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R. A. Davison (UK)
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The Midnight Palace
The Midnight Palace
Price: 3.86

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Silly, 31 Jan 2014
'The Midnight Palace' is a ruin which provides the headquarters of a club for a group of teenage orphans who when about to age out of their orphanage, discover that one of their number, Ben, is the victim of a curse.

I read a lot of books and I read across genres and age ranges. Certain books are published for and marketed specifically at young adults but in many cases this has not prevented me from enjoying them, and I do really like discovering young adult books with the potential to crossover and have meaning to readers of all ages. I've read another Carlos Ruiz Zafon young adult novel 'The Prince Of Mist' before and really rather enjoyed it

Unfortunately this was not the case with this book : the plot repeatedly made no sense, events were often ludicrous and the book as a whole had this sense of melodrama and hysteria about it. For a ghost story it didn't scare particularly, the villain was a little panto & the box opening denouement was just bizarre.

When I read this book I was so annoyed with it that I tweeted that I just wanted to write 'This book was rubbish' and nothing else as my review - given that I was never its target audience that seemed a little uncharitable, but it is after all my opinion!

There are at the moment some great books out there aimed at this age range ( I recommend Patrick Ness & John Green) this just sadly, for me, was not one of them


Bellman & Black
Bellman & Black
Price: 6.14

4.0 out of 5 stars Although repetitive in parts, this novel has a haunting power, 31 Jan 2014
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This review is from: Bellman & Black (Kindle Edition)
In this follow up to 'The Thirteenth Tale' Diane Setterfield writes another spooky story set in the Victorian era.

We are introduced to William Bellman - the happy child of a single mother who grows up to be well liked and successful.

But, when William Bellman was 10 he created the perfect catapult and accidentally killed a rook with a well aimed shot. As we learn William's story the narrative is interspersed with prose about the intelligence and behaviour of rooks. William may have pushed his childhood transgression out of mind but the rooks have not forgotten as soon he will learn.....

The intriguing thing about Bellman & Black is that William and those around him attribute their bad fortune to the way of the world, preventable deaths for example were common of the age. The reader however is in on the secret, the idea that something more sinister that is unbeknownst to the characters is actually in play here.

The novel does have its problems, events become slightly repetitive in both of its halves, yet the prose itself is continuously engaging and you stick with it.

There is something genuinely unsettling about the proposed notion that a mistake that you make as a child and do not recall can literally have repercussions across your life through unseen forces that you can chase but never quite grasp...

It's an interesting novel, worth reading and has an original concept. It is not entirely perfect in its execution however.


Ghana Must Go
Ghana Must Go
Price: 2.49

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Stayed with me, 31 Jan 2014
This review is from: Ghana Must Go (Kindle Edition)
At the beginning of Ghana Must Go, Kweku Sai dies in his garden. A Ghanian immigrant who was once successfully pursuing the American Dream, he ran and abandoned his wife and four children when that dream crumbled. The novel is about the impact of both his disappearance and subsequent death on his estranged family, and is told in present day terms with his children as adults and in flashback to their youth.

I read Ghana Must Go on the train over two days and found I couldn't wait for the next installment. There was something very lyrical about it, poetic.

For Kweku's four children : Olu, Taiwo, Kehinde and Sadie - as they separate out into the world, failure, or lack of success is their common enemy and they all strive to leave the ghost of the man who was their father behind.

The four characters themselves have each been impacted by Kweku in different variations on a similar theme which tie in and unify quite well. The novel is a family saga about a disconnected family really.

The most particularly difficult aspect of the story is the experience that the twins have during their unexpected exile in Lagos; but it is not done in a too heavy handed manner, but in a manner where you slowly guess yourself and it sends a shiver down your spine. It doesn't feel crudely executed for shock value.

Books that somehow touch on the countries or continent of Africa are one of my special interests as a Reader and have been since I was in my teens. Ghana Must Go is a sophisticated and pleasurable addition to the novels of this kind that I have read.

I was moved and intrigued by Ghana Must Go and found it very realistically human throughout in terms of the psychology behind relationships.

