Thursday, May 31, 2012

THE ARMAGEDDON RAG


TITLE: THE ARMAGEDDON RAG
AUTHOR: GEORGE R.R. MARTIN
Pages: 363
Date: 31/05/2012
Grade: 4-
Details: Received from Book Geeks
Own

During the 1960’s Nazgûl was a hugely popular hard rock band, the voice of a generation. But in 1971, when a bullet ended both the life of the charismatic lead-singer and the future of the band, an era came to an end.
During those years Sandy Blair was in the midst of the action. An activist while in college and an underground journalist afterwards he was present at the demonstrations and the concerts. He was there when the bullet found the singer and ended a revolution that never really started.
The world, Sandy Blair and the remaining band-members have changed in the decade since the shooting.
Blair, a published author with three novels to his name is facing a severe case of writers-bloc when the former manager of Nazgûl is murdered in his house; murdered in a way that reflects the lyrics of one of Nazgûl’s songs.
When the magazine Blair worked for in the 1960’s asks him to investigate the murder he can’t reject the offer. Intrigued, Blair goes on the trail of a murderer. A journey that will bring him into contact with the remaining members of the once famous band, his own past and a man who wants to resurrect both Nazgûl and the revolution.
Soon after starting his investigation, Blair finds himself haunted by very vivid nightmares; dreams that become darker and more vivid as the date of Nazgûl’s relaunch comes closer. Eventually Blair comes to believe that the visions in his dreams will become reality unless he takes some action.

This is very much a story of two parts. What at first appears to be a rather straightforward mystery – who killed the manager – turns into a psychedelic fantasy about halfway through the book.
The reader is lulled into a false sense of security as they commence on a road-trip with Sandy Blair. While investigating the gruesome murder Blair behaves as any investigative journalist would. He travels to the scene of the crime and talks to those he thinks are likely suspects. It is only later on in the story that the reader discovers that this won’t be a straightforward investigation, although the story does end with a revelation that is somewhat surprising.
There is even more to this book though. This is also an ode to the 1960’s, to the philosophies of the time and, most importantly to the music that was created during those years. Each chapter starts with lines from songs of that era; lines that in one way or another reflect the content of that chapter.
And finally, this book is also a study of how people’s dreams and ideals change as they grow older and have to face the reality of having to life and work in the real world. And although that reality may not kill the original dream, it does make it hard, if not impossible, to live that dream.

I thought this was a fascinating book. The shift from mystery to supernatural story took me by surprise and delighted me. What made the supernatural aspects even more fascinating is that the main character has as hard a time distinguishing between reality and fantasy as the reader has. The reader is never on their own when they wonder what on earth might be going on. The supernatural is as unbelievable to most of the characters as it is to the reader, and therefore suddenly very credible.

This book was originally published in 1983, long before Martin achieved huge fame for his Game of Thrones series. The re-release now is without a doubt due to the popularity that series has now achieved, both in print and on television. Because I’ve neither read the Game of Thrones books nor watched the series I can’t compare this book to Martin’s later work. I can say though that this is a very interesting read for anyone who likes mysteries, the supernatural and, most importantly, rock and roll.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

FIFTY SHADES COMPLETED



  
So I like the Fifty Shades trilogy, bite me…

I’ve enjoyed reading the Fifty Shades books and it took me almost 200 pages into the second book to freely admit that.
That realisation made me stop and think. Why was/am I so reluctant to ‘confess’ how much I like these books.
Well, the answer is rather simple. I mean, I couldn’t possibly admit to the world that I enjoyed reading those rather descriptive sexual scenes. I mean, for heaven’s sake it’s (in book one at least) BDSM. (I should probably mention here that I didn’t discover what those initials stand for until about a week after I finished reading the first book.) It did feel a bit shameful to admit that not only did that aspect of the books not offend me, I did in fact enjoy reading about it.

Pure curiosity got me reading these books. I wanted to know what all the hype was about. I needed to find out why this trilogy turned into such a bestseller while at the same time I was hard pressed to find a really positive review anywere. And yes, a small part of me was very curious about all the sex that was supposed to feature so predominantly in the stories.
And, now that I’ve finished reading these books, I guess I do understand the hype, the lack of positive reviews and my curiosity has been more than satisfied.
These books are such a hit because a lot of readers enjoy a good love story. This is a fairytale for grown-ups; it is beauty and the beast with a twist; it is happiness ever after despite the odds. Basically it is happy reading.
The lack of positive reviews would be due to the fact that no matter how nice and easy to read these stories are, they are not very well written. There is too much repetition, too much, at times rather irritating, internal dialogue and not enough wordsmithery (yes, I checked and this is a word). And, as I discovered, it is not easy to write a positive review about a book when you can’t praise its literary qualities as well as the story it contains. But, it can be done.
Finally for the sex. It is very descriptive and not at all of the everyday variety. I can easily see why for a lot of people these books would contain too much of it, in too much detail and on a level that is way beyond their comfort-zone. I, on the other hand, have always enjoyed steamy scenes in my books and found these books to be no exception. I do feel however that even though I was never taken out of my personal comfort-zone while reading the trilogy, these books should come with a health warning for people who prefer their intimacy left to their own fantasy. Virtually nothing is left to anybody’s imagination here.

