Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Best Laid Plans.....

Well, I got part of my way through the November challenge, just couldn't complete it.

I am in the process of being made redundant along with a colleague, and I'm two weeks away from finishing my job.  The last two years feels like a bizarre turn of events, but right at the time I'm meant to be closing down my job, handing over and just being on call for my India based replacements it has transpired that they can't take over just yet and I am covering for them!  My colleague has left already, and now my workload has doubled!

It's been a stressful couple of years, and I'm leaving just before Christmas, then there will be New Year, and then in early January I am on a long vacation to Australia to my 2nd favourite place in the world - Sydney. I'll be back in the UK in February in time to celebrate my 40th birthday, and then job hunting will begin in earnest.

I may find that I have plenty of time to blog, but also no time, so I thought I'd post my excuses and have a break from the blog, to resume hopefully in February.

In the meantime - have a lovely Christmas and New Year, or if you're not that way inclined - Best wishes of the season to you.

During my time off from blogging I will endeavour to read through my 'Started' pile of books and plan my reviews...

The started pile looks like this at the moment:

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
The Coral Thief by Rebecca Stott
The Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger
What was lost by Catherine O'Flynn
Epitaph for a spy by Eric Ambler
Game of Thrones by George RR Martin
Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguru

My Life in Books 2013

A little earlier than planned - see post 'Best Laid Plans'...

I saw this Mad-Libs style meme earlier this year when I started my blog and loved it so much... Each year Pop Culture Nerd makes up new sentence starters and you complete the sentence using the book titles you've read that year.

Here's my 2013 list: 

My to-do list looks like The Ministry of Fear (Graham Greene)

If a peeping Tom peeked into my bedroom, he'd [take a trip] Down the Rabbit Hole (Juan Pablo Villalobos)

If Martians meet me, they'd think [they'd met] The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making (Catherynne M Valente)

My doctor is always telling me [to eat] Quesadillas (Juan Pablo Villalobos)

The weirdest thing that happened to me this past week [was a visit to] Miss Peregrine's Home For Peculiar Children (Ransom Riggs)

I often daydream about Whiskey Beach (Nora Roberts)

The US government shut down makes me [think they've done] The Vanishing Act (Mette Jakobsen)

If I win the lottery I'd [go to] The Ocean at the End of the Lane (Neil Gaiman)

My superpower is Nightfall [Isaac Asimov & Robert Silverberg)

I knew I was a book lover when [I saw] The Light Between Oceans (ML Stedman)

My blogging experience has been Calculated In Death (JD Robb)

You can find my 2012 list here

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Top Ten Tuesday - Things I am thankful for

Being British we don't celebrate Thanksgiving, but sometimes the bad can be overwhelming and it is easy to forget the good stuff.  So here are ten Bookish things I am grateful for...

  1. To live in the UK where good bookshops are still around.
  2. UK has no sales tax on physical books, which helps keep the prices down.  It also means if I buy from a US website I don't get customs charges when the item lands in the UK!
  3. To live within 2 hours driving distance of Mr B's bookshop in Bath.  Too much closer and I'd be in horrific amounts of debt, too far away and I would never have bothered making that first visit last year.
  4. My late Uncle Stephen, for encouraging my reading by sending me adventure books for Christmas (Famous Five, book 9 was the first non-school proper book I remember reading).
  5. My parents for recognising my love of books and telling Uncle Stephen.  Also for buying me book tokens for Christmas and New Year, and letting me spend all my pocket money on books, and finally for spending hours at the bookshop with me.
  6. Brilliant authors writing brilliant books!
  7. Blogging communities, Goodreads etc... so I can see recommendations for books I would never otherwise come across.
  8. eReaders, a brilliant way to have quick access to books, lots of free and cheap books available for fast download and less to carry when travelling.
  9. My local library for giving me easy access to free books.
  10. My book club, not just a reason to read, or a source of books I wouldn't have otherwise read, but a great group of people and an enjoyable sociable activity.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Top Ten Tuesday - Books I would share with...

... my sister and niece.

My sister and her daughter are not what I would call 'Readers'.  My sister loves those true story weepies about children with terrible lives who grow up and cash in on the cash cow that is 'my childhood was terrible and now I'm an author' genre.  OK I'm harsh I know, they really did have terrible childhoods, and sharing their story of triumph over adversity can be really uplifting.  Sadly I can't read them as I find them far too distressing, and now they're everywhere and it's become rather cliched.

I have been trying to tempt my sister into the glorious and limitless world of fiction, but so far to no avail (she's a newlywed now, so you know she's pretty occupied in the evenings).  I could have done 10 books each in the end, but I decided to limit myself to two groups of 5, though some of these could work for both of them.  By the way, my sister is 36, and my niece is 13.

My sister:

I got her reading The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, she has a copy of all the books in the series and if she could put her new husband down for a while I think she'd really be enjoying them!

To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee. she liked this at school and when I said I'd reread it and it was better the second time around reading it as an adult, she said she'd like to reread it.  I bought her a copy as a gift, but that was 2 years ago and she still hasn't started it.

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak.  I recommend this to everyone, it's astonishingly brilliant, and I think it speaks to everyone young and old.  My sister doesn't read my blog so I think I'm safe to say I will be buying her a copy for Christmas this year.  It's also a recommendation for my niece too.

The Lies of Lock Lamora by Scott Lynch.  In Locke's own words; "it's so much fucking fun!".  EVERYONE should read this!!  It's not for kids though, so my niece will not get a copy til she's 16 at least!

The Help by Kathryn Stockett.  I think this would be right up my sisters street.  It has something of that 'real life - hard life' about it, it's well written and is a fairly easy read for someone not into reading.

My Niece:

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne M Valente.  Wonderful, heartwarming and beautifully written.  I think it works on so many levels, this is one that I would recommend for my sister as well as my niece.  I feel another Christmas purchase coming on.

Sleuth on Skates by Clementine Beauvais  Recommended by the lovely Helen at Fennell Books it sounds like great fun, a way to get my niece into mystery books.  Despite recommending The Master and Margarita a while back I still value her recommendations highly.  This one sounds great!

Stardust by Neil Gaiman.  I saw the film first, and then realised it was a book (shock horror I'd never heard of Gaiman before the Stardust film).  The film was great, and the book better.  Lots of fun and high jinks to keep a young teen entertained.

Percy Jackson and The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan.  These are great fun, easy to read, a little educational too.  I know she enjoyed the film, and it's nice to see some strong female characters.