I do recommend this hugely and would give it a 10/10


All My Friends are Superheroes
All My Friends are Superheroes
by Andrew Kaufman
Edition: Paperback
Price: 5.59

2.0 out of 5 stars Sweet but unsatisfactory, 31 Jan 2014
First and foremost All Of My Friends Are Superheroes is a really great idea, the Amazon synopsis reads thus :

"All Tom's friends really are superheroes. Tom even married a superhero, the Perfectionist. But at their wedding the Perfectionist is hypnotized by her ex, Hypno, to believe that Tom is invisible. Nothing he does can make her see him. Six months later, the Perfectionist is sure that Tom has abandoned her, so she's moving to Vancouver. She'll use her superpowers to leave all the heartbreak behind. With no idea that Tom's beside her, she boards the plane. Tom has, until they touch down, to convince her he's there, or he loses her forever."

So I was kind of excited by this. I really like superheroes, I really like a good love story. I guess I had high expectations, and these expectations were not really met.

It isn't badly written by any means, the style is really engaging and I was never really bored, yet I found I got annoyed by the descriptions of the Superheroes themselves. In a well worn theme throughout a character is introduced and their superpower described, and then we never see them again. The problem here really is that most of these superheroes have no real superpower at all and all that Kaufman is really describing is a personality. All The Perfectionist really is is a Type A Personality, there are others such as the Couch Potato which are similarly just descriptions of types of people with nothing really special there at all. Off hand, I can only think of Hypno as a character possessing genuine ability.

The real flaw here ultimately is the fact that this novel took me 30 minutes to read, possibly slightly less, and I kind of felt like : "Is this it?" I was really, really glad that I got it as a Kindle Daily Deal for 1.99 because if I'd paid list price I'd have felt properly ripped of by it.

It's very slight, has no depth, and feels like an excellent premise gone to waste. It's quite sweet, in its way, but wholly unsatisfying.


[We Have Always Lived in the Castle (Deluxe)]We Have Always Lived in the Castle (Deluxe) BY Jackson, Shirley(Author)Paperback
[We Have Always Lived in the Castle (Deluxe)]We Have Always Lived in the Castle (Deluxe) BY Jackson, Shirley(Author)Paperback
by Shirley Jackson
Edition: Paperback

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting and memorable tale, 31 Jan 2014
We Have Always Lived In The Castle is a quirky, gothic, tale about two sisters Mary Katherine and Constance who alongside their frail Uncle Julian are the last remaining members of a well to do family living in self imposed exile in their large, foreboding house.

We meet Mary Katherine, better known as Merricat as she shops for essentials in the village. Feared and despised by locals who insult her, it transpires that the rest of their family died in unusual circumstances and the sisters are viewed with as much suspicion as curiousity.

A spooky story, the strength of the novel is how information about the past slowly unfolds as you are reading it. Though in one case, it was plain to me quite early on how something had transpired, other areas of the story continued to maintain mystery after I'd closed it.

I went so far as to google information on a certain character and came up dry, which means that I'm still uncertain about something but in a good way, in a way that makes the book memorable and makes you turn it over for a while in your mind afterward. The edition I have is part of the Penguin Threads series and has this great cover that made me take note of it in the shop.

Although the story is relatively short it is both engrossing and atmospheric & I would recommend that you buy it if you like mysteries in general but particularly those that have a dark, slighly sinister vibe running throughout.


The Rosie Project
The Rosie Project
Price: 1.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Male Bridget Jones With Aspergers, 31 Jan 2014
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: The Rosie Project (Kindle Edition)
My first book of January was The Rosie Project - a current bestseller, which I read for my book club.

The novel is about Professor Don Tillman, a genetics lecturer in Australia who, it is strongly implied though not directly stated has Asperger's Syndrome. Don is on the hunt for a wife, and has an extremely strict criteria of qualities which his potential wife needs to possess in an orchestrated 'Wife Project'. Step forward Rosie - a woman who meets none of Don's criteria and who has a very specific project of her own.

In many ways there's a lot of inevitability to the entire plot, but it's executed in a really sweet and warm way. There's a lot to like about The Rosie Project, particularly many witty scenarios and turns of phrase.

My personal favourite moments included the Jacket Incident where Don takes the need to wear a jacket at a certain restaurant quite literally, and especially the moment where Don purposefully doesn't tell Rosie she is beautiful as she has told him not to objectify women.

"I hadn't noticed. I told the most beautiful woman in the world"

The result of this means that Rosie's next appearance in the novel is her gorging herself on cake at her desk. Which is totally believable as a female response. Who doesn't immediately buy cake when they are romantically frustrated? Oh? Just me then? OK!

The book would lend itself well to a romantic comedy at the cinema and was apparently initially intended as such, but it is not entirely well done.

