Tuesday, 28 November 2017

Review: The Almost Nearly Perfect People: Behind the Myth of the Scandinavian Utopia by Michael Booth

Now that does seem like a very unfair score but when I don't finish a book I can't justify more than 1 star. I did get halfway through this and it was interesting and funny, the problem was that the subject being tackled was hugely broad and this just felt like a rambling journey and one man's opinion of Scandinavia (Booth does live in Denmark but he is not actually Danish). Non-fiction that isn't historical doesn't tend to hold my interest for long so he should be applauded for getting me to page 187 before giving up, perhaps I just needed more Vikings!

Wednesday, 1 November 2017

Review: Thirteenth Night by Alan Gordon

This wasn't badly written and it was moving along at an alright pace, it just didn't grab me, what's the point in making myself read something when my to read list has lots of books on it I know I would rather be spending my time on. Personal taste not a reflection on the book at all.

Monday, 23 October 2017

Review: Bridget Jones Diary by Helen Fielding

I don't really think chick lit is my thing but this was alright. It's showing it's age a bit now, I kept reading 1471 as one thousand four hundred and seventy one! Still laugh out loud funny in parts though, the film was better.

Wednesday, 18 October 2017

Review: House of Shadows by The Medieval Murderers

I enjoyed these short stories, some more than others. I liked the overarching story of the monastery and thought all the mysteries were unique so it wasn't too repetitive. Looking forward to trying the rest of the series.

Friday, 22 September 2017

Review: Authority by Jeff VanderMeer

I really thought I would like this book, I liked the first book and found the mystery interesting but this time around I'm just getting bored. This book is longer than the first and the pace is much slower, it doesn't help that some of the writing I'm really struggling to follow. It's not a bad book it's just not for me.

Monday, 11 September 2017

Review: Tickled to Death by Joan Hess

Admittedly I only read 4 pages but sometimes you just know there is no point in going on, this was definitely a case of it's not you it's me, cozy mysteries aren't my thing.

Wednesday, 6 September 2017

Review: The Well of Ascension by Brandon Sanderson

This was a typical middle book, not helped by the fact that it was over 700 pages. The world was still great to read about and I still think Allomancy is seriously cool and a genius invention, I just think the plot rambled on for a long time before getting to the inevitable cliffhanger ending. At some point I will get to book 3 but it's another monster so could take me a while to get through!

Review: Daughters of the Grail by Elizabeth Chadwick

This is probably my least favourite of all Elizabeth Chadwick's books, that being said it's still a great read. It focuses on the Albigensian Crusade in France in the early thirteenth century, this part I loved as I knew nothing about it before reading this. I think the bit I wasn't as keen on was the mysticism and magical powers Bridget and Magda seem to have, I like the history Chadwick presents in her novels but this was straying into fantasy in parts and it just got a bit weird.

Review: Atonement by Ian McEwan

I was very torn between whether this was a 9 or a 10 but as it brought a tear to my eye and gave me the book tingles (technical term for the feeling you get upon finishing a book and wanting to start reading it again immediately), I decided to overlook the fact that it is a little overly verbose in places and plump for a 10!

I saw the film version at the cinema when it was first released so there were no major plot surprises here for me, it tells the story of a young aspiring writer and the events of one particularly hot day where she witnesses something she doesn't understand and the far reaching consequences of this. Told very cleverly using stories within stories it is a slow burn and build up to a conclusion I'm sure some people wouldn't enjoy but that I found perfect.

The ultimate tale of the power of the human imagination used to both its best and its worst.

Friday, 11 August 2017

Review: The Death Cure by James Dashner

I hate not finishing a book, I really do but I just can't bring myself to read another 200 pages of this endlessly frustrating mystery, I don't like any of the characters and I have a feeling the pay off just won't be worth it.

