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Book 1981 "Book1981" (London)

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The Children's Book
The Children's Book
by A S Byatt
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.83

5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Yawn, 5 Sept. 2010
This review is from: The Children's Book (Paperback)
This watery-thin story line is hard to describe, as I am not entirely sure what this book is about. It is, I suppose, a bit of a family saga, in the middle of the political and sociological change of the early twentieth century. There is some intrigue, some illicit affairs, some political discussion, some artistic analysis, with some fanciful children's stories thrown in to what is already a confusing mix. It sort of wanders from one character to the next, the narration often prone to disconcerting leaps in time before returning to pointless slowness. The sometimes pretentious discussion of politics and socio-philosophy feels condescending and dated, the dramas and internal turmoil are half-hearted and unbelievable.

To make matters worse, Byatt has a habit of talking over her characters, super-imposing their thoughts on them along the line of "that was what he wanted, but he didn't know it yet", which makes them seem artificial and distant. A little less psycho-analysing of the characters and a little more plot might have been the saving of this book.

I've read other reviews of this book, and the buzzword seems to be `editing', which is an evaluation I completely agree with. This book could be, in its concentrated form, be something magical, intoxicating and unique. Instead it rambles, on and on and on. The reader is subjected to so much pointless detail that the only effect it has is losing the interest it holds in, at best, a very tentative grasp. It is frustrating, too, because the talent is there, on the page. Every now and then there is a sparkling paragraph full of life and mystery, and I feel myself lean forwards and think `at last, here we go', but it always falls away. I often found myself white-knuckled with frustration as a fascinating story-line is dropped to describe someone's hat or yet another piece of pottery. The pottery is beautiful, I get it. Now move on! Cut 150 pages and it might resemble something half-decent. As it is, the only feeling it produced in me was one of exasperation and boredom.


To Kill A Mockingbird: 50th Anniversary Edition
To Kill A Mockingbird: 50th Anniversary Edition
by Harper Lee
Edition: Paperback
Price: £4.89

7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars To Kill a Mockingbird, 15 Aug. 2010
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To see the world through the eyes of an eight-year old is fascinating, unusual, moving and enlightening. What Lee has done is produce a piece of social commentary free from adult interpreations and prejudices. The world of old-time southern America is described to us with the unspoiled logic of a child, and the tone of the book is pitch-perfect and true throughout.

Though the trial of Tom Robinson is meant to be the centerpiece, I felt a lot more emotionally involved in the people in Scout's immediate life. Jem, Dill, Aunt Alexandra, and of course, Atticus all interact with Scout in a lovely, natural way which is sometimes really sad and vulnerable and other times funny and uplifting. No doubt this book is skilfully written and immensly readable, but other books have moved me more, which I have to say came as a surprise to me. I was expecting to be blown away, and am rather disappointed that I wasn't.


The Help
The Help
by Kathryn Stockett
Edition: Paperback
Price: £5.59

5.0 out of 5 stars Thank you for The Help!, 9 Aug. 2010
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This review is from: The Help (Paperback)
What a perfect story. Utterly satisfying, unputdownable, perfect in every way. This is one of the rare books you come across once in a blue moon, where the author not only has the sensitivity and grace most of us can only dream of, but also the talent to put it down in writing.

This story of race inequality in the southern states is, first of all, warm. It's about friendships, trust, community, love, acceptance, all without being twee and cloying. The relationships are genuine, natural and perfectly balanced, it never feels contrived and it sits in your mind like a comforting stew sits in your tummy. Utterly lovely.

But there's more to this book than that - It is often angry and stark, showing no mercy in describing the hardships faced by the coloured population at the time. It is also unbearably sad. The hopelessness, fear, grief and loneliness is raw and seems to always sit in the background waiting to pounce, much like I imagine it must have been at the time. Then it is suddenly hilarious, the comedy sometimes subtle and classy, other times bawdy and rude. The 'baddies' are delicious as silly, prejudging high-society wives trying to ignore their thickening waists and empty lives.

The simplicity with which human emotions are described so accurately makes it clear that Stockett is able to emphasise and understand, and then produce just the right words to transfer is seamlessly to the reader. Her skill is clear in that she manages to give the three charming narrators their own very individual voice and personality, at the same time as keeping it intimate and close. I felt for all three, I felt like I knew them, and I grieved a little for losing them when the book finished. Her skill is also clear in that she has managed to produce, above all, a really great story. There is suspense, romance, intrigue, good versus evil, all wrapped up in a really good ending. What more could you ask for?

