast (Mervyn Peake), in it's writing, showing human nature in all it's glory - warts, lies and all - and still managing to have so many underlying story plot threads that are barely visible to the reader and only being hinted at.

I strongly suggest this book to any epic fantasy lovers who want something a bit different from the standard offerings in that section. I will happily be moving on to the second book once I've had enough time to iron my inner self out.

Thursday, 26 April 2012

A Game Of Thrones by George R. R. Martin - Part One

Allow me to explain: this is a big book, a very big book, that may take me a while to get through, just like Pillars Of The Earth did. As such I have decided that it may be an idea to write a 'kind of review' up to the point where I have read. A lot happens throughout that would take up a lot of space reviewing if done altogether - and I can't promise I'd remember every great thing that happened in it if I waited until the end.

I am up to chapter 35 out of about 70 odd so things are really just kicking off and there are still a few threads loose in the ether that need to be tied in. I say chapter 35 but in reality the chapters aren't numbered - they are given the name of the character we are following and it is then written in a predominantly third person p.o.v which is limited by what only the character can see/hear.

A Song Of Ice and Fire is an well written fantasy series set in the continents of Westeros and Essos. At the beginning of the book (and still up to this point) Westeros is a land at peace that is broken into seven kingdoms, from Winterfell in the Northern lands ruled by the Starks down to King's Landing where (as guessed in the name) the current royal family reside and further south (though I have yet to be taken to that area so no idea yet). In the prologue we are introduced to the land beyond The Wall, a large structure further north than Winterfell, that was built to keep 'The Others' from crossing into Westeros.

The start of this book pulls you in with death and suspense and mystery but don't you dare start thinking that this book is all about fighting and other types of action, I don't believe it would have stood the test of time quite so well if it was! The chapters that follow are more about political intrigue and the workings of a court than anything else but don't let this put you off as it's intertwined with the story in such a way for it to become interesting or just mentioned in passing through one of the character's chapters.

After the King's Hand dies King Robert asks for Eddard Stark, Lord of Winterfell and old friend, to take up the position. Ned is reluctant but persuaded by his wife Catelyn Stark, nee Tully, that it could be a good thing for their family. On top of that they've just found a message from her sister that the last Hand's death may not have been entirely natural, so let's take the position and then have Ned look into it whilst he's down there - that's not putting him in a dangerous position at all, is it dear reader?!

With family problems abound and finding out his friend is not a friend anymore but a King and a stranger there's no question that Lord Stark is going to have issues in his new position of power. It really doesn't help that there's a new threat to the peace on the horizon that they've only just been informed could happen. It's annoying when us readers know what's being planned by those sly Targayen's but can't quite make our voices heard through the book ;)

This section ends with Ned Stark finally having a moment of realisation and doing something rather sensible (this is him though, he's always the sensible one) and now leaving me eager to keep reading on, worried about what will happen to these characters I've come to love and seen some of them mature. I speak mainly of Arya Stark and Jon Snow (Ned's illegitimate son). One having to learn how to behave like a lady in public and the other learning that life's tough outside the protection of his father, especially when you end up guarding The Wall. These two characters are definitely my favourites, as I'm sure Martin wrote them to be.

This is definitely an epic-fantasy that deserves all the attention it has recently started receiving. It may be in the fantasy section but it steers closer to politics and swords than the sorcery side of things and for this I'm glad. I highly recommend this for those fantasy lovers who have been absent from that section for a while or who were scared off by the recurring themes of magical elements or wizards at war etc etc (as I was) - go on, get your teeth into something grittier and less 'magic saves some world'.

I will be watching the TV show after I've read the second book (at the earliest).

Part two will follow soon, I hope.

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

My Other Blog

Hello all,

I have a favour to ask of you I'm afraid....  No, wait!! Please come back!! It's nothing massive I promise!

All I'm asking is that you please check out a separate blog that I have set aside for my writing attempts. It's still in the first desgins of beings et up and some of the first few random ramblings are a few years old by now but I am currently working on my own piece of fiction (has been posted in too) and I'd really appreciate some feedback or even just some knowledge that people have seen it.

The site address is :  Chapter 1 of my work has just been posted (yes, that is it's current title and no it won't stay that forever!).

Thanks guys and gals, it does mean a lot!

Saturday, 7 April 2012

Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen

This has always been one of those books I wanted to get around to reading but always ended up being pushed aside for something new. Definitely a shame because this is a good book.

