If you are like us (and probably one of the many thousands of book lovers across the globe) and have had the misfortune of spending your hard-earned cash on an apparent "best-seller"; you will probably also have experienced the dull thud as you bang your head against the wall, thinking "Why did I listen to the reviews on the back?!" The truth is: reviews found on books are usually self-promoting, PR stunt-type hype and not necessarily a true reflection of the books' quality at all.

It is our aim to tell the truth about books, but don't for one second assume that that is synonymous with us creating a blog to 'diss' authors' work - to the contrary - our intention is to provide an honest appraisal of each and every book we read. If the book is any good - it'll get a good review. If it's awful and a tragedy to the literary world - then it won't. It's that simple.

Thursday, 6 December 2007

Bad Monkeys by Matt Ruff (ISBN 978-0-7475-9171-8)

This is a difficult novel to pin down. That it is a suspense thriller, there is no doubt. That it is captivating and engrossing, there is no question. But is it a work of art or just another run-of-the-mill conspiracy-theorist book?
I notice little things about books sometimes, perhaps that has something to do with my own personal perspective – possibly... but what I noticed about this title first – was the title. It is exactly what caught my eye and made me wonder about the content of such an oddly named book. A top secret organisation authorised to assassinate ‘bad monkeys’ fits perfectly, and we are straight off onto the psychological rollercoaster ride as in the opening sentences we realise that Jane Charlotte is handcuffed and a delusional psychopath who’s been caught after bumping off some random guy. Brilliant!
Equally brilliant is the deftness of Ruff as he pits each twist and turn against our preconceptions and notions of what is fact and fiction. Only Ruff holds the answers and he offers them out begrudgingly throughout, only to show his true hand right at the end... the end, which I will not ruin for you is sheer genius. This has all the hallmarks of a blockbuster movie. The film rights to this are going to be snapped up, if they haven’t – I’ll have them... I could do so much with a few million in the bank...

Tuesday, 4 December 2007

Starcross, by Philip Reeve (ISBN ...)

My immediate impression is that I like the illustrated front, which may seem a little odd at first - except once you come to terms with the awful reality that the cover counts.
David Wyatt is responsible for that and all the other sumptuous images lavished throughout this book, which lend it that little bit extra oomph. Next, I notice that unlike most other books, this one offers up tantalising little snatches of what each chapter contains, which I found terribly, awfully droll. In fact, droll pretty much sums up this extraordinarily charming tale, whose narration is wonderfully effected by the Queen’s English and written as though from a bygone era.
A dry, British humour assures us that Reeve does not take his creations too seriously and rather gives the opinion that we are being reminded by the author that it is, after all, just a pretty little story. It may well be, but it so delightfully written, so engaging and alluring in an almost innocent way, that I am compelled to ask when Mr Reeve will be releasing us from the agony of awaiting the next instalment?
I simply could not review this book without mentioning my absolute favourite bit. I am indeed grateful that Myrtle did not “spend too much time going on about frocks”, although I can understand the allure… all those delectable textures, bewitching patterns and never-ending selection of colours… err, yes, indeed. Frocks are a fascinating topic of discussion and debate, but I must say that I rather enjoyed the telling of this tall tale more.

The Name of the Wind, by Patrick Rothfuss (ISBN ...)

For a lowly mortal, I have the great fortune of having an incredibly vivid imagination (having seen so much in my time helps). So much so, it has often disadvantaged me when reading fantasy or science fiction novels, in the sense that one can see the ending before the author at times, or so it seems to me. Mostly, I am inevitably disappointed with the lack of novelty, originality and passion in books of this genre and such has been my struggle with fantasy; that the machinations of even best-selling titles (which I shan’t name for legal reasons) seemed to me, dull and lacking in fired inspiration. That is, until Rothfuss.
Ah, Rothfuss… What a preposterously competent name… I swell with jealousy at your literary deftness and skill (or perhaps that’s water retention, one never knows).
The grandiose surrounding him on the launching of his debut novel has been staggering, but where the fever-pitched ferocity of praise for this first volume could be conceivably discarded as clever public relations at work – Rothfuss is undoubtedly a significant talent. Not least with his manner and style of writing that makes me feel close to weeping at the graceful and haunting beauty of it… Simply put – The Name of the Wind is absolutely stunning. Immeasurably better than 99% of any other fantasy author in current years; Rothfuss is a literary genius.
I cannot express the gratitude I feel towards this remarkable new author – my faith in this genre is restored.

Rothfuss, for me, is fantasy.

Sanctuary, by Raymond Khoury (ISBN ....)

The author of the definitive repost to Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code does not fail to deliver.
This is another phenomenal and punchy performance by Khoury. In every way, this is equal to its widely acclaimed predecessor.
I have a penchant for novels that require some mental action, the stimulation itself does me the world of good and indeed it has been heralded as the very reason why Words throughout the ages have retained impetus and import.
Khoury provides us with a gloriously detailed, magnificently depicted historical thriller that sets you on the edge of your seat and keeps you riveted there as though attached with superglue!
Of course, it has its faults – faultless authors are atypical these days… or at least, an author who’s style and use of words manages to somehow demagnetise all faults and lay them at someone else’s door instead. This is still a veritable feast of a book.
There is more to come from Khoury – much, much more!

