Saturday, 30 November 2013

The House on the Strand by Daphne DuMaurier

I have never been quite so surprised by a book as The House on the Strand.  Not only by the story itself but by my enjoyment of it.  I was literally having to force myself to put it down at night or I wouldn't have slept at all until I finished.

The story begins with mystery and continues throughout to build until the first mysteries are revealed but another has been formed.  The themes fall into the category of "Journey", both personally for the main character and into the past.  Addiction, obsession, love - that's how some have described it.  I probably wouldn't have read it if you'd told me that's what it's about (although it is in part) but it's more than that - it's about the power of science, the risks of exploration of any kind, self discovery, faithfulness, loosing yourself, friendship.

The story centres around an experimental drug that enables the main character, Dick Young, to view the past - specifically the 14th Century past of the part of Cornwall where he is staying.  He gets increasingly drawn into that world, and as a reader I found myself in the same predicament as him - emerging from the book struggling to remember exactly what was fiction and what was my reality as I look around me.  This, I think, is the power of good fiction generally - wondering why the sun is shining when you were just in the middle of a blizzard in your mind.  The intense power of the drug transports Dick into the past in a way that becomes more real than the present although he can only watch and any attempt to interact with the past brings him abruptly back to the present.

A master at work, the story has pace and originality.  The characters are described in such a sympathetic way that I felt myself sharing the author's obvious affection for them all, with all their flaws and struggles.  The shift from past to present throughout the novel is refreshing, keeping my interest in each parallel story and I didn't feel frustrated as I do sometimes with other books that jump between worlds in this way

I would highly recommend the book to anyone who likes a very human mystery.
 
Go to www.askmeaboutbooks.co.uk for more reading suggestions.

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald



I very consciously did not watch the film before approaching this book.  The first thing that strikes as I started to read was the sheer extravagance of the sentence structure.  This is entirely a matter of taste, and of course the writing era,  but for me it is overdone and distracting - on one page I noted there were only four sentences.  The plot itself is a very simple one with very little in the way of subplot, making it a very quick read - assuming you can get your head around the writing style.
 
The narrator is the only character to whom I warmed at all.  I have no doubt that this is intentional.  The story is about the brokenness of people, obsession, corruption, the carelessness of wealth and you are not meant to sympathise with the characters.  You are meant to share the narrator's disgust when he scratches the very thin veneer and discovers the corruption lying beneath.

The story is often disjointed, jumping between plot elements without warning at times.  I found myself re-reading pages to see if I had missed anything and I hadn't.  It's a little bit like a dream sequence, slightly fuzzy with moments of intense clarity, jumping from one thing to the next and back again.

Yet, having said that, it is a compelling and engaging story that draws you in.  Atmospheric and slightly haunting.  Well worth a read if you have the time to concentrate on it.
  

www.askmeaboutbooks.co.uk

Monday, 26 August 2013

Valentine Grey by Sandi Toksvig

I wasn't sure what to expect when I picked this book up, certainly not the compelling and compassionately told story that I found.
In some ways this is a book about rejecting society's expectations and choosing your own destiny, with Valentine choosing to reject the staid, controlled society of Victorian women to go to war as a man, and her cousin Reggie choosing to explore the apparently liberating homosexual underworld of Victorian London.  Neither quite gets what they expect, and the result is the ruin of one and the making of the other.  A story of self-discovery, of loss, of friendship, of war, of humanity and inhumanity.
The settings, both in London and in South Africa, are evocatively described, rich in detail.  The plot unfolds with honesty and increasing intensity, not shying from the brutality and inhumanity of war or the disfunction of forbidden love.  At times deeply disturbing, it is a story about the human spirit and well worth the struggle.


www.askmeaboutbooks.co.uk

Monday, 19 August 2013

Dusting Down Alcudia by D A Nelson

This is a new book by a fellow blogger (http://darkislethebooks.wordpress.com) and author of the YA books DarkIsle and DarkIsle: Resurrection.