The book follows the lives of the Dashwood family: Mrs Dashwood and her three daughters Elinor, Marianne and Margaret from the time of the death of Mr Dashwood through to their having to move out of the family home, Norland, to make way for their rather selfish half-brother (from Mr Dashwood's previous marriage) along with his even worse wife and into a smaller cottage in Devonshire. They are then introduced to Mrs Dashwood's family, the Middletons, who in turn introduce them to their circle of friends and then we start to see events unfold.

This book is set mainly from the eldest sister, Elinor's, view on events. She is the most sensible, emotionally reserved out of her and her second sister, Marianne. Unfortunately Margaret does not get much of a look-in in this book as she is the youngest and so seen to be not yet of an age where she is victim to all the love entanglements, misunderstandings and social requirements that her two elder sisters find themselves subject to.

Elinor, whilst still residing at Norland, found herself being paid attention by the new Mrs Dashwood's brother, Edward Ferrars and secretly hopes this may continue after the move, even with Mrs Fanny Dashwood informing Elinor's mother that this relationship could never happen. Marianne, meanwhile, has no romantic interests when they move. However, as the more romantic and dramatic of the two sisters, you can be sure that this could easily change. She is 16/17 at the start of the book and full of ideas of how a man should be and what sort of relationship she would look for. A potential suitor, Colonel Brandon, is suitably put down by her as being too old (he is 35) and her descriptions of how she imagines that marriage to be on her part are rather hilarious (she sees herself as more of a nursemaid than a wife). It is after this that she meets Mr John Willoughby, through a rather 'damsel in distress' moment, and they start to be seen as courting by those around them.

Now, this all seems rather simple and set out but Miss Austen has a few twists and turns up her sleeve that I shan't spoil for you. All I shall say is that the only seemingly constant men throughout this book are those already married and Colonel Brandon.

Austen is really capable of showing the characters growth throughout this book, whether it's Marianne needing to mature or Elinor needing to show her emotions more, even to the point of showing the men noticing that they need to change in order to be happy. These characters became real people to me and I found myself buried in their world (I had to remind myself to stop speaking 'Austen' at times before I received funny looks) and investing my feelings in the outcome of their situations.

This is well written and an enjoyable read with Austen managing to set the scenes well whilst also conveying across Elinor's feelings on every situation she has to face. You really end up feeling for Elinor as she hides her own miseries whilst dealing with Marianne's dramatic reactions to what happens to her. I found Elinor to be my favourite of the two sisters, she is constant and loyal to her family at the same time as keeping her own feelings to herself whilst still holding on to any hope.

The most common reaction to my telling people I was reading this book was 'I preferred Pride & Prejudice to Sense & Sensibility' or vise versa. As I have yet to read P&P (I know, terrible) I cannot give my verdict but I'm happy to say that, if the rest of her books are like this one and Emma, then Jane Austen will shortly become one of my favourite authors.

If you enjoy books from this period then I highly recommend you read this, the same goes for if you have yet to dip your toe in this era but you find you want to. It takes on some problems that are still occuring today (love and the emotions that go with it don't change) and does so from two very different points of view. Bring on the next Austen, I say!

Monday, 2 April 2012

Pillars Of The Earth by Ken Follett

This book is the reason I haven't posted in a while - it's a long book and I'm going to start straight off by recommending you have enough time aside to read it so you can really get into it.

I had seen the adverts on TV for the Channel 4 series and was quite interested in it, but never got around to watching it, I'm now on the lookout for the DVD set!

This book was first described to me as a soap opera with a cathedral being the main character, and that person was spot on. This is mainly set in a fictional town of Kingsbridge (there are several towns of that name in Britain but none in the location described) and it's surrounding areas. This is quite unfortunate for me as I really wanted to go visit this fictional cathedral!

Set in the 12th Century the prologue opens with the disastrous sinking of the White Ship, carrying King Henry I's only son, William along with a large entourage of the royal court. This death eventually threw the question of succession into dispute and led to years of civil war between two cousins, Stephen and Matilda, as the idea of Henry's daughter, Matilda, ruling was not yet accepted by the ruling lords and barons.

This is the background against which the story is set; very uncertain and the peasantry being at the mercy of lords and barons waging smaller wars against each other for land and power without fear of repercussion from the crown. After the prologue we are introduced to Tom Builder and his family and immediately we are shown that he is a man of principle - for himself and the people who work for him. This may not be the best thing, a peasant standing up to the son of an Earl, but it helps show the character of both Tom and the Earl's son William Hamleigh and introduces the reader to the way this novel is going to go.

