Sunday, 31 January 2016

January 2016 Wrap-Up

Because of how much I have been reading lately, not all of the books I have read have been reviewed. Instead, I have reviewed mostly my NetGalley requests and a few others, but I have read many more this month. So, ladies and gentlemen, here is my first ever wrap-up.

In January this year, I've read 14 books. This puts me well on my way towards my target of 50 books this year. haven't all been perfect, they haven't all been amazing, but they are all books that I opened myself up to. Below are all the books I finished:


Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman

How The Marquis Got His Coat Back by Neil Gaiman
Monstrous Little Voices by Jonathan Barnes, Adrian Tchaikovsky, Emma Newman, Foz Meadows and Kate Heartfield 
Death of a Nurse by M.C. Beaton
Half a King by Joe Abercrombie
Bryant & May: London's Glory by Christopher Fowler
The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien
Reasons to Stay Alive by Matt Haig
Are You Dave Gorman by Dave Gorman
The Snow Queen by Hans Christian Andersen
The Green-Eyed Monster by Mike Robinson
Negative space by Mike Robinson
Waking Gods by Mike Robinson
Fragile Things by Neil Gaiman


Pages read: 3292

This does not include the one book I abandoned this month, Les Miserables by Victor Hugo. I read about a third of it before surrendering to the boredom. Therefore, this has to be my worst book of the month!


The best book this month? Reasons To Stay Alive by Matt Haig - a truly inspirational book!


7 of these books were through NetGalley and so it has helped with one of my reading resolutions. Unfortunately, I also added to my requests so in total, I have lowered my to read list there by just 1 book. Still, the books have, for the most part, not been too disappointing. Read my previous posts for more on those.

Thursday, 28 January 2016

The Enigma of Twilight Falls trilogy by Mike Robinson

I received advance readers copies of all three books in this trilogy by the publishers in exchange for an honest review.

When I read the blurb about these books on Netgalley, I thought I would take a pint and try them. And, although they are not brilliant, they are certainly good to read. It's interestingly that the author has called it a "non-linear trilogy" and I can see why,

The Green-Eyed Monster

This was a very strange book which seemed a little disjointed at times. The story is told through the eyes of ordinary people and sort of follows the life of two writers who have been competing with each other since they were born. These people's lives seem to change as a result of these two writers, and butterflies seem to come from everywhere...

I felt this book had a lot of potential. It was kind of like a softer Stephen King, or maybe a little X-Files in content. I enjoyed reading it, but sometimes I got very confused and I felt like the book left me wanting for something. 

Star rating: 3 from 5

Negative Space

For me, this was slightly better than the first book in the series, although the only connection was a name and place, the place being Twilight Falls where the events of the first book took place. However, this book was very different. It follows an artist who paints missing people, a young woman who works in a BDSM house, a private detective, and also a man who falls in love with the BDSM girl.

From the beginning, I understood that there would have to be a meeting of all 4 characters by the end, but it wasn't quite what I expected. Yet again, the story did leave me a little lost at times, trying to work out any connections in the plot and often finding myself nowhere near anything sane or rational...but that is the thing about these books...there is very little rationale behind them. 

Star rating: 3 from 5

Waking Gods

This is a bigger book and seems to pull the other two books together in part. This time, I was riding along with a man who can enter people's minds, a policeman, and also with the mysterious Mr Feldman. Oh, and it also has a cast of millions...of butterflies!

I really don't know what to think about this book. It was better in many ways to the first two books, but definitely left me with many questions. What did the butterflies mean? Which side was meant to be good and which evil (because it was clear throughout the trilogy that there was definitely that divide)? Who are The Teacher and Gepetto? I guess I would need to rered this more carefully to find out.

Star rating: 3 from 5

On the whole, I would give this trilogy a 3 from 5, even though at times it felt like being more. I have been left with a strange feeling in my mind bout them and I have to say one thing...Ron Weasley was wrong...I am not sure I would want to follow the butterflies...give me spiders any day!

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Friday, 22 January 2016

The Snow Queen by Hans Christian Andersen

I was given an advance readers copy of The Snow Queen by the publisher, Pushkin Children's Books, in exchange for an honest review.

This was quite a short read, as I expected from Hans Christian Andersen. I had never read this story before, but I had been told about it by several people, so when I saw it on NetGalley recently, I jumped at the chance to read it.

It is always difficult to review a fairy tale classic like this. The characters are, as always, quite special, and the language is easier to understand for most ages. There is the usual sense of danger, someone being kidnapped, and then the quest to rescue that person. In this case, the kidnapped buy is Kia who, blinded by a piece of the devil's mirror, cannot see that in front of him is his best friend, Gerda. When he disappears, she tries to find out what happened to him and to try to rescue him if she can from the hands of the Snow Queen.

This translation is by Misha Hoekstra, a successful translator, and it reads very easily. Obviously, it is hard for me to tell how close it is to the original in style, but it was certainly enjoyable.

I won't say that I loved this story, but it was nice to read it on a snowy day in Moscow. The only real negative for me is the number of religious references. However, with this book being a classic, originally written in 1844, it can be explained away as simply the times in which he lived.

