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The Luminaries
The Luminaries
by Eleanor Catton
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £7.00

2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars What a page-turner, 26 Nov. 2013
This review is from: The Luminaries (Hardcover)
What a prodigy and a genius Eleanor Catton is! What a luminous story! To have achieved not only a Booker winner in her young years, but a book that is inventive and so readable as well, is a magnificent feat. Her vocabulary is powerful, her research into the history of the times and of aspects like a trial held in the courts of law of the time are awe-inspiring.

I have not enjoyed a book as much as this in a long time. The book is a page-turner, the mysteries interweaving and overlapping to an exquisite degree. I found the characters fascinating, the setting brought to life vividly and the plot wonderful. I couldn't wait to reach the end and find out the reason for the mysteries even though this would end the fabulous reading experience.

I admit to some regret that at the end I had to read over part of the last 100-150 pages to solve the mysteries. I figured out some although their description wasn't clear. I hope to be ambiguous so as not to give away spoilers, but the following remained a mystery. Why did Mrs. Wells turn Anna's life around and pay her debts? This was not at all clear to me. How did the Titania come to be? If anyone knows the answers to these questions, please let me know.

Should we use astrology to determine that Libran Catton has similarities with Harald Nilssen, the Libran?

There are 12 characters whose star signs we know. There are other major characters whose astrology signs we are not told such as: Walter Moody, Anna Wetherell, Lydia Wells, Francis Carver, Emery Staines, Alistair Lauderback, George Shepard and Crosbie Wells. Can we guess at these?

Although I have read about astrology for many years, I was baffled by the use of the astrology overview and the headings of the planets in the various signs. Maybe Catton could have painted a description at the end of each relevant chapter? E.g. for Jupiter in Sagittarius, we could learn that as Jupiter is in a sign it rules over and so is more powerful here and the qualities of Jupiter are strengthened e.g. people will look to for a higher meaning in their life. However, how astrology manifests in the plot is a big question mark to me.

I thoroughly recommend "Luminaries" as an engaging and well-written book with a humorous and compassionate look at humankind.


This Is Shyness
This Is Shyness
by Leanne Hall
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.57

3.0 out of 5 stars In Shyness is The Darkness, 5 Nov. 2013
This review is from: This Is Shyness (Paperback)
There are 3 main characters in "This is Shyness," Wildgirl so-named because it is the slogan on her teeshirt, Wolfboy because he howls at inopportune moments such as when he first spots Wildgirl, and the suburb, Shyness.

To explain Shyness, the suburb: In a sort-of dystopian future world similar to ours, Shyness, a district outlying the city of Panwood, has ceased to have daylight. There it has become dark 24/7, while elsewhere, day and night alternate as per normal. Some hypothetical reasons are given for "the Darkness" - one to do with global warning and another calling it Armageddon. Shyness has been deserted by normal people and is the home-ground to sugar junkies aka the Kidds, gypsies, bars and pubs frequented by those who live on the fringes of society, health shrinks like Dr. Gregory who prey on the young and unsuspecting and places like Orphanville.

Wildgirl is dark-skinned of mixed race, beautiful and damaged. She lives in a slummy housing lot outside Shyness with her solo mother. Being bullied at school for unexplained reasons, Wildgirl can't wait to escape the city and follow her dreams.

The beautiful Wolfboy has developed hairy forearms since Shyness turned dark. No one knows why, but it seems he would like a cure. He lives alone in in his rich parent's decrepit mansion, after they skipped town following the suicide of his adored elder brother, Gram.

There are characters that are not fully-fledged, such as Ortolan, Lupe who reads Wildgirl's future, which we don't get to see, the Elf, Dr. Gregory, Wolfboy's friends, the tiny monkey-like Tarsiers, Thom and Paul. Some are introduced without apparent purpose. In fact, nearly everyone other than the 3 main characters are almost incidental.

