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Price: 5.49

4.0 out of 5 stars A gripping and insightful read, 19 May 2013
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This review is from: Honour (Kindle Edition)
Elif Shafak's Honour hinges around one horrible crime. The nature of this crime itself is revealed within the first few pages, and the rest of the book is spent examining the lives of the people affected and the events that led up to and contributed to the event. It's a story that spans four generations, split between the remote villages of Turkey and the metropolis of 1970's London. When Pembe and Adem leave their home country to build a new life in Britain, their children must find a way to mesh new traditions with the old, to speak two languages and to adapt the cultural norms of their heritage to new situations.

In Honour, Elif Shafak examines how gender, history and expectations combine to have a powerful impact on our behaviour and our future actions. It's also fair to say that this book is an exploration of immigrant culture. It looks in detail at the relationships between parents and their children and how a rich cultural history is blended with new experiences.

I actually read this book while I was in Turkey, and the sections set in the villages really came to life for me. However, it felt as though it was lacking in the crucial emotional connection to the central characters. The narrative style, which tends to jump around between different times and different viewpoints, also made the novel quite hard to follow. It also meant that certain events were revealed out of sequence, taking away some of the tension from the main plotline.

Honour does a great job of setting out facts and events and of creating a very real and powerful backdrop, but at no point does the author really use her position to give an opinion on the twin cultures that she's describing. It's up to us as readers to make the observations for ourselves. In doing so, I think the author misses out on an opportunity to get across what has the potential to be a very powerful statement.

Snake Ropes
Snake Ropes
by Jess Richards
Edition: Paperback
Price: 6.29

4.0 out of 5 stars A fascinating combination of fantasy, folktale and myth, 17 May 2013
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This review is from: Snake Ropes (Paperback)
On a remote and isolated island off the edge of the map, Mary is searching desperately for her little brother, missing since the day the Tall Men came to trade. Convinced that someone on the island knows more than they're revealing, Mary will not rest until she finds him. But Barney is not the only boy to have disappeared lately, and the women of the island are calling on all their power, as well as their knowledge of ancient rites and rituals, to find the perpetrator.

Elsewhere on the island, Morgan, the `hidden daughter', is confined behind a tall fence and a padlocked gate, the key of which never leaves her mothers grasp. Living life through the characters in her books, she dreams of the day when she can escape to the mainland.

Snake Ropes is a book made up of a fascinating combination of myths, legends, fantasy and folk tales. It's a book of shadow selves, buried truths and keys that can talk. It's a book where ghosts can cross paths with the living, where poisoned hair spreads across the sea onto the shores, and where seals shed their pelt to walk on the sands. It's a book of mysterious and mystical places that cannot be explained, from the Weaving Room, where the women decide on the fates of wrong-doers, to the mysterious and deadly Thrashing House, which can be controlled by no-one and which never relinquishes its hold on its victims.

This book is a real exploration into the unknown, and I really enjoyed how the author played with our perceptions of what's real, what's not real and what we can make real through the power of our beliefs. It's a really interesting debut novel, and it's easy to see why it was nominated for awards.

However, while the writing style is certainly interesting, at some points I found that the unusual style, and the numerous diversions into fantasy, took away from the story rather than adding to it. It was quite intense, which also meant that it could be a little confusing. For me, this made it difficult to keep track of the main storyline.

The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared
The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared
Price: 2.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Laugh-out-loud, feel good fun, 12 May 2013
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I'm the first one to admit that lots of books make me cry. But very few books make me actually laugh out loud. However, Jonas Jonasson's `The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared' was a delightful exception to the rule.

It's a tale of two halves. In 2005, Allen (the aforementioned centenarian) climbs out of the window of his nursing home to escape his 100th birthday party. The unprompted theft of a suitcase full of money sparks a series of progressively unlikely events that sees Allen being pursued by a criminal gang on one side and an increasingly bemused police department on the other. Along the way, his band of unusual companions expands to include a petty thief, a hot dog vendor, a flame haired beauty, an Alsatian and an elephant.

In a separate thread, we learn about exactly what Allen has done with his 100 years on this planet. We follow his journey as he travels around the globe, going wherever the wind takes him, exploiting ludicrously fortuitous circumstances for all they're worth and doing precisely whatever comes into his head. By his late 60's, he's been on first name terms with some of the world's most famous leaders - Franco, Stalin, Truman, Churchill and Kim Il Sung to name but a few - and has sat down for dinner with at least half of them.