Sunday, 2 December 2007

Playing it Safe, by Alan Pearce (ISBN 978-1-905548-85-9)

Who would have thought the world of Health and Safety would be made into a book. OK, so we have all seen the tomes that are HS&E manuals at work – well, this promises just a little something lighter...
On a personal note, if I may, Health and Safety is a rather novel concept for me (what do you expect with my head in books most of the time?), besides which, it doesn’t really make much sense. I’m all for being healthy and safe, but I suspect that that is not the purpose of the legislation. I suspect, in fact, that the legislation makes every living human being not only responsible for its own health and safety, but that of everyone else around it...down the road from it...and those who might be inadvertently affected by something you may do or have done. It is on this all consuming assumption that this well-grounded and quasi-factual (it consists of rehashed newspaper articles) and often confusingly hilarious book offers a head-on collision course towards Health and Safety pundits.
Whilst this book suffers a distinct lack of curb appeal, its content is surely overflowing with street cred – what, laugh at the nonsensical and often delusional government – well, I never!
Definitely light hearted but with a slightly ominous message, Playing it Safe delivers wonderful entertainment. What is truly terrifying is the realisation that comes all too late, when it finally sinks in that the entire book is based on real events that have been served on real people all in the name of Health and Safety... and I am not joking when I say, banning the turning on of Christmas lights (p62) because of Health and Safety is an absolute farce. Shame on whomever was responsible!
Buy this and you won't be disappointed - complete magic!!

Clarkson: Don't Stop Me Now, by Jeremy Clarkson (ISBN 978-0-718-14905-5)

I will say this at the beginning in the hopes that by the end you will have either forgotten that I said it or that you will skip along these ruminations to get quickly to the substance of the matter... I love Clarkson... but what’s important here is that I also love personal vehicular transportation modules. Not in the I-comprehend-terms-such-as-torque sort of way, I might add. I’m more of a this-thing-can-shift-whooo! kind of person.
Whether you are an avid admirer of personal vehicular transportation modules or a dominant male wishing to re-attest your masculinity – this book will send shivers down your spine. We are treated to some lovely asides by Clarkson, as well as offered scrumptious images of some breathtaking vehicles – from the extravagant and much wanted Buggati to cumbersome and powerful 4x4’s and those pesky minuscule minis. It is a delicious meal of haute couture cars (well, some of them are haute couture – others are more nouvelle cuisine in that they are small or there is very little to them!). Admittedly, this is more of a compilation of Clarkson's witty anecdotes from his Sunday Times' column - but it's still all him, even if someone else did the compiling.
Only Clarkson could be so dispassionately blunt in his appraisals – I only wish I was a quarter of the man his is... seriously, any more would be too big a leap for me... but I do love his irreverent style – no manufacture’s reputation gets in the way of telling the truth about a car. I would love to be the equivalent in books! He's always a classic and well worth every penny.

Lewis Hamilton: My Story, by Lewis Hamilton (ISBN 978-0-00-727005-7)

Lewis Hamilton has captured the heart of the British public, not because he is a warm, compassionate, amiable and grounded chap (which he is by all accounts), but because he was winning... winning in Formula One racing. For a while at least.
To the British people’s credit, despite his losing out on winning the Championship and the controversy surrounding McLaren, this affection has not been diminished. We still have faith that this boy, barely a man will continue to make Britain a force to be reckoned with – at least on the Formula One track.
This is the second novel about Hamilton, but his first foray into the arena of writing. He admits to not being alone and although that is apparent, it cannot detract from the very real tone of the writing, which is fluid and conversational; it feels as though we’re a close family friend rather than a group of strangers. I admire his honesty.
For those who have followed his eventful career, there will be few surprises; but the simplicity of the telling, the personal perspective that you believe is truly his and some phenomenal photographic images, make this a firm foundation for his writing career at any rate. Congratulations Lewis, you’re first novel did not eat molehill... and credit for acknowledging the help you received in writing this there's no shame in it.

Artemis Fowl and the lost Colony, by Eoin Colfer (ISBN ...)

This was shortlisted for TTAB's Readers Choice poll in November, and rightly so.
Were I young and full of the vigour of life, I would be extraordinarily jealous of Artemis and his lofty status – as a child genius and capable of comprehending multiple worlds, time travel and the existence of demons and fairies, isn’t Artemis the very encapsulation of everything a young person dreams of?
This, the latest offering in the ongoing saga of Artemis Fowl, is no less brilliant than its predecessors. One must assume that Colfer actually lives and breathes Artemis, were it not for the plain and evident truth that he clearly authors many other titles. In The Lost Colony, Artemis is once again heralded as boy genius, although this time as having the human quality of being potentially fallible. We have the bulky and yet rather amusing bodyguard whose relationship with Artemis is closer to fatherhood than employer-employee... not that we mind - it just adds to the flavour, particularly as our dear Artemis is apparently feeling the first hot flushes of puberty – something I remember quite vividly as being particularly nauseating and slightly sweaty...
Not quite another coming of age novel – more a densely plotted, fast-paced and action packed adventure story with characters so real you feel as though you could reach out and touch them. I enjoyed The Lost Colony immensely. It gave me a few hours of enjoyment that I recall from my youthful days, when I had more time to sit and read for the sheer pleasure of it.
Colfer speaks to the teenager in all of us and manages to help us come to terms with the discomfort we once felt at that difficult time in our own lives. The strangeness and newness of it. Absolute brilliance!

