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D. Brown "Blogging at Tweedling, avid reader with an expensive audiobook habit..." (West Yorkshire, UK)

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The Auschwitz Violin
The Auschwitz Violin
Price: £4.49

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful and poignant, 23 Mar 2012
When I was at school I read I am David (World Mammoth) and it is a book that has stayed with me for years. I bought a copy as an adult and read it again - to me, it was just as moving despite my extra years. Perhaps even because of them. I have a feeling that The Auschwitz Violin will have a similar impact on the current generation.

This is an incredibly moving tale of a violin maker - or luthier - who is interred in a Nazi camp during World War II. Although he tells the officials he is a carpenter by profession, a chance encounter leads to his real profession of luthier being revealed. I don't want to give too much about the story away - there is a real beauty in how it unfolds - but his talent brings him to the attention of some of the higher camp officials and a cruel bet means he needs to draw on everything he has learned in order to save his own life.

The Auschwitz Violin is beautifully told from the point of view of a quiet, hard-working prisoner. Daniel shows a quiet strength - he is unwilling to be broken by the cruelty of the camp's guards or the barbarity of the rituals but he is also wise and knows when to speak and when to stay silent. This is a short book - a mere short episode in the life of Daniel - and is almost a snapshot of a barbaric and heartbreaking time; however, it is no less poignant for that.

I thought this was an immensely touching read and I felt a real lump in my throat as I reach the book's conclusion. I know this - like I Am David - will stay with me for many years.

The Fall
The Fall
by Claire McGowan
Edition: Paperback
Price: £10.97

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An excellent debut, 20 Mar 2012
This review is from: The Fall (Paperback)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
The Fall is the debut novel from Claire McGowan and tells the story of a murder investigation and journey to trial from the point of view of three characters: the wife-to-be of the accused, the girlfriend of an unsavoury man who happened to be in the same location as the victim and accused on the night of the murder and, finally, the investigating officer.

At first I found the switch from one perspective to another a little jarring because the switches seemed to happen with great regularity. However, as the stories intertwined, I got used to the style and actually enjoyed the switching perspectives. The three characters are very different - they're from different backgrounds, different worlds and have very different views. However, events bring them into very close contact with one another and lead them to form connections they never would have imagined.

I thought this was an excellent debut, raising some interesting questions about who you can rely upon when the unexpected happens. McGowan brought together some fundamentally flawed characters and revealed their weaknesses and vulnerabilities but in such a way that made you feel more tender and understanding towards them.

I would definitely be interested to read more of McGowan's writing in future and hope to see some grittier, more probing works that build on the success of this first novel.

Undeniably Yours: Book Two of The Kowalskis
Undeniably Yours: Book Two of The Kowalskis
Price: £2.81

3.0 out of 5 stars A touching read for a cosy night in, 18 Mar 2012
Undeniably Yours is a sweet and sexy tale of a sports bar owner who finds his days as a Lothario/Cassanova/general stud are brought to a swift demise after an unintended one night stand. And when I say unintended, I mean Kevin Kowalski hoped it would be the start of a lot more - but Beth Hansen is too strong-willed to be just one more number on a napkin and she leaves Kevin before he can walk out on her. However, when she finds out she's pregnant, she refuses to keep it from Kevin and the news turns both of their worlds upside down.

I enjoyed this read - although it has all the hallmarks of a classic romance (misunderstandings, unable to keep away from one another, strong willed characters who won't back down), it had a very modern up-to-date feel about it. It's also always nice to see a romance that shows the guy investing his feelings from early on in the book, instead of trying to fight the fact that his days as a bachelor are over.

However, if Kevin is a great character, Beth is... less easy to identify with. I found her very irrational at times and though Stacey did a good job of trying to explain some of her feelings and insecurities, often she just came across as... well, not very nice if I'm honest.

If there was one other thing I didn't like it was probably the mini-story that happens between two of the other characters in the book. It isn't a hugely lengthy read and I just felt like that distracted from the dynamic of the novel rather than adding to it. I'd rather the book was another 100 pages in length if another storyline was going to be thrown in. I kept reading and wondering if somehow it would tie in to the overall story somehow and prove to be a key element - but I'm really not sure it did and would have happily seen that aspect removed.