The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien.  A classic, fun for all, lots of action and drama and dragons.  What's not to love!?

Honorary mention to the Dark is Rising sequence by Susan Cooper.  I'd love to recommend these as well, though it would cost me too much to get her into these, unless I can treat my niece to the wonders of the library.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

A Literary Mini Adventure - need some help please...

Not really book related as such, but I am changing my car and need a name for her (could be a he).  My last few cars have been called Sheila (the car I had before I moved to Australia funnily enough), Whizzy (number plate had some of the letters) and my current car is Clover, as C, L, O, V and R are in the number plate.  My old MG had T, B and O in the numberplate, so that had three names: The Beast Outside; The Blue Orgasmatron, and rather more sedately; Tobermory.

I'd like to give the car a name from literature that suits him/her, and some suggestions would be helpful if you can think of anything.  I'm open to suggestion.

Here's some information about the car to try and help.
  • The car is a Mini Cooper D Countryman.
  • Number plate letters are A, G, N, S and J, numbers are 11, so possibly could use two I's.  I may change the number plate in time, so my first thought of Agnes may not work later on.
  • Royal Grey colour with black accents (bonnet/hood stripes, roof and wing mirror caps).
  • Small, but bigger and a little more butch than a regular Mini.
 I've attached a picture, I don't think it's an overtly feminine car, though men may disagree ;-)

I thought of Agnes as in Agnes Grey of course, but would like some other less obvious options.

I love the Gentlemen Bastards series by Scott Lynch, Locke is small and clever which I think suits this car. You could say I'd been 'Locke'd' and call the car Locke.  Also there's the whole 'Locke taking you for a ride' in-joke, and terrible puns about locking it... etc etc...

Please leave your suggestions below.  Excuse me, I'm off to investigate Mini accessories and car vacuums...

Friday, November 15, 2013

Review: Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor

Publisher: Hodder
ISBN: 1444722654

Since I’ve been blogging (almost a year now) I have seen this book appear on Top Ten Tuesday lists nearly every week.  It seems to score highly for plot, genre, author, characters and even ‘Best books ever’ type lists.  So when it was suggested during my September book spa at Mr B’s bookshop in Bath I knew I had to read it.

It turned out better than expected, and I cannot recommend it highly enough!!!!

Short Synopsis:  Karou is a 17 year old art student in Prague.  She is far from ordinary, she has blue hair and wears a string of wishes around her neck.  She lives a double life, one foot in Prague and one in a shop ran by the only father figure she has ever known. She doesn’t know who her parents are, and the only family she knows are magical creatures unable to walk in our world.  She spends her days dodging her ex-boyfriend, attending art classes and collecting teeth.  Until on one of her errands she is attacked by an angel.  That’s when then things start to get interesting.

I could wax lyrical about this book using all the superlatives in my repertoire, but I will try to keep it brief.

The plot – fascinating, original, complicated and will keep you guessing
The characters – multifaceted, intriguing, lovable, frustrating, hateful, you name it.
The settings – this and the other world are well described and I had no problem imagining myself in Prague or the other realm.
The writing – inspired.  I practically inhaled the book!  I could not put it down.

What I liked most: Everything!  I can’t wait to get my hands on the next in the series.  I just have to read what is on my shelves first, which is painful, as Days of Blood and Starlight is all I want to read right now.

What I liked least: That I have to wait before I can get a copy of the sequel.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Review: Whispers Under Ground by Ben Aaronovitch

Format: Kindle

This series just keeps getting better and better!

Short Synopsis:  An American student, the son of a politically powerful family is found murdered near Baker Street station.  It soon becomes clear that the death has some special characteristics suitable for the Folly’s involvement.  PC Peter Grant is called in to investigate the magical goings on, and forced to work with an FBI agent, crawling through the London sewers on the trail of mysterious creatures.

Each book does get better and better, as Peter Grant’s world is built upon each time.  The plots are consistently engaging and it feels not so much a genre of magical realism or urban fantasy as police procedural.  Magic is presented as just a part of PC Grant’s job.  Secondary characters are not forgotten and are allowed to grow and develop too.  I love every little titbit we find out about Molly.  I sincerely hope we learn her secrets and background one day!

What I liked most: Pretty much everything!  Characters developing well, we learn more about magic along with Peter and the stories are totally original and new every time.

What I liked least: It’s been a while since I read this, so it’s hard to look back and recall the things I didn’t like.  The only possible negative is that it took a while to put all the pieces together before we could get to the denouement. But then again that could be me being impatient.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Top Ten Tuesday - Covers I wish I could redesign

Today's TTT from The Broke and The Bookish is all about Book Covers, and those I wish I could redesign.

Despite hardly having an artistic bone in my body I sometimes look at a cover and wish they'd let me design it, thinking I could have done better.  I'm fully aware that I'm wrong of course, but still.

There's not many on my list this week, but here goes:

Two Caravans by Marina Lewycka.  I hated this book and couldn't finish it, which probably doesn't help.  I like scrapbooking, I really do, but it looks like something I could have done as a scrapbook layout.

Shades of Grey by Jasper Fforde.  I liked the book, it illustrated the concept well, but hated the cover of the version I had.  I just wanted to colour it in.

Red Seas under Red Skies by Scott Lynch.  Loved the book, and I loved the cover to the earlier book Lies of Locke Lamora, and I had hoped for a similar design.  I would have liked to see a boat deck with a shadowy figure of Jean Tannen brandishing the Wicked Sisters.

Nightfall by Asimov and Silverberg.  There's something very dated about this cover, I think it's the font, as the image is OK.

More recent editions of JD Robb In Death books.  I collect the series and I bought the first 20 or so books in the same format with a similar design concept and the later books have different designs.  It doesn't help that I bought later editions of the first books, and then first editions hardbacks of the more recent books, or that some I bought from the US, and some from the UK.  It makes them look very odd on the shelf next to each other.

That's it. please comment and share your list!

Monday, November 11, 2013

Review: The Daylight Gate by Jeanette Winterson

Publisher: Hammer

ISBN: 0099561832

I don’t think I’ve ever been so productive on the blog as I have with this Challenge…

I recently read this as a book club selected read for October.  Helen from Fennell Books liked it as did I think everyone else to some degree.  I didn’t hate it, but I’m not a fan either.

