Thursday, 31 March 2016

Life From Elsewhere and March Wrap-up

Life From Elsewhere: Journeys Through World Literature

As March closes, it's time to look back at this month's books, but not before managing to squeeze in one final book review. I want to thank Pushkin Press and NetGalley for sending me a copy of Life From Everywhere in exchange for an honest review.

So, what is this book about? It is a collection of ten essays based on the themes of freedom, movement and narrative from ten international authors. Viewpoints on these themes come from places like Poland or Russia as well as the Congo, Iran and Syria. It was created by Writers In Translation with support form English PEN, an organisation that helps writers in desperate need of assistance.

The collection is very varied and, as such, the essays have very different messages, and yet they all come back to humanism in one form or another. As a humanist, this was very helpful for me, and the essays are eye-opening to the world around us that we never see, for example the plight of writers in Syria. IT was enriching, enlightening and enjoyable, whilst also being very poignant and thought-provoking.

Star rating: 4 from 5

This book will be published on 21st June 2016


So, another busy month has ended and my reading goes on and on with another fifteen books read towards my 50 book target...although I should make it easily as I have now read 40 books towards this number! As for my other resolutions, I have finally succeeded in getting my NetGalley to read list down to under 20 books, 16 in fact, despite having a few ore books added to that list. Also, I read one classic, Mikhail Bulgakov's A Country Doctor's Notebook, a tale of a newly qualified Doctor at the time of the Revolution in Russia, complete with descriptions of blood and gore...nice, but an excellent read!

I have a new challenge for April. I am only going to read fantasy books. Already, I am ready to start with Cloven Hooves by Megan Lindholm...a book for which I spent much pain tracking down a copy. It is out of print so I feel lucky to have been able to get it. Without it, I could never say I've read all of Robin Hobb and Megan Lindholm. 

Here are all of March's books in order of completion:

Different Class by Joanne Harris

Many thanks to the publisher and NetGalley for sending me an advance readers copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Last year, I read one of Joanne Harris's Norse folklore books, The Gospel of Loki and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Choosing to read one of her other books, I opened the pages of Different Class and dived in feet first, not knowing exactly what to expect.

Different Class is based in and around an old-fashioned boys school which has been stuck in the past for too long. The old guard of teachers are nearing retirement but one in particular is resistant to change. The school was the scene of a tragedy in the previous school year after the death of one of it's students. Now, there is a new head in charge, a former student of the school, and one with a past that, for one teacher at least, will bring up old ghosts and memories of things that went wrong 24 years earlier.

I must admit, I was expecting to have old memories brought back. I was bullied at school, I don't mind telling you, even by a teacher in my final year there. This book, however, skirts the topic of bullying except as a sub-plot in the modern day school. I admit that the school policies of the school in this book reflect how I saw my own experience but it didn't open any old wounds. Now, in fact, I am a teacher myself so I can sympathise with both the students and the teachers in this amazing book.

The writing is free flowing and the story moves along at an electrifying pace. It took me just over two days to read this 400 page novel which is sure to become a modern classic. I wouldn't be too surprised to see this as a modern classic in a few years to come! For me, this book truly is Different Class.

Star rating: 5 from 5

Different Class will be published on 21st April 2016

Sunday, 27 March 2016

Knight's Cross by Christine Kling

Once again, huge thanks go to the publisher and NetGalley for sending me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

If you have been following my blog regularly, you will know that I recently read and reviewed the first two books in the Shipwreck Adventure series by Christine Kling, Circle of Bones and Dragon's Triangle. My reaction to both of those books was fairly mixed and yet I decided to try Knight's Cross, the third book in the same series...and definitely the best!

The story is based in familiar waters for me, the Mediterranean Sea, mostly around Turkey, Malta and Tunisia, but it also spends a lot more time on land, especially in Rome. It is set just in 2014, so is a very up-to-date book containing references to current problems like ISIS. The story follows Riley and Cole as they start a new adventure on a new boat whilst trying to find yet another shipwreck and the treasure held within. This time, however, they are up against a religious order who are intent on stopping them from discovering the whereabouts of a very important text known as the Religion.

Explosions, chases, daring rescue attempts, breakouts, shootings and a face from the past seem to follow Riley and Cole throughout the series and this book is certainly no exception to that. What makes this book better than the first two is the tension level and the action which barely lets up for a second. All the way through, I couldn't predict anything that would happen, especially in the climactic scene. The writing style I think helps the reader to follow the story much more easily as well.

The book does have it's downsides too. The biggest of these is the cheese factor. At one point, the story was so cheesy that I actually wanted to vomit! However, as a whole this book was worth struggling through the first two to read.

Star rating: 4 from 5


Thursday, 24 March 2016

A Double Book Review

Many thanks to the publishers and Net Galley for kindly granting me  advance readers copies of these two books in exchange for honest reviews.