I guess that I have fallen a little bit in love with Christian and Ana. I’m reading these books in the same way I used to read romances when I was a teenager, with a deep need for the happy ending. I’m revelling in the impossible romance working out against the odds. I find myself smiling at innocent beauty conquering her beast with the hidden, golden heart as well as her own hidden desires.

I liked that the third book in the series took us beyond the “yes, I will marry you” which so often ends a story. Many a times have I found myself wondering what happened to characters after those words. Did the fact that they now agreed to marry overcome all the issues they were still struggling with only two pages ago?
The third book in this series actually answers those questions, and for that I was grateful. It managed to end the all too fantastical trilogy on a more or less (probably less, but still) realistic note.

Books don’t always need to have great depth, wonderfully constructed sentences and/or fascinating metaphors to be a good read. Sometimes a book just needs to entertain, make the reader feel better, and/or put a smile on someone’s face in order to be worthwhile. And these books are doing all of that for me.
In fact, now that I’ve finished reading the trilogy I have to admit that I’m going to miss spending time with Ana and Christian. I’ll even admit that I will miss their antics (yes, even the sexual ones) and drama’s. And whenever an author manages to turn her characters into my friends she must have done something right. These books may not be great literary works but, for me, they were wonderful reads. And in the end, that is what I want my books to be; great reads I can lose myself in.
Sometimes giving in to curiosity doesn’t kill the cat but leads to great satisfaction.

For those interested, my reviews for the individual books can be found under the following links:

FIFTY SHADES FREED


TITLE: FIFTY SHADES FREED
AUTHOR: E.L. JAMES
Pages: 548
Date: 29/05/2012
Grade: 4.5
Details: no. 3 Fifty Shades
Own

After all the trials and tribulations in the previous two books Ana and Christian, her Fifty Shades, are married. The honeymoon to Europe is wonderful, but all too soon it is back to the real world and the realisation that getting married doesn’t mean that existing issues suddenly disappear.
For starters, Christian is still as controlling as he ever was, not sharing information with Ana while expecting her to more or less do as he tells her to do. Somebody is still threatening the two Greys, and as it soon turns out, the rest of Christian’s family too, but because Christian keeps most information about this threat to himself, Ana makes some decisions which put her in potential danger. This in turn angers Christian, which leads to friction in the relationship and frustration for Ana.
Christian’s past hasn’t suddenly disappeared either and while Ana tries to be understanding and make allowances, his unwillingness to talk about it and his inability to believe that she really loves him or that he is in fact loveable put a limit on how close they can get.
It will take an unplanned development, a huge fight and a very risky undertaking by Ana for the two of them to at last really talk and come to some understanding about each other. It is only when Christian has nearly really lost Ana that he comes to realise how much she does love him and what he needs to do to equal her commitment.

As with the previous two books I thoroughly enjoyed reading about Ana and Christian. I’ve come to like these two characters, exasperating as they may be most of the time, and took great pleasure in the time I spent with them while reading.
What I particularly liked was that this book took us beyond the point in the story when two people agree to marry. Too often in romances the story stops as soon as the words “yes I do” have been muttered, regardless of the issues the couple may have had up to that point. In stories, like this one, where the issues the couple are dealing with are huge I find that very frustrating. We all know that getting married in and of itself doesn’t solve anything, and it angers me a bit when I’m meant to believe that this is different for fictional characters.
James takes the reader beyond the wedding and the honeymoon into the reality of making a marriage work despite the fact that the issues are still there. This third book managed to make a very fantastical romance story a little bit more realistic. And I appreciate that.

Yes, the same issues I had with the previous two books are still there. The writing is still rather clumsy and Ana’s inner dialogue still got on my nerves at times but once again this didn’t stop me racing from page to page to find out what would happen next; it didn’t interfere with my enjoyment of the story as a nice romance at all.
And yes, there is still sex in abundance in this third book, it is still described in graphic detail and at times it is still of the kinky variety. But, I enjoyed all of that.

I also liked that, as in the second book, the author introduced some suspenseful moments into the story without dragging them out in an attempt to turn the book into a thriller. This book (and this series) is basically about a very tricky relationship, and that is what the story concentrates on. The suspense helps to move the story along and to provide opportunities for breakthroughs in the relationship, but doesn’t ever take over. For me, James got this balance exactly right.

Overall I have to say that I enjoyed this book, and the two prequels, more than I expected to and that I’m glad I decided I wanted to read them. And you never know, I may even indulge in more erotica in the future, now that I’ve discovered the genre.

Monday, May 28, 2012

THE BOOK THIEF


TITLE: THE BOOK THIEF
AUTHOR: MARKUS ZUSAK
Pages: 554
Date: 28/05/2012
Grade: 5+
Details: Re-read for Dialogues Through Literature
Own

Oh boy, what a book. What a beautiful and heart-breaking book.

