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Karura (London)
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Little Bird
Little Bird
by Camilla Way
Edition: Paperback
Price: £14.99

3 of 7 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Good start, disappointing second half, 12 Oct. 2008
This review is from: Little Bird (Paperback)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Although there wasn't much to go on in terms of synopsis for this book, I decided to go for it on the strength of praise for the author- and quite frankly, I can't really see what all the fuss is about.

To be fair, the book starts well enough, describing how two year old Elodie Brun is snatched away by a mute who keeps her in the forests of Normandy for more than a decade. Upon her rescue, Elodie can only talk in bird calls until one scientist takes it upon her to teach her the English language- but can Elodie really ever live the life of a normal girl?

So far, so good- the situation is reasonably novel, and watching Elodie grow and develop is an interesting journey that fans of the likes of Flowers for Algernon should really get into. The trouble is, as the story progresses, it starts to feel like several different novels all sandwiched together. The events of Elodie's life are nothing short of a treasure trove of soap opera writers, encompassing everything from sex, drugs and troubled teens to prostitution and stalking- and there's so much of it that it all feels a little unbelievable. No matter where Elodie goes, she seems to get embroiled in increasingly hard-to-swallow situations, populated by shallow characters and plotlines that fail to go anywhere. Certainly, by the latter half of the novel, I was reading it purely to get it finished- any sympathy or interest I might have once had in the characters had long since fizzled away.

Overall, then, what we have is a slightly above average novel that had a promising start but ultimately failed to deliver on a satisfying story. Even if you just want a bit of light reading, there are plenty of better books out there to spend your time on.


Scream Street: Fang of the Vampire
Scream Street: Fang of the Vampire
by Tommy Donbavand
Edition: Paperback

3.0 out of 5 stars Not sure who to recommend this to, 12 Oct. 2008
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
The first in the Scream Street series of novels claims to aimed at the 9-10 year old age range, telling the short but simple story of a boy whose family gets moved to Scream Street (a residence for undead and supernatural beings) after he starts transforming into a werewolf. Unfortunately, his family are scared to death at the prospect of living next to zombies and vampires, and so our hero must team up with his newfound Scream Street friends to gather a set of artefacts that will open up a way home.

So far, so good, then- the first instalment is relatively brief and an easy read that is too simplistic to amuse anyone outside of the target age group. The problem comes with the graphic descriptions that crop up here and there; the talk of splintering bone and vampires ripping into fresh, bloody meat may help to showcase the author's descriptive talents, but they feel a little too adult for young children- no doubt some will be fine with it, but I can imagine others getting worried once bedtime comes.

With that in mind, it's up to the parent- I wouldn't call it a particularly good or `must read' series, but if your child likes supernatural adventures and doesn't scare easily, they may well enjoy it. Just don't try it with sophisticated older children- they won't be impressed.


Hang a Thousand Trees with Ribbons
Hang a Thousand Trees with Ribbons
by Ann Rinaldi
Edition: Paperback

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An insightful look into a lesser known historical figure, 29 Sept. 2008
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Taken from her African home and sold into slavery, the girl who would come to be known as Phillis Wheatley starts a new life in America as the servant of the Wheatley family. Taught by her master to read and write, Phillis begins expressing herself through poetry and gradually gains fame as America's first black poet. But can even celebrity status save Phillis from the cruel reality of being someone else's chattel?

Although I'm not familiar with either the historical accounts of Phillis Wheatley or Ann Rinaldi's previous works, as a fan of historical novels in general, I decided to give this one a go. As it turned out, it was a good decision- the book made for easy reading whilst remaining both informative and insightful. Telling the story from Phillis' own perspective, the novel paints a picture of a determined yet immature girl who is flawed yet likable at the same time. She may be spoiled and hopelessly naïve, but she still remains a sympathetic character throughout, torn between the worlds of the black and white, of the British and the Americans, in the years leading up to the War of Independence- a time when you can be one thing or another, but not both.

Overall, then, the book is a well-written and enlightening take on a little known chapter of history- not only is it a good read in and of itself, but you'll be left with a thirst for the author's other works. If you like historical works but want something more flavourful than a dry and scholarly account, then this is a good choice for you.


The Elegance of the Hedgehog
The Elegance of the Hedgehog
by Muriel Barbery
Edition: Hardcover

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Elaborate writing style masks a touching story of redemption, 25 Sept. 2008
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
To the rich inhabitants of the apartments at 7 Rue de Grenelle, Renée Michel is the perfect concierge- a fusty old biddy with a fat cat and a limited intellect. What no one knows is that this is just a cover for Renée's true self- a self-taught lover of art and literature. Meanwhile, up on the fifth floor, the equally intellectual Paloma Josse tires of her bourgeois existence and plans to escape it by ending her life on her thirteenth birthday. What neither realises is that the patterns their lives have fallen into will be forever disrupted by a new arrival at the apartments- the wealthy and exotic Kakuro Ozu...

