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H. M. Holt "souloftherose" (Tring, Herts)
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Abarat 2: Days of Magic, Nights of War: Days of Magic, Nights of War Bk.2
Abarat 2: Days of Magic, Nights of War: Days of Magic, Nights of War Bk.2
by Clive Barker
Edition: Hardcover

5.0 out of 5 stars Magical and fantastical, 10 April 2011
This is the second book in Clive Barker's Abarat series and I think he has created a wonderful and fantastical world in these stories. The world of Abarat is a vast archipelago where every island is a different hour of the day.

In the first book we were introduced to Candy Quackenbush, a young girl from Chickentown, Minnesota who is swept away from Chickentown on a wave that takes her to the Abarat. In this second volume we find out more about Candy's links to the Abarat and the plans the forces of Night have for Absolute Midnight to descend on the islands.

My editions of these books are the hardcover, illustrated editions which each contain over a hundred paintings by Clive Barker of the islands and their inhabitants. I think the illustrations add so much to the story.

These are children's books so although there are elements of horror and the grotesque in the stories it is toned down to an appropriate level for older children. The books don't have the fast pace of other popular young adult books like The Hunger Games series but I enjoyed being able to take the time to discover the Abarat and the wonderful world Clive Barker has created.

Sadly, book 2 was released in 2004 and there has been a long wait for the third book which still isn't released. But if you can cope with a wait for book 3 I would recommend this series.


Archer's Goon
Archer's Goon
by Diana Wynne Jones
Edition: Paperback

5.0 out of 5 stars Another gem from Diana Wynne Jones, 10 April 2011
This review is from: Archer's Goon (Paperback)
It all starts when Howard Sykes comes home from school one day to find the Goon sitting in the kitchen. All the Goon will tell them is that he's come from Archer and Quentin Sykes, Howard's father, has got behind with his payments and owes Archer two thousand.

Howard discovers that the two thousand owed by his father relates to two thousand words his father has been writing on a monthly basis although his father's never heard of Archer either. It soon becomes clear that in addition to the mysterious Archer there are other people in town who are very interested in getting Howard's father to write two thousand words for them and that these people also have strange powers which can make life very uncomfortable for the Sykes family.

I really enjoyed this book and although I originally gave it four stars, I'm now considering 4.5 stars. I really like the way DWJ writes about families. Howard's family is dysfunctional, his parents have blazing rows when they're tired and stressed, he often finds his younger sister incredibly annoying (Anthea also known as Aweful) but they also show a great deal of love for each other.

Similarly, the bad guys aren't stereotyped as wholly bad, by the end of the book you can understand why they've behaved the way they have done.

Add in some great humour and this is a fantastic book for children and adults to enjoy. And sadly out of print at the moment.


Archer's Goon (A Magnet book)
Archer's Goon (A Magnet book)
by Diana Wynne Jones
Edition: Paperback

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Another gem from Diana Wynne Jones, 10 April 2011
It all starts when Howard Sykes comes home from school one day to find the Goon sitting in the kitchen. All the Goon will tell them is that he's come from Archer and Quentin Sykes, Howard's father, has got behind with his payments and owes Archer two thousand.

Howard discovers that the two thousand owed by his father relates to two thousand words his father has been writing on a monthly basis although his father's never heard of Archer either. It soon becomes clear that in addition to the mysterious Archer there are other people in town who are very interested in getting Howard's father to write two thousand words for them and that these people also have strange powers which can make life very uncomfortable for the Sykes family.

I really enjoyed this book and although I originally gave it four stars, I'm now considering 4.5 stars. I really like the way DWJ writes about families. Howard's family is dysfunctional, his parents have blazing rows when they're tired and stressed, he often finds his younger sister incredibly annoying (Anthea also known as Aweful) but they also show a great deal of love for each other.

Similarly, the bad guys aren't stereotyped as wholly bad, by the end of the book you can understand why they've behaved the way they have done.

Add in some great humour and this is a fantastic book for children and adults to enjoy. And sadly out of print at the moment.
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Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader
Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader
by Anne Fadiman
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.98

5.0 out of 5 stars A must read for book lovers, 5 April 2011
This slim volume (only 130 pages) is a delightful collection of essays about books and Anne Fadiman's love for them covering topics as diverse as combining libraries on marriage, former British Prime Minister, Mr Gladstone's thoughts on how to organise a library, mail-order catalogues and an absolutely hilarious essay on plagiarism in the literary world. There isn't a single dud in this collection and I found it impossible to read this book without laughing out loud at several points and forcing my husband to listen to me read aloud large sections of each essay.