It’s the story of one of those perpetual survivors - an expert at being left behind.
It’s just a small story really, about, amongst other things:
  • a girl
  • some words
  • an accordionist
  • some fanatical Germans
  • a Jewish fist-fighter
  • and quite a lot of thievery.”
This is Liesel Meminger’s the story. In 1939 Liesel is 9 years old when she travels with her mother and brother on a train towards Molching, a town beyond the outskirts of Munich. During the journey Liesel’s young brother dies and it is just after his funeral that Liesel finds and steals her first book; The Gravedigger’s Handbook. A book that would come to mean the last time Liesel saw both her brother and her mother.
Because Liesel’s parents are deemed to be unsuitable citizens in a Germany where who and what people should be is strictly controlled, the girl is placed with foster parents, the Hubermann’s. Hans Hubermann is a kind and patient man who manages to get Liesel out of her shell and teaches her to read during midnight sessions when nightmares keep the girl awake. Rosa Hubermann is a loud woman with a foul mouth and a heart of gold. It takes a bit of time, but Hans and Rosa become Papa and Mama.
Liesel’s best friend on Himmel Street is Rudy Steiner a boy with yellow hair and a talent for getting into trouble. A boy who will assist Liesel on some of her later quests to steel books. The boy Liesel should have kissed while she had a chance, but how could she have known what was to come.
When Max, a Jewish fist-fighter, shows up on the Hubermann’s doorstep the family doesn’t hesitate but take him in and hide him for as long as they can and during that time, Max become Liesel’s friend.
In a notebook she receives as a gift from the woman she has stolen most of her books from Liesel records all that has happened in the years between her arrival on Himmel Street and the devastating end of her world. As the war continues and the tide turns against the Germans, tragedy is only a short time away. When Liesel loses the notebook containing her story it is Death who will pick it up and carry it away. And it is Death who will share her story with the world.

This is a wonderful book on so many levels. First and foremost because it is a beautifully told story. None of the characters in this book are just good and even the ones like Hans Hubermann who appear to be goodness personified can’t help making dangerous mistakes. However, despite their faults, the reader will end up loving almost every single character in the book, wanting the best for them. It is impossible not to read the last pages of this story with tears in your eyes for these people who were victims as much as the people in the rest of Europe were. It is hard not to agree with Death though when he says about the people living on Himmel Street hiding in basements: “The Germans in the basements were pitiable, surely, but at least they had a chance. That basement was not a washroom. They were not sent there for a shower. For those people, life was still achievable.”

Another reason this book has a special place in my heart is because it shows so clearly that while a country as a whole may be guilty of despicable acts, there will always be individuals who are good in the  middle of evil. Things are never as black versus white as they appear to be on the surface, and that is a message that can’t be reinforced often enough.

Another quote I love: Not leaving: An act of trust and love, often deciphered by children. How beautiful is that?

This is the third time I’ve read this book (previous reviews can be found here and here) and I doubt very much that this will be the last time. And that in itself goes to show how special this book is. About 20 years ago I vowed that I would stop reading books about World War II. Growing up in Holland I’d grown up on books about that period and I truly felt I’d read everything I wanted or needed to read about those years. This book showed me how wrong you can be in assumptions like that; it proved to me that there is always a side to the story you haven’t considered yet and that it pays to be on the look-out for those other perspectives.

And just one more quote from our narrator, Death: “…that I’m constantly overestimating and underestimating the human race – that rarely do I ever simply estimate it.”

Finally I would like to add that although I feel this is Zusak’s best book (so far) by a mile, his other books are more than worthy of any readers attention. Don’t deprive yourself and be sure to read “Fighting Ruben Wolfe” and “I am the Messenger  

Saturday, May 26, 2012

A JUNE OF ORDINARY MURDERS


TITLE: A JUNE OF ORDINARY MURDERS
AUTHOR: CONOR BRADY
Pages: 381
Date: 25/05/2012
Grade: 4.5
Details: Historical Mystery
Library

“G Division divided all crime into two categories: ‘special’ or ‘ordinary’. The absolute priority was ‘special crime’ – anything with an element of politics or subversion. ‘Ordinary crime’ might be serious but it took second place to security or politically related issues.”

Dublin, June 1887. It’s the year of Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee and Dublin is getting ready for a visit by the Queen’s grandson. A royal visit that is worrying those in authority; for political reasons they need it to be a success, but Irish nationalists are forming an ever bigger threat.
On the 17th of June, the city is in the middle of an uncharacteristic heat wave when two bodies are discovered in The Phoenix Park. A man and young boy have been shot and subsequently mutilated and there is nothing to identify who they are or why they may have been killed. Detective Sergeant Joe Swallow of the Dublin Metropolitan Police is the man who has to investigate this case.
At the same time Ces Dawson, a woman running a highly effective criminal network dies, leaving in her wake a power-struggle between her deputies.
Only a day later another young woman is found murdered and this case is also assigned to Swallow.
Both cases soon prove to be very frustrating. The identity of Phoenix Park victims remains elusive, and without knowing who they are the police have little chance of discovering why they were killed, never mind by whom.
The case of the second young woman is taken of Swallow’s hands almost as soon as he discovers her identity. When it turns out she worked for a Dublin Alderman who has an important role in the upcoming royal visit the case is moved to a different security branch. A move which, Swallow realises, means that the case probably won’t be investigated properly at all.
Not inclined to concern himself with the politics of policing, Swallow doesn’t give up on either case. And when it appears that the two cases might be connected he is determined to get the bottom of it, regardless of the consequences.
And as if two murders weren’t enough to deal with Swallow has more to worry him. There is his relationship with a younger, pub-owning widow which he will have to make up his mind about. And although the murders Joe Swallow is investigating are ordinary ones, he isn’t far away from political troubles when his sister finds herself attracted to an Irish freedom fighter and his ideas. A situation which could see the girl in prison and could potentially cost Joe his job.