Monday, 7 August 2017

Review: Angels & Demons by Dan Brown

This is the second time I've read this and I enjoyed it just as much as the first time around. The plot hurtles forward at a break neck pace and not a single page is wasted, I found it so hard to put down. Yes the plot is ridiculously farfetched but who doesn't love a conspiracy theory involving a long dead secret society! Can't wait to read the next one!

Friday, 14 July 2017

Review: Artemis Fowl and the Atlantis Complex

Not the best entry into the series but enjoyable none the less. I particularly liked Orion, the story itself was a bit different to the rest of the series but it was nice to have an all new bad guy rather than retreading old ground. Onto the final book in the series!

Friday, 7 July 2017

Review: The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood

Are there any questions?

How can you end a book like The Handmaid's Tale with that! I have so many questions I don't know where to begin. Perhaps I should start by saying this is a work of pure genius and it has taken over my life ever since I watched the first episode of the new TV version (which I have paused after 3 episodes so I could finish the book first). I remember my mum talking to me about this book a good 10 years ago and trying to explain it to me and why it is one of her all time favourite reads, I must have tuned out and I'm kicking myself for doing that because this book is amazing.

This is such a thoughtful book, written from Offred's perspective some time after the events it describes (which did make me happy as I was convinced that must mean she found a way out). It is deeply personal to Offred's experience and is heartbreaking, funny, brutal and rational all at the same time (I know that's an odd choice of adjectives but it's how I was left feeling). I was hooked from page one and was desperate to know more (how ironic) about everything in Offred's world. 

Watching the TV series first I hadn't noticed the implications of Offred's name until I saw it written down, and the looks and brief moments of consideration between the actresses in the series are transformed here into paragraphs of agonising and internal monologue trying to gauge the slightest reaction and the potential consequences (as I said, total genius). It utterly terrified me and at the same time I couldn't stop looking at it, I suppose the only thing to compare it to is watching an accident happen, you can see the potential for it, can see it happening, know the results will be horrible but somehow you just can't tear your eyes away.

Perhaps the most terrifying aspect of this book is the potential for it to actually happen. It's so easy to see how and why someone would be an Aunt (I found these the most vile aspect and the true "gender traitors" of the book). You only have to turn on the news to see all kinds of religious extremism worldwide and the lengths people will go to in the name of their God. Humanity, when it is desperate, is not a nice thing to watch, and from the historical notes at the end you can see the reasoning and justifications for Gilead (I studied history at university and I am now reevaluating how many totalitarian societies I have studied from a coldly clinical perspective like this). This is the ultimate what if? I hope to God (I know, there's that irony again) that this never happens and stays fictional. But there is one shining piece of advice for all oppressed women to take from this, Nolite te bastardes carborundorum.

Wednesday, 5 July 2017

Review: The Scorch Trials by James Dashner

I wish I could put my finger on why I am not enjoying this series. I think it's a combination of things, the writing I am finding a bit simplistic and (like the first book) I feel like this could have been half the size without losing any of the actual plot. I still don't have a clue what is going on and my brain can't conjure any rational explanation for why these trial are necessary, fingers crossed for the next book to be full of exposition because at this stage I'm just frustrated by the whole mystery. I also really dislike Thomas, well maybe not Thomas himself, but the way he is written just makes him seem so two dimensional, I know he has lost his memory but he seems to have lost his common sense and any form of human emotion as well.

My grumbling aside I did enjoy the plot of this one marginally more than the first book, I think because they had an actual destination to get to this time rather than just being lost in the worlds strangest maze. I also liked the introduction of Jorge and Brenda, do I trust them? Well I think I'd been an idiot to trust anyone in this series, I'll just have to get to the end to find out who works for WICKED and if WICKED really is good or not!

Thursday, 15 June 2017

Review: The Cellist of Sarajevo by Steven Galloway

To my shame I know very little about the Bosnian war (which happened only 20 years ago) and after finishing this I feel like I should seek out some more books on the topic. This is the story of three Sarajevans going about their everyday life in very out of the ordinary situations. Arrow is a sniper who hates "the men on the hills" and is tasked with protecting The Cellist from enemy fire, Kenan is walking through a ruined city in search of water for his family and elderly neighbour and Dragan is on his way to work for a loaf of bread. Each has a very different experience in the city under siege and each story concludes with a slightly different message.