The story follows the adventures of Nina, a young archaeologist working for the British Museum, out to solve a historical mystery - searching for a legendary Roman necklace in Mallorca, where her father came from.  It fits in what I call the "Archaeological" genre - sub genre Romance.  Think Romancing the Stone rather than Indiana Jones and you'll have the right tone.  Along the way Nina has to deal with some romantic entanglements from her past and has to discover who she can trust.

If you're looking for a light, entertaining read, this is definitely worth a try.  Once I'd started reading, I didn't want to put it down and would have happily read into the night if my commitments had allowed it.  Hopeless romantic that I am, I desperately wanted to know how the relationships
would develop.  The love scenes come under "Oh... I'm blushing" on the Ask Me About Books website analysis and, being a bit of a prude, I certainly was - even skimming quickly over them.  The plot itself is not particularly taxing on the brain, but there is enough action and mystery to keep it interesting - just don't expect the kind of complexity you'd find in Matthew Reilly books.

The descriptions of Mallorca are lovely and the scenes with Nina's Spanish family are very rich and engaging.  Nina herself is an endearing character, incredibly naive and slightly pathetic at times.  I did find myself growing impatient with her as the story progressed, wishing she would show a bit more common sense.  I'm tempted to say she's brash and foolish, but it's more that she's completely obsessed with her search and a bit childish in her reactions to what is happening.

All in all a fun read - definitely one to put on your e-reader to take on holiday.


www.askmeaboutbooks.co.uk

Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Dear Poppyseed by Alice Grist



A Soulful Momma's Pregnancy Journal

In essence this is a book about the spiritual journey of a pregnant woman.  It is a very personal account, full of personal hopes, personal philosophy and personal struggles.  Some people will find it speaks exactly to where they are at; others will find many elements that they connect with while appreciating someone else's perspective; still others will find themselves puzzled by the experiences Alice describes.  If you're not engaged with the story after the first entry, don't read on - it's not for you.  That said, I think those people will be in the minority.

As someone who is deeply spiritual, but in a very different way, I found this book somewhat challenging to read from that perspective.  I will do my best to write an open review, but if you're uncomfortable with new age philosophies, I would advise you to avoid this book.  I, personally, found myself intrigued with her thoughts and experiences.

Alice's journey is a unique one in her spiritual choices and path, but at the same time, at heart, what she expresses is something most mothers will have felt on some level - the joy of feeling that small life growing within you (although many will not feel anything in the early months).  When someone is so connected with her own spirituality, her own self, it is not surprising that she would have a greater awareness - perhaps because of greater expectation - of what is happening to her body, and her reflections make fascinating reading.

A mother of five, who has learnt to be at peace with my own chaos, I have always enjoyed being pregnant, that sense of privilege having a new life given into my care.  And so I feel great sympathy with the emotions Alice expresses - yet I can't help a certain amount of fond scepticism reading the hopes and expectations of this new mother and smiling knowingly as she comes to terms with elements of this truth:  As spiritual as it is in essence, (for me) pregnancy, childbirth and parenting is probably one of the most earth bound things in practise.

One of the lovely things about this diary, is the way Alice writes to her child, describing the world they will enter with a real grace that recognises the bad and encourages the good, wrestling with her own fears.  I think we all, as parents, need to help our children to have a realistic picture of the world - protecting them, without leaving them unprepared; arming them without creating anxiety or aggression; empowering them to be the agency of positive change in the world they are born to.

Alongside the spiritual journey, which is the unique selling point of this book, this is simply an honest description of the emotions, struggles, joys, guts and gore of pregnancy - and not just pregnancy but relationships and self-discovery.  It's about the hopes you have, the things you resolve you will do, and the ways you measure up to and fail those hopes and resolves.  If you are pregnant I would recommend trying to read it alongside your pregnancy rather than all in one go.  If you read it before you're pregnant, I think you'll find the whole thing a bit overwhelming - but then that is true of many birth stories.

Reasons you might like this book

If you like books that are beautifully written, the style is emotive and elegant
If you feel being pregnant is / was / or should be the centre of your life while you experience it
If you want a fresh perspective on what is happening in your body that goes beyond science or even emotion.
If you enjoy life stories


www.askmeaboutbooks.co.uk

Saturday, 27 July 2013

Keen reader age 7 seeks books...