Those two things notwithstanding (and they are not deal-breakers by any means), Undeniably Yours is a good read with some great characters. If you're a romance fan, this will probably tick all the boxes for you and hopefully press a few buttons. Definitely a lovely read for a cosy night in or - if warmer weather permits - a day on the beach!

The Mindful Carnivore: A Vegetarian's Hunt for Sustenance
The Mindful Carnivore: A Vegetarian's Hunt for Sustenance
Price: £9.42

4.0 out of 5 stars A very very well-constructed book, 13 Mar 2012
I've been quite fascinated by the questions about where our food comes from over the last couple of years and documentaries such as Food Inc and Jonathan Safran Foer's Eating Animals have only added to my interest. Although I have weighed up my carnivore lifestyle numerous times over the last decade, I still keep returning to the meat counter or section. So, what would Cerulli's The Mindful Carnivore teach me about my attitudes?

I really don't know what I expected about the book but it raised some real questions that I had never expected to address. Cerulli spends a lot of time considering hunting: hunting for food, hunting for sport. I have never hunted - I have no desire to hunt - but I'm aware of the hypocrisy I would present if I looked down on anyone who hunted for food. Surely it shows more respect for the produce you eat than a schlep to the meat counter does?

Cerulli interweaves this tale of his personal history with food and, specifically, meat with factual information, personal anecdotes, quotations from various sources both pro and anti-hunting and both for and against vegetarianism.

All in all, this is a very very well-constructed book but neither aims to preach nor to condemn but simply to detail one man's quest for answers about this particular and what he has discovered on the journey. At times touching, at other times disturbing, this is an incredibly emotive book, yet still manages to keep a tight hold of the facts.

**I received a copy of this title in exchange for my fair and honest review. I did not receive any additional compensation. All views are my own.**

Generation (A medical thriller)
Generation (A medical thriller)
Price: £0.77

3.0 out of 5 stars Michael Crichton meets C.S.I., 12 Mar 2012
Hendrix `Aitch' Harrison has been known to discover some unusual cases during his employment as a techno-phobe journalist at Strange Phenomena and at times it seems like he's on more of a wild goose chase than chasing down a scoop. Like being called to investigate the story of the Ashburton Wolf! Also known as... a farm dog. He's anti-Twitter and likes to do things a certain way but he's also tenacious and knows how to take the lead on a story. In other words, he's the kind of journalist you'd like investigating when something goes wrong with a company.

Said company in this case is Mendel Pharmaceutical. They're riding high on the wave of a new therapy that will make the board members very rich indeed. Who cares if it's ethical? Who cares what the consequences are of the science behind it? They've put big money into this treatment and they'll put even bigger money into protecting it and their profits.

Generation is quoted as being a cross between the X-Files and The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. As a fan of both I'm not sure either reference resonated with me fully - I felt it was more Michael Crichton meets CSI. There are strange goings on and Hendrix is an investigative reporter into supernatural phenomenon but to me this smacked more of a techno-thriller. There's nothing at all wrong with that - as a long time Crichton fan, I'm always pleased to see someone new step into the arena.

Hendrix is an intriguing character though I felt this novel didn't delve into his personality or history nearly enough. I could see this being developed as a series or even a television show but as a standalone novel I felt that Hendrix was a little bland as a character and some aspects of the novel a little predictable. That notwithstanding, it can't be denied that Knight has put together a compelling read here with an interesting and thought-provoking storyline. I'd certainly be interested to read more `Hendrix Harrison' novels if that's on the cards - I feel he could be further developed as a character and tried and tested in many different situations.

Really this is probably around a 3.5 but as Amazon and Goodreads don't allow the old half scores, I'll have to go to three. This is a good read with some well-executed ideas but the character development is a little lacking and the predictability of the story in some areas takes the edge off the twists in some of the others. Nonethless, it's a great choice for lovers of Crichton or those who just enjoy a great thriller in general and it's always nice to see a novel that's based in the UK with landmarks that I recognise and love!