I did really enjoy this book, it is very uniquely told and will haunt me for a long time. In particular I found Dragan and Kenan's stories of moving through the city particularly harrowing. In my life I have never had to wonder if I am in the sights of an enemy sniper and I hope that I will never have to.

Friday, 9 June 2017

Review: Artemis Fowl and the Time Paradox by Eoin Colfer

It's always a risky strategy when time travel is involved, especially when you have your heroes tampering with their own pasts and altering the events leading up to previous books. Colfer pulls it off very well resulting in the ultimate time paradox that will hurt your brain if you think too much about it. There is always a strong environmental theme in these books, but this one in particular really hammered the point home, focusing on endangered species both real and mystical. Definitely my favourite of the series after the first book, it goes a lot darker and there were a lot less fart gags and an altogether more serious tone.

Tuesday, 6 June 2017

Review: Dissolution by C.J. Sansom

I really enjoyed this, I had previously read Sovereign and remember that I enjoyed that too so thought it was high time to start at the beginning. It is a very well researched book and the details of the English Reformation are fascinating to read, it was certainly a very dark and dangerous chapter of English history. As a student of history it always makes me particularly sad when I consider how much was lost in those years, never to be seen again.

In terms of the murder mystery itself, I did guess who had done it but not until right at the end when Shardlake himself was finally opening his eyes to reality. Shardlake is an interesting main character, honestly I didn't like him and thought he was a self-righteous idiot for most of the book. I was coming round to him in the end and I have Dark Fire to read at some point in the near future, so maybe I will like him more in that one.

Tuesday, 30 May 2017

Review: Goodbye Piccadilly by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles

I'll be honest, I was a good quarter of the way through before I started to enjoy this book. It follows The Hunter family through 1914 as Europe slides into war, ending rather poignantly on Christmas Day in the trenches. Having read Cynthia Harrod-Eagles before I already know her strengths lie in a family saga and she is very good at writing from multiple characters perspectives and following their development over time. I'm looking forward to reading the next in the series which will carry on and cover 1915.

Tuesday, 23 May 2017

Review: The Final Empire by Brandon Sanderson

This book was simply amazing. I have been meaning to try some Brandon Sanderson for a while now and I saw this sitting on the library shelf so I took it home with me ... just over a week later I emerged from a world of dark lords, thieving crews and Allomancy hungry for more.

This is the story of Vin, a skaa street urchin, who finds herself suddenly thrown into the world of Allomancy (magic that gives people an assortment of powers after burning metals), nobility, power plays and one very outlandish plan to overthrow a dark power. I was hooked from page one, the world is so beautifully written and the magic system is so unique and detailed. Coupled with that is a fantastic assortment of characters to get to know, my particular favourites being the ever philosophical Sazed and of course the man at the centre of it all, Kelsier.

I've not really tried adult fantasy before, however I am a long term fan of young adult so it was bound to happen eventually. I have The Well of Ascension on order at the library and it cannot arrive soon enough. Great fun and something I would recommend to any fantasy lovers to try.

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Review: Artemis Fowl and the Lost Colony

Once again a great escape from reality into the crazy world of The People. This time Artemis has to deal with the demon island of Hybras falling out of time and rematerialising in the middle of the ocean. Not as funny as the previous books but I loved the addition of Number One and the warlocks.

Wednesday, 10 May 2017

Review: A Lovely Way To Burn by Louise Welsh

This is one of those books that starts really well and I'm really invested in and then I just gradually loose all interest in it. A plague called the sweats has hit London and civilisation is collapsing, this I was very interested in as I have a strange fascination with end of the world fiction. Where it lost me was it's focus on the murder of one man and the heroine's strange obsession with solving a mystery that no one (myself included) cares about. Looking at the blurb for the second book it is told from a different perspective and focuses more on the virus itself so I'm hoping I will enjoy that one more.

