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Amanda Craig "Amanda Craig" (London United Kingdom)
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Nation
Nation
by Terry Pratchett
Edition: Hardcover

7 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A new world for Pratchett, 6 Sept. 2008
This review is from: Nation (Hardcover)
Even if you think you don't like Pratchett, try this. NATION is a new departure - more simply-written, with less stylistic jokes and tricks but just and funny, very exciting and with the thoughtfulness and humnaity that is his hall-mark.

Mau's whole people - the Nation - is destoyed by a giant wave while he is on another island, making the ritual jounrey to become a man. Left alone, he almost goes mad but meets a strange "trouserman" girl, Daphne, whose English ship has also been destroyed. They learn to speak, find a toothless old woman and one about to give birth, and painfully set about salvaging what they can. Mau is constantly reminded by his ancestors (the Grandfathers) that while he survives, and his memories of the rituals, so does the Nation. Yet he knows that another tribe is about to wage war on them - aided by two murderous villains from Daphne's ship, How can they defend themselves?

Consistently engaging and unexpected, this is a book about memory and loss (poignant in the face of the author's Alzheimer's), civilisation and ritual, and not thinking that people who wear less clothes than you are savages. I give it 4 stars not 5 because some of it could have been edited (the Grandfathers got on my nerves). But read it as a contrast to Lord of the FLies.


Shire Hell
Shire Hell
by Rachel Johnson
Edition: Paperback

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars good fun, dreadful people, 18 Jun. 2008
This review is from: Shire Hell (Paperback)
The town and country set have long needed a send-up, and Johnson is the ideal writer to take over from Jilly Cooper in this field. Mimi, the former chronicler of Notting Hell has sold up for a mere £2 million and moved to Home Farm, a chaotic Dorsetshire farmhouse which does not bear comparison with her friend Rose's immaculate one. Her children are not pleased (I especially enjoyed her daughter's complaints on "gurl" about the dreariness of it all, which greatly resemble my own petal's moans)and the contrast between visiting fairs with knitted yoghurt and city slicker pursuits is wittily described.

But what appalling people! The lazy, hypochondriac Pierre, who carries a log around in order not to be asked to do anything by his enrage wife is one thing; the multimillionaire who describes himself as a "Jewray Henry" another. If these are the kind of snobs who set up their own literary festival and who smugly pat themselves on the back for having wind-farms then the guillotine can't come here too soon. I'm sorry the Johnson didn't turn her pen to the contrast between the real poverty in such areas and the kind of idiots who fret over the choice between Boden and Barbour. Less name-checks and more of the genuine venom of Notting Hell would have made it a stronger sequel.


The Titan's Curse (Percy Jackson & the Olympians)
The Titan's Curse (Percy Jackson & the Olympians)
by Rick Riordan
Edition: Paperback

5.0 out of 5 stars unfaltering brilliance - more please!, 15 May 2008
This is the series that is the obvious front-runner to succeed Harry Potter. Percy Jackson, the teenaged son of a single mother has been adorable ever since he vaporised his Math teacher and discovered his dyslexia and ADHD were symptoms of being a demi-god. As the son of one of the big three Greek gods (Poseidon) now that Olympus has moved to America, he must survive until he's sixteen, and save the world. So far, he's done it twice. However, the twins Percy finds at another school haven't a clue about their powers, and when he, his best friend Grover the satyr and his almost-girlfriend Annabeth (daughter of Athene) rescue them from monsters it's just the start of another hugely enjoyable quest.

The wit and zest with which Riordan plays with both Greek myth and modern America is completely delightful. I loved Apollo arriving in his golden sports car, the enthusiastic Pegasus Blackjack and the statues that come to life to defend Percy just when he's hopelessly trapped by a skeletal army. They will make completely wonderful films, not least because Percy and his relationships are getting deeper and richer with each book. His Titan half-brother Tyson began as a seemingly slow-witted embarrassment but is touchingly sweet and loyal, and makes Percy a fantastic shield which springs out of a watch, much like Percy's magic sword Riptide which springs from a pen, is one half but so is Percy's loving mother. The emotional intelligence is very real. My kids love these books, and are bombarded by friends for them as soon as a new one appears.