The story could have turned dark and sinister but there is a strange sort of hopefulness and a sweet romance that eventuates, although while I read the book and even now while I am reviewing it, I am filled with a sense of dread. It is the darkness the story is full of, the ambivalent shuffling from one place to the next, the lost cigarette lighter that we will venture further into the dangerous unknown to retrieve. All of these left me feeling like I was fumbling for a lighter to shine onto the story. There are many unexplained plot threads, like the reason for Wildgirl's bullying, the point of Dr. Gregory, Wildboy's purpose for life and how he supports himself.

As an original coming-of-age story of one night that is restrained and hopeful, it is enjoyable. If one is looking for a plot-driven or character-driven story, it is not so captivating. It didn't last into my memory.


Mortal Fire
Mortal Fire
by Elizabeth Knox
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £11.64

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Ending left me flummoxed but I still enjoyed the book, 21 Aug. 2013
This review is from: Mortal Fire (Hardcover)
I have read a few of Elizabeth Knox's books and in most the ending has left me flummoxed. The denouement of "Mortal Fire" did confuse me but surprisingly, this didn't detract from my enjoyment of the book.

If the author were to read this review, I would ask her: what is the "Found One"? I am not sure whether this is answered anywhere in the book, but it is so key to the story. I wondered whether the editors also missed that this definition is either absent or not clear.

What I liked about the book:
1. The magic - in the characters used (like runes), in the weaving of spells using sign language, in seeing patterns in the air, and in using smoke and other media.
2. The evocation of time and place - the late 1950s of a New Zealand-like place.
3. The consistency of the characters: Canny Mochrie, Sholto, Susan, Sisema, Ghislain (his enigma, mystery and all) and the Zarenes.
4. Canny's support and love for her friend, Marli.

What I found baffling or not as likeable:
1. The suddenness of the rapport between Canny and Ghislain, which felt embarrassing to me as I read it due to the sense that it wasn't mutual and would leave Canny high and dry. It felt like a crush.
2. The repeated use of the word, "then" during speech, made me feel like I was outside the story.
3. The descriptions in the first few chapters - the telling device. This is what sets it apart from most YA action-orientated fantasy tales. It gives the sense of being a child who is told a story by an adult, rather than the sensation of suspending belief while reading the story.
4. The conclusion - I ended up with a big question mark: What was that? I sort of got the twins, I sort of got some aspects of the mining disaster but didn't get the key aspect relating to Ghislain, I sort of got the wire cage - but I missed entirely how the whole lot meshed together into making sense of the story.

And yet, I am giving the book 4 stars - or more precisely, 3.5 stars. The main reasons are the pure originality of the story and its proposition, the guts it takes for the author to conjure the source of the tale's magic, and that there are no moral judgements made.


Six Suspects: Detective Fiction
Six Suspects: Detective Fiction
by Vikas Swarup
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

3.0 out of 5 stars Deep social commentary couched in a murder mystery, 2 Aug. 2013
This social commentary couched in a murder mystery is the second novel by the deep-thinking Vikas Swarup, who clearly cares about his India, and in this book couches his deep social commentary in a murder mystery. We learn about a number of peoples from different parts of India, get into the psyche of six different individuals and go over the same set of events a number of times - this does get a bit repetitive and is a structure I found made the book put-downable. However, the amazing Vikas Swarup delivered again.


Q &  A
Q & A
by Vikas Swarup
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

4.0 out of 5 stars A favourite book, 2 Aug. 2013
This review is from: Q & A (Paperback)
This was a fun book to read, like a favourite children's book with a mystery at its centre, but with serious social themes. Vikas Swarup is clearly a profound thinker, and a very intelligent and charming man to meet. His book, which I read much before the movie came out, depicts the horrific things that can happen to a poor orphan in a country like India, and the hope that underpins many Indians - that miracles can happen.

It is an uplifting read, an honest book, and it deserves the merit it has received.


The Cuckoo's Calling (Cormoran Strike)
The Cuckoo's Calling (Cormoran Strike)
by Robert Galbraith
Edition: Hardcover

5.0 out of 5 stars Executed in style, 31 July 2013
After reading the final Harry Potter book (of a series that is our firm favourite), my family discussed what JK Rowling's next likely outing would be. The majority of our inter-generational discussion centred on the crime/ detective genre as the facets we loved most about the Harry Potter series were their page-turning, plot-driven and mystery-at-the-centre-of-the-plot qualities. These attributes are found aplenty in "The Cuckoo's Calling" (though this is the second follow-up to Harry Potter). There is a central mystery; interesting protagonists whom we feel invested in populate the story and the story is told by a master storyteller.