Short Synopsis:  Based on the first set of well documented court records of the Pendle/Lancaster Witch Trials of 1612 it follows Alice Nutter through the recorded events up to, and a little beyond, the end of the court hearings.  There is some artistic licence is used to add detail and backstory etc…

As I mentioned earlier I didn’t hate it, but I can’t say that I enjoyed it either.  You know how sometimes there’s nothing really wrong with a book, but it just doesn’t gel well for you?  No particular reason, it just doesn’t suit?  I’m afraid this was the case for me with The Daylight Gate.

Maybe it was because it was based on true events.  I did spend most of the book thinking about what was real and what was not.  Some of it was clear, other parts were not, so I was rather distracted by that throughout.  Maybe it depends on whether you think witchcraft is real. I don’t, so much of the book dealing with the supernatural aspects I found totally unbelievable.  I personally didn't care for any of the characters.  I thought that the treatment of women in general, and Jennet Device in particular while utterly believable, was also utterly sickening.  This is probably the best part of the story, in terms of getting me invested in what was happening.  The ending was brilliant!

There were some excellent moments, and if you like historical fiction you might well enjoy this.

According to members of the book club this will be made into a film by Hammer as well.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Review: The Light Between Oceans by ML Stedman

November challenge rocks!

I’d heard so many good things about this novel, and I really love a book that makes me feel something, so when this was on a multi-buy offer at Smiths I couldn’t resist.  Nor could I leave it sitting on the shelf for ages waiting for me to pick it up.

It’s one of those rare books too that had me thinking about it when I couldn’t read it.  Great for my reading experience, very bad for working life!

Short Synopsis:  Tom is a soldier returned from WW1 to live off the coast of Western Australia where he is a lighthouse keeper.  He marries Isabel and they’re madly in love and desperately sad that they haven’t been able to have children, so when a rowing boat containing a baby and a man’s body wash up on the shores of the lighthouse they make a decision that will change many lives forever.

The story is wonderfully written and draws you into Tom and Isabel’s world until you feel what they feel.  When they struggle with the decisions they’ve made I felt for each of them, and when faced with harder and harder choices my heart just ached.  The ending was beautifully handled and you will need a book of tissues close to hand.

What I liked most: The setting, the emotional drama, the characterisation.

What I liked least: There were a couple of moments that I felt the story could have moved a little faster, but that might be my impatience to resolve the pain everyone is going through.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Where in the literary world?

I am in the Indian Ocean on a private floating island investigating a dastardly plot to change ocean temperatures by use of murderous microscopic robots.

The Storm by Clive Cussler.

Number 10 in the NUMA files series.  So far so good!

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Review: Nightfall by Isaac Asmiov and Robert Silverberg

November challenge continues apace... 

Publisher: Doubleday
Format: Hardback
Source: Library

This was a treasured read from many years ago, so when I managed to get agreement to put a Sci-Fi book onto the reading list at Book Club this was the one I had to suggest.  It’s easily accessible to readers new to SF, and is based on Asimov’s 1941 original short story, one of the best examples of SF ever written.

Short Synopsis:  Kalgash is a planet with 6 suns.  It’s stellar orbit lasts a little over 2000 years and it is never completely in the dark.  The story starts with three apparently separate threads which converge together about half way through the novel.  There is a psychologist studying the effects of a new theme park ride through a dark tunnel; an archaeologist survives a sandstorm which reveals  evidence of multiple layers of past civilisations and their regular destruction; and a scientist realises that the standard calculation of the stellar orbit of Kalgash isn’t quite right.  You can probably surmise what happens when all three threads finally meet.

Though the 1941 short story is highly praised, unfortunately the version expanded on by Robert Silverberg was not so well received.  Asimov’s short story has its major impact in its brevity, having to be faster paced and punchier.  However I think the novel expands in areas I felt lacking in the shorter version.  It’s not perfect by any means, but I thoroughly enjoyed it.  The themes of science vs religion, the exploration of fear of the unknown and our relative smallness in the universe were well portrayed and despite its alien world setting, it is highly transferable to our own society.

The response from the book club was mixed, which can be hard to take when you love the book that some people just didn’t get.  It was well received by some but those that turned up tended towards mockery of the plot and the science.  I suppose we have the benefit of 21st century knowledge over the original 70+ year old story, and the parts that were pulled apart were the parts expanded upon by Silverberg.  Asimov’s concepts were acknowledged as very good though, which I suppose is something :-)

I read this for the first time not long after publication of the extended novel, about 20 years ago, and it endured with me for one particular scene.  The scene describes the astronomer Beenay handing out cameras to his team instructing them to photograph the stars.  He instructs them not to waste time trying to get more than a few stars in each photo.  Of course when the darkness finally comes the sheer number of stars is overwhelming, and the ridiculous notion of there only being a handful of stars is realised.

I was lucky enough once to be in the Australian outback at night, and though I had seen photos of a full-on starry sky, it still didn’t prepare me for the spectacle that is the Milky Way.  It brought back the memory of that moment in the book where they begin to realise the magnitude of the universe.  Now every time I look at a starry sky that moment pops into my head.  I imagine that will be with me for the rest of my days.

So, Nightfall has it’s pitfalls, but it’s still an entertaining read overall.  I would certainly read the short story version at least!  It is available on the internet and I think you can download it free of charge from a number of sources.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Top Ten Tuesday - Sequels I'm waiting for

Welcome to my Top Ten Tuesday list for this week.  The topic from The Broke and The Bookish is top ten sequels I can't wait to get my hands on.

There's a couple of prequels in here, but you get the drift....  I'm not sure that all 10 of these are desperately wanted, but I do want to read them all eventually.  In no particular order:

Days of Blood and Starlight by Laini Taylor, sequel to Daughter of Smoke and Bone.

Royal Flash by George MacDonald Fraser, sequel to Flashman

Unnamed sequel to River of No Return by Bee Ridgway

Actually a prequel, due for UK release in 2015 (according to Amazon UK): The Bastards and the Knives: The Mad Baron's Mechanical Attic and The Choir of Knives: An Omnibus: The Gentleman Bastards - The Prequel by Scott Lynch

The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There by Catherynne M. Valente, also The Girl Who Soared Over Fairyland and Cut the Moon in Two also by Catherynne M. Valente  (not yet officially released in the UK).

Another prequel, currently on my Kindle awaiting my Kindle challenge; The Girl Who Ruled Fairyland - For a Little While by Catherynne M Valente

Hollow City by Ransom Riggs, sequel to Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children.