My daughter is reading Terry Prachett's The Colour of Magic.  She is seven years old, and although we went to the mobile library that comes to our village and picked up two new books only yesterday, she has nothing to read - having read them both already.  So we look to our book shelves for something suitable for a seven year old - and something interesting to one as well.

Daddy hands her The Colour of Magic and she settles down to give it a try.  "Mummy what does 'Astrozoologist' mean?"  Understandably this isn't a word she has encountered before.  18 pages later and she's struggling a bit.  "It keeps jumping from one thing to another."  And I realise a major difference between the books she is used to and more grown up books is the single focus narrative.  Of course, Disc World books aren't for everyone, and the style of writing can be hard for adults to get their heads round, so it's back to the bookcase again for another try.  This time I've offered a Louisa May Alcott book (Author of Little Women) called an Old Fashioned Girl, which I hope will capture her imagination.  It's a light hearted, social-moral story about children of her age in another time and place but with issues not all that far removed from my childhood - and hopefully not too distant from hers.  I suppose themes of friendship, identity and wealth are constants and she hasn't put it down yet.

What would you give a seven year old girl (reading age 10) to read from your own personal library of books?  She's read most of Enid Blyton, loves Daisy Meadows' Rainbow Fairy books.  I might try CS Lewis next.

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Revenge of the Spellmans by Lisa Lutz

If you're looking for a light, funny and entertaining read, I recommend this book.  It's book three in the series, but reading the first two is not a prerequisite for enjoying this one.  Helpfully there are footnotes and an appendix for those bits you might be a bit confused on - think Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy rather than boring text book - in fact, there are definite similarities of style to HGG.
Written in first person by Izzy Spellman, 'former' private investigator, it's about family as much as it is about mysteries, and every relationship is intriguing.  If you're anything like me you'll find yourself smiling as you read.  The kind of story to put your feet up with a cup of tea/glass of wine (delete as appropriate) after a busy day, book in hand and enjoy some light-hearted me time.

Thursday, 18 July 2013

The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini

This is a very different kind of book from those I usually post on.  If I take one of the categories from www.askmeaboutbooks.co.uk, this would definitely come under "thought provoking".  It's not a book for the faint hearted - not perhaps as harrowing as some of his more recent work, but still not one to read as entertainment.
Afghan society, civil war and the Russian invasion during the cold war form the back drop to a story about a father and son who don't understand one another and the need of the son to be accepted by his father.
The writing style is very smooth and, although it is incredibly atmospheric, I didn't feel as though I was drowning in descriptives as can sometimes be the case.  Set mainly in Afghanistan but also in the USA, Hosseini invites the reader to explore his culture with a mixture of affection and critique.
Interestingly his main character 'Amir' is not one to warm to, his attitudes and actions are uncomfortable.  The reader is not called upon to empathise with his situation.  Although one of the themes is redemption, there is a sense throughout that any redemption gained will only be superficial and will only come at great cost.
Certainly an enlightening book, challenging and engaging but not one for a lazy afternoon relaxing in the sunshine.

Wednesday, 10 July 2013

Anne of Green Gables by LM Montgomory

One of my favourite books growing up was Anne of Green Gables (and the rest of the books by LM Montgomory) and I'm definitely not alone.  Prince Edward Island - which is the setting if you're not familiar with the books - has become a pilgrimage site for people from all over the world.  The stories are simple but deeply profound, following the life of an orphan girl who is adopted and starts a new life on an idyllic farm.  There is no self-pity in the books, and I think this is what makes the basic concept work so endearingly.  Anne is a lively, imaginative character, who is often getting into scrapes but is never wilfully bad.  The staid community of the PEI town of Avonlea is seen with gently critical humour through her eyes, and she has a steadily transforming affect on everyone in her circle.

Like many favourites the books have been made into plays and films, which, despite often major diversion from the books, are usually a respectful representation of the essence of the characters and stories and well worth seeing.  When you read the books you'll enjoy the differences and be well rewarded for the effort without feeling spoiled by the films.