I can already say that this will easily be one of my favourite reads of 2011. If you haven't read it, you really must.


Rivers of London
Rivers of London
by Ben Aaronovitch
Edition: Hardcover

5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A thumping good read, 5 April 2011
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This review is from: Rivers of London (Hardcover)
Peter Grant is a run-of-the-mill probationary constable with the Metropolitan Police Service in London. Until, as part of a murder inquiry, he accidentally tries to take a witness statement from a man who was dead and is brought to the attention of Chief Inspector Nightingale, the last wizard in England.

So begins, this new urban fantasy/police procedural series set in London. In some ways it's very similar to the Dresden files series by Jim Butcher but I found this book actually reminded me more of some of the great British writers like Douglas Adams (particularly the Dirk Gently books) in terms of humour and Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere in the way that this book drew on the mythology and folklore of London city.

If you're not interested in urban fantasy then this book is unlikely to change your mind but I think it's up there with Neverwhere as one of the best examples of urban fantasy I've read. A great plot, a lot of laughs and all in all, a thumping good read.


The Red Coffin (Inspector Pekkala)
The Red Coffin (Inspector Pekkala)
by Sam Eastland
Edition: Paperback
Price: £12.99

16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Surprisingly bland, 15 Mar. 2011
I'd heard good things about Eye of the Red Tsar which is the first book in this series so I was really pleased to hear I'd won a review copy of The Red Coffin (published in the US as Shadow Pass). My only concern was whether I would find this book too gritty for my tastes as it's set in Stalinist Russia in 1939. The blurb on the back of the book when it arrived also sounded exciting - it talks about the world standing on the brink of Armageddon, years of revolution, fear and persecution, and the grim realities of Stalin's Soviet Union. I was expecting to read a gritty, realistic historical thriller. That's not what this book is.

I am by no means an expert of any kind on Russian history but I thought this book required too great a suspension of disbelief for my tastes. Pekkala used to be the trusted advisor of Tsar Nicholas II and you get to see their relationship through the many flashbacks Pekkala experiences throughout the book. After the Revolution, Pekkala was imprisoned before being released by Stalin on the condition that he worked for Stalin as his top and most trusted investigator. The Stalin depicted in this novel seems to bear no relation to the man who sent millions to penal labour camps. Although Pekkala often talks about how risky his position his, whenever we see him with Stalin, Stalin comes across as having all the menace and authority of a rather cuddly bear.

Commissar Kirov, Pekkala's assistant, is a perfectly nice chap but has been given a bumbling, humorous role to play similar to Inspector Morse's sidekick Lewis and again, given the setting of this book, I felt this just didn't work. Could anyone actually survive in that time period with that much innocence?

And that, for me, was the problem I had with the whole book: everything about it felt wrong given the historical setting. Putting aside the points above, it wasn't a bad read, but it felt surprisingly bland and isn't a book I would recommend to anyone.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Apr 5, 2011 1:47 PM BST


The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms (Inheritance Trilogy)
The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms (Inheritance Trilogy)
by N. K. Jemisin
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.99

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A strong debut with some unusual ideas, 15 Mar. 2011
Yeine Darr is an outcast from one of the barbarian Northern kingdoms. Her mother was an heiress of the ruling race but eloped with Yeine's father and abdicated her position. Now both Yeine's parents are dead and she has been summoned back to the court by her grandfather and named as one of his potential heirs. But two of her cousins have also been named heir and Yeine quickly discovers that no one at court expects her to succeed to the throne or even to survive her time in the city of Sky.

I have to admit that one of the reasons I wanted to read this book was because I fell in love with the gorgeous book cover and I loved the world building in this book; the city of Sky, the gods, the court and the cultures of the different kingdoms.

There is a strong sense of mystery throughout this book. The story is narrated by Yeine but as the opening passage of the book makes clear, she is an unusual narrator who forgets things or misses things out. Why this is so, is something that only becomes clear at the end of the book.

Although I enjoyed this book, I feel like it's been one of my `guilty pleasure' reads. I felt the romantic relationship that develops between Yeine and one of the other characters is one of those, `man is dark, brooding and dangerous making girl go weak at the knees with desire for him' relationships which always make me roll my eyes but I have to admit that I did get caught up in it and enjoy reading about it. In Jemisin's defence, the end of the book goes some way towards explaining why Yeine has such strong feelings for this person.