The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman (ISBN 978-1-407104-05-8)

We all know that The Golden Compass is coming out on a cinema screen near you on 5th December. But did you know that there was a book? Or that you can now purchase the entire trilogy (oh, yes, there is more to come...)?
I first read this book under its previous name, Northern Lights. I was impressed back then, impressed enough to part with more money in order to obtain the two sequels that make up this voyeuristic journey into secrets and battles of wills.
Lyra is a completely believable heroine simply because she is a-typical. She’s far too young, impetuous and constantly getting herself into trouble. My preference in terms of character though, is her ever-faithful, long-suffering daemon (demon) – Pantalaimon. The sheer brilliance of this characterisation should not be underestimated. In Pantalaimon, Pullman creates a positive force in Lyra’s life; not only that, but also a source of friendship and wisdom. All this being the polar opposite of what we have come to expect from a demon. In this way, Pantalaimon is utterly refreshing – and I love that he can shape-shift.
With the serious thirst for fantasy consuming the globe, it was perhaps inevitable that this series would find its way onto the big screen. I have no issue with it being renamed The Golden Compass, just as long as the filmmakers don’t change any of the other titles.
Truly a coming of age epic that will stir the hearts of both girl and boy (which is of itself unusual) – this series has the softness lacking in Eragon, benefits from some moderate darkness akin to The Name of the Wind and certainly the capacity for the majestic of The Return of the King. I only hope that the film does the book justice...we can only wait and see...

Small World by Matt Beaumont (manuscript review)

Far from being a novice, Beaumont is already the proud author of several books and has a penchant for writing comedic novels. My initial hesitance is as inbred as I am (joke), what with comedy writers failing with such consistency to deliver anything approaching funny... indeed, many books claiming to be comical blow out the bottom.
However, with Small World, I was pleasantly disappointed. Written in a first-person narrative, which some may find irritating, but I found refreshing and direct; we are permitted to leapfrog from mind to mind, snuggling into the dark recesses of the private thoughts, emotions and ramblings of an astonishingly normal collective. Individually, they may have perhaps been less astonishing and more normal – together they form a vast and raucous voice for the drones that make up the work horse of today’s society.
Intriguing, devilish and not a little funny – my mood swung from wildly amused, to small chortles and mild tickling. I even dared laugh out loud (which caused some staring, I can assure you). When Jaz thinks up Khali’s Kitchen as an alternative to Gordon Ramsey’s now infamous televised series of a similar name, I was beside myself.
If the author doesn’t end up having his hand bitten off to turn this into a play – there is something seriously wrong with our literary superiors. The entire book lends itself to a play, with its contemporarily twisted look at life and its hilariously comic moments and bizarre thought process that mimic real life so well.
I see a modern classic. Queues outside theatres for a sell out play. This only solidifies Beaumont’s position as one of the country’s leading comedy writers. Long may he reign!

Horrid Henry and the abominable snowman by Francesca Simon

If a pre-adolescent child could be encapsulated within a stereotypical caricature, one would end up with something akin to Horrid Henry. Parents despair all over the globe at their ill behaved offspring and some even call to question their aptitude for parenthood. Such a thing is good, on occasion – but it must be understood and acknowledged that children of a certain age of any species are downright awful.
I find Horrid Henry traumatic at times, but I can still be objective in my view. And my view is that Horrid Henry is the most utterly vile child you will ever come across – BUT – to give him his credit, he is not nearly so nauseatingly, hideously precocious as that little Peter perfect.
Simon does not fail to deliver a wonderful and accurate insight into children of this horrendous age group. May they learn to leave us poor worms in peace!
This is a wonderful collection of adventues, but the best by far is the ingenious will Henry draws up... this is classic Horrid Henry at his worst. What I found rather endearing though, almost heartwarming, was the realisation that Heny loves books. Loves them almost as much as I do, which was a wonderful uncovering - tell your children...!!
An absolute must for children this Christmas and the perfect stocking filler for your own horrid little child - Henry's shenanigans are as riveting as always.

Mr Christmas Sound Book (ISBN 978-1-4052-3270-8)

A fun, festive book that is guaranteed to get everyone in the mood for Christmas. What with all that talk of shopping, wrapping gifts and Santa Claus is positively contagious and before you it, your offspring will have hauled you down to the local hell-mall for a spate of Chrimbo shopping yourself!

Still, with this fresh in your mind at least you'll have a yule-tide tune buzzing around your head and more than likely (particularly if you've imbimbed the Christmas spirits), you'll probably also be chuckling softly to yourself at Mr Slow and admiring his fortitude. Cling to that when you're surrounded by the usual suspects whizzing about like crazed penguins (there's not much room at hell-malls!)... Ah! The joy of Christmas!