There is an awful lot going on in this fascinating historical mystery and the reader needs to pay attention to all of it if they want to stay on top of everything.
The mystery is well plotted and the answers are revealed in a convincing way. There are no miracle revelations or unlikely insights to move the story along and all the clues are in the story for the reader to find, provided they pay close attention (which this reader obviously didn’t).
Joe Swallow is an interesting and realistic main character. He is not without faults or above abusing his situation when he feels the need. At the same time, he has a strong sense of justice and is driven to solve his murders and see the killers brought to justice.

There is a lot of historical detail in this book. And while on the whole both the time and the setting are fascinating, I did find that at times there was maybe too much of it. In an ideal book, the historical facts would play a background role, painting a picture without taking over the story. In this book though it felt as if the author tried to get so many of such details in that it interrupted the flow of the story.
Very interesting though are the references to the early advances in the forensic sciences. While fingerprints are being hinted at, nobody is prepared to take them seriously yet. But facial reconstruction based on bone structure does play a vital part in the solution of the mystery in this book.

Overall this was a good historical mystery with an interesting main character and full of wonderful insights of Dublin in the 1880’s. If this turns out to be the first book in a series I will definitely read any sequels too.

Finally I want to share the following quote about Dubliners and their attitude to the weather. Since the weather has suddenly turned quite warm over the past few days, these lines made me smile. The rumblings about the heat are already starting:


“Dublin’s northerly latitude and prevailing westerly airflow ensure that it rarely enjoys any sustained elevation of barometric pressure or more than a few successive days of sunshine. When that pattern is broken the citizens are likely to take it as an aberration, an unnatural occurrence. Deprived of the rain and damp as their daily topics of grievance they turn irritable and fractious.”

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

GHOST FLOWER


TITLE: GHOST FLOWER
AUTHOR: MICHELE JAFFE
Pages: 358
Date: 23/05/2012
Grade: 4+
Details: Received from Book Geeks
            Young-Adult
Own

Eve Brightman has been in and out of foster-families ever since she lost her mother. She is tough and knows how to look after herself, but it isn’t easy. Living in a cheap hotel and working in a Starbucks for little money and under a creepy manager, her prospects are bleak.
When she is approached by Bain and Bridgette, two rich and glamorous looking siblings, with an offer that sounds both too good to be true and dubious her first instinct is to ignore it. But when her boss subsequently tries to assault her and she has to flee she reconsiders. The offer of $100.000 to impersonate somebody she apparently resembles closely for a little while suddenly seems impossible to pass on.
During the next few weeks Bain and Bridgette tell Eve everything she needs to know about their cousin Aurora. 
Aurora disappeared three years ago but is supposed to come into a huge inheritance on her 18th birthday, which is only a few months away. The plan is to have Eve convince The Family that she is the missing Aurora returned home until she receives her money. After she passes the money on to the two siblings they will give her the promised share and she, and therefore Aurora, can disappear again.
In principle the plan is simple enough, but Eve/Aurora soon discovers that in practice it is a lot more complicated. It soon becomes clear that Bain and Bridgette didn’t give her all the information about Aurora she needs. They also didn’t tell her that on the night Aurora disappeared Liza, Aurora’s best friend, died. Although the death has been ruled a suicide, the police still have questions about what exactly happened; questions they would like the newly returned Aurora to answer. While feigning amnesia helps Eve/Aurora to cover most holes in her story, she does get curious about what exactly is going on herself. And when she starts receiving messages from what appears to be Liza’s ghost, messages that seem to imply that her death was not self-inflicted and that Aurora may now be in danger, Eve/Aurora knows that she either has to flee or find out what happened three years ago.
Not knowing whom to trust and unable to tell anybody the truth about what is going on, Eve/Aurora is completely on her own in a situation that may well end up killing her.

This was a fun psychological thriller. The Eve/Aurora storyline was interesting and compelling. Flashbacks and dream-sequences give tiny hints at what may be going on but leave the reader with enough questions to eagerly turn the pages in order to discover how everything fits together.
The hints at ghostly and supernatural occurrences give the story an extra edge, especially since Eve/Aurora is as sceptical about such phenomena as the reader is.
Eve/Aurora is a well-rounded character. She is neither too good nor too bad. While she is looking out for herself, she can’t help caring about others, even if that means risking her own safety. The other main characters in the book are multi-facetted as well which both makes the story more realistic and gives it an extra edge. The contrast between down-to-earth Eve and Aurora’s rich and self-absorbed family is fascinating, as is the fact that nobody is exactly who or what they appear to be.
The writing in this book is smooth and the images used are descriptive, adding a richness and literary quality to this story.
My only, minor, issue with this book is that the twist at the end of the story didn’t come as a surprise to me. But then again, I’m not a young adult, so maybe I shouldn’t be worried about that.
Overall though I have to say that this book was a lovely find by an author I’ve never read anything by before. And any day that happens is a good day.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

THE LAST BOYFRIEND


TITLE: THE LAST BOYFRIEND
AUTHOR: NORA ROBERTS
Pages: 319
Date: 22/05/2012
Grade: 5
Details: no. 2 the Inn Boonsboro Trilogy
Library

When Avery was five years old she told Owen Montgomery that they would one day marry each other, and he gave her a gum-ball-machine engagement ring.
Years later the relationship between Avery and Owen feels like a very close friendship; almost like being brother and sister. Or does it? When the two are forced into each other’s arms by Lizzie, the Inn’s resident ghost, the kiss that follows seems to be telling them otherwise. Afraid to ruin a solid friendship, the two decide to take this renewed attraction further at a slow and careful pace, to see where it will take them without risking everything they already have.
Avery and Owen are very different creatures though. Where Owen is highly organised and efficient both in his professional and in his personal life, Avery’s personal life is far more flighty. And Avery has her doubts about love and commitment. Having been deserted by her mother when she was a teenager, the successful restaurant owner is afraid that she too might be unable to commit to a lasting relationship.
It will be up to Owen, her two friends Clare and Hope as well as Lizzie the ghost to show Avery that she is nothing like her mother and not only capable of having a loving relationship but worthy of one too. If Avery can overcome her doubts, her first boyfriend will also be her last one.
And while Avery and Owen sort out their feelings for each other, the Inn’s renovation is closing completion, Clare and Beckett are getting ready to get married and Owen starts research into the ghost’s background.