Tuesday, 2 May 2017

Review: Remembrance by Theresa Breslin

I remember being very affected by this when I read it in my teens and to this day it still has me welling up. It is a beautifully written tribute to World War One, tailored for a younger reader and to give them a broad idea of the War and the changing attitudes on the early 20th century. A haunting tale that I would thoroughly recommend to any young reader.

Review: Never Love a Highlander by Maya Banks

I'm sure this is some people's cup of tea but I just can't put myself through a third outing in this series. I won't repeat myself but if you read my reviews of the previous 2 books (https://www.goodreads.com/review/show... and https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...) you will understand my general feeling about them. Suffice to say I just read a whole chapter about how Rionna is ashamed of her breasts and then her new husband kisses her, she bites him and he enjoys the taste of the blood ... words fail me.

Friday, 28 April 2017

Review: Artemis Fowl and the Opal Deception

Yet another great installment in the Artemis Fowl series. I think I like these so much because they are so easy to read, you get a great adventure which gallops along at a million miles an hour that, if I had the time, I could read in one day!

This time you can't keep a good pixie down and Opal Koboi is back with a new plan for world domination. The anti has definitely been upped in the last couple of books with series favourites being placed in some rather hairy situations. I can't wait to see what dastardly plan is going to be foiled next in The Lost Colony.

Tuesday, 25 April 2017

Review: Artemis Fowl and the Eternity Code by Eoin Colfer

Yet another enjoyable outing in the life of the teenage criminal mastermind Artemis Fowl. Artemis is starting to grow up now and there were definitely some more emotionally heavy moments. This time Artemis has been outsmarted by a mind almost as dastardly as his own, he has risked the exposure of the fairy world and it could well mean the end of his adventures with The People.

I have now reached the point in this tale I had when I was 14 and will be venturing into The Opal Deception blind, here is hoping the series continues to be outstanding!

Tuesday, 18 April 2017

Review: American Gods by Neil Gaiman

I've taken the weekend to think it over and I still don't know how to start with this review. It is not an easy book to pin down into one genre, it is a great hulking beast of a novel coming in at over 600 pages it is not a quick read but once you have started it is very hard to put down.

In the simplest most literal terms this book is about Shadow who is released from prison after the sudden death of his wife and the subsequent journey he goes on with the mysterious Mr Wednesday. This book is also about mythology (Egyptian, Norse, Irish, German, you name it and it's in there), modern American culture, passing trends and what happens when they become outdated, death and the afterlife, treachery, sleight of hand, history ... I could go on so many themes are covered. Above all, for me, this book is about the very soul of America and how it has been knitted together from it's very diverse ethnic groups into one very unique culture. As a history student that is what I identified with most and the small little asides at the end of chapters about another group finding America were definitely what I enjoyed most.

It would be pointless to try and explain what happens further, this is one that really has to be experienced to understand. Very funny, insightful, fantastical, philosophical and at times downright disturbing (I'm looking at you Bilquis). It's made me reevaluate my (perhaps harsh) review of Neverwhere and bump Neil Gaiman up my favourite author list. Give this a go, you won't regret it!

Review: Peter Pan in Scarlet by Geraldine McCaughrean

This one was just too childish for me to get on with (I gave up after 80 pages), probably OK for the very young but not one I would choose to read to my own children.

Friday, 7 April 2017

Review: Artemis Fowl and the Arctic Incident

Another fun filled fairy adventure from Eoin Colfer. I do really love this series, they manage to be compelling, funny and have a convincing story all at the same time, something which a lot of YA lacks.

This time Artemis is intent on rescuing his father from the clutches of the Russian Mafiya unfortunately along the way he is delayed by a goblin rebellion let by a mad pixie and a fairy out for revenge. My favourite kleptomaniac dwarf makes a very memorable reappearance as "The Grouch" and there are a whole host of new fairies (good and bad) to get to know.

