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Curiosity Killed The Bookworm (Dorset, UK)
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Astonish Me
Astonish Me
by Maggie Shipstead
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £13.48

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Enjoyment may depend on your interest in ballet, 22 May 2014
This review is from: Astonish Me (Hardcover)
Astonish Me is a tale of obsession and sacrifice told through evocative and expressive writing. The narrative flits back and forth between Joan’s time as a dancer and her time as a mother. But does she ever really leave her obsession behind? She teaches ballet and moulds a future generation of dancers. Is she just living her life through them?

At times it feels like it’s been written by a dancer. There is a lot of focus on the body, as a machine, a tool to dance with, separate from emotional needs. The characters feel quite distanced from reality, ballet and their bodies being the most important thing of all. It’s a tough choice for female dancers who wish for children but do not want to give up their passion. For these dancers, ballet is a passion, their life, and to give it up is to give up breathing. Although Joan appears to voluntarily step back, as the story unfolds, you see just how much hold ballet really has on her.

Perhaps this means the books will not appeal to those with no interest in ballet. The selfish drive of the characters is only put into context through the extremes of their world. The part about Russian defectors was an interesting piece of social history. They were driven so hard to be the best in the world but they wanted their freedom and they had to be smuggled out to the free world, given homes amongst the ballet companies.

The more I think about it, the more I like the book, although it feels very intense at the time. Harry’s path appears to be following his father’s and then veers off. It touches on the prejudice against male dancers but also on the hardships of all dancers going through puberty and not knowing if their bodies will be kind to them.

Review copy provided by publisher.


The Three
The Three
by Sarah Lotz
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £11.99

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Not what I expected..., 22 May 2014
This review is from: The Three (Hardcover)
The Three was not what I was expecting but I loved it all the same. The focus is on the reactions to The Three from around the world, from the press interest to the Pamelists; those who see the events of Black Thursday as a biblical omen. The format reminded me very much of World War Z; an oral history of sorts combined of Skype conversations, transcripts and press cuttings. The idea is that all these bits of testimonials have been collected together by Elspeth, a journalist who wrote a book on The Three.

The real fear is nothing to do with the surviving children and what they may or may not be. That is almost an aside. Instead, it’s how easy it is for people to use tragedy to their own advantage, incite hatred and turn people against each other. There’s a lot about Christian fundamentalism and fanaticism as well as how lack of privacy from the media wears people down. Plus the underlying grief and guilt of families left behind.

My favourite characters were Chiyoko and Ryu, two Japanese teenagers from different spheres who chat online. Chiyoko is related to one of The Three and also has a well-known uncle, who is famous for his life-like robotic creations. Ryu is a hikikomori, a socially isolated individual who barely leaves their own room. And the idea of a suicide forest, where hundreds go to die was both sad and unusual. I’m not sure if this is a real place or not but the descriptions were wonderfully evocative, changing in tone depending on whose point of view it was.

It’s hard to say much more without revealing spoilers. I found myself changing my mind continuously throughout on whether The Three were a coincidental miracle, extra-terrestrial, supernatural or spiritual. It’s being classified as horror, but I think that’s just because it’s so hard to pin down. There are elements of horror but it’s certainly not a fright fest.

Review copy provided by publisher.


No Harm Can Come to a Good Man
No Harm Can Come to a Good Man
by James Smythe
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £14.88

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Another fantastic, if bleak, novel from Mr Smythe, 22 May 2014
ClearVista is an algorithm to predict the future. Want to know the chance of rain tomorrow? Just type in your question and press enter. It has become woven into everyday life and no one thinks to question it. Laurence Walker is favourite to become the Democratic presidential candidate, so filling in the ClearVista questionnaire seems like a wise idea. It will show America he is the right man. Or will it?