Whatever Makes You Happy
Whatever Makes You Happy
by William Sutcliffe
Edition: Paperback

22 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars enchanting summer comedy, 8 May 2008
There are so many bad comic novels out on the shelves that a really good one deserves flagging up. This has the simplest of ideas - three unmarried men in their thirties have mothers who are all friends. Discussing their sons, and agreeing that something has gone wrong with their lives, they descend for one week to sort them out.

One son works on a lad mag called BALLS, obsessed with women's breasts and designer gadgets, and is living the life of an urban bachelor. His horrified mother discovers not just dust but kinky S&M gear under his bed, and not only sets about to cleaning the shag-pad but crashes a launch party of a new aftershave and tries to set him up with a nice girl instead of a teenager....Another son hasn't yet come out to his mum, and lives in a gay commune where he is outed within minutes....The third has moved to Edinburgh to try and get over Erin, the love of his life whom he lost by not wanting children. Yet the mothers all have some growing up of thier own to do, and it's in depicting them with sympathy and warmth that Sutcliffe's novel rises above the hilarity of his early work. He seems to understand much more than the preoccupations of his generation, and in consequence women in their fifties and sixties will I think get as many laughs and sighs of recognition as those of us with young sons.

I began reading this in a foul mood, with rain lashing down etc etc and by the first chapter it felt as if the sun had come out. Although it's mostly dialogue, the passages of descriptive writing are excellent, and the ending perfectly judged. It would make a lovely film.


Airman
Airman
by Eoin Colfer
Edition: Hardcover

6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars rip-roaring lift off for new Dumas, 8 May 2008
This review is from: Airman (Hardcover)
Much as we love the Artemis Fowl books, this is something finer. Conor Broekhardt is born in the air (readers who love this kind of thing should also look out for Kenneth Oppel's AIRBORN and SKYBREAKER, which have a similar premise)to his proud youg parents. At first sickeningly successful - he's brilliant at everything, including fencing, is made a knight at about 10 after rescuing the Princess of the Saltee Islands where his father is captain of the King's Sharpshooters - it all takes a wonderfully dark turn when the King is assasinated. Conor is set up to take the blame, believed dead and taken in an iron mask to Little Saltee where prisoners spend their lives digging for diamonds.

Here both his scientific mind and his prowess with a blade are life-saving. How he gets even hardened criminals on his side, gathers a fortune and escapes is too good to give away, but there is a wonderful buouyancy and sense of fun about these books which I don't believe any boy of 11+ could resist. We'd like a sequel please Mr Colfer!


Soul Catcher
Soul Catcher
by Michael C. White
Edition: Hardcover

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars one of the best books of 2008, 8 May 2008
This review is from: Soul Catcher (Hardcover)
I keep recommending this novel to people for its rare combination of gripping plot, fascinating characters and historical illumination. The hero, Cain (!) is a ruined Southern gentleman who, rather than marry a girl he couldn't love fought in the Mexican War. His injuries leave him permanently aching and addicted to laudanum. Deeply in debt, he hires himself out as a "soul catcher", retrieving runaway slaves. Intelligent enough to read Milton, he has increasing doubts about this but iut's only when a rich old white man pays him to retrieve two more, a black man and a "half-caste" woman that the crisis breaks.

Cain's journey north to prevent the slaves from reaching freedom has him encounter John Brown, a person familiar to me only from the son John Brown's Body but who was in fact a remarkable farmer who banded with other abolitionists to hunt down soul catchers and offer succour to escaped slaves. The double chase of the narrative make for a breakneck read once the plot has got going - be patient, for the first three chapters establish important details. You might be able to guess what happens on learning that the female slave is very beautiful, and has a secret concerning her birth but it won't detract from the enjoyment of a surprisingly optimistic and finely-crafted thriller. It should be made into a film, being at least as good as Cold Mountain, and addressing the issue of slavery in a dramatic but intellgent manner.


The Knife That Killed Me (Definitions)
The Knife That Killed Me (Definitions)
by Anthony McGowan
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars one of the best teen books of the year, 29 April 2008
This is so far the only book that my 12 year old son, a relatively reluctant reader, chose to read during the day instead of playing on the computer. The story of how a boy gets suckered into carrying a knife by a gang of bullies, with tragic consequences is brilliantly written, and completely gripping. Highly recommended.