Concealed In Death by JD Robb (aka Nora Roberts) number 38 in the In Death series, due for release in February 2014

Shadow Spell by Nora Roberts, sequel to Dark Witch, the first book in the Cousins O'Dwyer trilogy

Percy Jackson and The Titan's Curse by Rick Riordan, book 3 in the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Review: The Book of Dead Days by Marcus Sedgwick

My November challenge is hotting up …

Format: Kindle

Thanks to Mr and Mrs F from Fennell Books for this recommendation!
Have you ever considered the days between Christmas and New Year?  Those days when the excitement and hustle and bustle of Christmas has passed and New Year has not yet arrived?  According to Marcus Sedgwick’s book these are dead days, the days between two major events where not much happens normally.

For us these days are ones where the movies are reruns we’ve seen many times before, our presents are put away, possibly broken, batteries confiscated by irate parents.  They are the days of the end of year sales, where you’ve taken back that too big jumper, or packed up that fugly ornament for the charity shop.

Not so for our young hero Boy and his new BFF Willow.  They are attempting to save the life of Boy’s master, Valerian, who is due to die at midnight on New Years Eve.  You see he made a Faustian deal, and the deal is almost at its end.  Their quest is to find a mysterious book that contains the secret to saving Valerian’s life, during which they find themselves wanted as suspects in two murders, running across country and through the underground catacombs and rivers of the city.

To tell you any more would be to ruin the story.  The writing is suspenseful, and the plot and characters engaging, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.  The Book of Dead Days is followed by The Dark Flight Down, and if I am understanding it right there will be no further books, which makes a refreshing change to all those long long series!

Friday, November 1, 2013

Review: The Greenwitch by Susan Cooper

My November challenge to catch up with posting my reviews has now started, and here is the first of many (well, quite a few) to come this month…

Publisher: The Folio Society

The Greenwitch is the third book in the Dark is Rising sequence, and sees the welcome return of Simon, Jane and Barney who originally featured in the first book Over Sea Under Stone.  In this story the children are joined by their Uncle Merry again, along with Will Stanton from the second book ‘The Dark is Rising’.  Will appears to have grown into his role as an Old One, and it’s good to see all our heroes allied in the continuing battle between Light and Dark.

The Greenwitch of the title is a large humanoid sculpture woven in wood, built by the women of the village, to take part in an ancient local tradition.  It was built to be thrown into the sea as an offering to ensure the safety of the fisherman of the village.  It represents the oldest of magic, a neutral magic not concerned with either light or dark.  The story is at last a chance for the women of the town, and particularly Jane, to shine.

It feels like a continuation of the first story, with Will Stanton as an added extra, and it picks up where the last left off.  In the first book during the search for the grail an important piece was lost to the sea, and this story concerns itself with the recovery of the lost piece of the puzzle.  The piece is being guarded by the Greenwitch who does not want to lose her prize.

For me this was the weakest of the books so far.  It was still well written, there was some sense of threat at times, but I felt that it didn’t have the thrill of the first book, or the depth of the second.  Well worth reading nonetheless!  I have heard really good things about the rest of the series, and they are on the shelf ready to go.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Top Ten Tuesday - Creep Week

Halloween is in two days time folks, so it's officially Creep Week! 

I am a total scaredy cat, so I try to avoid truly creepy/scary books.  Bring on all things witchy, supernatural, ghostly etc...

1.  The Ghost of Thomas Kempe by Penelope Lively.  My first ghost story.  I loved this, and last Christmas gave a copy to my niece, she loved it to (she says).

2.  Dark Matter by Michelle Paver, a recent read, very creepy and from about half way through I could only read during the day.

3.  The Magic Cottage by James Herbert.  My Aunt loved horror stories and thought I might enjoy them too... Thought I'd give this one a read, scared me silly as a teenager.

4.  Needful Things by Stephen King.  I read this in 2002, on a beach in the caribbean.  It's brilliant, but I hated it, way too scary for me.  I forced myself to finish it or I'd still be thinking about it now.  If you like to be scared you should definitely try this one.

5.  The Daylight Gate by Jeanette Winterson, this months book club read.  Based on actual court records of 1612 Pendle Witch Trials.  Review to come soon(ish).

6.  The Boonsboro Inn trilogy by Nora Roberts.  Not remotely scary, and only moments of light creepiness.  Ms Roberts recently renovated an old Inn in the town of Boonsboro in real life, and decided to write a trilogy based on the renovation.  The heroes are the men who renovated it and their romantic relationships.  The Inn has a resident mystery ghost which along with the renovation works tied the books together.  Ms Roberts writes rather a lot of trilogies, and I have to say that her supernatural stories are my favourites.  See also - the Three Sisters Island trilogy,  Key trilogy, In the Garden trilogy, the Circle trilogy, the Sign of Seven trilogy,

7.  The Woman in Black by Susan Hill.  Hmmm, not bad.

8.  Dark is Rising Sequence by Susan Cooper.  Good magic vs Bad magic.  I've read only the first three so far, and they are fantastic.  I've heard great things about the last two books which are on my shelf.

9.  The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman.  Brilliant.  not at all scary, but a wonderful story about a boy raised by ghosts.  Neverwhere was excellent too, also by Neil Gaiman.

10.  Harper Connelly series by Charlaine Harris.  They aren't brilliant fiction, not too well written, but easy reads and cheap to buy.  I kind of enjoyed this mystery series about a young woman who can sense the dead and how they died.

This meme is courtesy of The Broke and The Bookish

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Top Ten Tuesday - Unusual or Favourite Character Names

I love this list from The Broke and The Bookish, there's been some good ones in recent weeks.

This week's TTT is all about Great Character Names.  Be they unusual or just my favourites.  A few sprang immediately to mind, others I had to think about, but I struggled to keep it to 10.  As usual I've bent the rules a bit to suit myself, but what else is new?

Locke Lamora from The Gentleman Bastards series by Scott Lynch.  In fact Locke is not Locke's real name, which is as yet unknown to us/me (don't ruin it for me if you happen to know).  What I really love is that Locke's name doesn't just lyrically roll off the tongue, but it also reflects his character... If you move the L in Lamora to the end you get Amoral.  Which is exactly what he is - though loyal to the end to his friends which is his near enough only redeeming feature.

Katniss Everdeen from The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins.  Also many of the other character names, which are apparently inspired from Greek and Roman history, Classic Literature etc... In fact there is even a book about the names from this series...