With a Nora Roberts book you know what you’re getting into before you reach the first word, and this book is no exception. In fact, the female characters in this book and the issues they struggle with reminded me very much of those faced by characters in at least one previous romantic mini series of hers. You would expect that to have a negative effect on the enjoyment I got out of reading this book, put that wasn’t the case. I think Roberts, for me, gets away with repetition because it feels like coming home to me when I read her books. I like her characters, the strong women and the (mostly) sensible, handsome men. I enjoy that she will introduce a problem for the couple and then deal with it without feeling the need to drag it out for the duration of the book. Conversation in her books always sparkles and often makes me smile or laugh. I mean, what’s not to like.

In fact, I almost always love Nora Robert’s books. Her characters captivate me, her sexy romances seduce me and the way she tells her stories holds me in a thrall.
This book has something extra though. The characters in this book may be fictional but the Inn and the renovation project are real, as are Boonsboro and the other businesses in it. And because of that reality, because of the love Roberts obviously has for her Inn, this book almost glows. It is impossible to read this book and not want to visit Boonsboro, stay in one of the wonderful rooms in the Inn, hope to encounter (the more than likely fictional) ghost, buy some books across the street, indulge in a pizza and maybe, if you’re lucky, meet, if not the characters in this book, people quite like them.
Nora Roberts’ books bring me pure pleasure; I’ll be forever grateful that I discovered her books and that she is such a prolific author. Bring on November and the third book in this trilogy; I’m ready and eagerly awaiting.

Monday, May 21, 2012

THE KING'S BLOOD


TITLE: THE KING’S BLOOD
AUTHOR: DANIEL ABRAHAM
Pages: 489
Date: 21/05/2012
Grade: 4.5
Details: no. 2 The Dagger and the Coin
            Received from Book Geeks
Own

Troubled times lay ahead in the Kingdoms.
In Anthea, Geder Pallaiko, protector of the crown prince is elevated to regent when the king dies.
From noble but lowly beginnings, Pallaiko wasn’t raised to be a ruler, and finds himself in his elevated role almost by accident. Relying heavily on Basrahip, High Priest of the Spider Goddess and able to both tell truth from lie and to influence people’s actions, the Regent finds himself on a path to war while allowing petty grievances from the past to influence his present decisions.
Also in Anthea, Dawson Kalliam, a Baron, loses a close childhood friend when the old king dies. Unimpressed by Pallaiko and suspicious of the influence the High Priest has over the Regent, Dawson is looking for ways to save Anthea for Aster, the crown prince. When he’s promoted to the head of Anthea’s army when the country goes to war he has no choice but to follow orders. But will a war fought for a regent he doesn’t believe him change his mind about man?
Cithrin bel Sarcour finds herself deeply frustrated. After having saved a branch of the Medean Bank from destruction and rebuilding it in a new location, she now finds herself supervised by a rigid and unimaginative actuary. Rumours about an upcoming war give Cithrin an opportunity to spread her wings and advance her position.
Captain Marcus Wester, former king-killer and present day protector of and enforcer for Cithrin is in the unusual position where he’s not in the middle of a violent conflict. Still haunted by past nightmares he has dedicated his life to protecting the young banker. But when Cithrin goes away without him and his friend betrays him, he finds himself recruited to a quest he doesn’t really believe in.
Master Kit, former apostate of the Spider Goddess can feel the danger the world is in and abandons his acting troupe to go on a quest to kill a Goddess and save the world from a desperate fate. A quest he isn’t sure he can complete or survive.
All are people caught up in events they can’t really control, brought on by a past too ancient to be remembered. They stand on the brink of an age of madness and death and seem too weak and divided to prevent disaster.

This is turning into a fascinating and powerful fantasy saga. Building on events in “The Dragon’s Path”, the story slowly and almost imperceptively moves towards darkness, death and destruction. And while the reader, with insight into all parts of the story, can see the danger with ever greater clarity, the characters in the story, with one exception, have no idea what is lying ahead of them or the depth of the danger they are facing.

Daniel Abraham has done a wonderful job building a world the reader can easily believe in. While the thirteen races described in the book are mostly completely unlike any we know in our own world, the separation and discrimination between them is all too familiar.
And that is what makes this series of books so interesting.
This is not an action packed story. It is a tale of intrigue, politics, undercurrents and subterfuge. It is a fascinating read because, although the setting and characters are completely fictional and firmly set in a fantasy world, the ideas behind the story are real and easy to translate into the world we know so well. Both are worlds in which money and political games rule. Both are worlds in which the right thing to do isn’t always clear or possible to achieve.