Santa's Reindeer by Rod Green (ISBN 978-1-84442-783-3)

The twinkling “star” (it’s inverted for a reason folks; it’s not real) blinks alluringly out at you from the shelf. Despite the huge soft-focus reindeer and the glaringly non-denomination title, once cannot help but conjure up thoughts of the nativity play, baby Jesus and those three crazies.. err... kings... who followed that star to find the son of God. Well, I do at any rate. If you love the cover, you are guaranteed to fully appreciate the internal decorations – sumptuous, juicy images radiating warmth and life fill each page – each image a miniature masterpiece.

The story is perfect for those parents who enjoy narrating a Christmassy tale to their young around this time of year... in fact, I would go so far as to state baldly that this would be the perfect book for that cosy Christmas Eve snuggle-down; with a small set of scented candles lit and strewn about the room, Christmas carols humming away softly in the background and everyone sipping steaming hot cocoa in their pyjamas... yes, this would fit that scene perfectly. For those who are looking for a new family tradition – the above is yours for free. Take it. Enjoy it.
Merry Christmas!

Sunday, 28 October 2007

The Lost Art by Simon Morden (ISBN 978-0-385-60964-7)

Simon Morden is what sci-fi and fantasy fans alike have been waiting for. Reminiscent of Planet of the Apes (minus the super-race of Apes, which never really appealed to me all that much), this is a completely credible account of the aftermath of Mankind (or the 'Users') all but destroying the Earth and its inhabitants. Some remained and devoted themselves to burying the secret books of the 'Users' from the world, allowing the human race to begin the slow climb back to a time of knowledge and power. Others left for the stars, never to return... until Benzamir Michael Mahmood that is.
You can almost taste the gritty sand in your mouth, feel the whip of the desert wind at your face, touch the Mediterranean crystal clear sea, hear your heart pounding at those moments of fight or flight... from the settings of coastal village to digger pyramids and the Kenyan citadel; each is masterfully set out for the reader.
Whilst we are expecting some sci-fi element (Morden being a rocket scientist can't help himself there, I suspect!) - the cavernous contrast between the lives and events described for the majority of this novel and what is so explosively revealed on page 397 is so huge, so terrifyingly out-of-sync, so coolly plugged together that I admit to reeling in shock. But I don't want to spoil anything for you - you'll just have to read it and find out for yourself! (I am MEAN aren't I?!!?)
If I was forced to look for fault, it would be that after the richness and depth of imagery lavished on the earlier sections of the story, it was perhaps a little disappointing that so little time was given the wondrous turn of events, the unveiling of the mysterious 'enemies' and the almost magical technological advances of Benzamir's people... but there was just about enough to whet the appetite.
Morden gives us everything we want - like starving children, you will fall on this and gobble up everything he has to offer and I, for one, had that post-gorge-fest grin on my face at the end of it. Totally satisfying and highly recommended.

Wednesday, 24 October 2007

Grotesque by Natsuo Kirino (ISBN 978-1-843-43270-8)

The back cover gives acclamations such as "grim, gruesome and powerful", "Sensational...daring and disturbing" and "Remarkable" - what I found remarkable is that I had mysteriously forgotten how to read properly that day - had I done so, I would have noted that these transcendent outpourings were for an entirely different book altogether!
I reasoned that something had to be wrong by page 42... which is when I checked the back again and it was shortly afterwards that my head started to hurt (banging one's head on the wall tends to do that). OK. So 'Out', also written by the author Natsuo Kirino is apparently amazing, but what that has to do with 'Grotesque'? Another carefully planned PR stunt, no doubt.
Stunts aside, halfway through this book I wanted to launch it at someones head, the bin or simply take it back to the shop and ask for my money back. The only aspect of this book that got under my skin is the nauseating fact that I paid for the privilege of reading this self-indulgent drivel.
I despise all the cheap-rate, two-dimensional characters. The plot is consumed by sex (mostly prostitution but with some incestuous and perverted sex acts as well for good measure) and not much else. Wait - there is a lot of hate, anger and jealousy in there too. Girls are depicted as either snobbish, just plain nasty or both. My,my - and someone hates their mother! There isn't a single mother figure that gets away scrape-free. Freud would have a field-day with this one... I find Kirino's style of mixing apparent narrative with that of a diary, mundane and ordinary - except for the fact that the 'diary' is not written like a diary at all - it's just more nonsense written with fewer rhetorical questionings. There is little originality - chapter title "A natural-born whore" is more than an indication of the base tones of this novel.
A classic example of ignoring what's on the back cover and save yourself the agony of muddling through this garbage - it would try the patience of a saint to get through this without clenching teeth and jaw. I lost count of the number of times I rolled my eyes in aggravation - it was just pointless, unnecessary and utterly dire.
If you're tempted because the author may have managed to produce something worthwhile previously - for god's sake get a hold on yourself and walk away quickly.

