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Amazon Customer "Gav" (Cardiff, United Kingdom)

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Lenormand Symbols: Exploring the Origins of the Images on the Cards
Lenormand Symbols: Exploring the Origins of the Images on the Cards
Price: £2.17

5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars, 20 Sept. 2014
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Essential guide to Lenormand's various meanings from common sense to historical. It's more a supplement than a how-to.

Haroun and the Sea of Stories (Puffin Books)
Haroun and the Sea of Stories (Puffin Books)
by Rushdie Salman
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Where Do Stories Come From? Rushdie Explains It All, 16 Feb. 2014
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To be honest, I wasn’t looking forward to this one as I didn’t know how Rushdie would handle telling a children’s story and I was totally surprised how wonderful it was. Haroun’s father is the greatest of all storytellers but one day something goes wrong and all his stories dry up, something that Haroun feels is his fault but he gets the chance to visit the Sea of Stories and to restore his father’s story tap.

And it’s as bizarre as that, unlike Valente which resists the modern, Rushdie includes machines and mechanisms that ground his imaginative world. Rather than being a lone child’s adventure Haroun has an unexpected family member around him. And that gives it a very different feel. Rushdie’s quirky characters mix with the sense of India (though one of initials and valleys) to create something completely removed from reality to form a place of pure storytelling pleasure. It’s not a dark tale, though are elements of ‘danger’ but nothing that’s going to scar small children. It has some nice, but not laboured, moral messages, especially about girls/women having to hide who they really are to get on in a man’s world and another about the power of stories to change the world.

If you have any imagination and you love a fairytale then Haroun and the Sea of Stories is one for you.

by Ali Smith
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.98

4.0 out of 5 stars A Mix of Genres and Form That Leaves You Devastated., 16 Feb. 2014
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This review is from: Artful (Paperback)
It starts with a ghost story, a story that weaves its way around four linked lectures. Smith is playing with form and function here and at the beginning I couldn’t understand the switching from the narrator telling us their story and then switching to the lectures on time, on form, on edge and on offer and on reflection but there was a point where I stopped being annoyed by the lecturing tone and relaxed into taking on board what was being said, even if the messages were being mixed together.

You see the narrator is reading you the unfinished lectures from her partner and ghostly visitor, which makes it quite moving the more you read.

I was left thinking that people haunt themselves with the idea of the dead but if the dead actually did haunt them they’d react and cope completely differently – a lesson our narrator leans quite harshly in the end.

Ghosts of the Citadel (The Copper Promise: Part I)
Ghosts of the Citadel (The Copper Promise: Part I)
Price: £0.99

4.0 out of 5 stars A Playful Start to a Bigger Sword and Sorcery Adventure, 16 Feb. 2014
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Ghosts of the Citadel grabbed me with the opening chapters due to its playful Sword and Sorcery setting. After you get past the first chapter’s torture scene you are in classic territory of hired swords, leather, magic and mysterious places to explore.

We join hired-swords Wydrin of Crossheaven and her business partner Sir Sebastian Caverson who are accompanied (and paid for) by Lord Firth as they explore the magically-protected Citadel and try to access its secrets. What makes it feel alive isn’t the setting, as it’s nothing that new, but the characters of Wydrin and Sebastian, who feel like people that you’d enjoy going on an adventure with.

Williams has a knack for the playful and the banter between them keep the whole thing moving along with an enjoyable tone. There are some nice moments of revelations about the characters pasts. And Lord Firth has an unshared agenda, which has unforeseen consequences, and is the reason to read the next bit (Children of the Fog). But even as mysterious as he is definitely going to play a central role in what’s the come as he gets moment in the spotlight.

That’s not to say it’s all light as Williams doesn’t pull her punches either and she’s a tricksy writer. Something happens and I had to check in my proof of the whole book if a character did actually die as I was that concerned about them.

This part is only short, 87 pages perhaps, but for 99p gives you a mini-adventure, lets you know Williams’ style and, I think, makes you want to read what happens next.

The Gospel of Loki
The Gospel of Loki
Price: £4.49

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Story of His Life Straight from Loki's Lips, 16 Feb. 2014
Harris sets the tone at the start with Loki’s slightly snarky though charming introduction of the cast of characters we’re going to encounter before interrupting the recounting of the ‘authorised’ version of events of told by ‘The Prophecy of the Oracle’ (her (very loose) verse translation of Voluspá) before moving on to the main event and telling us all the lessons he’s learnt from his life as the Bringer of Light.

It’s a big task for Harris to introduce readers to a whole pantheon of characters who may be unfamiliar when compared to the likes of Loki, Thor and Odin but she manages it with ease. And then manages to recount Asgard’s entire history without it feeling like a stale history lesson. Quite the opposite.

Loki is a silver-tongued storyteller as each mini-tale (or lesson as he frames them) builds and builds revealing more and more of the Loki’s nature and his motivations but also sets out the tests and trials that Odin has him endure for the good of Asgard.