Star rating: 3 from 5

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This copy will be published on June 7th 2016

Wednesday, 20 January 2016

Reasons To Stay Alive by Matt Haig

Before I give you my review of Reasons To Stay Alive, I want you to know a little of my own back story. It is important, I think, to help you understand just what this book means to me and to others who are either fighting depression and anxiety, or who have broken through the barrier and are winning every day.

When I was at school, I was bullied regularly. It started as just name-calling before it gradually progressed to having things thrown at me and having my bag stolen and thrown in the rubbish bins at school. All this started simply because I started to cry one day at school over something which now looks very trivial. After 4 years of that, I finally told someone, my parents, and immediately they contacted the school, arranged for a meeting with the bully and me, and then it stopped...

Only the effects were still there, lying just below the surface. Even now, I struggle to cry, even in front of my wife. I still see myself as a good-for-nothing loser, despite having a good "normal" life. I make rash decisions now, and have done ever since I left school. I got engaged at 19, although it didn't last long...not surprising really. Soon after, I started a very stressful job and ended up having a major mental breakdown. I got ill. I had no idea what to do with my life, I felt utterly worthless. And yet, this first time was not the worst. Far from it in fact.

In 2005, I was self-admitted to hospital. I had been cutting my arms. Not just in one easy-to-hide location, but along the whole of my forearm. It wasn't the first time, but I panicked. My parents, who I was living with at the time, contacted my doctor who gave me the choice - get through it at home, or voluntarily go to hospital. I couldn't trust myself to be alone, and both my parents had to work so I took to admission route. Even now, I both regret and am thankful for this time. Regret because nobody truly wants to be in hospital, even if it is for their own safety; thankful because, without it, I'm not sure that I would be able to write this post today.

Since that time, I improved. I still have bad times, but the good far outweighs that. I have hurt myself since, but not so much, and I feel the improvement. My life is back on track, my self esteem has improved through acting and also through being around other people. And a few days ago, my wife said "Matthew, you have to read this book!".

Reasons To Stay alive is about one man's journey from when he was first ill until the modern day. About how much of a challenge simple things, like buying milk and Marmite, were to him. About how, with the support of his family, and especially his girlfriend (now wife) Andrea, he fought back. Yes, it reminded me of my own past, my own fight, but it also showed me that I am not alone.

Matt Haig's writing is very easy to read, for such a serious subject, that it makes it more personal. If you read a self-help book on the subject, the tone is very...doctorish. I know this book could have been more helpful to me earlier in my life, but it is here now and it is inspirational. However, it is not all about just his fight. There is a brilliant chapter where people have tweeted their reasons to stay alive. Many of them moved me to almost to tears. Also, he has included some very useful contacts, as well as more books to read, if you need them. Again this would have helped me more earlier, but that is not the fault of this book or it's writer.

One final thought for you. If you are struggling with depression or anxiety, do not give up. I know that it sounds much easier said than done, and it is, but there is still life for you. I've come through it, and this book proves I am not alone. Keep fighting, and get well soon!

Star rating: 5 from 5 - upon reflection, I improved my rating from 4...the Frozen quote can be forgiven because of his family situation now!

Reasons to Stay Alive

Saturday, 16 January 2016

Bryant & May - London's Glory by Christopher Fowler

I read an advance readers copy of this book, thanks to Random House UK, in exchange for an honest review.

I was delighted when Random House approved my request for this Bryant & May book. In November last year, I read Bryant & May and the Secret Santa, my first story in this series, which I thoroughly enjoyed (HERE is my review). I was not to be disappointed.

London's Glory is a short story collection set in London. Almost all of the stories follows the characters Arthur Bryant and John May, although one followed one of their colleagues instead and was written from her point of view. All the rest are written in the third person. As with Secret Santa, the humour shines through, often catching me unawares. Each story has a well formed plot, for a short story, as well.

My only criticism is that occasionally the solution to the crime is not explained enough. How did they form the conclusion? Why did the killer commit the crime? It isn't always explained in the best possible way and seems maybe to jump to those conclusions because the stories are meant to be short.

I know Christopher Fowler has written several novels in this series, and I will soon be dipping into these larger stories. I am especially grateful for the end of this book which gives some background from those books. At least until then, I can say with all my heart that I enjoyed this book and am looking forward to more.

Star rating: 4 from 5 - excellent reads

Tuesday, 12 January 2016

Death of a Nurse by M C Beaton

Many thanks to Grand Central Publishing who allowed me to read an advance readers copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Death of a Nurse is part of the Hamish Macbeth series by M C Beaton and, I must say, is a wonderfully fun read. Having never read any of this series before, I was in for a very pleasant surprise. I got the same sort of feeling I get from reading Agatha Christie's Poirot or Colin Dexter's Morse books, a sense of deep understanding of the character, and a wicked sense of humour to go with the intelligence that is needed by a rural policeman in the Scottish Highlands.