Not as strong as the first book but still a wonderful and quick read, I will be diving into The Eternity Code soon!

Monday, 3 April 2017

Review: Rebel of the Sands by Alwyn Hamilton

This book really frustrated me, its such an original concept but it just didn't work. The best way to describe this is a young adult Arabian western with added magic and mythical beings which sounds like a recipe for a really original story, sadly by the end I just had no interest anymore. I don't even know why I lost interest; when I started it I was really enjoying it but as I got further it just lost something. It's such a shame as there is so much potential and it wasn't even badly written, I just didn't get into it.

Monday, 13 March 2017

Review: Room by Emma Donoghue

It doesn't feel right to say I loved this book considering the subject matter, it's definitely one that will stay with me for a long time. This is very much Jack's story and the perspective of a five year old moves it away from being a traditional crime novel or thriller or family drama even, it becomes its own very unique genre. Listening to Jack describe his world made me think of my small cousins and smile and then it made my heart break for him all over again. I was absolutely terrified for him during The Great Escape (and I'd seen the film first so knew what would happen). His innocence is beautifully written throughout and the grown up drama becomes background noise as you are drawn into Jack's mind as he tries to rationalise new experiences like stairs.

I really would recommend this to anyone to read at least once despite the subject matter it is heartwarming and hopeful, the world looks very different when you are five and sometimes it's nice to be reminded of that.

Wednesday, 1 March 2017

Review: The Maze Runner by James Dashner

I really wanted to like this book, I persevered in the hope it would improve and there would be some reward or revelation for me that would make me desperate to read the next book (because I have the whole trilogy in my possession). Alas it would appear I waited in vain as I am no more knowledgeable now than I was going in.

The key thing that really annoyed me about this book was the total lack of explanation throughout. The characters seemed to spend all their time withholding information from each other for no apparent reason. Just to be clear these boys are supposed to be smart and the best they can come up with is to continuously run around the maze making maps and keeping it a total secret from the majority of the group. They kept saying "we have tried everything", I just got so tired of hearing it, if you're trapped in an apparently exitless maze why are you literally running in circles achieving precisely nothing?!

On the up side it was a light read for a young adult dystopia, don't expect any The Hunger Games emotional weight as the characters here are more two dimensional than a piece of paper. I know that sounds harsh but I actually like a bit of substance to my characters and just because this is young adult I see no need to dumb down their plight.

On the whole this was a bit of a miss for me, I'll read the rest of the series but if I didn't already have them on my bookshelf I don't think I'd care enough to hunt them down.

Friday, 24 February 2017

Review: Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer

Its been a long time since I last read this and I had forgotten just how funny it is. Artemis Fowl is a 12 year old criminal mastermind who has an ingenious plan to part The People (fairies, elves, dwarves, goblins this book has them all) from their coveted gold. A kidnap, siege, troll assault and bio-bomb later and I find myself chuckling away at this brilliantly funny and fast paced fantasy.

This was always one of my go to books during the long wait between Harry Potter installments and it's nice to see that nearly 20 years later fairy flatulence still makes me giggle. As my library has the complete set I will also, at long last, be able to complete the series. A definite recommendation for young readers and immature adults alike!

Friday, 17 February 2017

Review: The Princes in the Tower by Alison Weir

"... only one man could have been responsible for their deaths: Richard III."

If you are expecting an unbiased account of the disappearance of Edward V and his brother then this is not the book for you. Weir makes her point abundantly clear throughout and presents a very wide range of evidence to back up her conclusions. At times I did feel we wandered off topic a little into a general recounting of major events of the period, not something I really want to criticise as I love history and found the diversions very educational.

As a history nerd I really enjoyed this book, it's about a new topic for me and I feel I should read some of the revisionist arguments before drawing my own conclusions as to whether Richard murdered his nephews or not. Regardless, I found this book really interesting, well researched and most importantly engaging, there really is nothing worse than a history book that sends you to sleep!