The main hostility towards it at my book club was its portrayal of Asperger's - the more Don falls in love the more the rigid structures he imposes on himself dissipate as if love is the miracle cure of quite a serious condition. People who had first and second hand experience of Asperger's were annoyed and frustrated at what was seen and actually I think, rightly, as a saccharine, unrealistic & occasionally stereotypical depiction.

On the plus side, it never feels like you the Reader, or that Graeme Simison the author is mocking or scoffing at Don, you do root for him and enjoy his quirky ways, which makes the book stronger as a portrayal of disability for it.

The resolution of the novel itself is too neat, too clean, too smiley faced and too Hollywood. We all felt that a more open ended yet positive finale would have been far more suitable.

I enjoyed this book but it is entirely disposable and fluffy, chick lit really, think more Male Bridget Jones with Asperger's than something like The Time Traveler's Wife.

8.5/10


Secrecy
Secrecy
Price: 4.12

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Lacking much in substance, 31 Jan 2014
This review is from: Secrecy (Kindle Edition)
I chose Secrecy in a rush in a train station bookshop, I liked the title and the blurb sounded good. Wax sculptor Zummo who is from Sicily takes a commission at the court of the Grand Duke Of Tuscany in 1691 and finds himself in a world of intrigue.

The book seemed terribly promising, great endorsements on the cover and a raft of 5 stars on Amazon and was also the Radio 4 Book At Bedtime. If anything this books publisher has done an incredibly successful PR campaign in promoting the book but I confess I found myself I found myself baffled by it.

It gets off to a good start, I particularly liked the writing near the beginning, but somehow it just all started slipping away at great speed after say page 100.

A lot of it has no substance, the villain of the piece just isn't remotely fleshed out and we are I think left to infer much from very little. It's as though through the fact that "He's a Dominican Monk" we are meant to infer not only his entire personality, but the entire point and purpose of his schemes, which I felt never really held much water in terms of practical motive. It was a bit Dan Brown School Of Writing.

Other bizarre things happen like Zummo meets a girl he fancies in passing twice and she suddenly randomly sends him the 17th Century equivalent of Viagra. Huh?!

Secondary characters serve little purpose either. One character is brought in only apparently to be attacked at a later date to illustrate that the Monks already pretty unlikely vendetta has escalated to such a degree that he went after Zummo's friends. None of Zummo's relationships feel genuine or possess depth and seem to exist purely as plot devices.

The denouement too is very very strange and lacking entirely in credibility.

In many ways this novel as a personal reading experience suffered in being read in too close a proximity to Ghana Must Go. The two novels are completely different yet Secrecy felt like it stood in the former books shadow in terms of how the quality and style of the plot and prose shone.

I think the best word I can use to describe this book is 'flimsy' - it just feels silly and without much weight.


The White Princess
The White Princess
Price: 2.99

15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Slightly repetitive & questionable but still enjoyed it, 13 Nov 2013
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
The White Princess is the latest installment of the Cousins War Saga, picking up where The Kingsmaker's Daughter left off; Anne Neville and Richard the Third have died, and Henry Tudor has finally fulfilled his mothers desperate single minded determination to see him on the throne.

Margaret Beaufort the King's Mother, and Elizabeth the Dowager Queen have already made an alliance that would see Henry Tudor marry Elizabeth Of York thus cementing any doubts about his claim to power.

Here things get somewhat muddled I think, and a lot of people's characters get besmirched by the unfortunate authorial decisions Gregory makes. Firstly, young princess Elizabeth it seems would far rather be getting it on with her dead uncle than with her new young man. Allegations of incest between Richard III and Princess Elizabeth went unproved and seem entirely unlikely. They were probably largely invented by dramatists such as Shakespeare looking to paint Richard III in a poor light.

Next Henry Tudor turns rapist, determined to get Princess Elizabeth pregnant before marriage to prove she's not barren. Margaret Beaufort encourages this and Elizabeth Woodville complies and so the whole sorry affair reflects well on no-one. Elizabeth Woodville had 8 children and her mother before her had 12, it seems highly unlikely in those times that the fertility of the young princess would ever have been questioned, and also more than unlikely that the religious Margaret would have encouraged sex before marriage.

Following their poor start Henry and Elizabeth have a difficult relationship flying in the face of what is known of them historically. Unlike her mother, Elizabeth Of York is not a power player in her own right and does not really carve out a path of any interest for herself. There is very little hint at the powers of the water goddess that her mother and grandmother had except in being warned of death. The court is controlled by the King's Mother and so Elizabeth has little to do.