Saturday, 20 October 2007

Dawn of Empire by Sam Barone (ISBN 978-1-8460-5051-0)

I have been struggling for some time to draw a conclusion about this epic, imbued with eastern history and lavish depictions of a way of life before civilisation, before empires were made and lost.
It would do well on a cinematic scale; that much is true - certainly if the author's apparent penchant for an almost pornographic account of two unlikely characters such as the slave-girl, Trella, and the clouded barbarian, Eskkar, being thrown together is kept in by the director. Far too much zest and obsession with getting a leg over (as they say) for my liking and not exactly the most discreet of terminology utilised at that - but one could argue that this is just a matter of personal taste.
The plot is gripping, if nothing new. It is not unusual for women to be underestimated and it is refreshing that the author applies just as much vigour into recounting Trella's impressive mind and talent in the art of politics as to the sexual antics between the slave-girl and Eskkar.
Eskkar, as Orak's unassuming messiah, is perhaps a little underwritten and his character suffers from the distinctly implausible ability to immediately grasp complex politics and skills without any real training or formal teaching. I'm all for the unsung hero coming out of top, but the sudden about change from zero to hero is a little hard to swallow.
The action is impeccable with battle scenes worthy of Hollywood and I can already imagine the jaw-dropping effect and devastation of such scenes on the big screen.
I'm a critic and a fan on this one, which is a peculiar contradiction and an unusual position for me to take, but I'm staying on middle ground. It's a take it or leave it novel - which is not meant as a criticism, but as an explanation should this fail to win over the multitude. I would not, however, be surprised to see an edited version coming soon to a theatre near you...

Thursday, 18 October 2007

The Redbreast by Jo Nesbo (ISBN 1-843-43217-X)

Translated from Norwegian by Don Bartlett and positively bursting at the seams with awards and prizes (the back cover lists: the Glass Key, the Riverton Prize and the Norwegian Bookclub Prize for the best ever Norwegian crime novel) and following my recent dalliance into Harville Secker's international masterpieces, I thought I was assured on something magnificent.
Nothing could be further from the truth and I am quite prepared to blame the translator on this one (though that might be a bit harsh as I haven't read the original version). The dialogue was punchy, but flat. The characters were well depicted, yet soulless. Not being the biggest fan of wartime raconteurs, The Redbreast could be forgiven for having caught me on a bad day... it wishes...
In fact, I only hope in Norwegian it is more moving and striking in its composition than its English equivalent, otherwise - where have all the decent judges gone?!
It's got some pretty staunch backing from high-end British newspapers, but fortunately, my vote is not for sale (at any price), and I can categorically state that this was a complete waste of my valuable time. Don't waste yours.
Yawn. Yawn... are you still here?

Monday, 15 October 2007

Wash this Blood Clean from my Hand by Fred Vargas (ISBN 978-1-843-43273-9)

An rare and unexpected pleasure. Contrary to the tide of contemporary crime fiction writers, Vargas is not afraid to show her feminine sensibilities and successfully creates a criminal undertaking without falling into the murky depths of gratuitous sex, grotesquely detailed violence or simple blood lust.
Indeed, whilst these very real elements are not ignored, Vargas prefers to maintain her focus on telling the story with considerable fluency and distinctive finesse.
Unlike classic whodunits a l'Agatha Christie, P.D.James, Lindsey Davis et al; we are repeatedly told whodunit - we just don't know how or why... or in fact, who.
Brilliantly conceived - this is a triumph for Vargas!
Credit must also be given to Sian Reynolds for her inspired translation into English. Reynolds adheres to the crucial balance of crafted masterpiece and still retains the nuances of Vargas' style - thus showing her to be one of the best out there. Bravo!

Thursday, 11 October 2007

The Belgariad (Castle of Wizardry) by David Eddings (ISBN 978-0-552-55479-4)

Number four out of a five-part series called 'The Belgariad', "The Castle of Wizardry" is a tale of pure fantasy. This genre has always had a keen following, although, thanks to The Lord of the Rings trilogy and Eragon, it has seen a shift into mainstream popularity.
By no means is this to be compared with the aforementioned Lord of the Rings; it lacks the finesse and does not require the strength of will necessary to read those tombs... which is a positive in its favour.
Relatively easy to assimilate, there is plenty of fat on the characters to provide a decent meal for even the most famished of fantasy-lovers. On the downside, it does suffer from a bout of 'much-of-a-sameness', which I personally feel is prolific amongst titles in this genre.
I long for the day when fantasy writers give us something MORE than just another set of unfortunate events, battles, unrequited love, true love and good overcoming evil. It gets a little monotonous after a while.
It is one of the better written of its contemporaries, and if you're a die-hard fan (or simply don't like existing in the real world) - this series gives you plenty to wrap your teeth around.

Tuesday, 9 October 2007

The Snow Goose (NEW EDITION) by Paul Gallico and illustrated by Angela Barrett (ISBN 978-0-091-89382-8)

Widely acknowledged as a modern classic, I was interested to see what this new edition with illustrations by the acclaimed illustrator, Angela Barrett, had to offer.
I had forgotten how deeply emotional and poetic Gallico tells his tale of unexpected love and loss. As if by soothsayer enlightenment, we can read between the lines and see the words that Gallico does not write and understand the depth of feeling and the tragedy of the story - of a man lost to the world, found by a young girl and bound together by the homing instincts of a Snow Goose. La Princesse Perdue allows them both to feel a part of something more than their separate lives... Gallico portrays the pain, cruelty, warmth and compassion of humanity with devastating brilliance. They just don't write them like this anymore, which is a real shame.
Barrett manages to capture the wildness and beauty of the marsh lands and also brings the story to life with stark imagery.
If you enjoyed this the first time around, you will not be disappointed. If this is your first time - you are in for a super treat - like the last gasp of a dying age - this is poignant, moving and resonant of the turbulent times in which it is set.