Cormoran Strike is struggling with disappointments in his personal life and his business is going downhill when two things happen almost simultaneously: a new client walks in the door with an interesting case that has links to his own childhood and a temporary receptionist, Robin, also starts. What is not clear is how Strike, who is almost penniless and in arrears with his office rent, can afford an assistant. The new case is a murder mystery, well beyond the suspected-infidelity cases Strike has recently been solving.

We follow the clue-by-numbers plot, unravelling the life of the dead supermodel (publishers, she was of mixed-blood - not the fair-skinned cover girl you have!), and learning about Strike as we go along. The ending is unpredictable and the characters interesting enough to make you not want the book to end.

JK Rowling is one of the few authors who would use a pseudonym and risk lower sales. Usually, pseudonyms are used to increase the chances of sales (barring those used by famous authors alongside popular books written in their own name such as Ruth Rendell and Ann Rice). May JK Rowling continue to write long into the future. She is a majestic storyteller.


The Time Traveler's Wife
The Time Traveler's Wife
by Audrey Niffenegger
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.29

2.0 out of 5 stars Not a treat, 31 July 2013
The aspects that those who have already read or want to read "The Time-Traveler's Wife" already know is that it is not set chronologically, it is a love story between Henry and Clare that bridges time and difficulties and that it is based on the fantastical/ science-fiction premise of a time-travelling gene in one of the protagonists, Henry deTamble.

I never felt invested in the story as I felt there was no magic or mystery in it. There was no sense of suspense or a slow reveal. The characters lacked depth or interest. The story is padded out to fill in the lack of plot. The authorial device of having Henry and Clare become aware of the other at different ages and hence of having seen the future other at different times is what makes the tale and the telling complex. Unnecessarily so in my opinion as unless I drew a diagram of the various timelines, the timeframe was totally lost to me. It was a book I read as there was a lot of hype around it but it wasn't for me. (I read this book in 2007 but am only now posting my review.)


Raven Girl
Raven Girl
by Audrey Niffenegger
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £13.59

3.0 out of 5 stars It's fine but lacks the zing at the end, 30 July 2013
This review is from: Raven Girl (Hardcover)
"Once there was a Postman who fell in love with a Raven." So starts this tale of an unusual, but not a forbidden, love. The love story ambles along and develops, which is a surprise in itself. Then along comes a half-raven girl child with the mind and desires of a raven trapped in a girl's body. This girl is called simply "Raven Girl," and we study biology along with her.

A visiting professor, "The Doctor," who "looked fairy ordinary," was however, capable of miraculous transformations in his laboratory. It is during her biology lesson that the modern world properly intervenes with stem cells and operations. Raven Girl asks for an operation to give her a raven's wings so that she may fly. The Doctor replies to her wish quite honestly, "I don't know if I can do this ... Most of the things I do for people are aesthetic, not functional." The book is itself beautifully presented - the drawings are haunting.

There are some ups and downs as are expected in a fairy tale, but not in a direction the reader would necessarily expect. There is originality shown. Is there a fable in here? Is this a morality tale? If so, it might be about mixed-gender individuals who identify with one gender while their body conveys the other more strongly. That is only one postulation. My gripe would be that there isn't the sense that the highly-read author is giving a message. The words "fairly tale" are included in the book flap, which conveys the authorial intention to this reader. Isn't the whole point of a fairy tale to leave a message that lingers with the reader? That is what the time immemorial fables do. The lack is the reason for this score.