There are hardly any clear-cut black or white characters in this book. Everyone acts first and foremost in their own best interest, with the concerns of and for others coming second at best. And while this could, in the hands of a lesser author, have resulted in a book filled with uninspiring characters, Abrahams has succeeded in delivering a novel filled with realistic people who the reader will end up caring about. It is impossible not to hope that even those characters who are making all the wrong decisions will come to their senses before it is too late.

This is the second book in a series, and while it can easily be read without reading the prequel first, I would advise anyone tempted to try this book to start with “The Dragon’s Path”. Reading the books in the order in which they were published will, without a doubt, increase the reading enjoyment experienced.

This is a great read, and my only regret is that it will probably be another year before I can get my hands on the next instalment.

Friday, May 18, 2012

FIFTY SHADES DARKER


TITLE: FIFTY SHADES DARKER
AUTHOR: E.L. JAMES
Pages: 532
Date: 18/05/2012
Grade: 4+
Details: no. 2 Fifty Shades
Own

Warning: If you haven’t read the first Fifty Shades book but intend to do so, you probably shouldn’t read this review since it will contain references to and possible spoilers for that title.

So I wrote my review of Fifty Shades of Grey earlier this month and, even to my own ears, I sounded rather reluctant to admit that I had enjoyed the read. Not that I no longer stand over what I wrote in that review – I still don’t think these books will ever qualify for literary prizes for example – but I do think it is time to let go of the reluctance and just admit that I’m having great fun with this trilogy. It’s time to admit that I do like the stories and yes, I do get a kick out of the S.E.X.
I guess that when you find you’re bribing yourself – just one more book of the “must-read-now-pile” and then I can get to the sequel – it really is time to just pick up the book and read it. So I did.

After Ana fled away from Christian and his dark sexual needs, convinced that she couldn’t be what he needed her to be regardless of how deeply she had fallen for him, she spends a miserable few days getting used to her new job.
It isn’t long though before she and Christian meet up again to go to the opening of a photo show of Ana’s college friend Jose. Back in each others company it doesn’t take the pair long to realise that they can’t be apart from each other, and Christian has a proposition for Ana. In order to be with her he is willing to put his needs and past sexual practices aside and have a “normal” relationship. Although filled with doubts, Ana agrees, knowing that she is far more miserable without him than she could ever be with him.
And so the two set off on a path to discover if they can be happy together without the aid of the “playroom”. But, of course there are obstacles. On the personal front there is the ever present Mrs. Robinson who first introduced Christian to the BDSM scene, Ana’s fear that what she can offer Christian won’t be enough for him in the long run and Christian’s still obsessive need to control Ana’s life.
Outside forces seem to conspire against the pair too, with a blast from Christian’s past threatening both of them and Ana’s new boss turning out to be a bit of a, potentially very dangerous, creep. With the odds stacked against them, Ana and Christian have a real fight on their hands if they want to make a success of the relationship they both seem to want so desperately.

So, what can I say about this book.
To start with the obvious, there is still an awful lot of sex, mostly in rather graphic detail. This time around though, the intimacy is a lot more straightforward, if still rather adventurous.
As in the first book, the writing is nothing to write home about, but, on the other hand, not bad enough to annoy me. While there is a lot of repetition and Ana’s “inner goddess” continued to irritate me, I had great fun reading this book.
In fact, the most frustrating thing about reading the Fifty Shades books is that I can’t quite figure out why I’m enjoying them so much. However, I’ve decided that it really doesn’t matter why I like the books. I’ve also come to the conclusion that I should never have to apologize for enjoying something I read, so I won’t be analyzing that aspect of it any further.
What I did like is that James introduced some suspense-like elements into this book without actually trying to turn it into a thriller. When danger surfaces it is dealt with rather quickly, efficiently and, as far as I’m concerned, effectively.
I also liked the descriptions of Ana trying to understand Christian, his past and how that related to his compulsions as well as Christian’s attempts to get over his fears and obsessions and be what Ana needs him to be.
And I do like that she ended the book on a bit of a cliff-hanger, which of course means that it won’t be long before I will have to give in to temptation again and return for my third and final encounter with Ana and her Christian.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

HALF-SICK OF SHADOWS


TITLE: HALF-SICK OF SHADOWS
AUTHOR: DAVID LOGAN
Pages: 300
Date: 16/05/2012
Grade: 3.5
Details: Received from Book Geeks
            Winner of the Terry Pratchett Prize
Own

This has to be one of the strangest books I’ve ever read even if it started straightforward enough.
Edward lives in The Manse, at the end of The Lane where a cemetery is the back garden with his twin sister Sophia, his parents and two older brothers. Edward’s home is so isolated from the rest of the world that for a long time he has a hard time imagining what that world might be like.
Edward’s father is a born-again Christian working as a farm labourer and a man who will turn to corporal punishment whenever one of the children breaks his strict rules.
On the day their grandmother dies, five-year old Edward and Sophia meet a stranger with a time-machine. A stranger who has a favour to ask of Edward; he wants to be his friend. On the same day, Edward’s father asks Sophia to promise that she will never leave the Manse or her mother. The young old girl makes the promise not realising what it means and unaware that she condemns her own future in the process.
Soon afterwards the twins, who had up until then been constant companions and each other’s world, are separated when Edward is sent to boarding school.
It is in school that Edward meets Alf. Alf is a boy who is even stranger and more isolated from the rest of the school than Edward is, but he is also a philosopher, poet, muse and, most of all, a mystery. Nobody else in the school seems to know who Alf is or where he sleeps and for long periods of time Edward doesn’t see Alf around either. At important moments in his life at school though, Alf turns up at Edward’s side.
When, years later, Edward finishes school and returns to the Manse in preparation of starting university life disintegrates for him, Sophia and the rest of his family with Alf as the rather unexpected bystander.

