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Secret Codes & Battleships
Secret Codes & Battleships

16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Absolutely stunning album, 30 Oct. 2011
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Darren Hayes has virtually written the soundtrack of my life - I've been a fan since the early days of Savage Garden and my first exposure to him was on Nickelodeon! Even as an adult, though, he continues to deliver songs that I adore and that somehow manage to dig deeper than most other musicians can manage. This is the first of his albums, though, where I'd happily listen to each and every song on repeat. The lyrics and the music are both incredibly well done, and let's be honest, his voice is so beautiful that he could sing my grocery list and I'd still be happy to listen. A must-buy for any fan of Darren or simply excellent pop music - this was worth the wait. I've listened to it on repeat more or less constantly since release and simply fall in love more each time I listen.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Oct 30, 2011 10:56 PM GMT


Far to Go
Far to Go
by Alison Pick
Edition: Hardcover

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A little book packed with a lot of thought, 25 Oct. 2011
This review is from: Far to Go (Hardcover)
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The Bauers are a prosperous, middle class family living in Czechoslovakia. They are patriotic, they celebrate Christmas, and while they've suffered their fair share of joys and sorrows, they don't consider themselves too different from their neighbors. Unfortunately at this point in history, they are Jews, and even if they haven't practiced their religion seriously for years, that makes their lives impossibly difficult once the Nazis occupy the Sudetenland. Marta, their son Pepik's nanny, has no idea what her background is, but her fate is inextricably tied with the Bauers'. It is little Pepik who has far to go, as the family weighs carefully their plan to put him in the Kindertransport system and send him to Great Britain, where they hope he will be free of the Nazi grasp forever.

This novel is presented in three different intertwining parts. The first is the past, the story of the Bauers told through Marta's voice. The second is in the present, told by an unknown woman seeking a sibling. And the last is a series of letters which are related to the story's characters and slowly reveal to us their fates as we go along. (The book is about Jews in the area we all know Hitler expanded into in World War II - we know what will happen to at least some of the characters). This was an excellent method for me of telling the story. It added a degree of uncertainty to the past segments, which feels frighteningly straightforward as far as these books go, and had me very curious about the outcome. I did find it a little bit disconcerting to switch around so quickly at the beginning of the book, but I got used to the alternate viewpoints quickly.

One of the most fascinating facets of the book for me was its thoughts on memory. How different was our childhood actually from the way we recall it? How much have we modified history within our own heads? This is so interesting because, as I grow older, I'm often wondering if everything happened as I thought it did. And, in the novel, this of course brings up the question of identity - who are we if we've misremembered our past? Without a past, how can we have a future? The book handles this in terms of individuals, but the question works on a much wider scale, especially given the period that this book is about and the essential remembrances we all must take from the Holocaust.

Anyway, I was really surprised by how much I got wrapped up in this book and how much it made me think. Within just a few pages - it's a short book, roughly 300 pages in my version but with huge font and margins - I grew incredibly attached to some of the characters and interested in their well-being, particularly Marta and Pepik.

In those short chapters, the book conveys so very much - about motherhood, about prejudice, about human nature - that I'd find it impossible not to recommend. Combined with a compelling story, Far to Go is a fantastic choice for anyone interested in the Holocaust. You may start out thinking it's just another World War II book, but I recommend you let it prove you wrong.


Next to Love
Next to Love
by Ellen Feldman
Edition: Paperback
Price: £12.99

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The fate of women before, during, and after WWII, 8 Oct. 2011
This review is from: Next to Love (Paperback)
World War II wreaked havoc on men's and women's lives, changing them in ways they never could have anticipated. Next to Love takes us on a journey through the war and the following twenty years of aftermath, as characters learn to live with themselves and try and regain who they once were. The novel follows three women, Babe, Grace, and Millie, who were best friends and whose husbands and boyfriends went to serve in the war. Feldman examines the problems women on the home front faced and the devastation of war away from the battlefields - and the way it never quite lets go of its victims.

I knew I was going to like this book, but I never expected it to love it as much as I actually did. I read it in what felt like a flash, completely enthralled by the stories of these three women and the struggles they have to endure. While they mainly saw themselves as getting on with it, they were really witnessing a pivotal period for women and for the family; their growing strength speaks to the stronger women's movement that was approaching.

