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.

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.