He does bring a fair bit of it on himself but you are left wondering how much of what happens is the gods’ own self-fulling prophecy and how different it would have been if they’d just built him a hall of his own treated him as one their own instead of a constant scapegoat?

I dare you not to fall for his charms and feel sorry for him by the time this tale is done. Though you may not agree with what he ends up doing especially when you how lovely his wife.

There are some amazing set pieces, which I’ve been very tempted to research and compare but you know I’m just going to enjoy the ‘reality’ The Gospel of Loki for a little bit longer.

The Long Earth
The Long Earth
by Terry Pratchett
Edition: Hardcover

0 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars More than a sum of its part., 26 Jun. 2012
This review is from: The Long Earth (Hardcover)
Before we go further I'm going to be honest and say it's not a new Good Omens but that wasn't what I expected. What I expected was an exploration by the authors and their characters of what you can do when you can `step' West or East into a new Earth that has never seen the effect of humanity; a virtual clean slate and seemingly unlimited variations on the potential of our planet. And to explore those possibilities we follow Joshua, who kept his head on `Step Day' when the design for `Stepper' boxes were released into the world, as he sets on an adventure across worlds.

The `What If?' question here could be; if humanity could suddenly have access to infinite resources and could escape their present situation by stepping themselves sideways what would happen?

And on face value a famous sf writer and a famous fantasy writer look like an odd pairing to explore this idea. That is until you remember that they are both interested in humanity and how they cope and interact with the environments they are in. Take Flood Baxter uses the rising waters on earth to explore humanity's reaction though the canvas is slightly larger than Pratchett who I'd suggest as more of a satirist (especially in his Discworld novels) looks at humans in a more intimate way. So you have a writer than can cope well with massive ideas like flooding a world combined with a writer who can entertain with the absurdity of life.

Though I'm making a too simplistic argument. Both are masters of their craft and I didn't notice a join. You could look at it as a patchwork with the main pattern decided between them before each add their own sections and flourishes but unless you grabbed a few of their other novels and started an operation worthy of an English Language degree I'd say you'd be hard pressed to separate them.

You really can't see the seam and the story they've weaved together from a few main threads and minor but nonetheless needed ones is engaging and thoughtful. And they've only given themselves a couple of limits to what people can do with this new `stepping' ability; the main one being you can't take iron with you. That does show our progress to shape these new worlds a little mostly gives it that wild west frontier feel, which is reinforced by setting it in Madison, Wisconsin, 2015.

After some initial confusion about why it's not set in Britain America does make sense as the perfect launching ground as mentioned it's that pioneer spirit and they do show how Britain reacts. Let's just say America embraces the idea and Britain tries to stop this `stepping' happening.

They do a brilliant job of making visits to these different possible earths as interesting as possible though a couple of times when those stops (it'll make sense when you read it) feel more for the benefit of showing us sometimes cool and not moving the plot onwards. It'll depend on your tolerance but I enjoyed seeing all the little variations.

Now interestingly their choice of threat to our new freedom as an extension of what happens if a world thrives without us humans. That isn't to say there aren't humanoid characters as they do a good job of giving a scientific rationale to our encounters with elves and trolls but they also give them a twist.

The Long Earth is a more than a sum of its creators. Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter have amalgamated into a fun exploration of the pioneering human spirit in a potentially overwhelming what if. Not only do they manage to explore new worlds where no man has gone before but they do so by making us consider what unique creatures we human are.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jun 26, 2012 9:17 PM BST

Wizard Undercover: Book 2 of the Rogue Agent Novels
Wizard Undercover: Book 2 of the Rogue Agent Novels
Price: £4.99

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars If you've bought it request Amazon to update it!, 3 Jun. 2012
Just downloaded a sample and the formatting is fixed - or at least it looks like a book to me - not sure what it looked like before. For some reason Amazon won't automatically let you update to the newest version or tell you that it's been updated. Ask the customer service and they should update it if a new version has been uploaded.

The House that Groaned
The House that Groaned
by Karrie Fransman
Edition: Paperback
Price: £13.48

4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The House Sings!, 15 Jan. 2012
This review is from: The House that Groaned (Paperback)
Literary graphic novels feel pretty rare. I could be wrong as they are outside radar or more exactly they fall between my main interest in novels and the cursory eye I keep on comics. I have seen a two graphic novels from mainstream (eg non-comic publishers) in the last year one based on a fantasy novel and one with a fish man, which still fall into `genre' so would have a more identifiable audience.

I'd venture that The House That Groaned hasn't got a readymade market but will find fans of literary readers and those that love graphic novels but want something that isn't superheroes and spandex.

It arrived in the morning and I'd read it in the afternoon. Reading comics isn't something that takes hours but it is surprising for me as I had other things I should be doing? So what engaged me? The world that Karrie Fransman managed to create in 141 Rottin Road.

Visually apart from the yellow lights in the windows on the front cover the rest of the book is black, white with various shades of blue. The style is comic art. Each panel gives the thing life as it should but it's more than functionary there is something magical about it.