Extra strength is added because Stockett has personal experience with coloured women being employed as help. What strikes me in reading the epilogue is that it was not that long ago at all: It seems so primitive that it is hard, and a bit shameful, to believe it was less that 50 years ago. That Stockett has produced such a beautiful book based on her own experience proves the old writing tip to be utterly true: Write what you know.


True Blood Boxed Set (Sookie Stackhouse Vampire)
True Blood Boxed Set (Sookie Stackhouse Vampire)
by Charlaine Harris
Edition: Paperback

4.0 out of 5 stars Love it!!, 22 July 2010
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I'm giving this box set such a high score based on the outrageous fun the Sookie Stackhouse novels provide. If you take these books for what they are - Utter escapism, a complete fantasy filled with cheap thrills, sexy romps and intrigue - Then you will not be disappointed. But if you are expecting something intellectually challenging or the height of literary accomplishment, you will be disappointed and the obvious question will be why you went near these books in the first place. These are not books to be taken seriously, but this, to me, does not reduce their value.

The narration is saturated with a dry matter-of-fact humour which had me laughing out loud more than once (one example is the statement Sookie makes when a vampire shows up driving a blood-red Mustang: "You never see a vampire in a Ford Fiesta"). Sookie, the telepathic heroine, is instantly likeable, sarcastic, sassy, funny, brave and fallible like the rest of us. The other characters jump off the page in glorious technicolour, delicious, shocking, original and buzzing. The storylines are clever, fast and never seem too easy, and there is plenty of suspense, romance and twists to keep the reader interested from beginning to end.

The only thing that irritated me a little was the constant re-capping of previous events. These are not stand-alone books, and should be read in the correct order to make the best out of them. Once that premise has been established, the recapping is unnecessary and tiresome. But this irritation is brief and hardly worth noting.

I should probably also point out that this series is, beyond any doubt, for women - Sit back and enjoy Bill, Eric, Sam, Quinn, Alceed and Jason. As Sookie would have put it: "Oh yum!"


Jumping the Cracks
Jumping the Cracks
by Victoria Blake
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Jumping the Cracks, 13 July 2010
This review is from: Jumping the Cracks (Paperback)
For what this book is, a modern who-dunnit thriller, I guess it is pretty good. It has some original characters, it a page-turner and reads like a snappy, clean, sharp modern mystery. Sam Falconer is satisfying mix of a messed-up nut case and a plucky independent woman, with all the peculiar characteristics to make her interesting in a believable way. She makes a good central character with plenty of scope for personal challenges as well as professional ones.

I think my main reservation was the simplicity of the plot - It was so obvious what the `mystery' was that I was fully expecting a twist. It never came, and I was left with the feeling that it had all been just a little bit too easy. Also, I kept wanting Blake to go a little deeper into the personalities of the other characters, as they seem rather two-dimensional next to Sam's exhaustive introspection.

Being a big fan of Child's Reacher-series, I find it hard not to compare the two. Jumping the Cracks looks simple and a little clichéd in comparison, and I must admit I was not left breathless by the pace and tension which, to me, is the attraction of this action genre. But I did I find it refreshing to read an action-book written by a woman from an obvious feminine point of view. It is decidedly less testosterone-pumped than others of it's kind, with the focus turned on emotions and relationships rather than guns and fist fights.


The Prince Of Mist
The Prince Of Mist
by Carlos Ruiz Zafon
Edition: Hardcover

18 of 20 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars The Prince of Mist..., 9 July 2010
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This review is from: The Prince Of Mist (Hardcover)
I had high hopes for this little book. It was originally created for Young Adults, and though I no longer fit that description these books more than often appeal to readers of any age (Harry Potter, Twilight, anyone?).

It starts out rich, full of mystery and fascination. Max is the son of an eccentric inventor and watch-maker, who has decided that they need to escape the war raging in the city where they live by moving to the coast. When they move into their new house by the sea, Max finds a graveyard full of marble circus statues and a box full of reels of film. Before long, the mystery of the previous owners son's sudden death starts to unfold.

So already this book has everything it might need to weave a thumping good story - The brave little boy hero, the creepy new house with whispers in the corners, a perfect baddie in the shape of an evil clown and his troupe of delinquents, secrets hidden in the past and clocks moving backwards; romance, magic, suspense. In fact, it was blowing up into such an intricate tale of ghosts, grudges and hauntings that I found myself wondering how on earth all the loose ends were going to be neatly tied up before this tiny book came to an end.