Feldman doesn't skimp on difficult subjects. Babe's husband, for example, returns from war changed in ways Babe isn't sure she liked. We hear about the joyful reunion often; what about the one that is fraught with anxiety? The husband that can't sleep and suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder? That night before your husband goes to war and you might never see him again? Each woman deals with difficult issues directly related to the war, and then related to moving forward with lives that are irrevocably changed.

The world changes, too. Characters in the book are determined to fight racism. They witness huge changes in status as the American world fundamentally shifts around them. It's the story of a generation, told through characters that really steal your heart and make you wish that you could keep them with you forever. Babe was my favorite character by far; she just seemed the strongest, the most capable of handling everything that got thrown at her. And there is a lot for her to handle. That isn't to say I didn't like the other women; I certainly did and I was invested in their stories, too.

A gorgeous novel, I'd recommend Next to Love to anyone who enjoys historical fiction, especially that set around World War II with amazing, strong women at its heart. This is an excellent book and I am so glad I read it.


One Salt Sea (October Daye Novels)
One Salt Sea (October Daye Novels)
by Seanan McGuire
Edition: Mass Market Paperback

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A series that just gets better with every book, 8 Oct. 2011
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The sons of the Duchess of Saltmist have been kidnapped, and usual it's October Daye who is called upon to rescue them. The stakes are very high; if Toby doesn't find the boys, her country is going to go to war with those under the sea. To make the situation even more complicated, she's finally gotten together with Connor, a Selkie, and they may be forever separated if she doesn't succeed in her mission. With her many allies by her side, Toby sets out to find the kidnapper, even when those she holds most dear are threatened.

This particular book is a turning point for Toby - she is not the same woman at the end of the book as she was at the start of it. Several storylines that have been building over the course of the last few books - if not since the start of the series - actually see a resolution, and with devastating effect. Some of the things that happen to her are gut-wrenching, and the world really isn't going to be the same. She isn't even the same herself; thanks to the changes which took effect in the last book, Toby is still getting to grips with her own changed identity and magic.

The mythology and backstory of all of the characters continues to grow and change in this book. I loved learning more about the Luidaeg in particular, who finally starts to be revealed in this book, and who is becoming much more than an all-powerful sea witch. We also get bits and pieces about the other characters.

I think my only problem with the book really was that I don't like Connor very much. The entire time, I was busy rooting for Toby to finally realize that it's actually Tybalt she loves, which as you can imagine lessened the impact of parts of the book for me. I've heard some say this is a Peeta and Gale situation, but I don't think it is; there just isn't any chemistry at all between Toby and Connor, and I've actually yet to find anyone saying they prefer the latter. Nor does Toby really think about it; she loved Connor when she was young so she must love him now. Since Tybalt is by far the better, more complex character, I just couldn't get behind those bits of the story.

Regardless of personal preference though, One Salt Sea was a fantastic addition to the universe and one that has really, genuinely changed everything. I'm not sure how I'm going to wait until next year to get the sixth book, but I know I'll have it preordered as soon as I see it available. In the meantime, I'm going to read Feed, as Mira Grant is actually a pen name for Seanan McGuire, and hope for some more magic there.


The Emperor of All Maladies
The Emperor of All Maladies
by Siddhartha Mukherjee
Edition: Hardcover

29 of 29 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Simply fascinating, 21 Sept. 2011
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The struggle to understand and to cure cancer has consumed medical researchers throughout the twentieth and beginning of the twenty-first centuries. Mukherjee takes a deeply in-depth look at the illness throughout history in this biography of an illness, where cancer is often visualized as a crab scurrying and burrowing away from all reach of therapy. The author adds his own experience to a years-long study of cancer to provide a definitive, insightful book on the way this illness has gripped our modern day lives.

I think almost everyone I know has lost someone near and dear to them to cancer. I have; my brother died at only eighteen from non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. If anything, the fact that we've all been touched by this horrible illness in its many incarnations makes a book like The Emperor of All Maladies an even more important read. Reading this book was always going to be difficult, but it is on a subject I wanted to understand. After it won the Pulitzer Prize, and unending praise from many of my favorite bloggers, I simply had to read it, no matter how uncomfortable the subject matter.