This book has grown on me since I read it and writing this review has made me realise that it impressed me more than I realised when first reading it. I would like to reread it to see if all the foreshadowing Jemisin includes matches up to the twist at the end and I would definitely like to read the sequel so I`ve increased my rating to 4 stars. This was far from a perfect novel but a strong debut with some unusual ideas.


Sky Burial
Sky Burial
by Xinran
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating and moving look at Tibet, 9 Mar. 2011
This review is from: Sky Burial (Paperback)
Xinran tells the story of Dr Shu Wen, a Chinese woman whose husband of only a few months was killed whilst serving as a doctor with the Chinese army in Tibet in the 1950s. Unable to accept that her husband is dead, Wen volunteers to serve as an army doctor herself and sets off for Tibet to find him. Shortly after she arrives she is separated from the army and ends up living with a nomadic Tibetan family for many years as she slowly learns the Tibetan language and way of life.

This is a beautiful, compelling story and it was fascinating to learn about the people of Tibet and their beliefs and customs. The book is based on a true story as told to Xinran although written like a novel. I felt Xinran's writing style was probably more suited to factual narrative (she is a journalist rather than a novelist) but this was still a good book and I will probably read her other books about China at some point.


Native Tongue
Native Tongue
by Suzette Haden Elgin
Edition: Paperback

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A fascinating idea with some flaws, 9 Mar. 2011
This review is from: Native Tongue (Paperback)
Set in the future in a society which has stripped women of their legal rights and mankind is in contact with alien races. Linguists are more important than ever as people are needed who can learn these alien languages and assist at trade negotiations which are vital for Earth's continuing prosperity.

Because of the potential power they have, the linguists are hated and feared by society in general whilst women, both linguist and non-linguist, are considered little better than children (and annoying children at that). The book focuses on the linguist women in particular and their attempts to create a language just for women called Láadan (which Elgin actually worked on in quite a bit of detail).

Elgin is a linguist herself and I found her ideas about how mankind would learn to communicate with alien life forms fascinating. I found the feminist angle to the book harder to swallow. The book was published in 1984 shortly after the Equal Rights Amendment failed in the US. Being born in the UK in the 1980s myself, it's difficult for me to imagine and appreciate the effect of the failure of this amendment.

From reading this book it felt like Elgin really wanted us to hate her male characters; they're completely misogynistic with no redeeming qualities. And it worked; I did hate them and when one of them died I felt like cheering. But such one-dimensional characters don't really make for a great novel and it made her exploration of this future culture harder to believe in for me.

Still, an intriguing book even with its flaws and one I'm glad I've read.


The House of the Mosque
The House of the Mosque
by Kader Abdolah
Edition: Paperback

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A beautiful and uplifting story, 1 Jan. 2011
"There was once a house, an old house, which was known as `the house of the mosque'."

So begins The House of the Mosque by Kader Abdolah.

Written by an Iranian author, now living in the Netherlands and writing in Dutch, The House of the Mosque follows an extended family who live in a house built onto a mosque in Senejan in Iran. The story starts in 1969 just before the first men land on the moon and continues through the Iranian Revolution of 1979 and the subsequent Iran-Iraq war.

Before reading this book, I knew very little about the above events or about Islam and its traditions but I didn't feel this affected my enjoyment of this book; in fact I would recommend this as a good starting point for someone who's interested in reading literature about this period or area.

The House of the Mosque is a beautifully written novel, fable like in style with perhaps a touch of magical realism. Abdolah has been criticised for not being accurate enough in his treatment of the events surrounding the Iranian Revolution and I don't know enough about the history of this period to know whether this criticism is accurate or not. But I think this is intended as a fable, as a fictionalised account of the author's experiences in Iran during the time of the revolution and as a homage to the `old ways', before the revolution changed things. The ending of the book makes it clear that to some extent this novel is autobiographical in nature and the novel is dedicated to Aqa Jaan, the main character in the book, `so I can let him go'. This is an emotional rather than factual account of this period of upheaval in Iran but despite the many struggles and sufferings described, the story is not depressing and ends on a note of hope that is truly uplifting.

A wonderful book and one that has made me interested in reading more literature about this area of the world.


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