The fact is, though most of the endings were sort of tied up, another 200 pages would have turned this book from a mediocre disappointment into a perfect adventure story. As it is, it feels rushed an unfinished, and so many wonderful ideas are never explored: Max's father is a vivid and original character, full of mischief. From the first page he was portrayed as if he might take a central role in the book, but then he disappears form the story completely. He gives Max a pocket watch with the promising engraving: `Max's Time Machine', but nothing comes of that either - It's just a watch. Also, there is the creepy cat adopted by Max's little sister, which is such a good scary character that it should have been milked properly, but here is another dead end. The clown's evil circus troupe is a fantastic field for story-weaving, but this is also only mentioned in passing.

The shame is the wasted potential, because without a doubt Zafon is a talented writer. He created breathless suspense very easily, but seems to have difficulty following through. The mysteries are so deep and haunting that the only way to validate them is to spend enough time describing them, but it just doesn't happen. My overall impression on finishing this book was one of a very disappointing anti-climax.
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jun 29, 2011 11:17 PM BST


Child 44
Child 44
by Tom Rob Smith
Edition: Paperback

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Child 44, 7 July 2010
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This review is from: Child 44 (Paperback)
I read this book once before when it was first released, and I was balled over - An experience that was only slightly muted on the second visit. This is an amazing effort for a first book - Sophisticated for a who-done-it, psychological and thorough, the pages turn themselves as we are taken not only through the sick mind of a child-killer, but also through the society of tyrannical post-war Communist Russia. The details of this life are perfect and bear testament to the research Rob Smith must have done, resulting in an authentic, vibrant and convincing tale.

So convincing and vibrant, in fact, that I found myself skimming over some of the more grotesque descriptions of torture and murder - If you have a delicate stomach this might not be the book for you. But these descriptions add to the drama of this gritty story, and further authenticates it by the knowledge that it might not be very far from what actually happened at the time.

The characters are easy to like and easy to recognise, easy on the eye and human enough to allow for some hero-identification. The dashing hero Leo is the perfect bad-guy turned good and his beautiful wife Raisa does a very convincing ice-queen thaw-out.

And in the midst of this desperate scramble for justice and flight from prosecution, is a very sweet, if perhaps a tiny bit rushed, love story.

A few things bothered me; Quite often the narration loses it's flow and becomes a little clumsy and trite. Leo's introspection was sometimes a little boring and overstated what was already clear, and the ending was a little too rushed and a little incongruous compared to the rest of the book - But all minor details which did not stop me from devouring this book in a matter of days.

We have suspense, realism, romance, psychology, a handsome hero, and a breathless chase all neatly together in one very good book which I am willing to bet will be turned into a film in the not too distant future!


The Junior Officers' Reading Club: Killing Time and Fighting Wars
The Junior Officers' Reading Club: Killing Time and Fighting Wars
by Patrick Hennessey
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.98

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Wow..., 3 July 2010
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I haven't read a book quite like this before - Quite so current, new, entertaining, interesting and disturbing all at the same time. Hennessey has achieved something special with this book. Granted, it is not the height of literary accomplishment, but that's not the merit of this autobiography.

The book describes the training, challenges and camaraderie as a new recruit, then the frustrations and silliness of passive-active duty, the increasing lust for violent action, and the respect and jealousy of soldiers returning from the front. When the action finally does come, we see the challenges of the 0 to 60 lifestyle, their ways of coping with boredom and homesickness and the tentative friendships build with the Afghan soldiers they fight alongside. We are also given a sometimes sickening look at what happens when the guns are actually fired and the near hysterical madness the soldiers have to adopt in order to cope.

It opened up new channels of thought for me, and helped me understand how fundamentally different soldiers in action are from civilians at home. It never occurred to me before now that these young men actually desire the action - A bloodlust that seems distasteful and inhuman at first, but after more thought the question begs; How else would they be able to do it?

Despite the exhaustive action and military technicality this book subjects you to, my lasting impression is one of heartbreaking sadness. Hennessy perfectly describes the alienation and sense of displacement upon return from the front; Once you have been there, witnessed and partaken in war, something, understandably, shifts. Away at the front, the thought of home and loved ones is what sustains them, but when they return Hennessy describes a feeling of unsettling displacement. Everything is the same as when they left, but because of the change the soldiers themselves have had to go through it does not feel the same. The world of awed silences, concerned looks and uncomfortable back-slaps sounds almost eerie when you realise that one of the strongest emotions these soldiers might feel is frustration at missing out on the action and a desire to return to the front.