Not only is there magic in the art but in the story itself. It definitely tips it toes into magical realism, which is quite odd for a story involving the six occupants of house converted to flats. I initially thought it would played `straighter' than it eventually was. And it's surreal blending reality with the imaginary is what makes it so absorbing a read.

Barbara moves in to 141 Rottin Road, which is anything but the thick-walled apartment she was told, but it does allow us an introduction to the other residents, who are if I'm being honest more than a little odd. And Fransman seems to have great fun playing on their oddities. Though they aren't so odd to unrealistic. The woman that runs a fat club but really just wants to eat, the man whose only means of sexual excitement is extreme looking women, and then there is the neighbour across the landing.

Even though it revolves around 141 Rottin Road we occasionally leave its walls to see key defining moments in the characters lives (Fransman even includes the building in those flashbacks). And I think that's the most fascinating aspect; what made them into the strange people that they are?

And that element makes it quite dark. The fact that these people have been so twisted by those key moments and how that has had what we might see as a negative affect on their lives. It's also a very fun and playful story both in terms of visuals and storytelling like the hall literally filling up with people for the diet class and the a very glutenous food eating scene.

The House That Groaned is the type of story that graphic novels are made for. Visually compelling and narratively complex. It's also a book that challenges the conventions and expectations of what the medium can do.

Can we have more books like this? Please!

by Nicholas Royle
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars this one lingers especially when you start asking how unhinged Carl actually is, 19 Sept. 2011
This review is from: Regicide (Paperback)
Carl meets Annie Risk and falls for for her but Regicide isn't a love story instead it's about a map and Carl's obsession with finding the streets it matches. Though it isn't really about love or obsession either. What Nicholas Royle does is slowly peels away Carl's psyche but what it feels like is Carl's psyche unhinging as you read.

What really stands out is that it gets weird fast and then remains teetering back and forth on the edge of sanity/reality before finally leaping off the deep end. This isn't an easy at times to follow especially as it's not clear where Carl ultimately heading.

But through apparent asides and personal revelations Royle is really putting the reader in the same mental space that Carl inhabits and that makes this a haunting and disturbing tale.

It's not often that books effect me after reading them but this one lingers especially when you start asking how unhinged Carl actually is and when you first started to notice..

Now as this is a meditation on the life of a record store owner as he deals with love and inner demons the way Royle does things is going to effect your connection to Carl. And as this isn't a straightforward novel in terms of hero or narrative it requires an element of , especially when you're fast approaching the last few pages with no apparent ending in sight.

But it's those pages that make, rather than break, Regicide. It's not a trick ending but it does pull back that final layer that leaves Carl raw in front of the reader.

There are however things that do feel oddities in this strange tale. One is a feeling of being slightly dated or least it being date ambiguous. The plot requires the absence of some pretty everyday technology and then wondering at the beginning why Carl does one thing, even though coherent with later behaviour it jars a little in it's unexpectedness.

Even though those things stuck in my mind they weren't enough to pull me out of the story and they are minor considering the effect of the whole book. And it's nice to see a book that is confident enough to be shorter. Regicide weighs in at under 200 pages and carries more power for that.

Regicide is one of those books that is perfect for dark nights but if you hear a dog bark whilst reading I doubt you'll want to go to the window to investigate.

The Act of Roger Murgatroyd (Evadne Mount Trilogy)
The Act of Roger Murgatroyd (Evadne Mount Trilogy)
by Gilbert Adair
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Adair is having a lot of fun and brings the reader with him., 10 Jun. 2011
This should be a poor parody. I have a feeling that the title at least is a play on The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, which I didn't know anything about. I got as far as the bit of Wikipedia which said, `It is one of Christie's best known and most controversial novels, its innovative twist ending having a significant impact on the genre' and stopped reading. I don't like spoilers at the best of times.

Despite this gap in my reading this novel definitely has a gentle poke at the Agatha Christie and her take on the genre. If you were to personify Christie as a detective/writer you she would probably come out like Evadne Mount.

On Boxing Day circa 1935 there is a Christmas party at a snowed-in manor on the edge of Dartmoor. In the attic lies the body of Raymond Gentry, gossip columnist and blackmailer, who has seemingly been murdered in a locked and empty attic.

Adair turns the standard formula of investigation and revelation on its head. Through the questioning of retired Chief-Inspector Trubshawe and the several asides and retellings of her own work by Evadne we find out more about not only about Raymond Gentry but all the other guests and their motives for murder.

Adair has a wonderful sense of humour and he plays with conventions and expectations of the genre. You can tells he's having a lot of fun and brings the reader with him.

As I was saying this should be a poor parody but it's not. Adair creates a cast of emotive and responsive characters whose lives are touching if a little dated by modern standards. He gives them all a sense of individuality even the servants like Addie and hers `squashed little features'.

The who-dunnit element is well played and the range of motives is well portrayed giving several options for the real murder. Though in the end Adair still manages a surprise or two.

I'm looking forward to getting onto the next adventure of Evadne Mout in A Mysterious Affair of Style: A Sequel (Evadne Mount Mystery 2).

Highly Recommended for lovers of the genre or those that require a little light reading.

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