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!