Songberd's Grove
Songberd's Grove
by Anne Barrett
Edition: Hardcover

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars enchanting exciting novel, 28 April 2008
This review is from: Songberd's Grove (Hardcover)
I completely agree with the above reviewer - this is a lost gem (I also recommend Barrett's MIDWAY). How Martin, a lonely, speecy but resourceful boy and his new friend defeath a gang of bullies bent on keeping Songberd's Grove a slum is a compelling and orginal story, full of great characters and comic touches.


Counting the Stars
Counting the Stars
by Helen Dunmore
Edition: Hardcover

15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars classically intriguing, 23 Mar. 2008
This review is from: Counting the Stars (Hardcover)
Everyone who has done A-level Latin has probably been intrigued by Catullus, and his passionate affair with "Lesbia", an older married woman, immortalised in some of the best poetry ever written about love. Like Shakespeare's Sonnets they tell a story which is that of everyone who has ever felt seared by love, and loss, but which is also tantalisingly individual and modern. Dunmore imagines the progress of the affair, from the time when Catullus and the rich, spoilt Clodia (probably the real-life Lesbia) make love in the villa of his friend Manlius, through to when he returns to Rome after his brother's death in Bithynia and realises the affair is over. Interwoven with this is a kind of detective story as Catullus discovers that Clodia may have poisoned her husband. A dull upstanding Senator very different from the glamorous, witty, sophisticated circle Caullus inhabits, he is blamed for the death of Lesbia's famous sparrow.

Dunmore has always excelled at haunting, lyrical descriptions of doomed passion in which the central protagonist is doomed or deceived. There are two striking things about this new novelhowever. One is that it has a male point of view throughout. The other is that it is often very funny. As a noted poet herself, she probably puts a lot of her own frustrations at bores and philistines into C's mind; Clodia's leaden husband is allowed more dignity and sympathy in the end but makes a good foil. She also allows us to sympathise with Clodia/Lesbia, especially in her choice not to remarry. What fate could a Roman girl have but to be married off at 14? If Clodia is puzzlingly sex-mad, maybe it's the only sphere in which she can achieve some autonomy.

Ultimately, this isn't quite as good as her best novels, The Siege and Talking to the Dead in terms of narrative control and satisfaction. It's a more internalised drama, without the shocks and surprises that make her earlier work particularly satisfying. However, it's one of her best historical novels, a hugely impressive work of imagination and research. A pleasure to read, it will stay in your mind long after the end.


Stardust [HD DVD] [2007] [US Import]
Stardust [HD DVD] [2007] [US Import]

5.0 out of 5 stars completely enchanting fantasy film, 1 Nov. 2007
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
If you have a child of 9+, this is a treat. I wasn't expecting anything special, especially not with the plethora of good adaptations of famous novels around, but my 12 year old and I were captivated.
It begins in our world ion a village called Wall, so called because it's close to a wall guarded by an old man, which is supposed to divide our world from that of Faerie. One day, a bold young man tricks his way past, and finds himself outside another village, where miniature elephants are kept in cages and a beautiful young woman, slave to a witch, chooses a flower to bring him luck in exchange for a kiss, and more. Nine months later, a baby boy, Tristran, is brought to the wall and left with his father. When he grows up, he works in a shop and is teased and despised by the lovely shopkeeper's daughter, Victoria.
Meanwhile in Faerie (yes, twee) the old king is dying and his remaining sons - those who have not yet managed to murder each other for the throne - sends a jewel up into the sky to help find the true heir. Unfortunately, this knocks a star out of the heavens, who comes to earth as the beautiful Clare Danes. The heart of a star has the power to return youth even to witches, and one of the three most evil ones, played by Michelle Pfeiffer, sees it fall and sets out to find it. But Tristran, courting his sweetheart, happens to have seen the star fall too, and has jumped over the wall to find it and bring it back as proof of his love...
What makes this film special are the unexpected twists Gaiman's script gives to traditional fairytale elements. It's funny, mad, touching and above all exciting. The actors are all clearly having a ball playing their parts (esp Pfeiffer) and de Niro as a cross-dressing pirate ("We always knew you was a whoopsie", his cut-throat crew tell him, kindly)is a delight. Apart from Harry Potter 6 and The Golden Compass this is THE children's DVD to buy of 2007.


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