On the surface, and for most of the early part of the book, this is a story about two children growing up in a dysfunctional family. Because the story is told from Edward’s perspective the reader only slowly comes to the realisation that there are a lot more undercurrents in this family than are immediately apparent.
The young Edward, while being a very smart child, takes his surroundings and the things that happen there at face value and although the reader can sense things Edward isn’t aware of, the full scale of revelations don’t become clear until Edward is old enough to understand them.
There were a few things that happened in this story which left me feeling very uncomfortable, and while I can see that they made the dysfunction in this family more vivid, I can’t help feeling that there might have been other ways to paint that picture.
There were also parts of the story, especially with regard to physics and time-travel that just went straight over my head.
My final reservation about this book has to do with the way the story ended, or as I experienced it, didn’t end. While the final scene was foreshadowed early on in the book, it left too many questions unanswered for my liking.
Having made all those reservations I do have to add that I was fascinated with this story for most of the book and found it hard to stop reading. I felt a deep need to find out how it all would end, if Edward would be able to save his sister and whether or not Alf would be explained more fully.
I also feel that it is quite possible, if not likely, that I missed some of the nuances in this book. On the cover this book is described as a comical tragedy. I completely agree with it being a tragedy, however the comical part must also have gone straight over my head. So while this maybe wasn’t quite the book for me, I’ve got a feeling that it may well be the right book for other, less straight-minded, readers.

Monday, May 14, 2012

THE HOUSE OF SILK


TITLE: THE HOUSE OF SILK
AUTHOR: ANTHONY HOROWITZ
Pages: 294
Date: 14/05/2012
Grade: 4.5
Details: A Sherlock Holmes Story
Library

Dr. Watson is staying with Sherlock Holmes for a while when a visitor is admitted to their rooms. The obviously distraught gentleman tells them a tale of dramatic events in Boston that have followed him home to threaten his life in Wimbledon. Intrigued Holmes agrees to investigate only to have his apparent solving of the case lead to the disappearance and subsequent murder of a teenage boy who was a recent new recruit to Holmes' team of street-urchin assistants. The only clue the two men have is an obscure reference to The House of Silk.
Neither Holmes nor Watson is able to make sense of the reference, and inquiries with Holmes’ brother Mycroft only lead to the pair being warned of the case in the strongest terms.
Not one to be scared of, the warning achieves little other than to make Holmes more determined to discover what is being kept so secret; a decision which will see him in prison as well as in mortal danger.
Holmes and Watson find themselves up against an evil with the power to prevent any inquiries, an evil worse than anything they have come up against before and an evil that will do anything to stop those standing in its way.

This new Sherlock Holmes mystery is very much written in the style of Conan Doyle’s originals. Holmes is his infuriating and uninformative self, with Watson as his loyal but not too bright friend and assistant.
The descriptions of London in 1890, and especially those of the poorer parts of the city, are clear and fascinating and firmly put the story in its context.
The mystery is well plotted although the story is not one I could imagine the original author coming up with.
There was one part of the mystery that I had figured out fairly early on. I was definitely ahead of our Dr. Watson in that case, although it is of course impossible to know when exactly Holmes came to his conclusion.
On the other hand I had completely missed the clues relating to the second part of the mystery. I would love to say more about this, and explain exactly what I mean but I’m afraid I can’t do that without including possible spoilers. Part of the pleasure in reading this book was the fact that the final twist managed to take me more or less completely by surprise, and I wouldn’t want to deprive others of that treat.
I’d say that anyone who enjoys the original Sherlock Holmes stories will also enjoy this book, as would most other mystery lovers.
This is a well paced story that keeps you guessing even when you think you have the answers, and therefore a good read.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

STAY CLOSE


TITLE: STAY CLOSE
AUTHOR: HARLAN COBEN
Pages: 387
Date: 12/05/2012
Grade: 5
Details: Stand-alone
            Received from Real Readers
Own

On the surface Megan is the typical suburban wife and mother. Living in a beautiful house with her loving husband and two children, her life behind the picket fence appears picture perfect. But Megan has a secret. Seventeen years ago she fled Atlantic City and her old life. A life in which she was called Cassie and worked as a dancer in a seedy place called La Crème. And although she knows she should be grateful that she had a chance to leave her old life behind and start a fresh one, part of her still misses the excitement of the those days.
Ray Levine is a photographer. He used to be very successful in that career but for the past seventeen years he’s been haunted by visions of blood, too much blood, and incapable to keep himself together enough to do more than sleazy and cheap assignments.
Broome is a police detective who has never been able to let go of a seventeen year old, unsolved case. Back than, on the eighteenth of March a man disappeared never to be seen or heard from again. And although the general consensus is that the man had run of with his stripper girlfriend, Broome never was and still isn’t convinced of that.
When, on the eighteenth of March, seventeen years later, another man disappears, Megan, Ray and Broome are all drawn back to the events that altered their lives in such substantial ways.
Three people are given the opportunity to revisit the past and maybe right old wrongs. But they are not the only ones taking an interest in the new disappearance. And those others who are trying to find answers have no scruples or qualms about their methods.
When it appears that this may be more than just a case of two missing men, when the death-toll rises and the solution appears no clearer than it was in the past, lives, sanity and happiness may fall victim to a very clever and manipulative mind.