Wednesday, 3 July 2013

Love Letters by Katie Fforde

Here's another Chick Lit book, but with a very different flavour - very definitely a romance this time.  Set amidst a world of book lovers and writers, with the plot focused on the creation of a small literary and music festival, the characters are appealing and the flow of the story is good.  I must admit to a certain amount of frustration with the main character, Laura, and her reactions to the situations she's put in - but in some ways that is part of the fascination with her story.  It's a bit like Persuasion by Jane Austen in that way, although Laura is constrained by shyness and naivety rather than social expectations and moral certainty.  All in all a very enjoyable read, relaxing and light hearted, with some laugh out loud moments and the odd tear (if you're the emotional type).
My only real criticism is that for a book set in the publishing world, with many references to excellence in writing, there are a lot of typos - at least I'm hoping they are typos - and occasionally some very awkward sentence structures.  I don't say that I'm an expert in these things by any means, but it jars when the main character is meant to be an expert on what makes a good book!  A sign of modern publishing practise, unfortunately, with fewer checks built into the process of production...

Go to www.askmeaboutbooks.co.uk for more book suggestions

Tuesday, 2 July 2013

Remember Me? by Sophie Kinsella

This was my first introduction to Sophie Kinsella books, bought on a whim with a couple of other girlie books.  I can see why she is a popular author.  The story is engaging and the style of writing flows really easily - definitely a book you can relax with.  The basic concept of someone waking after an accident with amnesia with a vastly different life from the one they remember sets up a sequence of interesting and often amusing events.  This isn't a book that particularly engages with the devastation someone in this situation would experience - the amnesia is a device rather than an opportunity to explore the turmoil of not knowing anything about your current life.  If you can forgive that, it's an excellent read, full of self-discovery and romance.  Like a lot of modern women's fiction this story balances the flair of an entrepreneur with a life-loving romantic - and does so very well.  One for the beach.

Sunday, 16 June 2013

Limits of Power by Elizabeth Moon

So, finally, I have a copy of book four of the Paladin's Legacy - which I blogged on a while back when I finished number three and discovered it wasn't a trilogy after all!  (Anyone with me that long ago?)
It's so lovely to slip back into a world that feels so familiar, back with those favourite characters.  I love Elizabeth Moon's books because somehow no matter how bleak the situation she creates there is always hope in the midst - the knowledge that however bad things may be it will all come together in a surprising but perfectly reasonable triumph for good.  Her main characters have a nobility that reassures me that however much I want to scream at the small mindedness of some of the lesser characters they will soon be put in their place in the way I wish I could in real life sometimes.
I was a little disappointed with this book, though, I must confess.  It feels in places as though she is trying to tie up some loose ends before she sets up the story for the climax in book five.  The confluence of events is manufactured at times and occasionally the same idea is put forward by different characters as if she's worried you'll miss the point.  Of course, there are lots of 'in places' 'at times' and 'occassionally' in most books, and overall the book is as enjoyable as all her other works - which I would highly recommend to anyone who likes SF or Fantasy.  I think perhaps I would have enjoyed it more if I'd thought this was the last one and it had taken me by surprise that it ended where it did - but then I think this time I would have seen that coming.  There is too much story obviously left to be told.  Looking forward to find out what happens next in a year's time.
Find our more about this book at http://www.askmeaboutbooks.co.uk/Detailbook.aspx?id=139

Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Charlotte Street by Danny Wallace

I've not read a modern romance by a 'bloke' before and this one is really good!  To be fair, it's not really a romance - more a story of self-discovery, coming to terms with your strengths, recognising your mistakes and taking hold of life...  All that makes the book sound a bit boring, I'll admit, but it is remarkably readable and funny.  The pace is good and the characters are incredibly ordinary and engaging.  You have mystery (the plot revolves around the main character's attempts to track down a girl who accidentally leaves a disposable camera with him), friendship (between a diverse group of characters) and humour (the self-deprecating kind with an occasional moment that may make you laugh out loud).
The first couple of pages really grabbed my attention, but then it slowed down a bit for some reason towards the end of the first chapter.  However, make it to chapter two and the rest of the book is well worth the effort.  Enjoy.