'Pillars' then follows Tom through cities, towns and tragedy as he tries to find work to keep his family from starving, even almost risking his life over the family's pig. It is through this and through the eyes of other characters introduced that we get around to the building of Kingsbridge cathedral. This works for how the novel is set out and introduces the reader to the historical events taking place in the country, making sure we remember the more powerful forces affecting our characters' lives.

 Follett introduces us to characters slowly and through chapters written in their own point of view, taking his time to weave all the separate stories together until you suddenly see it connect with a flash of realisation. This slow build up may seem tiresome at first and encourage you to put the book down and walk away but please don't as it builds up, connects together and I found the switch between the points of view as a good thing, it kept me reading through the slower parts.

With the obvious distinction between good and bad it is difficult for the reader to make their own mind up about the characters as Follett doesn't seem to believe in shades of grey too much, if a good person does something bad it is always justified and a bad person only does something good if it's an accidental repercussion of an attempt at a bad deed. Now, with a book like this, I don't mind that too much as the story itself allows this to flow into the background whilst the turbulent storylines and plot twists take centre stage. The characters are still padded out and made into real people and not completely predictable, although one or two characters do come close at times.

I was very interested in the building of the cathedral and it was made very obvious that Follett had done his research on this subject. It was described in a way that I found interesting and not patronizing or where I'm expected to already know the basics and just be shoved into the deep-end. I found myself visiting two cathedrals whilst I was reading the book and found it really helped me appreciate all the hard work of all the individuals that were working on these amazing buildings.

This book is definitely an epic and I would suggest putting aside a full week or two so that you can really get into the descriptions and character depths. It isn't the sort of thing you can pick up, flick through a couple of pages and then move on to do something else but it is well worth the time to pick up.

If you like historical fiction with a bit of cathedral architecture mixed in and you're looking for your next big read then this is the book for you. If you like soap opera style books that spreads over about 40/50 years and mainly focuses on a small group of people then this is also the book for you. I'm now waiting for the right time to buy the second book.

Sunday, 26 February 2012

The Day Of The Triffids by John Wyndham

This was a christmas present from my grandad who first read this book in 1960 and, knowing that I wasn't a big reader of this genre,still thought that it was definitely one I'd like. He was right.

Written in 1951 this book follows Bill Masen as he wakes up in a hospital, eyes covered in bandages, with no street sounds coming in from outside and no nurses coming to answer his calls, only the answer of moans and terrified screams. After taking off the bandages himself he walks through an almost deserted hospital, only coming across a few people who have all been blinded after watching a meteor shower the night before, and out into an empty London as society tries to come to terms with their new condition.

On top of this it seems that the new, alien-like plants are flourishing in this new situation. Having created a new form of fuel from the use of plant oils harvested from the bioengineered Triffids, these plants became a common sight in nurseries, plantations and even in parks and private gardens. With nobody to tend their stakes or ensure that their stings are kept under control they soon break free and start to multiply, creating a second problem for the now blind humans. The Triffids feed on decomposing flesh and their stings are filled with enough poison to kill a person, thus making the wandering blind people an easy target for the plants.

This leads to a fight for a survival with Bill finding groups of sighted people who, for one reason or another, didn't see the meteor shower, and who all have their own ideas of what should be done next. This brings up many moral dilemmas that aren't entirely answered but left for the reader to wonder what they'd do if left in that situation.

Now, whilst these two catastrophic occurences (meteor shower & Triffid escapes) are totally unrelated on the surface, if we take a depeer look we can see a theme behind the two; that of man being turned upon & punished by his own creations (it's later mentioned that the meteor shower may have been down to a malfunctioning weapons satellite). This theme is just as relevant today as it was over 6o years, perhaps even more so with our almost complete reliance on technology and our fight for cheaper ways to make more money through fuel, power etc.

What we see is a world trying to come to grips with it's sudden loss of what we now take for granted - technology, an endless supply of electricity & power and a formed society with upheld laws and conventions. As such they must now start looking at how to support themselves in the long run, protect themselves from the new top predators - the triffids - and create a society from scratch.

