Thursday, 29 July 2010
The prologue re-introduces a character from the first novel that was really underdeveloped and, although he has definitely got a mega creepiness about him, is fascinating to read about and builds on his background. Not only did it reassure me that this story was a prequel of sorts (because otherwise I would never have guessed), it deals with some of the questions I had after the first - perfect!
Early assessment: I would recommend this as highly as I recommended Graceling - it is definitely a light read but this one is far more broad in its themes and scope and like a cross between my two favourite genres - historical fiction and fantasy fiction - perfect!
So I've got two long train journeys this weekend while visiting (and coming home from) my parents' which means less blogging but more reading, which is a decent trade as far as I'm concerned! Also, no hop...
Have a great time those of you who take part and an awesome weekend - I'll be reviewing with a vengeance on Sunday!
Sunday, 25 July 2010
What the blurb said:
Gerda Persson has lain dead for three days. Her life seems to have been quite ordinary. Until the freezer in her home is opened. It is full of books, neatly stacked and wrapped in clingfilm, a thick layer of ice covering them - all by the same prize-winning author, all with handwritten dedications to Gerda. What story do these books have to tell? And what is their connection to a young boy found abandoned in an amusement park?
What I would say:
Without wanting to appear negative, I didn’t like this book much at all.
The story starts with the abandoned young boy and quickly moves to the death of Gerda Persson. The books of Nobel Prize winner Axel Ragnerfeldt are found in the freezer and so we begin.
Straight away, the characters are really difficult to like - we have a recovering alcoholic prone to wandering off into rambling social commentary (which has no relevance to the story and seems to be a way for the author to vent her views), a privileged but completely ungrateful misogynist and his worn down wife. I couldn’t find sympathy for any of them - Gerda Persson sums it up perfectly: “…I’m content and you’re not. You’re always chasing after what you imagine you could become”. She is addressing the famous Axel himself but it could apply to all of the key characters here.
As you might have guessed, Alvtegen splits her narrative between the past and the present. I actually liked this to some extent - for example, Louise is the long-suffering wife of the borderline alcoholic and general philanderer, Jan-Erik. Through her eyes, we see general confusion at his behaviour and then we witness the actions as they happen and understand their relationship that little bit better.
However, as events pan out, this technique becomes a little worn and the story flits all over in an attempt to hastily rap everything up. And herein lies my biggest problem with this book. The “revelations” at the end of this book come thick and fast and they become rapidly more shocking. Unfortunately, not in a good way. It really is difficult to explain why I disliked this so much without massive spoilers. Let me say this: I have no problem with ‘dark’ themes in my books. What I do have a problem with are events which are so abhorrent that I can’t help but feel the story is cheapened and the author is simply employing shock tactics.
And why were the books in the freezer? I still have no idea whatsoever…
Overall: This really isn’t a “crime novel” as I would imagine them. Yes, there are crimes, but the book is more about the effects of the crimes than the acts themselves. I would only recommend this to adults who aren’t too sensitive and aren’t opposed to reading about the darker side of humanity.
I'd be really interested to hear from anyone who has read this or another of Karin Alvtegen's novels - am I alone in my opinions?
Also, I finished this despite not really wanting to simply because I hate not finishing a book - does anyone else do that to themselves?
Friday, 23 July 2010
Anyway, the routine is this: It's Friday, It's the Blog Hop (cue 'will I have enough time to do it justice?' calculation)...ah, whatever, Here I go!
This week, the question/theme over at Crazy for Books is:
TELL US ABOUT THE BOOK YOU ARE CURRENTLY READING
This week I started Karin Alvtegen's Shadow. I wrote about it in my Mailbox Monday post because it was a book I was really eager to start. And so I did. And I kind of wish I hadn't.
Seeing as it was a barely-300-page long thriller I expected it to be fast-pased and gripping. Unfortunately, I am really struggling with the characters who are, with the exception of the character who we only saw in earlier life because she's now the deceased character, self-pitying and selfish.
I'd really love to hear from someone who has read this or another one of Alvtegen's novels and liked it because I'm started to think I'm getting grumpy in my old age!
On the plus side, this week I finished Christopher Moore's 'A Dirty Job' and thought it was fab, which admittedly doesn't fall into the brief but I wanted to end on a positive! :)
Looking forward to seeing more great new blogs this week! Thanks for hopping by! x
I actually finished this on Tuesday but you know how it is - you keep on going to work and then before you know it, it’s Friday and you have no clue what happened to your week.