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

The L-Shaped Room by Lynne Reid Banks

Written in 1960, this is a book that definitely deserves to still be in print.  In it's barest form it's a story about being single and pregnant in your late twenties at a time such a thing was a massive social failure.  There is so much more than that, however.  It's about the humanity in everyone.  The characters are wonderfully developed, with the failings and strengths of each unflinchingly and compassionately explored.  There is a sense while you read that however alien someone may seem to you their simple 'human-ness' cannot be denied.
If you're looking for a book that will leave you feeling uplifted and in charity with the world around you, this should fit.  There is a lovely flow to the writing that draws you on, gently unveiling the story as the narrator describes her life, her past and her hopes.
Curl up in front of the fire and enjoy.

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

The Codex Alera by Jim Butcher

There's some very fine Fantasy authors out there and I think Jim Butcher is one of the best.  He's probably more famous at the moment for The Dresden Files, which were made into a TV series but if you want something to really get your teeth into The Codex Alera series (Six Books) is worth a try.  In a society with Roman undertones, where magic comes in the form of controlling the 'Furies' (elemental beings), there is power, political intrigue, grand scale warfare, love and self discovery.  Fast paced, with many a twist and turn the plot flows wonderfully from book to book, slowly revealing new dimensions stage by stage until the very satisfying finale of Book Six: First Lord's Fury.
Look at 'Genre/High Fantasy' on www.askmeaboutbooks.co.uk for this and other great Fantasy reads.

Monday, 18 February 2013

Book Choices of the Powerful


Apparently "The Very Hungry Caterpillar" by Eric Carle is the favourite book of
President George W. Bush
and Gordon Brown likes "The Snail and the Whale" by Julia Donaldson
Meanwhile Jim Carey likes "Crime and Punishment" by Fyodor Dostoevsky
and Emma Thompson likes "Odyssey" by Homer
So what is your favourite book?
Are you a Politician or an Actor?


Saturday, 16 February 2013

Matthew Reilly - Seven Ancient Wonders

Matthew Reilly is one of those authors who writes pure adrenalin action, with the basic premise - "How shall we save the world today?"  This series is no different.  The action is the driving force of the story but he doesn't loose the characters, managing to give you just enough information about each of his main protagonists to round them out, without readers having to know their life history and what they like for breakfast.
With a nod to Dan Brown and films like National Treasure, this first novel in the series has a group of 'minow nations' sending a select team of military and archaeological experts against the USA and Europe in a race to find pieces of a golden capstone that can either avert an environmental disaster or give immense power to the victor.
This isn't a book to read if you are at all sensitive about accusations of occult activity in Freemasonry or Catholicism, but for most people it's a good fun read that should leave you guessing and ultimately always expecting a miracle escape!
Find it under 'How shall we save the world today' plots on www.askmeaboutbooks.co.uk or link to http://www.askmeaboutbooks.co.uk/Detailbook.aspx?id=52

Sunday, 27 January 2013

The Phoenix Conspiracy - Richard Sanders

Another free book download for you - The Phoenix Conspiracy is an excellent space based SF novel available from ibooks and Amazon Kindle.  It's the first in the series and the second and third, which are available now, will cost you a few pounds on Kindle - but is almost certainly worth it.
The story follows the captain of a stealthed intelligence ship who is ordered to track down a rogue military Captain and his ship.  Obsessed with understanding why the Captain went rogue, things soon develop into an intriguing story of conflict, conspiracy and personal struggle.
The pace of the story is excellent.  Sanders gives you all the information you need to understand the society, the scenery and the characters but without overloading the action.  For a 'free book' it is exceptionally well written - almost certainly it has benefited from the kind of professional editing which so many of these books lack.  Certainly entertaining and occasionally thought-provoking, although it does seem to be missing the level of military strategy and dynamism you'd get from an author like Elizabeth Moon.