Hamish is, to be honest, a bit of blind when it comes to women. He really has no idea abut what they want...actually, I think most of us men are like that in some ways, but with him it is more obvious. Like the majority of British people, he is obsessed with his pets and cannot see their faults in anyway...not that they had any in this book. His partner in this book is a little weak, perhaps, but a clumsy copper is always funny. Overall, the characters are excellent and incredible believable.

The plot is full of tremendous twists, and always at the right moments. They kept me riveted to the book, so much that I could easily have read it all in one day.

It does have it's faults, but, like most books in this genre, it is the crime and the criminal that matter most.

Star rating: 4 from 5

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Monday, 11 January 2016

Monstrous Little Voices: New Tales From Shakespeare's Fantasy World

Kind thanks to the publisher, Rebellion Publishing, who sent me an advance readers copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Monstrous Little Voices is a collection of short stories, heavily connected through character and plot, written by five modern day fantasy writers. The plot is quite complex, involving many characters from William Shakespeare's plays, including Oberon and Puck, Titania and Helena, Miranda and many more. The writers are Jonathan Barnes, Adrian Tchaikovsky, Emma Newman, Foz Meadows and Kate Heartfield.

Having not read a lot of Shakespeare plays, I didn't have any idea what to expect from this book. What I found was a world of wonders, a world created for the joining of many, many worlds previously created by the Bard. The few characters that I knew from my previous readings were developed wonderfully well, the joins were seamless, and the plot was cunningly crafted. I imagine it must be difficult for two writers to work together on a new piece of fiction, but five working with well established characters must be immensely more challenging. My congratulations go out to all the writers, none of whom I have read before, but I will certainly try to read more by them in the future.

I really enjoyed this book, although I didn't at first fully appreciate it for what it is. Some parts of the story early on lost me, until I realised that all the parts were interconnected somehow, leading to one goal. I particularly enjoyed the last 3 parts more than the rest as I was able to see more the joining of the worlds.

Star rating: 4 from 5 - almost perfect tribute to the worlds greatest writer.

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Saturday, 9 January 2016

A very mixed start to 2016!

Firstly, I want to say Happy New Year to you all. I know it is a little late, but after the New Year celebrations in St. Petersburg, Russia, I have been busy...reading mostly! So, in this post, I want to tell you my "Reading Resolutions" for 2016, and to review what I have read so far since the turn of the year.

Reading Resolutions for 2016

1) read 50 books - I know I have read more than 100 books in each of the last two years, but we have to start somewhere!

2) read 4 classics

3) explore new fantasy worlds

4) to be completely up-to-date with Robin Hobb/Megan Lindholm - this could pose a challenge as Cloven Hooves isn't in print any more, nor is it on kindle. If anyone could help me out, I'd be grateful!

5) Read The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins - I became an Atheist in 2015, and I am curious about this book

6) To read everything in my NetGalley accepted list! - THAT will be a challenge!


Reviews

So far this year, I have finished two books and abandoned one. Let's start with the poor...

Les Miserables by Victor Hugo

I must confess to be very disappointed by this book. I gave it a really good try, managed to read just over a 3rd of it, but couldn't start the tedium any more. The writing style was ok, and the characters were actually really good, but the story itself was just so dull! When I read a novel, I don't expect to read a history of a convent for 40-50 pages in the middle of it. It just doesn't interest me to know the names of all the nuns who ever lived there. Nor was I anticipating 5% of the book to be about Waterloo which had nothing to do with the main character, at least not in the part I read.

Star rating: well, I gave up so I can't really give it a rating, but I guess if I had to I would say 2 from 5 - good characters, and not bad writing style, but bored to tears!

The good news is that this book was sandwiched between two gems.

Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett

Ok, this was a reread, and I started it on New Years Day. It was one of the best starts to a year for reading that I could have asked for. Sir Terry has been one of my favourite writers for many years and is always a trusty read. Also, Neil Gaiman is one of those writers that you just can't hate. What inspired me to reread Good Omens was a podcast I heard from Penguin where Neil was being interviewed about the book by Richard E Grant. A link to The Penguin Podcast can be found HERE.

The characters of this book are so funny, and so ridiculous that they seem eve more believable than ever. Adam Young, the antichrist, is so much like William Brown from the Just William books that, when you know it, it is obvious that the two writers were inspired by the books. Newt is a bit like me in many ways, apart from the fact that I can't drive and didn't want to join the army. The rest of the characters do more than fill in the plot. They make the book. The four horsemen and the OTHER four horsemen for example make a nice interlude at times.

The plot is fairly straightforward. The humour is obvious, although it is not clear which great writer wrote which passages. This book has become one of my favourites.

Star rating: 5 from 5 - apocolyptically brilliant!

How The Marquis Got His Coat Back by Neil Gaiman

This was a lovely short read for fans of Neverwhere, and was the perfect antidote to Les Miserables! Although it is only short the main character is clearly defined, the plot is easy to follow with the right twists for this piece, and again the humour is there, albeit a little dryer than in Good Omens. It only takes a little time to read, but it is definitely worth it!

Star rating: 4 from 5

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