The importance of this book is further accentuated with Hennessy's account of having to `babysit' journalists arriving at the `front' days after all danger has passed and it is deemed safe enough for them to put in an appearance. Considering that this book is completely different from any news broadcast I have ever seen, it was not hard to believe him. The fact it, this book is written with the kind of crystal clarity that is only achieved when recounted on a fresh, first-hand basis. I found it an honest, disturbing and important recount of a war that is still raging, and I believe it is a book most people should read.


Orange Is the New Black: My Year in a Women's Prison
Orange Is the New Black: My Year in a Women's Prison
by Piper Kerman
Edition: Hardcover

3 of 6 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Hmm..., 25 Jun. 2010
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Without a doubt, this is an important book - Piper Kernan points out how very little literature exists about women in prison, and I have no trouble believing her. Not only is it important because it gives this unheard group of women a voice, but it regularly highlights surprising paradoxes in the US prison system - For example, less people die of drug abuse every year than of smoking-related diseases, yet most of the women in prison are locked up for drug-related offenses. Incidentally, they are allowed smoke, and no-one is locked up for providing cigarettes. Kernan is, not surprisingly, a harsh critic. Health care, hygiene, administration and the food are all found lacking, and it is clear that these women sometimes face horrendous treatment at the hands of power-drunk prison officers. So from that point of view, this book provides a privileged view of a hidden world most of us (luckily) never have to encounter, and it sheds light on many things that have been in the dark for far too long.

There are some `buts' however... Consistently, throughout the entire book, the inmates were portrayed as harmless stoics. There was little or no attention paid to the crimes that had got them there in the first place, and whilst I do believe that many of the women had suffered hard lives and deserved better treatment than what the US government was giving them, I also do believe that many of them were serving out deserved sentences for crimes which harmed innocents, and that more balance in this respect would have increased the credibility of Kernan's autobiography. Also, though there were heart-warming stories of companionship and loyalty among the women, I felt like this too was overly glossy and gushing, more like a Walt Disney production than friendship among convicts. Piper's own account on how her cell-mates accepted her and how she fitted in to the prison hierarchy makes her sounds like the most popular girl in high school, from her academic skills right doen to the shape of her tits. In fact, at some points she sounds like such a Miss Congeniality that I can't help but wonder what it she leaving out?

And, of course, the problem with autobiographies is that the people who write them are not writers, and Kernan is no exception. There is a glowing, beautifully written recommendation on the back of this book by none other than Eat Pray Love's Elizabeth Gilbert, all about how much she loved this book. The fact is that this recommendation is written better than the book itself, which is clumsy in some places, awkward in others and just plain embarrassing at some points. The timeline does not flow, she frequently resorts to toe-curling clichés and the story constantly jerks from point to point in a messy stumble.

Luckily, Kernan satisfactorily addresses her own guilt and accepts that she has to serve her sentence, and adequately portrays the shame and helplessness of being a number in the US correctional system.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Nov 27, 2013 10:27 PM GMT


The Girls
The Girls
by Lori Lansens
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An interesting story from a new angle..., 21 Jun. 2010
This review is from: The Girls (Paperback)
I loved this book. I found it sweet, touching, honest and unique. The concept in itself, the autobiography of a conjoined twin, is utterly fascinating and offers a brand new perspective on the world, but in addition to this the prose is lovely, sensitive and emotional. Lansens has managed to create two very distinct voices for the two twins, and gives the impression of having given this topic the amount of research it is worthy. I felt an immediate connection with both girls and their little family, that sort of rare affection for a fictional character that makes you really care what happens to them.

I found that the most accomplished part of this book is that the `conjoined' part of the twins identity quickly takes a back seat to their individuality, an angle most people miss when they see the spectacle of conjoined twins. The most important part of their lives is not their physical dependence on each other but their families, their hobbies and the men they love. The sisterly bond is perfectly and honestly described, so anyone with a sister will instantly recognise the unique love/hate relationship found between siblings. And of course, the constant mediation between their strong personalities, relentless health-complications and dealing with people's reactions is fascinating and, not least, humbling.

There are some weaknesses, such as the melodramatic poetic phrases which popped up randomly and sat uncomfortably in the middle of down-to-earth, sensible prose. The trip to Slovakia felt rushed and not as thorough as the rest of the book, stunted and half-finished. I finished the book with many unanswered questions, so I feel like it could easily have been a good 100 pages longer. But I suppose if you have to face criticism as an author, that is not the worst one to get!


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