So, without anymore dallying, my review:
What the blog said:
Charlie Asher is a pretty normal guy. A little hapless, somewhat neurotic, more of a Beta than an Alpha Male. Charlie's been lucky, though. He owns a building in the heart of San Francisco, and runs a second-hand store with the help of a couple of loyal, if marginally insane, employees. He's married to a bright and pretty woman who actually loves him for his normality. And she, Rachel, is about to have their first child. But normal service is about to be interrupted. As Charlie prepares to go home after the birth, he sees a strange man dressed in mint-green at Rachel's hospital bedside - a man who claims that no one should be able to see him. But see him Charlie does, and from here on out, things get really weird...People start dropping dead around him, giant ravens perch on his building, and it seems that everywhere he goes, a dark presence whispers to him from under the streets. Strange names start appearing on his nightstand notepad, and before he knows it, those people end up dead, too. Yep, it seems that Charlie Asher has been recruited for a new job, an unpleasant but utterly necessary one: Death. It's a dirty job. But hey, somebody's gotta do it.
What I would say:
This was the first book of Christopher Moore’s that I’ve read and I really enjoyed it!
It really reminded me of (and I apologise if I inadvertently upset someone here) of Terry Pratchett, without as much of the fantasy. Not, of course, that this story hummed with realism but it was based in San Francisco so it’s closer than Discworld! What I am referring to is the humour - it’s dark and adult but also just downright silly in places, which was perfect! It prompted my boyfriend on a number of occasions to ask what on earth I was laughing at…out loud…on a bus…While I don’t appreciate the odd stares while I’m commuting,I do like starting the day with a chuckle.
I loved how warm all the characters were, with the exception of ‘the Morrigan’ - a trio of devil women hell-bent on ruining Charlie’s...well...world! Charlie was very enlightening as a ‘Beta Male’ and Sophie was just adorable (I’m a sucker for a cute baby…) and I loved that through it all they were just a father and daughter trying to get through life without their wife/mother.
Basically, this novel is just fun - the whole cast of “death merchants” (but not Death, you know, with a capital ‘D’) whose job it is to retrieve and distribute soul vessels is fantastic, particularly Minty Fresh - the scene where Charlie first goes to visit him after finding out about his new vocation was one of my favourites in the book.
Overall: I love Pratchett’s novels so this was an easy one for me to enjoy - I would recommend it to anyone with a slightly dark sense of humour looking for a light(ish) read.
Monday, 19 July 2010
This is a weekly meme started off at The Printed Page but shortly going on tour - I've seen it on so many blogs that I thought it was about time I got in on it too!
Basically, you share what books have arrived in your mail (or letter..) box the previous week but by the looks of things, it also extends to books you've bought and (in my case) smuggled onto the bookshelves before trying to claim that "they've been there all along"..
So, this week I got a free £10 evoucher for Amazon as a little reward for being a Lovefilm customer - what else could that be but books? This meant I got:
- Fire by Kristin Cashore;
- Shadow by Karin Alvtegen; and
- The Swan Thieves by Elizabeth Kostova...
..for £4.77. Brilliant!
I decided I 'had to have' Fire after finishing Graceling (Cashore's first novel) and am really looking forward to reading it.
I read about Shadow during a Waterstone's feature on up and coming Swedish crime writers, stemming I guess from the success of The Girl Who Played With Fire (et al.) by Stieg Larrson, which I have tucked away somewhere but am yet to read. Anyway, the story sounds intriguing.
And, finally, I read The Historian by Kostova a couple of years ago and remember liking it so, while I was at it, I bought that too!
Sunday, 18 July 2010
Mariam is only fifteen when she is sent to Kabul to marry Rasheed. Nearly two decades later, a friendship grows between Mariam and a local teenager, Laila, as strong as the ties between mother and daughter. When the Taliban take over, life becomes a desperate struggle against starvation, brutality and fear. Yet love can move a person to act in unexpected ways, and lead them to overcome the most daunting obstacles with a startling heroism.
I was bought this book by my dad who had read it and recommended it so highly that he thought I should have my own copy. I read ‘The Kite Runner’ while I was at university a couple of years ago and remembered loving it so I was looking forward to reading it.
Saturday, 17 July 2010
I did the Book Blogger Hop a couple of weeks ago and really enjoyed it, so I'm joining in again this time! The question this weekend is:
Right this instant what book are you dying to get your hands on (past/present/future)?
I have two books/series that I really want:
- Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore - the follow up to 'Graceling' and 'Fire' - I loved Graceling and Fire arrived from Amazon this week and I can't wait to get started. The third offering isn't released until 2012 (in the UK) so I have a long wait ahead of me!