Monday, 13 February 2017

Review: Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer

There was something about this book that I found really compelling, I just had to keep reading to find out what was going on. From that perspective it's a great read, the mystery is all consuming and the feeling throughout is ominous, you can just feel the "not rightness" of Area X coming straight off the page. The Biologist, whose journal narrates the story, is another mystery within Area X, she has no name and you only get the details she decides to give you, this really adds to the uncertainty of the facts you are presented with, I ended up questioning everything, it's a very clever way to add to the atmosphere of the story.

What I am frustrated about now I've finished is the lack of resolution, I still have no clue what Area X is and what happened there, is there a creature? Is The Biologist just mad? Is this all some big government conspiracy? Who are the Southern Reach? I've been left with more questions than answers and I hate when a book does that to me! I guess I'll just have to read the next one to find out ...

Thursday, 9 February 2017

Review: Dune by Frank Herbert

Well, how to describe my thoughts on Dune?? I will attempt a short summary of my own thoughts for you. Dune is a complex novel covering science, religion, space travel, drug addiction, fanaticism, treachery, politics .... the list goes on, it is world building in the absolute extreme.

My favourite parts of the book are the political machinations of Vladimir Harkonnen (what a great name), it really reminded me of what I loved about A Game of Thrones, complicated schemes leading to a conclusion you have no way to guess at. As a great reader of historical fiction I found my way into the world of Dune through it's futuristic feudal system and once I was in I didn't want to leave it, each chapter brought a new idea and a new aspect of this gloriously created world to me, honestly the creativity of this book is breathtaking.

There were only two reasons I didn't give my full 10/10, the ending was strange and abrupt (it's a series so I now need to track down the next book to see what happens next), and the mythology and mysticism confused the hell out of me. I think the scope of the book is very overwhelming and on a reread I will find it easier to get back into the world of Dune. Worth a go though even if you are not a lover of sci-fi, there is enough here to intrigue readers of every genre.

Tuesday, 7 February 2017

Review: The Pirate by Frederick Marryat

This wonderful short novel tells the story of twin brothers separated in a shipwreck when they were babies and is full of swashbuckling adventure and incredibly detailed naval terminology. The only downside to this book is the very backward and insulting language used to describe the African characters, sadly a product of its time.

I have never read Marryat's novels before but after this I definitely will be, this is very well written, the descriptions are wonderful and at times I found him very funny. It's very impressive to have such a detailed and developed story in a little over 100 hundred pages. I'm surprised this isn't more widely read and rated.

Friday, 13 January 2017

Review: The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro

"There's a journey we must go on, and no more delay ..."

I'm still not really sure what the journey actually was to be honest. The plot, in it's most literal sense, is about an elderly couple called Beatrice and Axl and their journey to find their son. Alongside that there is some Arthurian legend, ogres, Saxons, strange monks and a dragon, that all sounds quite exciting but somehow I found myself struggling to muster the enthusiasm to open the book and keep reading.

It's a very hard book to review because so much of it is "literary fiction" and the meaning and symbolism was just lost on me, I knew there was something there I wasn't grasping and I've finished the book with no more clarity than when I started. The best way I can describe it is like wandering through someone else's dream where the small meanings are so personal that you don't notice them and the story makes no sense and keeps jumping around aimlessly.

Tuesday, 3 January 2017

Review: Edwin: High King of Britain by Edoardo Albert

I'm a big historical fiction fan and this was very well written and researched. It tells the story of Edwin's rise to power in the 7th century and his conversion to Christianity, something I knew nothing about before. The author did a great job bringing the history to life and it was a very enjoyable read.

My only minor complaint is that is it heavily focused on Edwin's conversion to Christianity and it does skip over large time periods in his life. Don't get me wrong the religious aspect was very well written I just felt it may have been emphasised at the expense of a more rounded recounting of his life.

I have the second and third books in this series and I'm looking forward to reading them too.

I received this book from NetGalley in return for an honest review.