Told from the alternating viewpoints of Renée and Paloma, The Elegance of the Hedgehog scrapes off the veneer of rich French society to reveal the lives of two tortured intellectuals. Unfortunately, at the start, it proves to be quite difficult to get into- whether it's down to the translation or the intention of the original author, the writing style is very flowery and elaborate, forcing me to resort to the dictionary almost every chapter.

Once it settles down and stops trying to convince us of how erudite these characters are, however, The Elegance of the Hedgehog starts to become quite absorbing. Having taken a while to get to the meat of the story, once it warms up, the result is a touching tale of redemption, of touching a kindred spirit and easing years of loneliness. Unfortunately, having at long last hit its stride, the novel then rushes to wrap things up, rushing to a close a little too quickly and only making up for it with a bittersweet twist at the end.

What we are left with, then, is a novel that won't be for everyone- it's only if you're willing to plough through the rather heavy opening that you'll get the most out of it. If you're a patient type, you should enjoy the latter half of the story, but if you just want light reading or instant gratification, you should probably look elsewhere.


The Gargoyle
The Gargoyle
by Andrew Davidson
Edition: Hardcover

4.0 out of 5 stars Not perfect, but still a well-written tale of redemption, 17 Sept. 2008
This review is from: The Gargoyle (Hardcover)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
High on cocaine whilst driving home one night, the nameless narrator of this tale ends up in a car accident that transforms him from handsome pornographer into a monstrous, burnt wreck. With his old life over, our protagonist thinks only of ending his existence, until one day he is visited in hospital by a mysterious woman named Marianne Engel. Marianne claims that in a previous life the two of them were lovers, and despite the implausibility of this tale, our hero cannot help but be drawn to this enigmatic woman who might just be the only one who can make him stop thinking about death, and start looking forward to life.

Thus begins The Gargoyle, a powerful tale of redemption, charting the course of a man who has immersed himself in shallow pleasures, but only comes to learn of the deeper bonds in life after his old life is quite literally burned away- an obvious lesson, perhaps, but one that the author can get away with telling thanks to the sheer strength of his writing. Whether it's the detailed descriptions of the effects of fire on the human body in the early chapters, our lead's slow recovery and ever changing outlook on life or the tales of past lives and loves told by Marianne Engel, Davidson always writes with a deft, sure hand that creates vivid images and brings them to life. It is that strength alone that makes you desperate to read on- it almost doesn't matter what the author is describing, he does it so well.

Unfortunately, for all that it manages to sweep you along, The Gargoyle still has several major flaws at the heart of what is supposed to be a love story. Marianne Engel, the `angel' whose job it is to save the main character, is so eccentric that it is rather hard to like her; whilst the love that she and the main character are supposed to share feels entirely superficial. Theirs is a relationship that feels forced rather than properly developed, jumping ahead when the story demands it but idling in neutral at all other times. It's a shame, because if the author had just been able to get it right, this novel would have gone right onto my favourites list.

Whilst these flaws might prevent it from getting five stars, however, don't be too put off- The Gargoyle is still a very good read and an impressive debut novel. Give it a try and you'll find a lot to like.


No Title Available

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars I'm not in the target market, but..., 29 Aug. 2008
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Just to get things straight for anyone who has read my other reviews, yes, I am a woman- but since I needed a new electric razor for shaving my legs and Amazon Vine was offering this one, I figured I may as well get it.

Although I can't personally comment on its use for the face, the shaver does come with a multitude of options for shaping and cutting to different lengths, presumably allowing the fashionable young man to achieve anything from a smooth face to the three day stubble look or even a goatee.

In terms of using it on the body, however, I can comment and since, as Sandi Toksvig once said, women have especially tough legs so that their children can cling on to them, the shaver foil isn't man (woman?) enough for the job- you'll have to use the included shaper blades. The result is a decent enough job- it won't match more painful methods such as waxing, but it does offer a clean, close shave. I'm not entirely sure it's particularly time saving, though, as perfectionists will no doubt want to take their time going after every stray hair.

Overall, then, this isn't perfect, but it's a decent enough shaver from a solid brand that should fit your needs.


Winter Song
Winter Song
by Jean-Claude Mourlevat
Edition: Paperback

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Packed with content from start to finish, 28 Aug. 2008
This review is from: Winter Song (Paperback)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Trapped in a boarding school that is little more than a prison by an oppressive government regime, 17 year old Helen and Milena have little to look forward to- until a chance meeting with two students from the corresponding boys' school sees the four of them strike out on their own. Fleeing from police officers and vicious dog men, the foursome set out to join the resistance and strike a blow for justice and freedom.