We discover that Allen's actions have played a crucial role in some of the most momentous events of the twentieth century, from the Atom bomb to the Cold War, despite the fact that he is unswervingly uninterested in politics. He also shows an almost unparalleled aptitude for languages, an astonishing lack of tact and what by all accounts should be an incredibly unhealthy ability to drink large quantities of vodka.

Some people have commented that by the end, this book gets a little bit too far-fetched, but you just have to take it with a (small) pinch of salt. Reading it was like watching a comedy TV sitcom. You know the jokes are coming and you're waiting for the next one, ready to laugh along in time to the pre-recorded studio laughs. It makes you feel good.

One of my favourite parts was how the group gets around the problems involved in transporting an elephant throughout the book, whether that's by getting an almost-qualified carpenter to transform a second hand bright yellow bus or by bribing officials in Bali. I also laughed out loud when I reached a section where Allen, pondering his next holiday destination, has a casual chat over drinks with some of the world's most infamous communist leaders to discuss where they think will be the last place on earth their ideology would reach.

Fire and Thorns (Fire & Thorns Trilogy 1)
Fire and Thorns (Fire & Thorns Trilogy 1)
Price: 5.99

4.0 out of 5 stars A fantastic read!, 12 May 2013
`The Girl of Fire and Thorns' is an example of a book I felt was written really well, so much so that even though I didn't particularly enjoy the central premise of the novel, I really enjoyed the book as a whole. I read this on a recommendation, without researching it too heavily beforehand. However, fairly soon after starting the book I realised that despite the fact it's a fantasy novel set in a fantasy world, it's heavily religious in its theme.

It's not something I'd usually buy but I persevered - and I'm glad I did. On her sixteenth birthday, Elisa is married to a prince of a neighbouring kingdom. She is also named in an ancient prophecy that marks out one person a century for life of greatness. But this prophecy also makes her a target, and with the realm facing increasing tension and civil war, Elisa is unwillingly drawn into the heart of the action.

Like any good protagonist, Elisa undergoes a personal, and in this case a physical, transformation over the course of the book. However, this transformation was woven into the fabric of the book and it didn't feel forced. There was also a great cast of supporting characters, and although I didn't relate to some of them, this was purely because of the nature of their personalities rather than a lack of one. There's a strong fantasy and magical element as well as an intricate central love story and it really engaged me as a reader. I'll definitely be reading the next book in the trilogy.

The Mortal Instruments 1: City of Bones
The Mortal Instruments 1: City of Bones
Price: 3.66

2.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing, but with some potential, 12 May 2013
In terms of storylines, the Mortal Instruments story really appealed to me on paper. It follows sixteen-year-old Clary Fray, a normal girl living in New York. One night, her mother disappears and she's plunged into a world of demons, Shadowhunters, vampires and warlocks. I won't go into too much detail on the specifics to avoid spoilers, but there's a brooding male lead, forbidden love, an arch nemesis and some complicated family dynamics.

While the author's storylines are fairly imaginative, I felt that the characters were really underdeveloped. Jace, Clary's complicated love interest, was incredibly stereotypical. He's arrogant and good looking with some serious issues to be resolved but so inexplicably drawn to the main character that she's the only one that can really `reach' him. The other male in the love triangle, Simon, is a typical boy-who-is-just-a-friend, and I didn't think he was particularly likeable. Clary herself is supposed to be likeable but I just couldn't connect with her as a character.

One of my main criticisms of Y/A fiction is that I feel the writing can let them down. The City of Bones is a case in point. I may not have been quite so overly critical of the character development if the writing had not also been stilted and slightly wooden. The dialogue didn't flow, the descriptions were clichéd and the relationships unbelievable. However, written with a bit more care, I think this series could have had some real potential.

Daughter of Smoke and Bone (Daughter of Smoke and Bone Trilogy)
Daughter of Smoke and Bone (Daughter of Smoke and Bone Trilogy)
by Laini Taylor
Edition: Paperback
Price: 7.03

3.0 out of 5 stars Good ideas, a little disappointing, 12 May 2013
Karou has grown up between worlds, her childhood was spent in the back of a mysterious shop owned by Brimstone, a dealer in teeth and wishes and Karou's guardian for as long as she can remember. Now Karou is old enough to fend for herself, and she has gradually begun to forge a life in the human world, but she's increasingly torn between normality and the exciting, dangerous and macabre duties that she carries out on Brimstone's behalf. She is also desperately searching for answers regarding her identity and how she came to be in Brimstone's care. Then one day, she comes into contact with one cold-hearted and extremely powerful angel, Akiva, who might just hold the answers she needs.