The Book of Lies
The Book of Lies
by James Moloney
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.99

4.0 out of 5 stars A book of princes and princesses, heroes and heroines, 14 July 2013
This review is from: The Book of Lies (Paperback)
"The Book of Lies" starts with an orphan: a boy, delivered to an orphanage called Mrs. Timmins's Home for Foundlings and Orphans. So far, so fantasy-mainstream. But there any thought of clichés ends. First of all the characters are interesting in the extreme:
* the kindly Mrs. Timmins, (reminiscent of Professor McGonagall of Harry Potter)
* a gigantic black cat called Termagant with claws like knives that terrifies adults and children alike
* a flying horse, Gadfly, that one would dismiss at first site due to its motley colouring
* elves from an original perspective
* the protagonists: orphans from a variety of background and with distinct personalities: Marcel, Bea, Nicola and Fergus.
* Alwyn, the wicked wizard, the evil king Pelham, and a prince and queen, Damon and Eleanor, whom the children are called on to save by a knight, Starkey and his henchman, Hector.
* best of all, there is a book that tells lies from the truth, and that gives animals a treat all their own

Told from a 3rd-person view, we see the story unfold from Marcel's and Bea's perspective, both sent to the orphanage. The wicked wizard is seen putting a spell on Marcel, wiping his memories and replacing his actual life with a created life. Bea saves Marcel from total memory loss by filling his ears with candle wax, allowing him to remember his name.

Without intending to spoil the story, I will say only that we are taken on a ride of twists and turns through subterfuge, a quest that takes in a long trek through icy mountains and valleys, and a multitude of twists and turns where no one is exactly as they seem, and good and evil personae overlap and interlay. Who can the reader and the children trust? The wizard and King Pelham, Damon and Eleanor, or Starkey and Hector? All the adults except Mrs. Timmins, take on different hues as the tale progresses.

Marcel, Nicola and Fergus find out that they form a key part of the politics of their kingdom, and their route towards truth is cloaked in betrayal, murder and lies that cloak even their identities and actions.

It is clear that James Moloney has set out to create a fantasy for the thinking child/ young adult reader. Beauty doesn't translate into goodness in this book. Death is dealt with directly, and ultimately there is hope and redemption. There are some moments of telling not showing, some confusion about Alywn's role and of the Book of Lies itself, but overall this is a page-turner of a book, full of fantasy, princes and princesses and heroes and heroines.


Thornspell
Thornspell
by Helen Lowe
Edition: Hardcover

3.0 out of 5 stars An okay retelling of Sleeping Beauty, 14 July 2013
This review is from: Thornspell (Hardcover)
This book is the tale of Sleeping Beauty told from the perspective of a young Prince Sigismund. Sigismund is kept within his castle grounds so he is safe while his father goes on adventures to far-flung lands. He has heard fairy stories and longs to go on a heroic quest of his own. Then one day, a strange woman, Margravine zu Malvolin, stops by his castle in a carriage to speak to him through the castle gates and to give him the gift of a blue stone set in a ring.

Sigismund starts to dream of a girl trapped in a house by brambles. He is told that it is nearly 100 years since a witch placed a curse on the princess sleeping in the woods. Margravine is a witch who has designs on the human world and is upset at Sigismund's lineage as his grandfather placed an interdict (embargo) on the Wood, which she believes helped keep her from the kingdom she desired. Margravine wanted to marry the King of the Wood to gain access to the Wood but he married another who also had strong links to Faerie. It was to prevent his progeny from thwarting her that the witch tried to kill the princess, a spell modified by another fay, Syrica.

Sigismund has a number of well-wishers who help him in his quest: Balisan - his sword master and coach, Syrica - a mystical woman, Auld Hazel - a woodland sprite, and finally Rue - a girl who smiles and makes gestures but does not speak. There are other players who come and go to help Sigismund in his quest.

Young Sigismund leaves his fortress and is led onto the quest by starts and falls until he reaches his destination. One does wonder whether there are too many deus ex machina devices employed to help the prince to achieve his mission and to escape from danger. These contrive to prevent the tale from being entirely satisfying. Also, the action is often forestalled by lush descriptions of setting and thinking. One suspects it may not move fast enough to keep the interest of a young reader.

The medieval setting is created realistically and we become invested in the quest with the combination of the induction of fear and adventure. As a retelling of a well-remembered fairy tale, it is fairly imaginative but not stirring.


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