No Harm Can Come to a Good Man is another bleak vision of the near future from Mr Smythe, this time told through one man’s family. It’s a slow burn, the tension growing with one small event that snowballs out of control. The writing draws you in and I honestly started to feel anxious about these people. That’s a sign of good writing, when the characters become real enough to affect your emotions. So, maybe don’t read it when you’re feeling down, but do read it.

It just goes to show how much I love James Smythe’s style that I read this. A political thriller isn’t really my thing but like many of his books, it’s intimate and claustrophobic. The campaign for presidential candidate is a vehicle for what happens to Laurence and justifies the media interest. Laurence might not have started out as a character I would have empathised with but I felt for him by the end. There’s no justice or sympathy.

The story highlights the media circus surrounding presidential candidates and the incredible invasion of privacy they must face. Where do you draw the line between knowing the candidate is a good enough man to run the country and intruding on personal life?

There is a small science fiction aspect to this of course. The science of predictions; which is already a big thing in the US. How reliable are they and when does a prediction shape the future? The Walker family suffer a loss they are unlikely to recover from, but they can carry on their lives; can a computer really differentiate between those kinds of subtleties?

Review copy provided by publisher.


Beautiful Day
Beautiful Day
by Kate Anthony
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

3.0 out of 5 stars Easy read but needed more oomph, 13 May 2014
This review is from: Beautiful Day (Paperback)
Beautiful Day is an easy and enjoyable read but I was expecting something a bit weightier. The care home and the awkward carer patient relationship between Rachel and Philip should have been at the forefront but a lot of time was spent on Rachel’s home life. There’s a lot of description of everyday things to do with the kids, especially at the beginning. If you like your women’s fiction with a good dose of the domestic, you’ll probably enjoy it.

For a debut, there’s a lot going on and a large cast of characters. Rachel has three children, all of whom get their own personalities and a fair amount of plot is given over to her eldest, Alec. He’s the one hardest hit by his parents’ divorce. There’s the other woman, Deborah, who Rachel barely manages to be civil to as well as her ex and a useless au pair. He mother-in-law and best friend are in and out of the story and this is even before we get to the staff and residents of the care home. It just could have done with being a tad more focused.

Philip is a grown man who has been kept at home all his life, never really knowing the world around him. He appears severely autistic and much younger than his age. There are both touching and distressing scenes but his situation is a bit glossed over. His mother is dead and he is all alone in a world that he doesn’t understand. Rachel takes a special interest in him but the story doesn’t really explore the hardships surrounding a case like his, nor go into real depth about the abuses of power in some care homes. It’s a plot point, but so much is going on that it doesn’t really hit home.

Whilst Rachel loses her temper from time to time, I never got the feeling things were hard for her. Apart from the daily trials of dealing with shared custody after divorce, she seemed pretty comfortable in her life. I would have thought being a single parent and working as a care assistant would have been exhausting and stressful. The only unpleasantness at her work is her horrid boss and Philip’s toenails.

Review copy provided by publisher.


The Winner's Curse (The Winner's Trilogy Book 1)
The Winner's Curse (The Winner's Trilogy Book 1)
Price: £4.84

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fantasy with a complicated central relationship, 13 May 2014
At first, I felt a little uncertain of the slavery aspect. It’s a fantasy setting, so why does it have to be white “European” owners with dark skinned slaves? Still, as the story progresses, there’s enough to challenge the characters and their history. There’s the issue of consent, which reminded me of the prisoner/guard relationship. If you are owned, you can’t really say no, a sexual relationship between a master and their slave can never be truly consensual, because they feel like they don’t have a choice. And, indeed, in most cases there isn’t.

These slaves were not considered savages by their conquerors. In fact the Valerians were the savages and the Harrani culture was adopted when they took over their lands. Before the war, their people had traded with each other. They were enslaved, not because they were considered lesser (although after time, this opinion prevailed) but because not trusting the defeated to behave it was either slavery or death. I am surprised such a short time had passed between their enslavement and the events in this story. Their slave culture seemed a lot more entrenched into society.