Harlan Coben has long been one of my favourite authors. I may not have read every single one of his books, but I haven’t missed many of them because he writes damn good thrillers.
Coben has to be one of the masters of this genre. He takes seemingly normal, every day people and puts them in situations out of their control, puts them through their paces and facing near impossible dilemmas. And just when it seems impossible that they might resolve their situation he will throw them a life-line or they will exceed their own and the reader’s expectations and the story continues.

To call this book a page-turner would be an understatement. I dare anyone to start this book and linger on it. These pages are filled with twists and turns, heart-stopping scenes and cliff-hangers. Just when the reader thinks they know where the story is going and pride themselves on having it all figured out, Coben throws them on another loop and nothing is the way it seemed just a few pages before.
These days, I often pride myself on being able to figure out what exactly is going on before the moment in the story when the writer wants me to know the answers. That was not the case in this book. The resolution of this story took me by surprise as much as it did the characters in the book, which for me only added to the reading enjoyment.

I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys a good thriller, but I guess those people have probably been reading Coben’s books for years. Therefore, I would also tell people who don’t usually read thrillers but would like to try one, to pick up Stay Close. I would be surprised if they didn’t turn around and stay with the genre. Because this is one terrific read.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

FIFTY SHADES OF GREY


TITLE: FIFTY SHADES OF GREY
AUTHOR: E.L. JAMES
Pages: 514
Date: 09/05/2012
Grade: 4-
Details: no. 1 Fifty Shades
            Received from BookGeeks
Own

Anastasia Steele, a young literature student, is reluctantly drafted by her friend Katherine to interview Christian Grey, a very successful and even more attractive business man. When she literary falls through his office door and subsequently makes a mess of some of the questions she’s supposed to be asking she is convinced that the man must be disgusted with her.
Much to her surprise though, Grey shows up in the shop where she has a part-time job and asks her out. Ana finds herself very attracted to this intriguing man and agrees to meet him, only for Grey to warn her that she should be keeping her distance from him.
It seems though that Grey can’t stay away from Ana, despite what he told her, and it isn’t long before Ana finds herself getting very close to the sexy man.
But while Ana is new to love affairs and sex, Grey is a very troubled man who claims to be incapable of having normal relationships, hates being touched and demands to be in full control of both Ana and their relationship. What Grey wants is a relationship where he will be the Dominant to her role as a Submissive and he’s drawn up the contract to control how that should work.
Ana finds herself very confused. While she is extremely attracted to Grey and experiencing great pleasure every time they get together, the idea of being dominated and having to endure pain scares her and makes her want to run away. At the same time another part of her thinks that she might be able to safe this man from the demons that haunt him.
Both Ana and Christian will find themselves experiencing a lot of firsts during their time together, but is their obvious attraction to each other enough to overcome the huge differences between them?

Phew, what to say about this book?
From all the attention this author and her books have been receiving lately, I had a pretty good idea what to expect and it is safe to say I got just that.
Yes, this is one very steamy story with lots of rather graphic descriptions of far from ordinary sexual relations.
Yes, the similarities between Stephanie Meyer’s “Twilight” and this book are clear. Both books deal with an innocent young girl falling for a man with a very obvious dark-side who she should probably stay well away from but is incapable of ignoring.
And yes, this book is unlikely to ever win a literary prize.
However, I also found this to be an entertaining story that kept me turning the pages. If you read beyond the sex scenes this is basically a love story about two people who desperately want and need to be together but are being kept apart by differences in their backgrounds and expectations that they may or may not be able to overcome. I guess E.L. James just uses a different, and rather more graphic than usual, devise to point those differences out.
While I’m sure there would have been a lot of other ways in which Christian’s need to control Ana could have been depicted, the author has chosen one which, while graphic, also makes quite clear how deep seated his issues are.


I have to admit that there were a few things in this book that had me exasperated. The references to Ana’s “Inner Goddess” and “Sub-conscious” got old very fast after the first few mentions. Yes, the girl is having a rather lively debate going on inside herself about the sense in having a relationship with this obviously very complicated and damaged man, but do the two sides of that argument really have to have separate identities as if they are extra characters in the story?

I guess there comes a time in any book reviewer’s life when they have to reflect on the standards by which they actually judge a book. Is it literary merit? Is it the quality of words and sentences used? Is it just a question of whether or not the book delivers a good and/or captivating story? Is it a little bit of all of those or does even that depend on the book they happen to be reading? I decided that for me, with this book, judging was to take place purely on whether or not I enjoyed the reading experience. And I did.

Readers can be divided into a whole host of categories. For the purpose of this review I’d like to highlight two; those who enjoy (explicit) sex-scenes and those who don’t. Any reader falling into the later category would do well to steer clear of this book since there are at least as many descriptions of, rather unorthodox, sex as there is overall story. Anybody who enjoys reading such scenes, for whatever reason, will get more then their fill in this story.

This is probably the first time ever that I almost feel the need to apologise for enjoying a book. Objectively there is so much wrong with this book while subjectively, I found myself unable to stop turning the pages and forced to buy the two sequels.
I guess this book should be filed under the label: guilty pleasures.