I found this book to be an incredibly thought-provoking read. I'm not usually one for reading books based on a breakdown of society but I'm afraid that now, if I do decide to read any more of this genre, they have a high bench mark to hit. Wyndham made his characters and their reactions to the situation realistic and believable. There weren't any gung-ho, 'I can do anything' people who actually lived up to their self-beliefs. Instead you had the feeling of reading about real people making real decisions with real consequences and the book was better for it.

I highly recommend that you read this book. It has stood the test of time and I'd happily call it a 'modern classic' that should be on everyone's book list. You don't need to be a fan of this genre to enjoy this book, I wasn't. Enjoyable, direct and very well written - a great christmas present!

Sunday, 19 February 2012

Dracula by Bram Stoker

I will first state that this is a reread for me. The first time I read this book I believe I was about 12 and, whilst I did forget most of the content, it remained as one of my favourite books ever since. My reason for wanting to reread this (apart from it being a part of the challenge I was participating in) was that I wanted to remember why it had kept such a special place in my reading heart. Now this could've gone one of two ways and I was well aware of this. I could've read it and realised that it no longer held such an appeal to me or it could've reinforced my reasons for keeping it at the top of my list.

Thankfully for me this time of reading it only reminded why I loved this book! It's written in the form of letters & diary entries from different points of view. This is a very good form if done well, sticks to the timeline - as jumping around can get confusing in this form - and usually works best if it's a longer novel as it doesn't need to be too rushed to get all the facts out. The review that follows will be as non-gushy & spoiler free as possible, considering my love for this book, I apologise for any biased, gushy feelings that may crop up.

Written in 1897 this book is a true gothic horror novel that follows the travels of Jonathan Harker as he has to go see a client in Transylvania to provide legal support to Count Dracula, who has recently purchased some real estate over in England that was overseen by Harker's employer. We the reader, eagerly read through his diary entries as what Harker encounters are images from the worst nightmare as he realises that, not only has he been made a prisoner in the Count's castle, but also that the Count is not as he seems. As Harker slowly comes to the realisation that he must escape the castle or die we leave him, unknowing, to go back to England where we are introduced to his fiancee Mina Murray and her friend Lucy Westenra, who has just become engaged herself.

What follows is a series of dreadful events that occur once the Count has arrived in England (in a rather dramatic way), that center around Lucy. With Lucy becoming a target of the Count, the book brings in someone who has now become as well known as being Dracula's foe as Dracula himself.

With more people becoming aware of Count Dracula's true presence what follows is a battle of wits and survival. All played out through diary entries & letters we see the human spirit jump to the fore as it is threatened with something so darkly evil & never before known that threatens the existence of themselves and, more importantly, those they love. The book takes you from the cities and small beach towns of England to mad, dashing journeys through Europe by any means of transport possible.

The description of Dracula and his powers have lived down through the centuries, although it is probable that Stoker used earlier vampire novels as sources for inspiration, and many (but not all) modern views on vampires still refer back to these 'rules'.

I adored reading this book, Stoker's use of the epistolary format makes it that more suspense ridden and helps to put across each of the characters very well. Through them we get a real feel of how each person views the events in their own, individual way. I found that this was very well done, each entry flowed on from the other and stuck to the correct timeline in a way that didn't allow the reader to get lost in the story.

I suggest this as a read for anyone who enjoys gothic literature or is currently still on the 'vampire kick', it will help give you some classic reading background. This book is full of action and blood-sucking and really gives that dark, tense feeling that is so prevalent in gothic novels (hence the name). Definitely staying on my shelf to read again & again.

Sunday, 12 February 2012

King Solomon's Mines by H. Rider Haggard

This is pretty much an Indiana Jones style book before Indie was even thought about. A young boy's adventure book set in Africa this is obviously written in 1885, as evidenced by the views and words used throughout.

The story follows the writings of our intrepid big-game hunter, Allan Quartermain, as he is asked to guide Sir Henry Curtis and his friend and ex-Naval officer Captain Good to the legendary King Solomon's Mines in search for Sir Henry's brother. These fabled mines are said to be found in a land that lies across a desert and over two mountains, from which it is rumoured no one has ever managed to survive the journey - either on the way there or the way back.

Quartermain has already managed to get his hands on a roughly drawn map that claims to show the way to the mines but, up until he met the two men, he'd not paid any attention to it, merely kept it for amusement. Quartermain only agrees to go when he has their promise that he will get a large sum of the treasure, if they find it and if they don't, the promise that his son will be well cared for. As an elephant hunter he has already lived  longer than most are expected to and he doesn't expect that he'll live through this adventure, but sees it as something he should do, a 'last adventure' if you must.