I'm really glad I made that choice, because this book was excellent in so many ways. Mukherjee skilfully weaves together his own years treating cancer patients, ensuring that we get an up close and personal view of what it's like to fight cancer today, with a thorough history of the illness, including its ancient manifestations, early treatments, and continuing right up to the medicines and techniques used to treat various kinds of cancer today. I learned so much from this book, certainly things I never even thought about, like how the War on Cancer got started in the first place, what the Jimmy Fund is, and so on.

I'd also never really understood anything about the biology of cancer. I knew the disease was basically uncontrollable cell division, but Mukherjee goes into depth without becoming confusing or using any jargon that an ordinary reader can't understand.

While doing all this, he also succeeds in matching the struggle against cancer alongside current events, explaining how certain developments happened and why. I felt like I was getting the full story from all possible angles, which I so appreciated, and so thorough a look that I don't think I really need to read another book. Adding in the perspectives of his modern patients just demonstrated the strength of the human spirit and the difficulties of treatment.

This truly is a biography; in many ways Mukherjee makes cancer itself a visible part of the book. In many ways, it is our normal body functions turned inside out and made virulent - and immortal. It's a surprisingly fascinating read which has really enhanced my understanding of everything to do with cancer. I'd highly recommend The Emperor of All Maladies to almost anyone.


The Reinvention of Love
The Reinvention of Love
by Helen Humphreys
Edition: Hardcover

4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Lovely, tender but sad, 21 Sept. 2011
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The affair between Adele Hugo, Victor Hugo's wife, and Charles Saint-Beuve has gone down in history as a mistake made by everyone; a doomed love affair that simply never should have started. Chock full of details that only history can make believeable, like Saint-Beuve's hermaphroditism and cross-dressing, and the intoxicating world of 19th century France, the book is really a love story about two people who have made mistakes but have never ceased longing for one another.

I knew I wanted to read another book by Humphreys after Coventry and she certainly hasn't let me down here. The book is short, but it covers thirty years of the couple's affair, even after one of them has passed on. We alternate between Adele's and Saint-Beuve's voices, witnessing their struggles to be together from both sides. Adele, obviously, cannot leave her husband, who grows increasingly famous, particularly because of her children, while Saint-Beuve struggles to become the man he longs to be in Victor's ever-present shadow.

I had actually never heard of the affair between Saint-Beuve and Adele, but since reading this book have really come to realize that it was well known in its time and almost universally derided. Saint-Beuve in particular has borne the brunt of the ridicule, possibly because he was actually a hermaphrodite.

This makes for a very interesting book, but instead of making it seem at all vulgar or strange, Humphreys weaves it into his personality and makes his cross-dressing and his confusion sexually just another aspect of him, just like his desire to write is a part of him but does not define him. I thought this was an incredibly sensitive way to handle the subject and Humphreys does an extraordinary job, both with his personality and the way that Adele sees him and falls in love with him and is physically attracted to him despite things like cross-dressing which would immediately put off many straight women in the present.

Another aspect of the book that I really enjoyed, which I briefly alluded to above, is Saint-Beuve's struggle to define himself. He virtually lives in Victor's shadow - struggling to surpass Victor's writing skills, falling in love with his wife, and even at times coveting Victor's children. He tries so hard to set himself apart, but is all he really wants to be Victor. It's a real struggle with individuality.

Humphreys is a beautiful writer and her words set nineteenth-century Paris alight. The atmosphere, especially when the couple are together, is wonderful and immediately grants us a sense of place.

A lovely, tender but sad read, The Reinvention of Love is the perfect choice for those who prefer their literary fiction set in the past with a whole heap of doomed romance.


22 Britannia Road
22 Britannia Road
by Amanda Hodgkinson
Edition: Paperback
Price: £12.99

5.0 out of 5 stars A different perspective on WWII, 24 Aug. 2011
This review is from: 22 Britannia Road (Paperback)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
World War II had a massive effect on lives across the world; Silvana and Janusz, living in war zones, have been affected more than most. Separated at the very beginning of the war as a young married couple with a small son, Janusz immediately joins the army while Silvana is left in Warsaw with their son Aurek. Soon forced to flee the city, Silvana and Aurek hide in the woods, while Janusz eventually finds himself in England as a veteran. Six years after their separation, they're reunited and start family life in a small house in Ipswich, but both have changed, and both have damaging secrets they're determined to keep.