Neither character is intrinsically likable, something that can be a stumbling block in young adult, but they are complicated and any romance isn’t straight forward. Kestrel doesn’t really see the wrongs her people have done, even when she befriends Arin, she doesn’t become anti-slavery. With her military training, she was bound to know that the Valerian’s stole their land, but it doesn’t bother her. Despite everything, her sense of entitlement prevails.

Arin’s position is more difficult. He’s a slave, with no freedom, his people have been betrayed, but he is also a betrayer. It can’t be easy for him to have empathy towards his mistress and it’s hard to make out his true feeliings. In a straight-forward romantic story, his path would be clear but instead it’s troubled, which makes this more than your average YA romance.

It is a bit slow in places, but it gives you time to really think about their situation. It’s an awkward dynamic which isn’t glossed over in favour of love conquers all.

Review copy provided by publisher.


Stray (A Stray Book)
Stray (A Stray Book)
by Monica Hesse
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Great concept and enjoyable read, 13 May 2014
This review is from: Stray (A Stray Book) (Paperback)
The Path is a virtual reality based on one boy’s memories. Lona Sixteen Always is one of the children on The Path, living Julian’s life as if it were her own. Her only experiences as herself are the moments when she’s disconnected from the system for calisthenics. There, she talks to Finn, a boy who is a few years ahead of her on The Path, sharing their memories that are identical. But one day, Lona goes Off-Path and must learn to live in a world where anything can happen.

The concept behind Stray stems from what to do with foster children. It seems like Path came from a place of good intentions. Children who were orphaned or came from abusive backgrounds could live out a life deemed to be perfectly ordinary. There would be no more shuffling them from home to home, no one taking advantage of them or neglecting them. The lack of individuality or choice is the price to pay for a happy childhood.

When the children reach 18, they are reintroduced into the world, where they will have to find out who they really are at last. Can they cope without Julian? Lona is off schedule, younger than the eighteeners who are given extra time to adjust. But it soon becomes clear, that it’s not as simple as removing them from the virtual reality.

The lack of individuality is continued through with the children’s names. Lona and Finn aren’t real names, they are reference numbers which relate to their date of birth and location within the compound. They might have the love of Julian’s parents on Path, but in reality, they aren’t treated as children with their own hopes and fears. They are a number, to be processed through the system until they reach adulthood, which is often how foster children see themselves anyway.

Whilst Lona’s brain chemistry might have been a bit different, I never felt like she was the heroine about to swoop in and save the day. Her character is suitably naïve and she struggles with interactions. I loved the scene where she is eating real foods for the first time. She may have the memories of eating but they’re not the same as experiencing it.


Friday Brown
Friday Brown
by Vikki Wakefield
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful YA book for all ages, 13 May 2014
This review is from: Friday Brown (Paperback)
I honestly don’t know why more people aren’t talking about Vikki Wakefield; her writing is just a pleasure to read. Friday Brown feels like a quiet sort of tale, intimate in its telling but has big themes. Friday runs away from home after her mother’s death and ends up living in a squat. She’s set apart from the other kids who have fled unhappy homes where Friday left by choice; turned away money that would have set her on the right path.

It’s kind of refreshing for a young adult book to stay away from romantic love. It’s not that Friday doesn’t express any interest in dating, it’s just not a big part of her life. She’s still finding out who she is. Instead, Friday befriends Silence, a boy who doesn’t speak. Their bond is that of siblings within a wider family, one she doesn’t always feel she fits into.

The story goes from the big city out into Australia’s outback. Friday might never be street smart but she had grown up on the road with her mother. There’s little bits of everyday drama, details of things as simple as making dinner when you have little money to spare as well as moments of heartbreaking tragedy. I urge you to read it.