This book mainly follows their travels and focuses less on the mines and treasure than it does the adventures and hardships they encounter. This is definitely to it's advantage. The book was purportedly written as a wager between Haggard and his brother as to whether or not he could write a novel as good as Treasure Island, I think he did rather well to be honest!

The late 19th Century saw the rise in explorers uncovering evidence of ancient civilisations around the world, such as ancient Egypt, but most of Africa was still rather unknown - hence why this became such a bestseller when it was first released as it captured the public's imagination. Haggard's experiences when travelling Africa, first during the Anglo-Zulu war and secondly during the first Boer War, helped to make the surroundings more credible. Unfortunately, for the modern reader, it still shows up the thoughts of the time towards those who lived in Africa and, as with many of these Victorian  books, it's a case of just bite your tongue and remember that it was sadly acceptable back then.

Despite this I found this book to be rather enjoyable and kept me reading through it. there were some rather predictable instances and you can see why it's now considered a 'children's classic' (though released for adults at the time) as it's definitely for the boys who enjoy a bit of action and fighting and good guy vs bad guy (or mother nature).

This book has been quoted as being an inspiration for Edgard Rice Burroughs' 'A Land That Time Forgot' and was even said to have been the first (and even the creation of) the new 'Lost World' genre. Whilst this isn't the greatest of the genre this is definitely a good first book to have in said genre and a good benchmark for it's followers to aim for (and surpass in many cases).

For a quick, short, adventure read this is a good one to pick up. It's a lovely idea that somewhere in Africa there's a mine full of treasure waiting for someone to discover it (although it may have been done by now) and the imagery used is definitely like a tourism advert for the country. It isn't a long read and worth taking a day out of your life to pick it up.

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

20,000 Leagues Under The Sea by Jules Verne

I'm still on the victorian classics here (thanks to a Goodreads bookclub challenge) and have at least two more to go!

This book is written in the first person narrative of Professor Arronax as it follows the journey that he and his two friends Conseil (his manservant) and Ned Land (a Canadian harpooner) take as captive guests on board the fearsome Captain Nemo's 'Nautilus'.

The book starts in 1866 when something, commonly believed to be a creature of the deep, terrorising the shipping world. The professor is invited to join a ship setting off to hunt down this creature and there makes the acquaintance of the fiery harpoonist. What follows is a struggle between boat and creature that is actually a highly sophisticated submarine vessel, whereupon our three characters end up on top of the Nautilus.

The three men are then to become unwilling guests of the captain of this vessel, Captain Nemo, with the promise that he will never let them leave the Nautilus now that they know so much about it. The Captain is a mysterious man of unknown origins who has refused to ever set foot on land or rely on anything that has origins on dry land. This leads to some very interesting sounding meals in the book and a technology that is far ahead of it's time.

In a bid not to spoil this book for anyone who has yet to read it I will say that it takes the reader on a journey around the world, seeing different wonders of the ocean and joining in with the characters at their times of admiration as well as fears at what hides beneath the oceans. Trust me, sometimes you find yourself wanting to take journeys to some of these places just to see if what's said is true!

Written in 1869, Jules Verne's masterpiece was really ahead of  it's time with the idea of the Nautilus having on it a device to create electricity through the power of the sea, not to mention the Nautilus itself with the power of electricity and the means of keeping her supplied wityh oxygen. At the time of it's writing it must have seemed rather intriguing to the common reader.

I enjoyed this book in as much as the idea is a great one that has withstood the test of time and the writing is, at times, absolutely riveting. However, I did find that there were a lot of unnecessary stops in the story to allow paragraph upon paragraph of detail and description. this may have been intriguing to the reader of the time but now it stops the flow and just started to put me off reading.

This is a true classic and I believe everyone should take the time to read it - but be prepared to have to plough on through lots of detailed descriptions and some old-fashioned opinions at certain times.

Sunday, 29 January 2012

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

The idea of Jekyll and Hyde has been reused and rehashed so many times, in so many different ways, that you feel like you already know what the book will be like. However, let me stop you there. It seems that movies and hype have once again taken people away from the book itself.

We all know the basic premise of this novella; one good doctor who drinks a concoction in order to turn into his darker side but soon finds himself stuck in an unwanted position. However, what I didn't know before was the theory and premise behind WHY Dr Jekyll created this 'potion' (for I can't of what else to call this, really). Out of everything, the answer to this question is what really intrigued me.