- The Parasol Protecterate series by Gail Carriger - I've read some good reviews of it on some great US blogs but it isn't released in the UK until September. The series is vampire fiction set in Victorian England - sounds like an awesome combination and I can't wait!
I have recently bought more books than is sensible so my wish list is yet to be built up again - what's on yours?
Tuesday, 13 July 2010
What the blog said:
In a world where people born with an exceptional skill, known as a Grace, are feared and exploited, Katsa carries the burden of a skill even she despises: the Grace of killing. She lives under the command of her Uncle Randa, King of the Middluns, and is expected to carry out his dirty work, punishing and torturing anyone who displeases him. Breaking arms and cutting off fingers are her stock-in-trade. Finding life under his rule increasingly unbearable Katsa forms an underground Council, whose purpose is to combat the destructive behaviour of the seven kings - after all, the Middluns is only one of the Seven Kingdoms, each of them ruled by their own king and his personal agenda for power. When the Council hears that the King of Lienid's father has been kidnapped Katsa investigates ...and stumbles across a mystery. Who would want to kidnap him, and why? And who was the extraordinary Graced fighter who challenged her fighting skills, for the first time, as she and the Council rushed the old man to safety? Something dark and deadly is rising in the north and creeping across the continent, and behind it all lurks the shadowy figure of a one-eyed king ...
What I would say:
This was a brilliant and undemanding fantasy adventure. After the more challenging ‘The Angel’s Game, it was perfect. I always like to start a new fantasy series because I love getting to know all of the new characters; and there were a lot to like in this novel, particularly the women.
Katsa, the female lead, demonstrates two sides to her character very early on and a lot of her story is trying to reconcile who she really is with the ‘work’ she performs for her Uncle Randa. This was a refreshing change from morally unswerving leads who are admirable but a little too righteous for my tastes - I like a bit of an internal struggle, what can I say? I loved the fact that Katsa isn’t defined through her ability to charm men and her appearance and that she can be aloof. Similiarly loveable is little Bitterblue (who I won’t say too much about because she appears later on..) - her dignity and composure is really sweet when combined with the natural vulnerability of a ten year old child. Po, the male lead, is just fabulous - he brings a great touch of comedy to the book and his interaction with Katsa made me chuckle on more than one occasion.
The Seven Kingdoms are painted beautifully and the landscapes are incredible. The action scenes are really well-written and lively and just detailed enough - any more and it would have been gory and any less and they wouldn’t have portrayed all of the levels of Katsa’s Grace. I raced through this book because there is plenty of action, twists involving a whole range of Graces and compelling characters.
Overall:This book isn’t going to change the literary world, but it will make it seem a lot more fun for a while! I’d recommend this to fantasy fans looking for a light, spirited read - I’ve already ordered Cashore’s second novel, Fire!
Sunday, 11 July 2010
Earlier on in the year, I was living in the city and about a ten-minute walk away from the central library and was actually disappointed to find that the fiction section was very poorly stocked and packed full of large print hardbacks. Not what I was hoping for! Since reverting to my rural living roots, I've been a five-minute walk away from the village library/community hall. I wasn't holding out much hope because the average age of my locale has increased by about 50 years but I was really pleased to find a great selection of contemporary fiction. So we know where I'll be on Saturday mornings from now on.
Added to my TBR pile this week were:
Graceling by Kristin Cashore (bought)
Dracula by Bram Stoker (borrowed)
Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffeneger (borrowed)
A Dirty Job by Christopher Moore (bought after a recommendation from Red and the only of his books available at my local bookshop)
I've already started Graceling and am loving it so far - hopefully I'll be reviewing it tomorrow.
I hope good weekends have been had all round!
Friday, 9 July 2010
What the blurb said:
"In an abandoned mansion at the heart of Barcelona, a young man - David Martin - makes his living by writing sensationalist novels under a pseudonym. The survivor of a troubled childhood, he has taken refuge in the world of books, and spends his nights spinning baroque tales about the city's underworld. But perhaps his dark imaginings are not as strange as they seem, for in a locked room deep within the house letters hinting at the mysterious death of the previous owner. Like a slow poison, the history of the place seeps into his bones as he struggles with an impossible love. Then David receives the offer of a lifetime: he is to write a book with the power to change hearts and minds. In return, he will receive a fortune, perhaps more. But as David begins the work, he realises that there is a connection between this haunting book and the shadows that surround his home…”
What I would say:
“Every book, every volume you see, has a soul. The soul of the person who wrote it and the soul of those who read it and lived and dreamed with it”
The way I see it, this quote sums up a lot of the key ideas in this book, while also being a gorgeous stand-alone quote.