Harry Flashman from The Flashman Papers series by Gordon McDonald Fraser.  Like Locke Lamora above this is a brilliant name for a brilliant character.  Flashman, or Flashy, is a total asshole, all 'flash' and no substance.  He's a character who is completely and unashamedly amoral, and in fact makes Locke Lamora look like a fair candidate for sainthood.

Sookie Stackhouse from The Southern Vampire series (aka True Blood books) by Charlaine Harris.  Can't help it, love that name, especaially when drawled by Bill... "Sookeh!"  lol.  He surname makes me think that she should buy out Merlotte's and change the name to The Stackhouse Steakhouse.

Buttercup, Westley etc... from The Princess Bride by William Goldman.  If I'm honest I'd have to say nearly every name I can remember from this book!  Not only are they brilliant names but who can possibly resist calling out "My name is Inigo Montoya, you killed my father, prrrreparre to die" every now and then.  Names of note - Fezzik, Dread Pirate Roberts, Miracle Max.

Mr Darcy from Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen.  Maybe it was Colin Firth striding purposefully out of the lake, but I just want to sigh and swoon.

Lyra from the His Dark Materials series by Phillip Pullman.  I love it, seriously I would consider this name if I had a daughter.

Thursday Next from the Thursday Next series by Jasper Fforde.  I love the playful names that Fforde uses.  She's the daughter of a Chronoguard (Time Travel Police) Officer, so a name that suggests a future time would be completely appropriate.  Other names of note - I love that she named her children Tuesday and Friday, and her on/off husband is Landen Park-Laine, colleague Braxton Hicks etc etc...

A-Through-L from The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland... from the Fairyland series by Catherynne M Valente.  I am totally and utterly in love with this book.  The character of A-Through-L is just wonderful, he's charming and sweet and a devoted friend to the heroine September (whose name I also love).  He is perfectly named having grown up in a Library in the sections A through L.  His character was a fabulous idea and completely original.  Everyone should have a Wyverary for a best friend.

Pretty much any character from the Discworld novels by Terry Pratchett.  Yep, you might have noticed from my list I have a penchant for fantasy names, names which reflect the character, or the nature of the character, and this is what Terry Pratchett does with extreme success!  Who can forget Moist von Lipwig, or Death's assistant Mort.  There are hundreds more.

Monday, October 21, 2013


I saw this on Chrissi Reads blog after she left a comment on my TTT list, and I returned the favour and read a little of her blog...

I love the idea of challenges, and so if she doesn't mind, I have decided to set myself a formal challenge.

In November I challenge myself to write up all the reviews of the books I read over the summer and publish them on here.

I'm good at work, but in my personal life I'm not particularly disciplined, so this is quite a challenge as I read rather a lot over the summer months.

Potential upcoming challenges:

  • Finish all the books from my first Mr B's Spa, which took place in July 2012!
  • Finish all the books I've started and abandoned.  - A possible December challenge methinks, which will also clear the shelves a bit.  No bad thing!
  • Read the unread books on my Kindle - I'm away for several weeks in January/February on holiday, Kindle is perfect for that!!
  • Go through all my books and clear out the ones I don't want to really keep, do a Car Boot Sale/Charity Shop dump.  I plan on moving house in 2014, so a clear out will be good.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Top Ten Tuesday - Best Books I was forced to read

This weeks Top Ten Tuesday list is the Top Ten Books you were forced to read, no matter the source, e.g. a school assignment, a book club, etc...  I was so happy when this Top Ten Tuesday topic from The Broke and the Bookish came up, as it's often the great books that are forced on you that seem to make the deepest impressions.  I've split them up into their sources, as you will see below.

School Books

I don't remember much from school, I think I've blocked the bad memories.  Anyway, what I do remember is that I could have been assigned the Best Book In The World Ever and I would still have hated it, simply because I hated school.  Because of this, I didn't enjoy them at the time, and only came to appreciate them recently...

1. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
2. A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

Book Spa books

These are books recommended to me by a brilliant bookstore in Bath, England.  The recommendations are based on discussion with the booksellers about my likes and dislikes, so they probably have a better than average chance of being ones I'll like...

3. The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch.
4. Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor
5. The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne M. Valente

Book Club books

6. Very Good, Jeeves by PG Wodehouse.
7. Animal Farm by George Orwell
8. The Help by Kathryn Stockett
9. My cousin Rachel by Daphne du Maurier
10. The Hundred Year Old Man who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson

Honorary Mention Book Club Books...  These were all books that more than deserve top ranking, but which I had already read before they were selected for book club.  Even though these all beat the Book Club book list above, I wasn't technically forced to read them for the first time, but they are SO GOOD that I had to include them somehow.

11. The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce
12. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
13. Nightfall by Isaac Asmiov
14. Dark Matter by by Michelle Paver

Friday, October 11, 2013

Damn You Karou!

I should have known better... I don't have the ready cash at the moment to start reading a series, but I was a little bored with what I was reading, so I turned to my bookshelf and picked Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor.

I haven't finished it yet but I know I'm going to want to read the others in the series, and not wait til Christmas in the unlikely event that my family check my wishlist on Amazon.

On the positive side my copy of Republic of Thieves is winging it's merry way to me now *dances around the room*...

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Top Ten Tuesday - Best or Worst Series Enders?

Todays Top Ten Tuesday from The Broke and The Bookish is all about Series Endings...

I'm not sure if I've read enough series through to completion to give 10 responses, and many would have been so long ago that I'm not sure I can remember how good or bad they were, or why I loved/hated them.  I certainly couldn't have predicted that 30 years after reading some books I would be blogging about why I thought they ended well or not.  With our family history of early onset Alzheimer's I'm lucky I remember reading anything at all.  Anyway... most of these are from my childhood, as I never seem to get to the end of series these days.

I'm looking forward to having a lot through other peoples TTT's.

Here's what I have:

Nora Roberts' series... So many to choose from!  I've read I think nearly every trilogy/quadrilogy she has written.  All end well, as you might expect.  Karma wins out and every good person lives happily ever after.  What's not to love?

The Chronicles of Narnia - I thoroughly enjoyed the series when I read it 30 years ago.  I can't remember if I was happy with the ending or not, but I loved the series nonetheless.

Northern Lights by Philip Pullman - I only read this a few years ago, and I can't remember how I felt specifically about the ending, just that I loved loved loved the books.

Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins - Worst/Best? - Ermmmm, bit of both really.  Brilliant series, somewhat satisfying end to the revolution, I actually think some of it was absolute genius, but the way that Katniss was left at the end left me a little disappointed.