I used to think that him having Hyde trapped in him was some sort of accidental side affect, but I was wrong. I'm not going to say why it really happened on here but I will tell you that the thought behind it intrigued me and was the bit I found the most thought provoking out of everything that happened in this book. What happened in the book was the result of these contemplations on the human mind and character and so I did want to focus more on that.

This book itself and the way it was set out did disappoint me in that it's based around diary entries, letters etc and so, therefore, seems a bit 'he said, she said' and seems to jump all over the place. An example of this jumping is the fact that the entire book is split into Middle, Beginning, End, Middle, or some other order that doesn't help draw you in as much as it could. On top of that it's all rather a civilised capture and end of Mr Hyde, don't expect it to be jumping from rooftops, harassing damsels in distress sort of things. It's more a mental sort of anguish than anything else. Granted there are one or two moments where Hyde gets out of control but it's definitely more a case of the unseen evil having the biggest hold on the story.

Having said all this, however, I was slightly disappointed in this book. Yes it's a classic, yes I know my 21st Century mind had a lot of expectations and yes I know that it's my fault, not the book's. I still wish something had REALLY happened at the end that was more visceral than intellectual.

This is a good read, especially if you know what you'll get from this era of books (I'm beginning to learn). A good quick read that should be read without the expectations from this century but imagining how it must have come across to the readers of the time.

Monday, 16 January 2012

The Invisible Man by H.G. Wells

I will start by saying that I have never read this book before or seen any films the whole way through either. Despite this, however, I still had some vague ideas of what I was expecting due to seeing film clips, hearing references and the book title itself (Invisible Man does give away the main idea).

The book starts with the arrival of a strange, nameless man in a small village inn. With his entire body, except his nose, covered in clothing or bandages he makes for great speculation amongst the locals. It doesn't take long for speculation to grow and withhis short temper, tendency to hide himself away and one or two minor mishaps it isn't long until it looks like his secret may be found out. When everything comes to a head the stranger moves on but the reports of him follow, although not necessarily believable.

What we then see happen is a story of hope and tragedy, we hear of who the strange man is and how he became invisible. The reader is shown, through this incident, of the dangers of scientific discovery gone wrong; of how one man's quest for something perceived as a gift can turn him and his achievement into a curse.

I was shocked at how short a book this was. I believed that, with all the spin offs and films that had been created because of it, there would have much more to it. Although this book only coves a short period of time (apart from the flashbacks to his becoming invisible) there was enough content within it to encourage me to read. It started almost straight away with the mystery of the nameless man at the Inn. With his strange appearance it's only natural that news of his appearance would spread. As the reader you are not given any clues as to his appearance, apart from the book's title, and as such could've been left wondering as well for a short while.

This book really picks up speed upon his sudden departure from Iping and we are suddenly given a glimpse into the downward spiral of his mind and how far he has fallen from his life previous to his being invisible.

Wells has made this an unbelievably good plot, focusing more on the human mind aspect when faced with outcomes like this rather than the actual invisibility itself. As much as you start to realise how it all must end, and it really is the only way, it still comes as a bit of a shock when the inevitable happens. Wells writes so well that there is never really any doubt as to how people would react when faced with such an impossible thing.

This a great short read for anyone really. It may not be uplifting but it does make you think and ask you to look at the human mind in a different, more open light.

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

Spreading Out The Reviews

Greetings all!

I have made a New Year's Resolution this year to read every book and eBook I have and haven't yet got round to reading before I buy any new books. This means that a lot of the books I am reading this year are going to be classics that I've put off for a while (Dickens, War & Peace, Crime & Punishment etc).

Some of these books are rather large and, as such, will take a while for me to read. This would mean that there'd be a large gap between each review and that's unfair on you, my followers. What I'm going to do, to try and stop this as much as possible, is to write my reviews once I've finished them but save them up and post one every Sunday as, at the moment, there are some shorter books at the top of the list.

I hope this doesn't upset anyone, but I'm trying to figure out a way to not leave you guys left waiting too long for a book review. Thank you for understanding.

Next review to be posted will be The Invisible Man by H.G. Wells.

Sunday, 8 January 2012

Flesh and Blood by Mark Peterson

I received this book after entering a Waterstones competition. This book has not yet been released and my Waterstones review can be found here.