**I received a copy of this book in exchange for my fair and honest review. I did not receive any additional compensation and all reviews are my own.**

The Stepbrothers
The Stepbrothers

3.0 out of 5 stars Not a bad read - but not really for me, 8 Mar 2012
This review is from: The Stepbrothers (Kindle Edition)
Samantha Culpepper is due to marry George - she thinks he's a nice, well-mannered man but his stepbrother, Clint, knows better. He's bitter about George and he's bitter about Samantha and he's all set to prove it.

Sadly, despite a feisty spirit and a real backbite, Samantha gets caught up in a nasty and vicious feud between Clint and George, with Mac trying to intervene. Mac has fallen under Samantha's spell but nice guys finish last and with Clint and George fighting over her, will he even get a look in?

The Stepbrothers was quite an enjoyable read, with an intricate web of love, lust, control and anger woven together; however, I'd be lying if I said it really set me alight. I think the problem for me is that Samantha seems completely savvy and strong-willed one minute and quite naive and accepting the next. Clint is the `hero' of the novel but in many ways he seemed beyond redemption to me. His approach to Samantha is often manipulative, even coercive and it just didn't feel very comfortable. Normally, by the end of the novel I'm routing for the hero to get the girl - with The Stepbrothers, part of me was hoping Samantha would just dump a bucket of icy water in his lap and run for the hills.

There's nothing technically wrong with The Stepbrothers so I feel it's only fair to point out that this is completely down to personal preference. The characters didn't really resonate with me, I didn't really empathise or connect with any of them and ultimately that meant I didn't really care what the outcome was. That notwithstanding, from an objective point of view I can appreciate that if you like historical romance and don't mind a male character who is a little... forceful, then you may well enjoy this one much more than I did.

**I received an advanced review copy in exchange for my fair and honest review. I did not receive any additional compensation. All opinions are my own.**

Price: £1.27

4.0 out of 5 stars A frightening future, 6 Mar 2012
This review is from: inSyte (Kindle Edition)
inSyte is a semi-futuristic thriller (i.e. set in the quite near future so it holds many elements of present day) and tells the story of Mitch who has an amazing power (inSyte), which he can use to retrieve massive amounts of information. Not only that but Mitch also has eyes in every location via the surveillance networks so he always knows what's going on.

This isn't necessarily the blessing it sounds and is a considerable complication to Mitch's life. However, it does enable him to pick up on a conspiracy that could lead to the death of millions. Yet another downside arises here, though, when Mitch realises the politician behind it is the father of his beloved Kate.

I enjoyed inSyte and found it a fast-paced and intriguing read. Although the thriller aspect of it appealed to me, I was even more enthralled by the picture that Kiser painted of a society just a few years ahead of our own. Nothing is beyond the realms of possibility and yet some of the things depicted were simply frightening.

For example, imagine ordering takeout and receiving a `health credit' because you haven't chosen the healthiest option. Imagine you're told you can surely afford the charge because earlier in the week you spent $62 in drinks on a night out. In a world where everything about you in stored on a massive information network, the idea of any one person having access to it is frightening indeed.

In inSyte Kiser has weaved a great read, which depicts an interesting view of a rather frightening future society. The novel poses some intriguing questions about how much intervention is too much and whether it's really a good thing to have so much information out there in the world. I really enjoyed this read and will certainly look forward to reading more of Greg Kiser in the future.

**I received a copy of this book in exchange for my fair and honest review. I did not receive any additional compensation. All opinions are my own.**

Amongst My Enemies: A Cold-War Thriller
Amongst My Enemies: A Cold-War Thriller
Price: £2.16

4.0 out of 5 stars Take a chance - you might love it!, 25 Feb 2012
Amongst My Enemies wouldn't be my usual choice of reading matter but I already had The Undertaker in my reading pile when William F. Brown contacted me about this one and everything I'd heard about that had been good so I thought `Take a chance!' - after all, it's nice to try something new every now and again. (Incidentally, since then I have reviewed The Undertaker - and very much enjoyed it).

Amongst My Enemies tells the story of American Mike Randall, who survived World War II but was left with both secrets and nightmares to carry with him. Several years later, he has the opportunity to approach the man who saved his life - Bruckner - but finds that this acclaimed war hero is not the man he is claiming to be. Randall ends up knee deep in violence, death threats and a greed laden conspiracy that extends further than he could have ever imagined.