As with most Y/A fantasy novels, there is a strong love story at the heart of `The Daughter of Smoke and Bones', the true extent of which becomes clear as the novel progresses. That said, the author has really tried to approach this in a different way and break free of the traditional stereotypes. There's no escaping the fact that all the clichéd elements are there, but it was interesting and different, with a bit of a twist, and the way the novel was written kept me turning the pages.

My main criticism of this novel is that I felt it was wholly focussed on building up to a sequel. There's a lot of time dedicated to explaining Karou's background and history of her world, but the action was just about to kick off when the book ended, which was frustrating to say the least. I'm all for sequels, and I think they can work really well, but The Daughter of Smoke and Bones needed more of a story of its own, and I'm not sure whether I'll go on to read the next in the series?

The Sisters Brothers
The Sisters Brothers
by Patrick deWitt
Edition: Paperback
Price: 3.86

5.0 out of 5 stars A fantastic read!, 3 May 2013
This review is from: The Sisters Brothers (Paperback)
An homage to a classic Western, Patrick DeWitt's `The Sisters Brothers' is a tale of two notorious gunmen for hire, Eli and Charlie Sisters. Their latest mark - a one Hermann Kermit Warm.

Under the orders of the greedy and ruthless Commodore, the brothers travel across America to California, where their target is embroiled in the frenzy of the gold rush of the early 1850's. Along the way they suffer numerous setbacks and come across a cast of extraordinary characters, from a crying man to a murderous child to a gypsy witch. Their fortunes change, from good to bad and back and forth again, and when they finally track down their quarry they have a life-changing choice to make.

While Charlie seems to thrive under their murderous choice of profession, Eli struggles with their nomadic and lonely lifestyle. The journey to California acts as a foil for his own personal search for something more. Ruled by his temper and prone to violent outbursts, he's aware that he's often manipulated by his brother but is keen to settle down to a more respectable way of life.

Eli's relationships - with his brother, his horses and with his feelings about what he does for a living - form the beating heart of this book. The classic younger brother, he looks up to Charlie with an almost hero worship and gladly follows in his lead. The dialogue between the two is incredibly realistic - it's sometimes tense, sometimes cruel, sometimes brutally honest and sometimes the most natural thing in the world.

It's narrated by Eli in an almost deadpan, slightly unhinged fashion that shapes the character of the entire book. It made the characters feel wonderfully real and gave them a real sense of personality. It's easy to see how this book made the long list for the Man Booker prize. It's almost like a selection of separate stories or anecdotes tied together by the strength of the central characters and the flair of DeWitt's unique writing style. It was full of wit and dark humour and conjured up a vivid and colourful image of the life on the frontiers.

I just had one criticism. While I can appreciate the incredibly talented writing and the construction, I'm not sure if I felt completely satisfied by the time I turned the last page. The story takes a while to kick in and I found the first quarter of the novel quite slow going. Even then, I reached the end and I felt like it was missing something story-wise. It felt as if so much time and effort was invested in describing the details that the wider picture was lost to some extent.

Midnight in St Petersburg
Midnight in St Petersburg
by Vanora Bennett
Edition: Paperback
Price: 9.09

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A must read for fans of historical fiction, 2 May 2013
In a city brimming with unrest and on the brink of revolution, one young woman steps off a train in possession of stolen papers and in search of a refuge from the violent pogroms of Kiev. Welcomed into the Leman family, Inna becomes an apprentice in their violin-making workshop and as she carves out her place in St Petersburg, she also gains a newfound confidence in herself.

As political tensions escalate, Inna finds herself torn between two men who represent very different paths. Wild and quick-tempered, Yasha throws himself into revolutionary politics with abandon. Their relationship, while built on passion and desire, also has the potential to destroy the safety of the life that Inna has created. On the other hand, respectable Englishman Horace, with a position at the prestigious Fabergé jewelry house, represents security and steady, unerring loyalty. As the situation in St Petersburg becomes increasingly dangerous, Inna is forced to choose between following her head or her heart.

I loved this book. Set in one of the most tumultuous periods of Russian history, the reader experiences some of the most important events of the period through the eyes of an ordinary family who are just trying to live and to stay afloat. From a historical point of view, we're introduced to some of the key figures of the time, from Rasputin to Lenin, and it really shone a light on the cultural and religious differences of the people living in St Petersburg at the time and the how events impacted on these different groups.

As someone who's trying to learn Russian (albeit extremely slowly!) I really enjoyed how the author added little details explaining the nuances of Russian language and customs. I can only imagine how tough it would have been - and probably still is - to live in Russia as a foreigner. I also loved that the character of Horace was based on the real life story of the author's great-uncle, it gave the novel a really personal touch.