Saturday, 6 October 2007

Leading the Dance by Sarah Salway (ISBN 1-904781-88-8)

A no-holds-barred compilation of extraordinary accounts of everyday occurrences.
Salway's concise yet graphically detailed style of recording ordinary people struggling with their mundane lives (particularly when that mundane life is suddenly thrust into unknown and unforeseen events) is captivating, heartbreaking and occasionally salacious.
My personal favourites are "Every Time You Open Your Eyes", "Jesus and the Aubergines" and "The Woman Downstairs"... although the brutal honesty of her characters could quite easily inspire, endear or simply titillate any of you.
You will find your own personal favourite in this collection of the most intimate foray into other people's lives.
Quite extraordinary and highly recommended.

Tuesday, 2 October 2007

Time to Go Home by A.C. Smith (ISBN 1-873877-65-X)

Not an easy read; but the sheer British-flavoured eccentricity and the challenge more than make this worth it.
Although it is difficult for me to pin-point what it is precisely that I like about this book - you cannot help but feel empathy when you discover that all the royalties from sales are to be given to Compassion in World Farming - I would probably plump for the fact that "Thrawle" is just so interesting - so affable, so polite, so happy to get one over on the Inland Revenue... so British!

Set in various locations, but mostly in Myddfai, Wales... Thrawle, on the run (again) from the Inland Revenue, sets about cleaning up other people's messes in the most ludicrous yet sophisticated manner. Some sections washed over me, but the overall character of the book made me want to keep going.
Definitely one for the middle to upper classes to titter at knowingly over a glass of brandy... but then, I enjoyed it, so it can't be that bad! Besides, if only to give our farming community a flutter of a chance - I'd stump up the cash to buy this.

Katie Price's Perfect Ponies - My Pony Care Book (ISBN 978-1-862-30365-2)

Now, let's not be prejudiced here... this is actually quite a cutesy book for any horse-mad girl (it is a predominately pink book). It offers some commonsensical guidelines on how to look after your pony or horse, but in addition it gives advice on what to do if you're not lucky enough to own your pony - all of which are completely viable and useful. It's actually a rather good book.
If this were written by anyone else and didn't include the shameless self-promoting photos plastered everywhere, I would be able to forget that the author is Katie Price, aka Jordon. For some reason, the very notion of a brazen 'glamour model' spouting pony care to impressionable children just doesn't sit right. Katie - if you're serious about imparting your clear love and wisdom on equestrianism - please leave the publicity angle out of it, then we can allow ourselves to dislodge the many images of your bare chest from our minds long enough for us to focus on the actual book.

Cut Her Dead by Iain McDowall (ISBN 978-0-7499-3841-3)

An intensely dark portrayal of modern-day crime and its perpetrators. For anyone touched by the abhorrent act of Identity Theft, this will not make you sleep any easier at night...
Carefully plotted, with a realistic (but not reassuring) depiction of the individual Detectives on the case; this is a decent, if slightly predictable police thriller. Personally, I would have derived greater satisfaction had the perps actually got off scott free - not because I agree or condone their actions, but because it would have sat a little better with the gritty realism of the actual plot.
The only damp squib was in the occasionally confusing and annoyingly shallow characters that made up 'Brady, Annabel, Maria and Adrian' - the leap into the world of bondage, domination and fetishism only serving to remind us that 'normal' middle-class types don't actually do this sort of thing (which clearly is not all that accurate) and a little more meat on their bones would have made this a much more satisfying a read. That said - it stands head and shoulders above the bog-standard police thriller and if you enjoy books of this nature, you won't be disappointed.

Saturday, 29 September 2007

A Dose of Dr. Dog by Babette Cole (ISBN 978-0-224-07057-7)

The instant I saw this book, I wanted to read it, which is shameful to admit given my age... The title is quirky and clever, but mostly, I just pray that the author's real name is actually Babette - how fabulous!
The idea of having a dog that studies herbal medicine is an individual take on the current trend towards 'alternative therapies'; having a dog that is also a Dr. is just plain hilarious! And I love the simplicity of Professor Dash Hund, with his herbal garden...
The illustrations are riotously funny and allows the comical character of this book to shine through each and every single page; it benefits from the same wonderfully generous and cheeky humour as The Gooey, Chewy, Rumble, Plop by Steve Alton and Nick Sharratt, and offers helpful little asides like "sap from an aloe vera plant will work wonders [on sunburn]" - which you can guarantee will come in useful on holiday abroad!
A Dose of Dr Dog is a highly original, highly entertaining read. Please someone tell me that this is not a one-hit-wonder - Dr. Dog is a stunningly simple idea and worth every penny!! We need MORE!