This book is a new British crime novel set in Brighton. It follows a police operation aiming to bring down a large drugs ring.

The book opens with the death of an undercover police officer and the realisation that the operation may have been compromised. For DSI Tom Beckett, who has been leading this operation through his own personal grief, this looks like it could be the end of his career as he knows it. With the threat of budget cuts making itself evident and the potential leak, it seems that Operation Windmill is doomed to fail without having been completed.

DS Minter is the new guy on the team and has  a bit of a patchy relationship with the team as well as having his own past demons to deal with. With the higher-ups expecting him to do one thing and the new team members all being suspicious around him, Minter finds himself in a tricky situation as he tries to help Beckett find a way to save the operation and get their guy.

I'll admit that it's been a while since I've read a British crime novel, the last few crimes having been Nesbo and Larsson, however I found that this crime novel has found a lovely balance between the stereotypical Nordic 'thinking & politics' and American 'all-action & explosions' crime.

This book starts by dropping the reader into the middle of the action with catalyst happening within the first few pages. With a view that covers everyone - from police officers to the drug barons - you get to see all the points of view and their thoughts on the matter, no matter how small the character's part. I found this to add to the mystery instead of take away from it as it had you left with more questions and totally ruined any suspicions I was already forming.

The two main police officers, Minter and Beckett, did seem to have been stuck into a mold that has been used a few times before in various guises which I found to be slightly disappointing. However, this aside, I found the bit-parters to be more intriguing and their view on their lives were definitely eye opening.

I have the feeling that Peterson really did his research before writing this book - on politics as well as police work - and this came across well in many of the things that happened throughout the plot (I'm trying really hard to avoid spoilers).  Possibly someone with more background knowledge in this subject will be able to tell me how well researched this has been but to someone like me, who just knows what's told on the news and read about in papers and books, this does feel close to what could happen real life.

With such a lively backdrop as Brighton, Peterson has really brought the area to life, using it's vivid reputation to set the scenes and help move it along without having to go into too much unnecessary detail.

This is the first book in a series and I'm so happy I read it, I will be following Mark Peterson with eager anticipation for the next installment. If you're looking for a new british crime series to follow, or looking to get into this genre then might I suggest pre-ordering (or sitting on your hands and waiting) this book, I don't think you'll be disappointed.

Friday, 6 January 2012

Emma by Jane Austen

Well, first off allow me to say that I hope everyone had a lovely holiday period. I spent my at home with my family and decided that I'd read Emma by Jane Austen.

Now, some of you may have noticed the lack of spoiler warning that I always put in the title of my post as a 'just in case'. This is because I think this book is old enough to not warrant one - you can find the entire plotline online anyway - and also due to me not thinking I'll really spoil it anyway. I'll do my best to stick to that.

Emma is a well off lady of leisure who enjoys nothing better than using her supposed 'match-making abilities' to ensure her friends end up with those she thinks would suit them. However, Emma herself doesn't believe she'll marry and would rather stay at home looking after her father. This all seems to unravel when her abilities seem to leave her and she is blind to someone who has his sights (and heart) set on her.

When Jane Austen said that she'd create "a heroine whom no one but myself will much like." she hit the nail on the head for me. We are introduced to Emma and I quickly found myself seething at the way she acted, she wasn't what I expected from an Austen heroine! Rich, clever and so unbelievably spoilt that I had to take breaks to begin with because I started to loathe the woman's actions. However, after a slow start and some rather bad actions on Miss Woodhouse's part I found that it all started coming to a head and I wanted to keep reading. Suddenly the spoilt little girl showed more character, revealed vulnerabilities and even admitted to making mistakes.

Jane Austen knew just the point where it'd become too much for the reader and so added some light on matters and made us able to see what Emma couldn't. Austen turns her cynical view onto the shallow social etiquettes of the time so they become minefileds that have you cringing if anyone goes against them, which one or two do. Every character has a flaw that she is more than happy to point out - even handsome Mr Knightley - and makes them seem that little more approachable and likeable to the reader.

This book starts to follow the classic Austen way that leaves you feeling glad that you prevailed through the beginning and managed to follow the ups and downs in little Highbury all the way to the end.

I finished this book feeling glad that I had read it; if you have never read a classic before and want to know where to start then I suggest this as a good book for you. It'll give you an idea of what to expect from classics, is shorter than many of the others and will help you to understand the sentence structure and wider language that you'll find in the other books you will want to pick up afterwards.