One thing that I would say is that it took me a while to get really into the story. I didn't immediately relate to Inna as a character, I found she came across as quite dispassionate and almost calculating. That said, as a young Jewish woman fighting for her survival, that's probably exactly who she needed to be, and the tone contributed to the overall feeling of distrust and of tension revolutionary Russia. Still, it would have been great to have a bit more information about the central characters earlier on in the novel, as it might have helped me to become emotionally invested in them a bit earlier on.

By the end though, I was completely hooked. It was fast paced, packed full of tension and led up to a really satisfying conclusion. A definite must read for anyone interested in historical fiction!

The Reapers are the Angels
The Reapers are the Angels
by Alden Bell
Edition: Paperback
Price: 6.39

4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting and different, 2 May 2013
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The Reapers are the Angels is the story of Temple. Fifteen years old, a loner and a survivor, Temple wanders the country with no destination, only a will to live. Along the way, she runs into other survivors, one of whom becomes her sworn enemy. Driven by a conviction that killing her is the only thing that makes sense, he will stop at nothing to do so. In trying to evade her pursuer, Temple comes across a man named Maury. He's helpless and vulnerable, and Temple makes a pact with herself to deliver him back to his family, whatever it takes.

When I started reading The Reapers are the Angels, it was hot off the back of the season finale of The Walking Dead and I'd also read a quote that said this book was perfect for fans of Justin Cronin's The Passage - which ranks as one of my all time favourite dystopian fiction novels - so I was expecting something equally mind-blowing and action packed.

As it turned out, this novel was actually quite different from what I was expecting. For a start, it was a lot slower in pace. The zombies, or `meatskins' as they're known, were used more as a device to set the scene for the action than as a central part of the story. That's where my main problem lay with this novel. It is described as post-apocalyptic world, however none of the characters we meet seem to struggle for supplies or shelter, even when they're out in the big bad open. And despite the fact that zombies have been roaming the earth for near on twenty years, there is still electricity, working GPS device and fully functional abandoned petrol stations stocked with food.

The writing style of The Reapers are the Angels was really different and it took me a little while to get used to it. There's no real separation of dialogue from the rest of the text, which gives the impression that the reader is a passive witness to Temple's stream of consciousness. By the end of the book, however, I thought it really worked and it really contributed to the whole isolated and estranged feel of the book.

The characters were well developed and well rounded, but there was a little too much of a focus on the theme of heavenly salvation and redemption for my personal liking. That said, I can see why the author has chosen to go down this route, and it was interesting to see his interpretation of how certain people would react under very difficult circumstances and in the absence of any real hope.

Overall it was a good and enjoyable read. I know that others have said they weren't keen on the ending, but I actually thought it worked really well - it's refreshing to read a book in this genre that works as a standalone novel without spending too much time building up to a sequel.

Jasmine Nights
Jasmine Nights
by Julia Gregson
Edition: Paperback
Price: 3.99

3.0 out of 5 stars Entertaining, 25 Mar 2013
This review is from: Jasmine Nights (Paperback)
World War II has inspired a whole plethora of books over the years, and in my experience it's quite rare to come across one that has a completely fresh take on the genre. However, Julia Gregson's Jasmine Nights managed to do just that. Far away from the trenches of central Europe or the grey, rationed world of 1940's London, Jasmine Nights presents a completely different aspect of war experienced in the exotic cities of Cairo, Alexandria and Istanbul and the open skies over the Egyptian desert.

Against the wishes of her family and in a move may alienate her from her father forever, ENSA singer Saba has risked everything to pursue her passion and to serve her country. Egypt offers her a chance to develop her voice in ways that she could never have imagined, but as the war progresses she finds herself increasingly embroiled in the shady world of espionage, with devastating consequences.

Pilot Officer Dominic Benson, serving with the Desert Air Force, has recovered physically from a traumatic injury but is struggling with the guilt of losing his best friend. When he hears Saba singing in a hospital concert, he dares to hope again. But taking to the skies again comes with it's own dangers, and when disaster strikes, can they find their way back to one another?

The switching narratives give an insight into two very different sides of war, from Saba, fighting for her independence from the constraints of home, to Dom, who has experienced the all the horrors of war first hand but can't bring himself to talk about it. At it's heart, it's essentially a romance novel, and yes, it does have some clichés, but that didn't stop me from thoroughly enjoying it. It's packed full of vivid visual imagery and a wealth of detail and description that speaks to all the senses. The protagonists are interesting and appealing and there's enough tension and intrigue to keep you hooked all the way to the end.

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