Faster, Faster, Little Red Train by Benedict Blathwayt (ISBN 978-1-862-30469-7)

This is not the first of the 'Adventures of the Little Red Train' book series, it probably won't be the last, but the fact that someone felt the need to include a free CD read by Richard Briers to pull the punters in, should sound alarm bells... In my lowly opinion, if the story is good the book is worth buying on its own merits - not because of some freebie you get with it.
The illustrations were original and colourful, but perhaps a little too 'busy' for the age group it appears to be catering for. The story is simple and fun, if not a little light on content.
Overall, a book that I would expect to see on the shelves of nurseries around the country. Not offensive, or badly written - just ordinary, which to some is worse than saying it stinks.

The Loved Dog (The Gentle Way to Teach Your Dog Good Manners) by Tamar Geller with Andrea Cagan (ISBN 978-0-09-192225-2)

I must confess that I allowed myself to be swayed by the PR-hype-type stuff on the book cover and succumbed to the allure of it being 'The New York Times Bestseller' - but for just once I wanted to live like Oprah Winfrey - OK, benefit from some of the training she clearly had from the author for her dogs...
Firstly, can I just say that I adore the title, which sums it up perfectly: If you own a dog, look after dogs, work with dogs or just plain love dogs - this is an absolute MUST READ.
If you want or need to dominate (don't confuse domination with respect or authority) another animal; this book isn't for you. However, if you, like me, want that ever-so-slightly cheesy relationship with your canine (paralleled only by the relationship between Lassie and owner), then you simply have to read this book.
This is not a one off read - you will go back to this time and time again to pick up more tips, figure out where you've gone wrong as well as to satisfy yourself that it's thanks to this book that your beloved friend now actually acts like one (friend, I mean... not just a dog!). It's utterly woof-tastic! Apologies for the pun.

Thursday, 27 September 2007

The Fall of Lucifer (The Chronicles of Brothers - Book 1) by Wendy Alec (ISBN 0-9552377-0-X)

A tale of biblical proportions... no really, this is a reincarnation of the bible, with some artistic addendums of course.
For those who have never read any version of the bible, or by some chance never heard tell of the Christian belief that God created Man and that Lucifer (or you might know him as Satan) went on an all out war against God's latest creation (that being Mankind - i.e. US) - then a) I have no idea what planet you have been on your entire life and b) you'll find this book quite unique... unlike the rest of us who have heard it all before.
Basing the story around the three Archangels, or brothers, is clever and does help draw the reader in... and despite my cynicism, I have to admit that I HAD to read this book from cover to cover. That said, I found it irritating in parts, a little preachy in others and I personally got tired of the over use of bejeweled everything - Heaven is loaded - we get it.
The prologue introduces us to Nick, a twenty-six year old archaeologist who is extraordinarily frail and seems perpetually close to death (I suspended all disbelief whilst reading this book) who finds some treasure - then it launches into a kind of diary of Archangel Gabriel - and it is not until the last couple of pages that Nick reappears... which was disappointing. I think rather than reiterate biblical stories of old testament time (Noah and the great flood feature at one point); I would have preferred the author to concentrate on the year 2017, when Nick finds the treasure and the secret of the origins of sin. Now THAT would be a novel tale. At least we can tell that there is more to come - 'chronicles', 'book 1' kind of give that away...
Whether you see this as fiction or non-fiction depends on your personal beliefs, but I will still hazard a guess that this book will (if it has not done so already) sell in its millions. Something about a scary God and demons fighting over your soul makes compelling reading - no matter how many times the story is regurgitated.

The Alchemyst (The secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel) by Michael Scott (ISBN 978-0-385-61293-7)

I may be a little late to join the bandwagon of supporters for this new series - maybe not. Either way, I can understand the odd disquieted comment and murmuring about similarities with a rather more internationally renowned series of books which involve magic, but... and there's a HUGE but for me - you would be immeasurably misinformed if you were to dismiss this as anything other than uniquely brilliant!
Michael Scott manages with apparent effortless ease to bring together myth, legend, fact and history - OK, with a dash of magic involved - but it is so much more than simple magic - it is the story of Alchemy, of Nicholas Flamel, of the scientific wonders mankind can yet discover (or already has). Magic becomes obtainable to us, mere mortals. It opens up worlds of mystery and sorcery to us all (which is especially good for those of us who felt pangs of envy and suffered with 'why-couldn't-I-have-those-powers-itis' at the abilities of the select few in other fictional books).
Mark my words - someone, somewhere will recognise this series' potential - a film will be made - this has all the hallmarks of a colossal success... and I for one, cannot wait for the next book!!

Saturday, 22 September 2007

God's Game by Erik Ryman (ISBN 1-904781-22-5)

This is the first book published by Bluechrome that I have come across and it has to be said that if they publish oddball, kooky and ultra-modern works of art such as this on a regular basis, I would not be at all surprised to hear more and more about them!
I wasn't sure about the necessity of the overtly sexual enactments or the disturbingly detailed accounts of grisly violence until I reached the end of this book. As difficult as those moments were, they are vital ingredients of a tale so exceptionally strange that had they been edited out, it would not be as powerful and memorable as it is. This is a truly challenging read - intellectually, emotionally, and philosophically - it touches on all those emotive issues such as sexuality, religion, mental health, conspiracy theories, even the meaning of life...
Perhaps one of the most representative views of our social climate in recent years.