Thursday Next by Jasper Fforde - The Woman who died a lot was meant to be the book that ended it, but the best ending was there is another book due!  So I guess it doesn't truly qualify, but like I said, I don't have many choices.

The Famous Five, The Faraway Tree, Mallory Towers, St Clare's etc etc... by Enid Blyton.   I loved these books, and while I didn't want them to end, and can't remember how they ended, I have very fond memories of them.

The Sweet Valley High series (ghostwritten) by Francine Pascal.  I think this qualifies as WORST... at the time I enjoyed them though would probably hate them now.  I think I brand them worst because they just never seem to end.  I could go on and on and on, but won't.

Monday, October 7, 2013

To Poe or not to Poe?

When we were throwing around ideas for October's book club read Edgar Allan Poe was suggested as a possible option.  We wanted creepy, in keeping with the time of year, and he seemed to fit.  He wasn't my suggestion, as all I knew about Poe at the time was he'd written a poem called The Raven.

We didn't select Poe in the end for our book club, but in researching available editions of his works I found a few complete works of Poe on Amazon for the Kindle for just 77p.  Can't be bad for 77p for everything he wrote right?

October was supposed to be a cheap month but has been anything but cheap, so I haven't invested yet but intend to when I'm not having to be quite so careful.  Having spent years not knowing much at all about Poe suddenly everywhere I turn his name is appearing.

There was a Documentary on BBC FOUR last week which I recorded, looking at his life, and relationships with women, so important to his writing. I found it on You Tube for those who might be interested and who don't have access to BBC Four, or BBC iPlayer:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3HYfAZ6D0gE

Friday, October 4, 2013

Review: Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck

Publisher: Penguin Modern Classics
ISBN: 9780141185101

This has probably been reviewed to death over the last few decades, so I'll try not to show myself up too much...

Regular readers of my blog will know that I have an issue with 'the classics', even the modern classics.  Bad school experiences of reading classics and years of being put down by teachers and peers meant I didn't think I could handle them.  At my school we never studied Of Mice and Men.  I remember Romeo and Juliet (which I hated then and now) but I don't remember much else, except we didn't read this book.  I really wish we had.  I loved it.

For those who might this story, here's the short synopsis:  George and Lennie are itinerant workers, moving from farm to farm in 1930's California.  They dream of one day owning their own farm, but they never stay long enough anywhere to be paid enough to save up the money needed to buy a place.  George wants to work his own land and have the security and stability of staying in one place, whereas Lennie just wants to keep pet rabbits that he can stroke.  George is sharp-witted, and a protector to his friend Lennie, who is a giant of a man, as dim and strong as he is tall.  Unfortunately for Lennie, he has a tendency toward unintentional violence when panicked and his strength means he can be very dangerous.  George and Lennie find themselves jobs on a new farm where the prospects of owning their own farm begin to improve.  The wife of the farm manager provokes Lennie and things come to a head.  Suddenly their dream becomes impossible and George and Lennie's friendship is tested to the extreme.

I did read the introduction to the book, which may have helped, but I found Steinbeck a master of scene setting and characterisation, so it didn't matter that I'm not American, and I haven't studied American history.  The book is very short but nonetheless he created George and Lennie's world very convincingly, and made them totally real for me.

There are a number of themes running through the book... Racism, 1930's California farm setting, Poverty, Death, but the strongest theme for me was Friendship.  George and Lennie are chalk and cheese, but there's no splitting them up.  I think of Friendship as almost having a scale, with friends that are like family at one end, and deadly enemies at the other.  The scale is fluid and flexible, and this story touches every part of that scale.  It pushes and flexes and tests every point until the final scene, which utterly broke my heart.

I am definitely going to be reading more of Steinbeck's work, and I couldn't be happier to have made another step into the 'classics'.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Top Ten Tuesdays - Total Turn off's

The Broke and The Bookish hosted a Top Ten Tuesday a few weeks back with a topic of what books would make you not pick up a book, this weeks is a twist on that topic... What would turn you off a book you were reading and make you want to put it down, and probably not pick it up again.

In my old age I've become less patient, so my list is probably going to sound quite harsh. I just don't have time in my life to waste on not very well written plot devices, badly drawn characters etc...

Love Triangles - I've seen this on a few other lists, and can only agree.  Particularly when it's not needed in the story and has been so obviously shoe horned in where it doesn't really fit.

Questionable Points of View - where there are multiple narrators who have nothing to add to the story. In one book I read a couple of years ago it was a dog.  Seriously.  I love dogs, but no.

Jumping around in time apparently randomly - Sometimes this works, and sometimes it doesn't.  In The Time Traveller's Wife which you would expect to jump around a bit it was fine, as it was pivotal to the story and mostly you were following Clare's timeline.  In The Night Circus I can't see the point really, and I think this is the main reason I am struggling to finish it a year after I started it.

Mills and Boon style couples - The big powerful rich handsome guy wooing the sweet virginal pretty unassuming submissive and poor woman.  Urgh!  I think as a woman I object to the simplification of female romantic characters.  They don't have to be like that at all, give me Eve Dallas any day of the week!

You're running out of pages and there's no way the story can be wrapped up in time - Sadly it's too late to put the book down with this one...  The book you are reading has no chance to complete all it's plot lines, and so you know one of two things will happen...
  1. you're going to have to invest in a series when you weren't expecting to, or
  2. all the plot lines converge and resolve in an unlikely fashion, leaving you rather unsatisfied overall.

Characters die without hardly a word mentioned - Many will probably know which book I am talking about.  I don't have a problem with main characters that I've come to care about being killed off, but do it right!  For heavens sake don't be running around a city and then suddenly say 'Where's X?' 'Oh, him?  He died back there!'  WTF? Seriously it was like the book was intended for another edit that didn't happen.  Also 'Yes, I started a revolution for my sister and then she died anyway, so I'm going to live in a state of shock for the rest of my life'.  Please!

Super-Perfect Characters - All the characters are super rich/pretty/successful/funny/charming blah blah blah. It gets boring when everyone is good at everything, when all your characters are white, with perfect hair, perfect teeth, perfect skin.  Not a blemish, bad hair day or disability among them!

Unlikely ridiculous plot twists - Like Bobby emerging from the shower and Pam realises she's dreamt the last year or so.  W.T.F.?  Yeah I know my example is from TV, but you get my drift.