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Invasion by DC Alden (Abridged or not Abridged!)

This is a difficult book to review, as the recent revised edition published in 2011 is massively abridged compared to the original published in 2006 - a difference of about 300 pages.  Simply put, the plot explores a violent take over of Europe by Islamic powers and the rebellion against that rule.  In the newer version many of the explanatory side stories have been removed leaving the novel lacking dimension, although the story itself is still excellent.
A military thriller, it's not a story for the faint-hearted or overly paranoid.  The politics are very current, and considering the original was written in 2006 it is surprisingly predictive of events of the last few years - albeit projecting them further into the future.
All in all, if you intend to give the book a try, we'd advise you to track down one of the original versions (about 660 pages long).  You will be missing out on a great book if you only read the new edition.

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

The Last Praetorian by Mike Smith

If you want something to read for free, this is an excellent novel that can be downloaded free from ibooks.  Epic SF with a socio-polictical system loosely based on the Roman Empire.  For a self-published novel it is comparitively well written, if clumsy in places and definitely worth a try if you enjoy SF.
Full of heroic adventure, betrayals and general space-born conflict, along with political intrigue.  If you like the kind of extensive activity descriptions you often get in this genre you'll find it a definite page-turner, with many quirky scenes that add a touch of fun to the story and are revealing of the main characters.  There are lots of interesting twists and turns to the story and this is just book one of the Redemption Triology.

Sunday, 13 January 2013

Sanditon by Jane Austen & Another Lady

I love the generosity of the writer of the continuation of Sanditon (Jane Austen's last unfinished novel) in keeping a low profile so that the story remains attributed to the original author.  Unfortunately this book isn't widely available any longer, but is definitely worth taking the effort to track down if you enjoy Jane Austen's work.  In my opinion the continuation is almost seamless, and both style of language and plot are faithful to the original.
There is a stronger humour element here than in Jane Austen's major works - more in line with Northanger Abbey's gentle mockery of the Gothic style than Pride and Prejudice's social and relational irony.  The continuation perhaps takes the humour a little further than Jane Austen would have - I almost laughed aloud towards the end of the story as the varying threads are woven together, something I have never done in a normal Austen novel.
The story follows the experiences of Charlotte, who is visiting the seaside town of Sanditon, and her encounters with the various personalities who live there or visit for the 'season'.  At first sight not the most inspiring of storylines, but the relationships between the characters is what makes this - as with most other Austen novels.
My only major criticism of the continuation is that there are several times when the writer makes use of phrases from other Austen novels - although not as often as some 'sequels' I've read.
I've been trying to discover a good continuation of The Watsons - another unfinished novel - does anyone have any suggestions?

Wednesday, 9 January 2013

Rosie Hopkins' Sweet Shop of Dreams

A bit of a departure from my usual genres takes me into Chick-Lit territory, somewhere I rarely venture but find more and more I enjoy - within certain parametres. Rosie Hopkins' Sweet Shop of Dreams by Jenny Colgan is certainly an easy going read, a good strong plot without being overly complicated and characters you want to spend some relaxed time with.  Looking at some of the other titles by Jenny Colgan, I'm not I'd enjoy them as much - but then Blurbs can be highly deceptive.  For style of writing, I would enjoy reading more of her books, but I'm not sure if the setting - a small village community in Derbyshire - is actually the main reason I found the book entertaining.  There is a lightness of touch in the development of the story - and the romance - that is definitely appealing and a deep sympathy with the characters and their situation that made it unputdownable for me.  The weaving together of the two stories of two women in different eras (WW2 and modern) is done very well and enhance each other.
The love scenes are subtle and the swearing of characters feels appropriate although there is a fair amount of strong language to watch out for if you don't like that sort of thing.
If you like sweets - old fashioned or modern - there is plenty in here to make you raid your snack cupboard while reading, and if you're really adventurous there are several recipes included for things like Tablet which you might like to make once you've been able to put the story down.
So, worth a try if you feel like a light romance and life story.  I shall have to try another of Jenny Colgan's books to know if she'll become a favourite author.