I decided to take a short break from reading Christine Kling's books. As such, I've just finished reading two novellas which are based on two very different franchises.

Doctor Watson's Battle by Patrick Mercer
This short novella is based in the 19th Century and follows the famous Doctor Watson and his good friend Sherlock Holmes as they attend a Regimental weekend for Watson's former Afghan campaign regiment. Things quickly go wrong, however, and Watson and Holmes find themselves in the middle of an investigation after a suspicious death occurs.

I enjoyed the story with it's typical Holmesesque investigation, but the short form of this book meant that some bits were lost. Had this been part of a larger collection, it would have been better. But, saying that, it has some very strong ideas and is true to the methods of Conan Doyle.

Star rating: 3 1/2 from 5

Star Trek: Department of Temporal Investigations - Time Lock
This novella is, as you can guess by the title, set in the Star Trek universe and follows the events at the Department of Temporal Investigations' Vault, a hidden storehouse of temporal objects. When a team of Vomnin infiltrate the Vault and start stealing everything, the DTI team initiate a time lock to enable Starfleet to help them. Sealed from normal time by some complicated mathematics, time passed much slower for them inside the Vault than in the rest of the galaxy.

This was a clever book which I thoroughly enjoyed reading. The characters were good, the plot intriguing and the writing style was easy to read. Not having any easily recognisable characters from the Star Trek universe didn't spoil the book either as there are plenty of references to the series throughout the book.

Star rating: 4 from 5

Tuesday, 22 March 2016

Dragon's Triangle by Christine Kling

Many thanks to the publisher and Net Galley for sending me this book in exchange for an honest review.

Dragon's Triangle is set 4 years after the events of Circle of Bones and is based in South-East Asia, especially in the Philippines. It continues the story of Cole and Riley as they try to resume what they lost at the end of the first book in this series. They are joined again by Theo and a cast of very colourful characters.

To be honest, I don't quite know what to think about this book. The plot is pretty intense, the characters a good blend, but I feel the book lacked something. There were definite improvements over the first book, but...I just didn't enjoy it as much. The ending ended too quickly and predictably for my taste, but I'm sure other people would enjoy it more.

Star rating: 3 from 5 - not the treasure I hoped for!

Friday, 18 March 2016

Circle of Bones by Christine Kling

Many thanks to the publisher and Net Galley for sending me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Looking in to my past, I don't think I had ever read a treasure hunting book set at sea. Of course I've read The Da Vinci Code and Angels & Demons, but they were always firmly on land. Circle of Bones is different.

Based almost entirely at sea or on Caribbean islands, this adventure story follows three main characters: Maggie Riley (a former Marine who prefers to be called Riley), Cole Thatcher (a shipwreck treasure seeker) and Diggory Priest (a former lover of Riley, and not all he first appears to be!). They are supported by a very colourful cast of characters, each brilliantly imagined by Kling. I really liked Cole of all the characters. He is the one character I connected with in more than just a superficial way. He is funny, smart, and good at solving ciphers.

The plot is quite typical. Lots of mystery surrounding a missing French submarine, the Surcouf, which was a true moment in history. Cole is looking for the wreck to finish his fathers work, while Diggory wants to stop him. Riley is caught up in the story when she rescues Cole at the beginning of the story, and her life wasn't the same after that. There were some disappointing moments, particularly the ease of how they solved the ciphers. It is assumed that a lot of time passes, but I could never follow just how they did it. I guess they are just a lot smarter than me!

Overall, I did enjoy reading this book, despite the above mentioned flaw. The writing is not hard to follow and it does build the tension nicely in to a very neat, albeit slightly predictable ending.

Star rating: 3 1/2 from 5


Sunday, 13 March 2016

Battling the Gods by Tim Whitmarsh

I want to thank Faber & Faber, as well as Net Galley for sending me an advance readers copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

As I have previously mentioned in my blog, I became an atheist last year after trying to find myself. If I had read this book sooner, along with The God Delusion, I think I might have reached that decision earlier! The full title is Battling the Gods: Atheism in the Ancient World, and it tells the story of Atheism through Greek and Roman antiquity, up until the dominance of Christianity.

There were times when I couldn't decide in my own mind what the writers view was. The book was billed as being a history of Atheism, and so it is, but sometimes it read like a defence of the polytheistic cultures. It became obvious that this wasn't the case the further I got into the book, and I did really enjoy this enlightening, resourceful history.

Some parts shocked me to the core, especially after the Romans accepted the Church as it's true religion. Some of those emperors were just plain evil to non-believers and polytheists alike. It makes me wonder how we, as a civilised world, can go from almost complete acceptance as long as nothing is said against other belief systems to completely and totally shunning those with any belief except the Christian one. It was eye-opening and shocking.