Thus begins Winter Song, a tale of drama, adventure and suspense sprinkled with a touch of fantasy. Translated from the original French, the novel is a swiftly-paced piece that never skimps on created a detailed setting. In fact, the novel is quite literally bursting with content, but whilst this makes it a good read, it also counts as the book's main weakness. With so much to pack in, everything happens rather quickly- especially towards the end- and this could have just as easily been a series of books as a single novel.

With that in mind, what we get is a book that is certainly an enjoyable read for teenagers and adults alike, but one that doesn't quite live up to its potential- given more pages, it could have been developed a lot more. Nonetheless, the author clearly has a vivid imagination and a keen descriptive ability, so I look forward to seeing what he comes up with in the future.


Bone China
Bone China
by Roma Tearne
Edition: Hardcover

4.0 out of 5 stars A powerful tale of one family's struggle, 20 Aug. 2008
This review is from: Bone China (Hardcover)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Although I hadn't read Roma Tearne's first novel Mosquito, the strength of positive recommendations made me curious to try this one out. Spanning several decades, Bone China tells the story of the de Silvas, a noble Sri Lankan family who fall on hard times and gradually move to England in the wake of turmoil and civil war in their own country. Unfortunately, as so many have discovered before them, the streets of London are not paved with gold, and they must struggle to find the balance between fitting in and retaining their cultural identity.

It takes a good author to successfully weave a tale that spans multiple generations and several thousand miles, and happily, Roma Tearne has proven herself to be more than up to the task. With a flair for the descriptive and the ability to bring a range of believable characters to the page, Bone China is nothing short of an absorbing tale that will draw you in from start to finish. My only real complaint is that with all the characters involved, the novel does have a tendency to shift in perspective a little too abruptly, but once you get into the flow of the story, this isn't too much of an issue.

Overall, then, I cannot help but recommend this novel- whether you're interested in exotic settings, immigration or just a good character piece, you won't go wrong with this strong entry from a promising author. I can't wait to get my hands on Tearne's other novel, not to mention anything else she might write in the future!


Atmospheric Disturbances
Atmospheric Disturbances
by Rivka Galchen
Edition: Paperback

3.0 out of 5 stars Intriguing premise ruined by a lacklustre conclusion, 5 Aug. 2008
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Leo Liebenstein is a psychiatrist who has become convinced that his beloved wife Rema has been replaced with a near-perfect replica- has he lost his mind or could there be a grain of truth to his unshakeably firm beliefs? Since the cover of the book pretty much gives it away, it won't be too much of a spoiler to say that the delusion exists in Leo's head, but nonetheless, what is interesting about the novel isn't so much whether Leo is right or wrong, but in following his thoughts as told from his own perspective.

With the relatively short chapters compensating for a tone of writing that is sometimes a little too dry and lacking in flow, overall Atmospheric Disturbances makes for a good read at first. What will Leo do next in his attempts to locate his `real' wife? Will he realise that the reason the so-called simulacrum looks older than the Rema in his mind is simply because people age and change? Or will he fall deeper into a delusion, not helped by a preoccupation with a patient who believes himself to be a secret agent for the Royal Academy of Meteorology?

Unfortunately, what is needed in order to balance Leo's increasing delusions is some sort of reality check in favour of an alternate perspective- and even if this was just in the form of a chapter at the end, it would have pulled the entire novel together much better. Unfortunately, without it, the book merely wanders aimlessly towards a disappointing finale, making you feel that the effort spent reading it was a waste. With that in mind, it's hard to recommend this novel- even if, as I did, you largely enjoy it whilst reading, the ending retroactively spoils the entire experience. Certainly, if you do decide to give it a go, it isn't something you're going to want to read more than once.


The Name of This Book Is Secret
The Name of This Book Is Secret
by Pseudonymous Bosch
Edition: Paperback

4.0 out of 5 stars Solid children's novel- highly recommended, 30 July 2008
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
According to the author of this novel, it contains such a big secret that we absolutely shouldn't read on. Like its eleven year old protagonists Cassandra and Max-Ernest, however, we naturally throw caution to the winds and embark on a mystery adventure that seems to take its stylistic cues from the likes of Harry Potter and Lemony Snicket.

The result is a book that won't exactly stun you with its originality, but is still a good, fun read. Sophisticated older teens probably won't rate it, but the 10-11 year old age range should enjoy it- and there's no reason why older readers can't too, although be prepared for the fact that author talks to you in the first person as if you too were a child. Overall, though, what we have is a solid and well-written package that will make for perfect holiday reading, with any unresolved threads presumably to be covered in the upcoming sequel, If You're Reading This, It's Too Late.


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