All consuming Love to the exclusion of everything else - this bugs me in real life, so you can imagine I HATE it in books.  A girl gets a guy and suddenly nothing else matters, she ceases to be a person and becomes a half person, only complete when with her man.  She forgets her friends, her career and loses her independence and spirit.  No, the fire in her belly she gets when he smiles/winks/breathes is NOT a substitute for a fire in her spirit!  This, but especially when it's instalove!  Funnily enough this doesn't seem to happen to male characters (or men in real life).

Bad Language/Grammar - I'm not talking about profanity.  I mean incomplete staccato sentences, text speak, 'dis' instead of 'this' etc etc...  c'mon!  I know people talk like that sometimes, but they just sound stupid.  Authors - don't make your characters sound dumb, unless they are meant to be, in which case do your research and treat them with some respect, they won't speak in text speak!

I thought this would be a difficult list, but I've reached ten and feel like I'm only just getting started!

Monday, September 30, 2013

Mini book haul

A few weeks ago I was wandering along Weymouth promenade and came across a charity stall selling bric a brac and a few second hand books.  Well, what book lover can resist a big old pile of books? Not me!

I spied one by Malorie Blackman with a striking black and white cover, and then another.  I've seen a few good reviews for the noughts and crosses series, and at 50p each they were a bargain, but two out of three does not a trilogy make.  I was missing the first one.  I bought them because Why the heck not?

I was coming around to the idea that I'd never find the first and would have to pay full price, but lo and behold I was out on sunday and we passed a car boot sale*. My cousin is having a baby and she can't pass a boot sale as she's in search of cheap baby gear. On the way around I found the missing book from my trilogy. I could hardly believe my luck. 30p and my collection was complete.  And lying right next to it were the first two Chaos Walking books by Patrick Ness.  The knife of never letting go keeps coming up in my book spas at Mr B's, couldn't pass them up at 30p each now could I?

I've been good and restrained otherwise, and only bought October's club book by Jeanette Winterson - The Daylight Gate. Which I'm looking forward to when it eventually gets here.  EDIT: I had a call from home, there's a parcel waiting for me... Gleeeeeee!

* A car boot sale is when you load up your car with your yard/garage sale items and drive to a prearranged location, usually a field or car park.  You park up and sell your items by laying them out next to you car. People walk around all the cars and hopefully buy your junk.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Follow my blog with Bloglovin

Just trying something with Bloglovin, a tool to track blogs you read regularly and receive email updates whenever there is a new post, saving the need to check back with each blog individually.

For a software consultant I'm a bit of a technophobe.  I'm not sure what this is meant to do, but I think I'm following the instructions properly...

EDIT - It worked!!!  Just added the Follow icon on the right...

Friday, September 20, 2013

A little something to make you smile...

A friend of mine posted on Facebook that it is International Book Week.  I don't know if it is or not, but I thought 'why not?'

To join in grab the nearest book to you, go to page 52, and copy out the sixth sentence.  Don't mention the book title.

So I grabbed the nearest book and thumbed through the pages looking for page 52.  In my book page 52 features a picture of a dog with a human boys head. There is no text, so I went to the next available page containing text and found the sixth sentence....

Wait for it....

It's pretty special....

"So that's it?"

Made me smile at least...

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Where in the literary world are you?

Today I am on a small island off the coast of Wales.  I have made some unusually talented new friends while investigating my late Grandfathers life and murder.

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Top Ten Tuesday - 2013 Autumnal Reading List

This week's Top Ten Tuesday is all about my Autumn reading list... and to be honest it's mostly made up of the books I bought at my recent trip to Mr B's in Bath..  My TBR list is huge, and I know that no matter what I say here, some of these will not get read this Autumn.  Not because they aren't great books, but simply because life (and book club) get in the way sometimes, and other times you just don't feel like reading anything you already own...  I have therefore cut the list down to seven, and because these lists can leave you feeling a little guilty if you don't do exactly as you intended when writing the list I feel like adding the following disclaimer....

Though every effort will be made to read the books listed below this Top Ten List does not indicate a committment to read the books listed below, despite all intentions of the person who has compiled this list.  Reasons for failure to read any of the books listed below include, but are not limited to: Alternative reading requirements of the compilers book club; Life events; and inspiration to start and/or complete reading of any book.

Quesadilla's by Juan Pablo Villalobos - I loved Down The Rabbit Hole, and I'm really looking forward to this tale of family life and politics in Mexico.

The Bone Season by Samantha Shannon - The book everyone is talking about?  Not only does it sound right up my alley the movie deal is done, all 7 books are written and it/she is the Next Big Thing.  Who can resist really?  I managed to get my hands on a first edition hardcover, now I just have to stalk find Ms Shannon to ask her to sign it... I was told signed first editions are selling for around £500!  I'd never sell though!

The City & The City by China Mieville - This plot reminded me a lot of one of my favourite TV shows of recent years - Fringe.  A tale of two universes, a murder is committed between the two and police from each side have to work together to solve.

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs - Bit of a cheat really as I'm reading this right now, so far so good...

Daughter of Smoke & Bone by Laini Taylor - I've seen this series appear so many times on other Bloggers' Top Tens.  Mythical creatures, everyday setting (I think?), sounds intriguing...

The Cuckoo's Calling by Robert Galbraith/JK Rowling - I tried so hard not to succumb to the lure of a new JK Rowling, but the reviews from before the time the authors identity was revealed convinced me to give it a chance.

The Grey King by Susan Cooper - Need to keep reading this series (4th in The Dark Is Rising sequence). My Greenwitch review will be coming soon. I'm told Grey King and the final book are really really good.  Well worth the effort.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Review: The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland... by Catherynne M. Valente

Publisher: Constable and Robinson
ISBN: 978-1780339818

Apologies for shortening the title, it's a bit long for the post title...  Here it is in full:

the GIRL who CIRCUMNAVIGATED FAIRYLAND in a ship of her own making

This is in serious contention for my favourite book of 2013!  You might be able to tell given that this is the longest review I’ve ever written.

Sublime, Charming, Whimsical, Magical, Utterly Brilliant, a work of Genius.  It is light and funny as well as dark and upsetting.  Everything a fairy tale should be!  The cover of the book I have has a quote from Neil Gaiman who calls it ‘Glorious’.  I’m not going to be the one to argue with a giant of storytelling like Gaiman.  Every superlative is well deserved.  I think in years to come this will be a classic and a must read.  I don’t know why this doesn’t have more attention, as I’m writing this there are only 36 reviews on the Amazon UK site!