I would highly recommend this book to anyone questioning their beliefs, agnostics and atheists as it is very honest about how things used to be and also, to a point, how atheism came about. It has 100% reinforced my own atheism!

Star rating: 4 from 5

Tuesday, 8 March 2016

The Hunt For Vulcan by Thomas Levenson

It's not very often that I pick up a popular science book. I don't know why because, when I do, I am always fascinated by the subject matter. The Hunt For Vulcan, subtitled "How Albert Einstein Destroyed a Planet and Deciphered the Universe" is very much the same.

I guess it tells the history of scientific discovery in the field of astronomy from Isaac Newton's gravity to Albert Einstein's relativity, through looking at the false discovery of a potential new planet, Vulcan. There are quite a few scientific thought experiments to get your head around, especially when it tries to explain Einstein's thinking. For a layman, this isn't too difficultly worded, but in terms of being able to understand the theory, it is quite a different matter. Never-the-less, the book is relatively easy to understand and it is quite short too, just about 200 pages.

It does have one flaw...when trying to compare a discovery to finding the way into Narnia or like seeing the Hogwarts Express for the first time, the writer clearly didn't know his references well enough. Everyone I know knows that train leaves from platform 9 3/4...yet Levenson is under the assumption that it is 9 1/2...I guess the scientific research was more important than the cultural references, but it is a forgiveable mistake.

On the whole, I really enjoyed reading The Hunt For Vulcan. The writing is fairly crisp, as it needs to be for a short book like this. I just wish I could have understood the maths a little better!

Star rating: 4 from 5

Sunday, 6 March 2016

Wizard of the Pigeons by Megan Lindholm

About 18 months ago, I started reading Assassins Apprentice by Robin Hobb. It was one of those moments when I found a book on Amazon for free that I had been thinking about reading,, so I took a chance. I haven't looked back. Since that day, I have read almost everything she has written, with the exception of Fool's Quest, which is waiting for me. I also started reading her books under the pseudonym Megan Lindholm. Wizard of the Pigeons is possibly the finest Lindholm book I have read to date!

This alternative fantasy story follows Wizard around Seattle as he scavenges a life for himself. With the magical gift of being able to communicate with pigeons and care for them, his life seems pretty comfortable compared with other street people. He even has friends, for want of a better word, including the ever changeable Cassie who clearly has deep feelings for Wizard. However, he does have a problem in a very sinister enemy, a mysterious entity called Mir. Throughout the story, Wizard tries to keep himself out of Mir's watchful gaze but then he meets Lynda and the problems he has really begin!

I really liked Wizard, although occasionally his blindness to everything around him began to frustrate me. He is irascible, has a mean temper if he sees violence, and yet he can be very gentle to his pigeons, to the point of protecting them from other people.

Overall, this book was fantastic. It shocked me like none of Lindholm's other books, but at the same time it was amazing! I'm very glad I read this now!

Star rating: 5 from 5 - fabulous fantasy, deeply dark and dangerous!


Friday, 4 March 2016

February Wrap-Up

February was another good month for reading for me. I was introduced to 7 new writers, managed to read two non-fiction books, and I also completed one of my resolutions. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, I finally read The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins. Also, I managed to read one classic, although it was only a Little Black Classic from Penguin, The Nose by Nikolai Gogol. I will not count this towards my challenge, however, because it was only 50 pages or so.

Yet again, this month was quite heavy with NetGalley books. Amazingly, I still haven't got below 20 books to read there, despite reading 7 books from my to read list.

In total, I finished 11 books this month, which is quite satisfying. I also started one other book, which I abandoned after just one chapter. That book was Tanya Grotter and the Magical Double was a badly written rip-off of the Harry Potter series. I really can't stress how much you shouldn't read that book!

My favourite book this month is difficult to choose. Strange Tide and Poseidon's Wake were both excellent books in different ways. Worst book completed? Probable Typewriter in the Sky, because it was just bleurgh!

After my last wrap-up, I found how to put photos on here from GoodReads after I had a few problems last month, do I have not written a list of books. Instead, here are the covers of everything I read this month:

Death in the Valley of Shadows (John Rawlings, #9)
Strange Tide (Bryant & May, #13)
The Early Science Fiction of Philip K. Dick, Volume 2
Typewriter in the Sky
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (Harry Potter, #6)
The Nose
The God Delusion
Skin Like Silver: A Tom Harper Victorian Police Procedural
Poseidon's Wake (Poseidon's Children, #3)
Quantum Of Solace;
And Yet ...

In March, I have already read the first Bryant and May book, I will read some Megan Lindholm/ Robin Hobb books and I WILL get my NetGalley books down to under 20. And I will try not to abandon any books as well! They are my promises to myself for this month. Fingers crossed!