22 Britannia Road has received a great deal of acclaim on its release, so I was expecting quite a lot from this novel. World War II stories are everywhere these days, so it does take something special or a different perspective to help a book stand out from the crowd. With its post-war story told simultaneously with the immediate history leading up to the war and afterwards, along with its Polish characters, the book easily accomplishes that much, providing a new family perspective on the hardships endured during the war.

Silvana and Janusz's reunion is uneasy; they barely remember what one another look like. Everything in their lives has changed. For Aurek, things are even more difficult and confusing, as he simply doesn't remember his father and just wants to go live with his mother in the woods again. He has no concept of society, much less that required by the strict British school system and, partly, his father, who wants a son to be proud of.

One of the most interesting aspects of the book was actually Aurek's reaction to other children, school, his father, and so on; it demonstrates the adaptability of children as much as it shows how much adults struggle to accept the same tasks. Oddly, in this way it reminded me of Room by Emma Donoghue, even though the subject matters diverge wildly.

And then, of course, there are the secrets, which have the potential to destroy the family's newly forged life. Complicating things are people who thrust themselves into the Nowaks' newly forged lives, like Aurek's first friend Peter and his elegant father. Silvana is a character that is difficult to understand, with her complicated past, while I think Janusz longs for the life that will be familiar to most readers; a promotion, a son to be proud of, a wife who loves him, a shiny new car. The opening scenes of the book, when he paints his house worrying what his stranger wife and child will appreciate, while reminiscing about the woman he's fallen in love with in France, were actually some of the most poignant for me in the entire book.

While, for me, 22 Britannia Road wasn't earth shattering, it was a book that certainly shed another light on life during and after World War II, particularly for immigrants. And it's a worthy look into the minds of both adults and children who have to deal with the nearly unimaginable happening thanks to the horrors of war. Recommended.


History of a Pleasure Seeker
History of a Pleasure Seeker
by Richard Mason
Edition: Hardcover

0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A sensual tour through one man's ambition, 25 July 2011
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Piet Barol has always longed to be more than his humble upbringings. He's searching for a job in Amsterdam in 1907 that will catapult him into the life he believe he's always deserved. With a letter of introduction in hand, he hastens to the doorstep of the Vermeulen-Sickerts, whose son, a musical genius, refuses to go outside and follows carefully constructed rituals to keep himself safe. Piet lands the job and almost immediately sets about making himself indispensable and liked in the family. His climb to prosperity is both scandalous and gripping, rich with the opulence of the period and the emotional complexities that rise from Piet's relationships.

This book is not for the sensitive, because as the title implies, it does get quite scandalous, and Piet doesn't hesistate to trade on his physical appeal to gain traction with the ladies, going as far as he is allowed. There is a lot of tension between him and several other characters in the book, men and women, as his attractiveness and relentless ambition drives him to sleep with anyone despite his own personal preferences.

That isn't the part I liked about the book, really, although I thought those relationships were well done. I was interested in two other aspects; Piet's relationship with the smallest member of the Vermeulen-Sickerts family was one that stuck out to me. The poor boy has such a conflict within himself, and while Piet's relationship with him only pushes him in the correct direction, I still felt quite a lot of sympathy for him.

The other part that I really enjoyed was the setting. In particular, most of the book is set in Amsterdam, and it's very glamorous at that. I loved hearing about the parties, the usual contrast between the lives of the servants and the lives of the aristocrats, and all of the little details that Mason fills the book with. Later on in the book, Piet heads off on a steamship, and once again we get that contrast; Piet is not in first class, but his connections with a servant friend get him there. Along with him, we experience the huge difference that a change in station entails, and it's almost too easy to see why he longs to climb the social ladder so deeply.

It's obvious at the end of this novel that the series hasn't quite ended yet, and I do believe Mason intends to follow up with more details of Piet's life. This isn't going to be a favorite of mine, but I did enjoy the ride. I'd recommend it for anyone looking for an excellent depiction of Belle Epoque Amsterdam, complex characters, and who doesn't mind some racy scenes in their books.


The Story of Beautiful Girl
The Story of Beautiful Girl
by Rachel Simon
Edition: Paperback
Price: £11.99

4.0 out of 5 stars A beautiful story of overcoming brutality, 13 July 2011
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On a night like any other in the 1960s, a mysterious couple turns up on Martha's doorstep. Both are disabled; the man Homan cannot speak or hear, while the woman Lynnie, the most beautiful Martha has ever seen, appears unable to talk. They are refugees from a nearby mental institution, and they're not alone; they have a baby with them, a baby that clearly does not belong to Homan. Within minutes, the police are after them, and Lynnie and Homan are about to spend years of their lives trying to find their independence in a society that hides and suppresses anyone with the slightest disability. Meanwhile, Martha is left with their small burden, to her an unspeakably precious gift, that she must help grow up safe and undiscovered.