This story has an incredible atmosphere right from the opening chapter which is sustained for the entire novel. David Martin is an excellent lead as a disillusioned and embittered writer. The pityingly told background to this character really sets him up as a tragic figure; rejected by his mother and a witness to his father’s murder, David relies on his only paternal figure, his best friend and mentor Pedro Vidal, for guidance and a career.
At times, I can be a complete softy and I found myself really drawn to the not-quite-heroine Cristina. Not only is this a really engrossing mystery but it’s also a heart-rending love story. Oddly enough, the two elements interact really well. The plot develops gradually and I dawdled along revelling in the fantastic writing and getting to know the characters. For an atmospheric thriller, there is a disarming element of comedy. The relationship between David and Isabella provides some light relief amidst the turmoil he experiences and I absolutely loved it!
All of this applied right up until the climax, where I raced through the pages until I reached the epilogue (which I couldn’t explain if I wanted to…). I've read critics who said that this was a flaw but I found to be a welcome change of pace.
My only gripe with this book was that for some considerable periods, Zafon abandons the narrative for a meditation on the nature of religion by the mysterious publisher. I understand that it adds a sense of gravitas to that particular character and a purpose but I just think it could have been done without too much academic discussion. In my view, it detracts from the development of the main characters (publisher aside) and jeapordies the tone and atmosphere which is otherwise infallible.
Overall: I loved the vast majority of this book and will definitely continue to read Zafon’s literary offerings. Although it is the second book to refer to the Cemetery of Forgotten Books, I didn’t find it was linked to The Shadow of the Winds so much that they needed to be read in order. This could be an equally brilliant start to this author’s work and I thoroughly recommend it!
Thursday, 8 July 2010
It turns out that now, being a full-time worker and library-goer needs better planning. So, a little local internet research later on, and I know that the library is now closed on Tuesdays and Thursdays. It is, however, open for a few hours on Fridays and Saturdays so better luck to me next time...
Hopefully I'll be making some headway on my challenges soon!
Wednesday, 7 July 2010
Although science fiction isn't really my thing, I am very weak when it comes to fantasy, much to my other half's amusement, and this 'guide' is brilliant!
It's designed for people who are new to the genre, people who have never tried it before or even people who have got stuck in a fantasy rut and gives a brief description of each sub-genre (I know, who knew there were so many?!) before recommending books to start off with. The best bit for me is the 'If you like this, you'll love..' which kindly recommends new authors to try in genres you've discovered that you like.
My favourites are, as I now know, 'urban fantasy' and 'heroic, epic and high fantasy fiction' - cool, eh?
The down side being, I really didn't need anybody to give me any more books to lust after...
Monday, 5 July 2010
""The Pillars of the Earth" tells the story of Philip, prior of Kingsbridge, a devout and resourceful monk driven to build the greatest Gothic cathedral the world has known; of Tom, the mason who becomes his architect - a man divided in his soul; of the beautiful, elusive Lady Aliena, haunted by a secret shame; and of a struggle between good and evil that will turn church against state, and brother against brother. A spellbinding epic tale of ambition, anarchy and absolute power set against a sprawling medieval canvas of twelfth-century England, this is Ken Follett's historical masterpiece"
What I would say:
When I first hauled this book off my TBR pile, I was a little intimidated by its weight and worried that the story wouldn't carry me through its length (while wishing I had bought an eReader and saved my arm muscles). Don't let this sway you!
Tom Builder starts out as an ambitious family man with a pregnant wife and two children, cruel Alfred and shy Martha, engaged in the building of a home for William Hamleigh and his future bride, Lady Aliena, but desperate to one day design and build his own cathedral. Unfortunately for all involved, Lady Aliena refuses William Hamleigh's proposal, causing him to cancel the building, leaving Tom Builder and his family destitute, and become an archetypal villain. Some trials later and Tom Builder is employed by Prior Philip at Knightsbridge to build a beautiful cathedral. The book follows the cathedral itself and the characters and stories that occur in its shadow.
There is something almost fairytale-esque about the characters: a despicably cruel Lord, a wise prior, a beautiful damsel in distress and the boy in love with her. And even while I was noticing this, I was responding to them in exactly the way I would have when I was reading fairytales - I wouldn’t have been unsurprised to have unwittingly ‘boo’ at the book! I certainly cried on more than one occasion. Because if nothing else, this book is packed full of emotion and captivating for it.