One thing that struck me is that Amongst My Enemies has a darker feel to it than The Undertaker (which is probably to be expected given the subject matter and the historical setting of the book) and I found myself impressed with Brown's ability to produce two books that were very different in tone but still provided a similar level of action and excitement. There are lots of twists and turns in Amongst My Enemies, meaning you're never really sure what's happening until you near the end of the book, although you'll probably try and valiantly hazard guesses all the way through.

I don't read many action and adventure or espionage novels so this was certainly something different for me. While Brown's The Undertaker still has the edge in my mind, this is a well written book with plenty to offer and if you're interested in trying a different style of thriller or something with a little bit of a historical edge to it, I'd definitely say you should give this a whirl!

**I received a copy in exchange for my fair and honest review. I did not receive any additional compensation. All views are my own.**

The Undertaker: A Suspense Thriller
The Undertaker: A Suspense Thriller
Price: £2.15

4.0 out of 5 stars The unexpected smiles and twists of humour are an added - and welcome - bonus, 25 Feb 2012
There is a fine line between something being so farfetched it is simply ludicrous and something being so farfetched that it's utterly compelling in a `But what if that really were to happen?!' way. When you have a story that begins with a - noticeably living! - man reading his own obituary, it could go either way. Peter Talbott is aware of the obituary - there's a reason he was presumed dead and buried. What he doesn't expect is to be presented with an obituary for his wife, detailing her death in a car accident when he knows that she died from something completely different. When a little research uncovers several similar obituaries all linked by the same funeral parlour/director, Peter Talbott just can't let it go, even though the consequences could change - or end - his life.

As with many masters of the thriller genre, Brown (no relation!) has taken an unusual and far-reaching premise and twisted it into an adept thriller. Yes, there are elements ranging from the sublime to the ridiculous but instead of being dragged under by these elements, The Undertaker seems to use them to simply propel the story further.

The true mastery of The Undertaker lies in the two central characters, Pete and Sandy. A grieving computer programmer and his quirky sort-of-but not-quite girlfriend may not seem like the most obvious heroes. Indeed Brown writes them up as ordinary characters, thrown into an extraordinary world and yet still managing to remain ordinary and, at times, almost comically banal. They gripe and bicker one minute, yet get caught up in the tension of sexual chemistry the next. It should make you wring your hands and say `For goodness sake - your lives are at risk'. Instead, these characters feel very real, very human and are very very fun. This is a thriller - it shouldn't be full of smiles and quirks - but it is and it works.

If you're a fan of thrillers, it's definitely worth giving this one a try. The unexpected smiles and twists of humour are an added - and welcome - bonus.

**I received a copy in exchange for my fair and honest review. I did not receive any additional compensation. All views are my own.**

Stephen Fry Does the 'Knowledge' (BBC Audiobooks)
Stephen Fry Does the 'Knowledge' (BBC Audiobooks)
by Stephen Fry
Edition: Audio CD

4.0 out of 5 stars A superb listen, 13 Feb 2012
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Initially I assumed that this would be charting Stephen Fry's journey as he undertook `The Knowledge', the extensive learning process of all London cabbies. This was a patently ludicrous assumption on my part however: a) how on earth would he possibly get the time? and b) it's just a clever play on words!

In many ways, I was actually pleased that I was wrong. This is an interesting and entertaining collection of anecdotes, mini-interviews, facts and soundbites about knowledge in its many varied - and ever changing forms.
The questions and conundrums are varied. How do we validate knowledge? Is one person's knowledge any more or less valuable than another's? How do those remarkable cabbies undertake the feat of learning all those streets? What is `useful' knowledge?

My father always used to say `I'm full of useless information'. (To be fair, he probably still says it.) It's a saying I've picked up. Is it useless? Or is it just not useful to me in my current situation? Is the value of what you know only determined by your phase of life and what you do? These are the intriguing questions that this radio show brings up.

As a man who possesses a staggering wealth of knowledge, Stephen Fry was a perfect presenter for this programme. His love of information and learning comes through over and over. For a short listen (about an hour) this is jam-packed full of facts, questions and ponderings. A superb listen.

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