I've heard a lot of praise floating around about this book already and I have to admit that all of it was completely warranted. This was an amazing book which has stuck with me; it's taken me ages to review it but as soon as I started thinking of the story again it all popped back into my mind freshly. It's partly because the characters are so vivid, with so many problems and no way to really solve them. They struggle and, frankly, sometimes they fail, but sometimes they succeed.

The core of the story is the struggle that both Lynnie and Homan go through as they try and break free of the stereotypes surrounding people with disabilities in the mid twentieth century. Both of them have endured the rigors of a mental institution, a place called The School for the Incurable and Feebleminded. They've survived the systemic abuse that plagued these places, the complete lack of understanding or care, but they have to keep on going to try and find ways to adjust eventually to living in the real world. They have demons to conquer, and while they do have assistance through people like the kind-hearted attendant Kate, it's not a simple task.

It's that journey which really made this entire book for me, as I found both of their individual stories to be incredibly touching and moving.It's so hard to believe these places still existed only fifty years ago, and while I would hope for care to be substantially better these days, it is a worthwhile reminder of how easily people who need help and encouragement can instead be abused. I loved the characters of both Lynnie and Homan.

The least interesting part of the story for me was Martha's journey with the infant Julia, Lynnie's daughter. This story takes us up until Julia is fourteen and had less of an impact on me overall. It's easy to understand why Martha hides her, because if the institution found her she would probably end up in the same situation as her mother. But as time goes on, I just didn't find their narrative as affecting, and that was probably the only downside of the book for me.

Overall, though, The Story of Beautiful Girl is a beautifully written story of the struggles that disabled people have historically endured, plus the challenges that still remain. The author's sister is disabled, and the passion with which she writes really helped me feel she knew what she was talking about and could give me an experience I'll never have on my own, but one which is most certainly worth understanding. Highly recommended.


The Native Star
The Native Star
by M. K. Hobson
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
Price: £5.28

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A romantic mix of Firefly and steampunk, 16 Jun. 2011
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
In 1876, fancy mail order magic is driving out homespun magic, the kind Emily Edwards practices. As her and her father's situation gets more and more desperate, she decides to snare a wealthy husband with a love spell. Her efforts, though meant well, completely backfire, and soon she finds herself racing across the country with Dreadnought Stanton, a snobbish warlock from New York City, on a frantic effort to reach the centre of the warlock's world before it's too late.

This was a great book in so many different ways. I love the setting - like other reviewers before me have said, it's that wild west meets magic that is surprisingly appealing. It reminds me of Firefly in a way, both set in a world full of cowboys but with added twists to make them fresh and new. Here we have not only magic but echoes of steampunk and a few other bits and pieces.

Hobson's ideas about magic are different from anything I've personally read, but the contrast is so apt for the time period when the mass catalogues started going out and people began to crave something other than homespun, homemade goods. This is a few years before that started to happen in real life, but it has that feel about it of the new pushing out the old, and the old struggling to survive in any way possible. The magic system develops very much along the course of the book, with new discoveries coming rapidly. It's obvious that Hobson has a lot of ideas and I'm really looking forward to her fleshing this version of our world out more. The end of the book hints at a sequel and I am crossing my fingers that this is true, because I would definitely like to spend more time here.

And then, of course, there is a fantastic romance, and I can't spoil that for anyone as it's right on the back cover. Plus, tension sparks between Emily and Dreadnought almost immediately, and I think it would be difficult to miss their eventual romance from the opening chapters of the book. It's a well done romance, too, without getting at all in the way of the plot. Instead it feels natural, inspired by the tension they're both experiencing and the chemistry that springs up between them. There are very few types of novels that I like better than a good fantasy with a side romance, so needless to say this book ticked all of those boxes for me.

The Native Star is a solid satisfying indulgence of a read, well worth the time for anyone who likes fantasy or romance. And it was a nominee for the Nebula award this year, which is a third-party agreement of this book's excellence.


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