The plot itself becomes exceptionally repetitive. During the novel The White Queen Gregory gave us the idea that one of The Princes In The Tower : Richard in fact survived, a theory that given later events seems quite likely. Throughout his reign Henry is chased by the spectre of 'the boy' and pretty much the entire novel is devoted to various boys popping up out of the woodwork claiming to be Richard Plantagenet. As each of these emerge, Henry rants at Elizabeth she simpers about not knowing anything, the pretender is defeated and it all starts again. This wears thin.

I do find the idea that Richard survived plausible and certainly of these Pretenders, the one they called Perkin Warbeck may well have been the real thing which is pretty much what is suggested here.

In the end I think that possibly the things that I found the most interesting about The White Princess are the continuation of the idea that Elizabeth effectively cursed her own line by accident & that this book in itself acts as a natural conduit between Gregory's Cousins War and her Tudor Saga the next story chronologically being that of Catherine Of Aragon in 'The Constant Princess' whose marriage to Prince Arthur is being prepared for at the close of this novel.

Not perfect by any means, but still another enjoyable addition to the canon.

Verdict 7/10


Absolution
Absolution
Price: 3.59

3.0 out of 5 stars A confused mix, 13 Nov 2013
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Absolution (Kindle Edition)
Successful elderly writer Clare Wald, summons young journalist Sam Leroux to her home with the intent of allowing him to be her biographer, and their conversations illuminate her back story.

Set in modern day South Africa the events of the novel are placed against the backdrop of the fairly recent political upheavals of that nation, the findings of the Truth And Reconciliation Commission for example are referenced often. The novel is constructed in an odd way, and at times this made it difficult to read. Split into three sections it at times has sections from Clare's perspective and then Sam's interspersed with excerpts from Clare's final novel, a 'faction' named 'Absolution'.

Clare did not choose Sam for the task for no apparent reason Sam & Clare have a link, a link neither is able to discuss, and as Sam's narrative contradicts what Clare sets forth in 'Absolution' it becomes harder to know what really happened, and in some respects this is the point of 'Absolution' how, when in absence of the facts, we make up fictions in our minds of events we know to have happened but do not know the detail.

Another strand of Absolution revolves around guilt and responsibility, how responsible is a person when a remark they make sets forth a chain of events they didn't foresee culminating in disaster.

The problem with 'Absolution' as a novel and what makes it become hard work as a read is that these points about history and responsibility become laboured and the making of them ultimately occurs at the cost of the narrative : the plot becomes damaged and skewed by the authors apparent need to make them. A lengthy diatribe about censorship for example is just entirely out of step with the rest of the plot.

By far the most interesting aspect of 'Absolution' is the fate of Laura, a fate that is ultimately left hanging in mid air, with the onus on the reader to infer what they can.

All in all the novel is something of a mixed bag that does not entirely flow together very well despite containing excellent idea


Memoirs Of A Geisha (Vintage 21st Anniv Editions)
Memoirs Of A Geisha (Vintage 21st Anniv Editions)
Price: 3.99

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The difference 12 years makes, 13 Oct 2013
I first read Memoirs Of A Geisha and loved it when I was either 20 or 21. The reason I'm reflecting on it now that I am 32 is because I re-read it for book club last month.

It is the story of Chiyo, a young girl from a fishing village sold into the geisha culture by her elderly father as her mother lays dying. Her older sister Satsu fairs worse - directly sold into prostitution. Geisha are not prostitutes in traditional Western understanding terms more entertainers for wealthy men.

What I loved about it the first time round was the elegance of the prose which I found poetic and evocative - a portrait of a time, place and tradition which has all but disappeared. It has the qualities which I so like about literature in general, a sense that the existence of the novel enables the reader the time travel.

On a second read it was surprising to me that I did not empathise with Chiyo anymore after she transforms into Sayuri, I found the life of the Geisha girls shallow and repetitive and Sayuri herself an ungrateful and at times nasty character.

There are certain points I think at which the reader is meant to be cheering Sayuri on but I couldn't help but feel concern for those who had been damaged by her actions rather than rejoice in her triumphs.

I hated her ultimate vindictiveness towards a character who had always, always taken care of her and I felt her "romance" with the Chairman lacked foundation, substance or credibility.

It's a really, really odd thing to love a book on first read and feel less enamoured of it on second read and I have to say that I think it must be something to do with maturity and the way your views on life and what you see as love change as you age.

My different opinions on the events in the book have shown me how much I have changed in ten years, and that's a really odd sensation. Try it with a book you once loved and see if the book is a different book because you are a different person.


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