The Forever Song (Blood of Eden)
The Forever Song (Blood of Eden)
by Julie Kagawa
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.39

3.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing end to a fantastic trilogy, 13 May 2014
I was a bit disappointed in The Forever Song, especially considering how much I enjoyed the first two books in the trilogy. It takes so long for anything to happen other than slashing and hacking away at rabids and other assorted foes. Then the first major plot point, character-wise, had me rolling my eyes. It was well past half way when I started to get into the story and I only continued because I wanted to see this story come to a conclusion.

If you’re a big fan of action, you might not mind the first 200 odd pages. It just got a bit repetitive for me. Jackal seemed to take a while to get into his usual wise-cracking self too. I won’t reveal The Thing that annoyed me but I felt it was lazy writing and also led to a lot of unnecessary melodrama. Even Jackal and Kanin started to get a bit tired of the other characters’ behaviour.

Allie, is however coming to terms with being a vampire. She’s no longer reluctant to drink from humans… Is she getting to close to losing her humanity? Was losing Zeke the last straw? I think she’s grown a lot as a character over the books, but it was probably the right time to say goodbye.

You’re probably thinking I hated this book but I really enjoyed the last 150ish pages and the big finale. A shorter book would have been more entertaining and I wonder if Julie Kagawa just ran out of material for it.

Review copy provided by publisher.


Who is Tom Ditto?
Who is Tom Ditto?
by Danny Wallace
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £9.99

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not as good as his others, 13 May 2014
This review is from: Who is Tom Ditto? (Hardcover)
Tom’s girlfriend has left, but she hasn’t left him. At least that’s what the note she leaves behind for him says. Feeling confused and angry, Tom sets out to find out where she’s gone. His path leads him to a Holiday Inn Express and a group of people with an odd way of life.

I’ve loved Danny Wallace’s previous books, including his debut novel Charlotte Street, however I struggled to get into Who is Tom Ditto? There’s lots of wonderful little observations throughout the pages and trademark Wallace charm but the story was slow and maybe a bit too surreal for the realistic setting.

At times, it does sort of feel like something Danny might have done in real life, like his Join Me book. The group of people Tom finds like to follow people, to experience the lives of strangers. Some take it a bit too far, others just spend evenings eating and drinking the same things as their chosen target. It’s a way to break free from the routine of everyday life and add some spontaneity.

Tom’s story is broken up by snippets of what seems like a newspaper interview, with the man behind the following movement. These didn’t add much at all and just slowed the pace down. Tom is also a radio newsreader and a lot of the time is spent in the studio. His job actually provided some of the funnier moments but it just didn’t quite all mesh together.

On a positive note, it’s refreshing to see a character suffering from depression where it’s not the main focus. He gets on with his life, even if he’s not fulfilled, he’s coping. Although it could be argued that the whole following thing was a symptom, a way of deflecting but I don’t think Tom got that into it. The distractions of new people did seem to help him.

Review copy provided by publisher.


GLAZE
GLAZE
Price: £1.99

5.0 out of 5 stars The future of social media, 12 May 2014
This review is from: GLAZE (Kindle Edition)
Glaze is an action packed social commentary on both the positive and negative aspects of social media. So interesting to see some of our current behaviour brought out into the open and examined in this fictional world. The wealth of knowledge and support we have at our fingertips is amazing when you compare it to 20 years ago, imagine if it was all in your head, accessible with just a thought. Is limiting access to individual impeding on their civil rights? Are our happy social circles shielding us from other viewpoints, for better or for worse?

Not to mention the scary thought of what giant corporations could be doing with our data. At what point do you draw the line, especially if all you can see are personal benefits? In Glaze there is only one social network that matters, there isn’t any choice in the matter other than not joining. And not joining means being excluded, something many people already feel about Facebook today.

The hackers that Petri meets seems harmless at first. As the story progresses, it follows the fine line between doing something for the greater good and doing more harm than good. There are always two sides to the coin. Some have noble causes but others can threaten the systems we rely on so much. Sometimes it’s a bit of both.

I don’t think we are too far away from her world, which is frightening stuff. I loved every page.

Review copy provided by author.


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