Thursday, 20 September 2007

The Trouble with Wenlocks (A Stanley Wells Mystery) by Joel Stewart (ISBN 978-0-385-61007-0)

I got very excited about this book. It felt thick, solid and screamed 'quality' at me from it's beautifully illustrated cover. Unfortunately, I was due what I term "thud-ache" (an ache which transpires after several blows to the head via a stone wall). I was expecting a children's book - having flicked through the pages and seen the size of the text - I was guessing for between 5 - 8 years of age. I could not have been more wrong. I am not at all sure who the target audience is, nor do I fully understand, what precisely, is the "mystery" of this book. It was quite simple for me: a self-indulgent load of waffle about nothing and everything, written in as an inaccessible way as humanly possible! The characters were all rather vague and 2D. And I challenge any child to read this first time through and immediately grasp its full and intended meaning.
I had so hoped that this was going to cruise along the book highway - but alas, it falls onto the hard shoulder having never managed to drag its sorry cover beyond 20 miles per hour.

The Great Harlequin Grim by Gareth Thompson (ISBN 978-0-009-48765-4)

Here is an eloquent story of prejudice, misunderstanding and a stark account of today's youth culture, even in the supposed 'quiet backwater villages' of rural Britain. In all, a sobering, brittle and gut-wrenching tale interspersed with the melancholy and unspeakable thrills of young life in our modern-day society of instability and perpetual change.
Glenn (the main character) is drawn from a deep understanding of the daily struggles and complex emotions of teenage life - easily identifiable to most young adults. Harlequin himself, is rough and difficult to comprehend, as such we are easily led to believe the worst, then the best, until finally we are offered the plain truth: sometimes we become what we are because of who we are.
I found The Great Harlequin Grim to be a strangely compelling and occasionally uncomfortable read - an incredible debut from Gareth Thompson.

Tuesday, 18 September 2007

The Amazing, Astonishing, Incredible and True Adventures of Me - Charlie Small - Gorilla City (ISBN 978-0-385-61122-0)

The first in a series of books about the adventures of one 'Charlie Small'; a unique eight-year-old who finds himself in the middle of a much anticipated, if somewhat surreal adventure. Each book documents his experiences as he comes face to face with the unusual, unthinkable and wildly imaginative... this one being his unintentional discovery of a Gorilla City.
I love the style of this book - although it does suffer with a few superfluous pages of exceptional, but random illustration (mostly in the latter stages) - thankfully, this doesn't manage to overshadow the overriding content: the irresistible plot line, the extraordinarily imaginative flair of the author and a memorable introduction to the enchanting character that is Charlie Small.
Sure to be a hit with children and pre-teens - parents will also appreciate the fact that it suits most budgets.

Monday, 17 September 2007

You F' Coffee, Sir?!!! by Liz & Julie (ISBN 978-190569255-2)

Writing your first book is a daunting and scary process (having dabbled myself), but these two newcomers known only as 'Liz and Julie' seem to have taken it in their stride. Their conversational style suits the often mischievous slant to their mile-high stories and offers a versatile format for either the Air Hostess wannabe, or the avid fan of aviation (although to be sure, the palette being catered for is somewhat rogue-ish)! It is with this insightful dual purpose (which effectively gives you two books in one) and the infectious naughtiness of the rather saucy and deliciously wicked authors that make this a pretty decent first outing. I think even they would agree that this book should come with some sort of parental warning (if books were rated, this would be at least at 15!!). Bear that in mind... and have some controversial hilarity on Liz and Jules while you're at it.

Wednesday, 12 September 2007

The Gooey, Chewy, Rumble, Plop Book by Steve Alton & Nick Sharratt (ISBN 978-0-370-32914-7)

Never in all my years have I taken to a book as I did this one. Mighty praise indeed from someone who is quite particular about the books allowed to grace my home! The rather revolting title and unnecessarily life-like tongue on the front cover set the scene for a rip-roaring read for all ages and perhaps more surprisingly (at least for me); this book offers factual, if not valuable information about the human digestive system (children and adults alike will be particularly drawn to the fact files on poo). This is a prime example of books at their best - exploratory, reactionary, informative and fun!! So instead of the kids running around screaming about poo and bottoms - ok, so they'll still be shouting 'poo' but hopefully 'rectum' will have replaced bottom! Younger children will love the interaction and exploratory nature of this book, whilst older kids will learn and understand terms such as 'enzymes' and 'nutrients' seemingly by osmosis. Quite simply the best children's book I've seen for years - lets hope the authors do something similar with the respiratory system, blood circulation, organ functions, anatomy...

George, the Dragon and the Princess by Chris Wormell (ISBN 978-0-224-07072-0)

Dare I speak ill of a book that has received such accolades as having "a classy enduring feel"? Well, yes, if the shoe fits. Frankly, when my four-year-old failed to grasp the thrust or direction of this short story (and I use that term loosely), I decided to have a proper look myself and promptly drew a blank. Scant content with an indecipherable and jarring plotline makes this one to miss - especially when you factor in the exorbitant price tag. However, those parents who simply MUST have a full and complete library for their offspring can find some solace in the fact that the illustrations go some way to make up for a dire lack of substance. Totally uninspiring.