History is taught via the plights of the protagonists and there is something to be said for its medieval merit. By following a cathedral, the reader can learn a lot about the importance of religion in medieval society, about rule under the feudal system and even Gothic architecture without ever even realising it or being bored.
Some cynics might criticise areas of the book for being a little contrived - but that really depends on whether you believe in ‘miracles’ or not, doesn’t it?
Overall: All the hyperbole is true, this book is epic and genuinely and enchantingly beautiful. So incredible that the 1000+ pages passed by in a blink and I was truly sorry to finish it! One of the best books I have read in years - don’t hesitate - if it’s nearby, start it now!
Saturday, 3 July 2010
1. Anyone can join. You don't need a blog to participate.
2. There are four levels:
- The Mini - Check out and read 25 library books
- Just My Size - Check out and read 50 library books
- Stepping It Up - Check out and read 75 library books
- Super Size Me - Check out and read 100 library books.
(Aim high. As long as you read 25 by the end of 2010, you are a winner.)
3. Audio, Re-reads, eBooks, YA, Young Reader - any book as long as it is checked out from the library count. Checked out like with a library card, not purchased at a library sale.
4. No need to list your books in advance...
5. Crossovers from other reading challenges count.
6. Challenge begins January 1st thru December, 2010
My plan: I've spent the last couple of days setting up a blog and joining new challenges. I'd love it if I had the space and finances to buy all of the requisite books but, well, I don't so it seems fitting that I would also be supporting my local library in this process! And so should you...:)
My name is Charlotte and, as you can see, I've been blogging for about 3 days - so why have I started now?
Much though I probably shouldn't admit it, I actually kept a paper 'Book Journal' as it was so I decided that I might as well keep it online. After all, my journal never offered its own opinions or rewarded me for completing challenges!
I always think that if you genuinely love to read then you would want to keep track of what you read and remember the feelings every book conjured up while you were reading it, rather than those you developed some time later. I hope you enjoy my reviews once I get going!
1. Pick the number of books you want to read. It can be a mixture of the top 101, and/or the whole list. For example, you might want to aim to read 5 from the top 101 and 5 from the rest of the list.
2. Create a list of the books you want to tackle. You can create a list now, or add them as you go. Completely up to you.
3. The Challenge runs from 10/10/09 to 10/10/10
Seeing as I'm late this one - I'm starting small with 5 from the top 101 list!
Here are my choices:
"Graceling" by Kristin Cashore
"Poison Study" by Maria V. Snyder
"Interview with the Vampire" by Anna Rice
"Fragile Eternity" by Melissa Marr
"Dracula" by Bram Stoker
Any thoughts/other recommendations?
Friday, 2 July 2010
"When George and Sabine Harwood arrive in Trinidad from England George instantly takes to their new life but Sabine feels isolated, heat-fatigued, and ill at ease with the racial segregation and the imminent dawning of a new era. Her only solace is her growing fixation with Eric Williams, the charismatic leader of Trinidad's new national party...When George discovers Sabin's cache of letters, he realises just how many secrets she's kept from him - and he from her - over the decades. And he is seized by an urgent, desperate need to prove his love for her, with tragic consequences..."
What I would say:
I originally bought this on a binge induced by the release of the Orange Prize for Fiction (UK) shortlist 2010 as the books were *ahem* on offer but I was really taken by the idea of a story exploring the background of Trinidad - a country I would admit I know little about.
What I will give this book credit for is it's incredible descriptions of either a wildly compelling Trinidad or a hot and oppressive Trinidad. The scenery was beautiful and by far my favourite aspect of the book. The local characters' speech is written in a local dialect too which is very atmospheric.
It does, however, suffer from being somewhat too long for its own characters. George staunchly plays the ignorant husband while Sabine plays downtrodden wife and...well, that's it. The story as told in 2006 is not nearly as colourful as the prologue would suggest and the characterisation is poor, aside from that of Trinidad itself. Now, here it depends on why you read but I like to be able to identify with and, hell, like at least one of the protagonists. It does become much more readable once it switches to the first person narrative in 1956 and you begin to understand how the characters started out but even that wore on after a while.
Stick with it if you want to know more about the politics and history of Trinidad - that really is interesting! Just don't hold out for a gripping storyline or lovable characters...
For starters, I'm going to be reviewing books I've read so far this year, along with those as I'm reading as I go, and just generally chat about my books. I love to discuss the books I've read and have things pointed out that I might have missed so feel free to pick me up on aspects of books you loved/hated and you think are worth a mention!