Short Synopsis: Set during one of the World Wars, September is a Nebraskan 12 year old somewhat heartless girl whose Father is away fighting in Europe and Mother is busy working towards the war effort.  She feels rather abandoned by them and so when a Green Wind comes along and offers to take her to Fairyland she climbs onto his Leopard of Little Breezes and flies away, without even saying Goodbye.  Even getting into Fairyland is an adventure.  Once inside she embarks on a quest that has her crossing and then circumnavigating Fairyland.  She meets incredible characters, all of whom are well drawn and fully developed, even if they are only on a few pages.

It’s blindingly obvious to any reader that Valente has written a brilliant book here.  In the best tradition of fairy tales this has humour, love, friendship, violence, death, good, evil, personal sacrifice, and a little lesson to be learned.  This lesson being that the good and the bad exist in all of us, and nobody is as simple as they seem.  Our heroine is pretty kick-ass and brave, but she is not perfect, other characters have also been given such dual natures, meaning that each is as complex and diverse as any I’ve read anywhere.  Put simply - Valente’s characterisation is phenomenal.

The secondary characters, as I’ve said are complex and form strong bonds with September and the reader.  I loved A-through-L, the Wyverary (half Wyvern, half Library), and Saturday the blue-skinned Marid.  Gleam the lantern and Lye, the woman made of soap. Green and the witches are other favourites.

It’s not just the characters that excel.  Valente’s words are wonderful.  She’s a wordsmith extraordinaire.  The prose is downright lyrical, and a total pleasure to read.  It doesn’t feel like reading at all.  It’s like being wrapped in the softest cashmere, sitting on the squishiest cosiest armchair in front of a fire with a mug of rich hot chocolate.  Even when September’s quest is going badly and all appears hopeless you just can’t put it down.  The pace never lets up from start to finish and not a single word is wasted.  And I haven’t even mentioned that the writing style is incredible.  There are quotable passages to be had on nearly every page.  I have listed a few of my favourites below.

"She sounds like someone who spends a lot of time in libraries, which are the best sorts of people."

"... September read often, and liked it best when words did not pretend to be simple, but put on their full armour and rode out with colours flying."

"though you can have grief without adventures, you cannot have adventures without grief."

"When you are born," the golem said softly, "your courage is new and clean.  You are brave enough for anything: crawling off of staircases, saying your first words without fearing that someone will think you are foolish, putting strange things in your mouth. But as you get older, your courage attracts gunk, and crusty things, and dirt, and fear, and knowing how bad things can get and what pain feels like.  By the time you're half grown, your courage barely moves at all, it's so grunged up with living. So every once in a while, you have to scrub it up and get the works going, or else you'll never be brave again."

"And it's the wonders I'm after, even if I have to bleed for them."

"luck can be spent, like money; and lost, like a memory; and wasted, like a life."

"As all mothers know, children travel faster than kisses.  The speed of kisses is ... a cosmic constant.  The speed of children has no limits."

"September could see it. She did not know what it was she saw.  That is the disadvantage of being a heroine, rather than a narrator."

"The trouble was, September didn't know what sort of story she was in.  Was it a merry one or a serious one?  How ought she to act?  If it were merry, she might dash after a Spoon, and it would all be a marvellous adventure, with funny rhymes and somersaults and a grand party with red lanterns at the end.  But if it were a serious tale, she might have to do something important, something involving, with snow and arrows and enemies.  Of course we would like to tell her which.  But no one may know the shape of the tale in which they move."

Valente uses little tricks to engage the reader, though it never feels gimmicky.  One that springs to mind is the narration.  Valente herself is the narrator and from time to time she talks about the nature of Authors and Readers.  These little asides are inspired and really help to pull you further into the story and give it added meaning (just read some of the quotes above).  I also adored the illustrations and the teasers at the start of each chapter.  Valente gives you a sneak preview of what’s to come without giving away too much.

Who would it suit?  It’s multi-layered story-telling at it’s best, and suggests to me that young children, young adults and adults would each see something different.  For young children it’s an exciting adventure with interesting characters, young adults may see additional levels and for adults it has much more to offer.  I loved the idea of having your courage washed clean.

What I loved – Everything, but especially the narration and brilliant characters.

What I hated – Nothing. At all.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Review: Flashman (The Flashman Papers #1) by George MacDonald Fraser

First published in 1969 by Herbert Jenkins, later versions available by various publishers.

First off let me say that I shouldn't love it, but I do.  The writing is truly excellent.  It is also, I'm told, historically accurate in terms of events/timelines etc...

The title character of Harry Flashman is a genius creation, the kind of character you just love to hate.  You should hate him, he is quite the worst anti-hero you could possibly imagine, an unutterably awful character with absolutely no redeeming virtue whatsoever.  He is most definitely not a likeable character at all, and does the most terrible things throughout this book (and the others that follow it).  However you can't help but enjoy the ride he takes you on.

George MacDonald Fraser has taken Flashman from Tom Brown's Schooldays and fleshed him out into the lead character in his own series.  Thomas Hughes' book sees Flashman expelled from school for drunkenness and it's at that point that Fraser picks up Flashy's story, which has been reproduced as just discovered memoirs written by an elderly and brutally honest Flashman.  Flashy goes home, seduces his stepmother then threatens her when she refuses his subsequent advances.  His father ships him off to life in the Army, and rather than ending up in the cushy regiment he envisioned he finds himself on active duty in India and then in the middle of the first Anglo-Afghan war (with seductions and a shotgun wedding, rape, flogging, beating and all forms of cowardice on the way).  Each time he finds himself in the middle of the action he manages by a combination of blind luck and sheer yellow-bellied cowardice to not only survive impossible situations but actually is perceived as quite the hero.  Flashman is an intelligent character who has an instinctive knowledge of military strategy and it's obvious to readers that had he an ounce of bravery about him he'd either be a great leader, or possibly dead in the battlefield.

There are some brilliant reviews on Goodreads, and I encourage a read through of some of them!

There are 12 Flashman Papers novels in all, and while I have loved this I am not sure I am ready to read on just yet, I wonder if Flashman would get tiresome after a while.  Certainly I need a break between stories.

If you are thinking of reading this I urge you to get a physical copy of the book and not the Kindle version as I did.  The book is heavily footnoted, and not being too familiar with this period in military history I found it a pain to keep going to and fro on the kindle.  I may re-purchase this in time in paperback, and if I read more then it will definitely be in physical book form.