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Amanda Craig "Amanda Craig" (London United Kingdom)
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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]
Offered by Smaller World Future
Price: £17.53

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.


Dragonkeeper: Garden of the Purple Dragon
Dragonkeeper: Garden of the Purple Dragon
by Carole Wilkinson
Edition: Hardcover

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars should be made into a film, 16 Oct. 2007
This excellent series is ideal for reluctant readers as well as anyone who loves stories about China, dragons and brave girls. In the previous book, Ping and the last remaining dragon, Lang Danzi, made it to the Ocean where Long Danzi flies away leaving her with his baby to look after. Now, Ping is guarding the little creature in the safest place she can think of - the Emperor's forbidden garden. But when the Emperor learns of their existence, he has changed from the lonely, friendly boy she first met into a neurotic teenager, terrified of death and at the mercy of manipulative courtiers. Worse, Ping is entirely side-lined in caring for little Kai. Nobody believes the true dragon keeper can be a girl, so she sets out to find another more worthy keeper. However, evil is at work and her journey is fraught with danger.
What makes this book and the first one so captivating is the mixture of good characterisation and descriptions of China. Like Mulan, it captures something universally appealling while describing a traditional way of life with its extremes of poverty, wealth, superstition and wisdom. My children (11 and 14) both loved it in different ways. We can't wait for the third.


Before Adam
Before Adam
by Jack London
Edition: Paperback
Price: £11.96

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars fascinating, visionary story, 18 Sept. 2007
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Before Adam (Paperback)
I'm so pleased to see this is still available, because though less well-known than White Fang and The Call of the Wild it's still a wonderful story. The narrator is haunted by dreams of a prehistoric past, in which he must survive a mortal enemy and other tribes, both more and less advanced than he is. London is a consummate story-teller, who never wastes a word, and at his best when describng savage emotions. I read this as a twelve-year-old and now want to get it for my own son of the same age....


Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Book 7) [Adult Edition]
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Book 7) [Adult Edition]
by J. K. Rowling
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £15.58

6 of 19 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An amazing conclusion to an international phenomenon, 27 July 2007
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
I was one of the very first critics to spot Harry Potter & the Philosopher's Stone as something special (sadly my first edition went to my nephew) and have followed its success with particular interest. Disregard the hype, the irritation over the hype, the envy and adulation and what Rowling has achieved is still remarkable.
The last book is very dark. It begins with a scene of a witch being tortured by Voldemort, and someone being eaten alive by his snake Nagini, and then moves to Harry's escape from Privet Drive. Hedwig and Mad-Eye Moody both get killed, and it doesn't get any easier...about 25 characters get murdered in the final battle with Voldemort, some of which you care about. Voldemort has achieved total control over the Ministry of Magic, and Snape becomes the new Head of Hogwarts.
Harry, meanwhile, has to fulfil the Quest Dumbledore gave him before dying. He must find the remaining five objects in which Voldemort has put a piece of his soul - for as in many fairytales, the evil wizard can't be destoryed without this. Harry got rid of the first when he stabbed Tom Riddle's diary in The Chamber of Secrets with a Basilisk fang, and Dumbledore destroyed the second. However, although Harry found a fake locket, and knows the snake Nagini to be another, there are more. How to find them, and how to destroy the ones he does find?
For once, Hogwarts itself plays no part in the story until all the characters are reunited in a climactic battle at the end. Harry goes on the run with Ron and Hermione, living in a magical tent and narrowly avoiding capture by the Death Eaters. When they do catch him, and torture Hermione, the friends escape only through the self-sacrifice of another. There's a lot about forgiveness and redemption in this book, with even Dudley and Malfoy becoming more human, and Dumbledore becoming rather less the all-good Gandalf figure than we and Harry believed. The main characters grow up morally, though I was sorry not to see more of Ron and Hermione as young adults; and Ginny is dealt with in a far too perfunctory manner, especially in the Epilogue. On the other hand, I was delighted by the revelation about Snape, even if we all guessed it was coming.

There are lots of echoes of familiar children's classics, from Lord of the Rings to The Lion, the Witch & the Wardrobe, but although the prose is never more than servicable, the plot is the point. Rowling has always been a fabulous story-teller, and she delivers the goods as she did not quite manage to do in the previous (over-long, poorly-edited)two novels. I was gripped for six hours, delighting in the way all the strands and clues in the previous six books came together, relieved at the number of characters who did survive and pleased that there was still space for a couple of good jokes. However, there is a major logical flaw, as has already been pointed out, to do with the action of the Basilisk fangs.
Otherwise, bravo JoRo! Keep writing - but do something completely different next.


The Tenderness of Wolves
The Tenderness of Wolves
by Stef Penney
Edition: Hardcover

56 of 59 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars excellent and deserved winner of the Costa prize, 12 Feb. 2007
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
Stef Penney's debut has attracted some hostility from the literary establishment on winning the Costa (formerly Whitbread) prize as Book of the Year,largely because "nobody has read it" and the author researched her subject in libraries rather than by trekking through the wastes of Canada. Well, stuff them. It's a terrific novel, and the judges were absolutely right to prefer it over Boyd's latest or even the charming memoir about a happy East End childhood.

Mrs. Ross, the narrator, is a Scottish pioneer and ex-asylum inmate who discovers the body of a French trapper, murdered and scalped in his house near Dove river. Her beautiful, adopted 17 year old son Francis has disappeared, and so has the victim's money and a piece of bone which may prove the "Indians" had a written culture. A half-breed Cherokee trapper is arrested and beaten up to try nad force a confession out of him, but the magistrate has more compassion than the fur-trading company to whom all are in thrall, and releases him. Mrs Ross and Parker embark on an epic journey, tracking her son and another, fainter set of footprints, across snow and ice. In their wake are more Company hunters, bent on tracking them down...

It is a wonderful story, set in 1867 and featuring an agoraphobic heroine who must overcome her fears (and her growing passion for her guide) to find justice. In many ways it reminded me of Ursula le Guin's masterpiece, The Left-Hand of Darkness, for though this is meticulously researched historical fiction, not fantasy, it shares the same sense of passion and desperation growing on the extreme edges of civilisation. All the characters are well-drawn, and though the narrative switches between first and third person, it is consistently interesting and beautifully written. My one complaint is that the Line subplot, about some religious Scandanavian settlers, isn't really necessary. It's about racial prejudice, mother love, greed, illicit passion and what happens to people when they spend too much time alone. Whether you like detective novels or literary fiction it's unmissable.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jan 3, 2010 9:51 PM GMT


The Tenderness of Wolves
The Tenderness of Wolves
by Stef Penney
Edition: Paperback

171 of 176 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars excellent, gripping thriller, 12 Feb. 2007
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
Stef Penney's debut has attracted some hostility from the literary establishment on winning the Costa (formerly Whitbread) prize as Book of the Year,largely because "nobody has read it" and the author researched her subject in libraries rather than by trekking through the wastes of Canada. Well, stuff them. It's a terrific novel, and the judges were absolutely right to prefer it over Boyd's latest or even the charming memoir about a happy East End childhood.

Mrs. Ross, the narrator, is a Scottish pioneer and ex-asylum inmate who discovers the body of a French trapper, murdered and scalped in his house near Dove river. Her beautiful, adopted 17 year old son Francis has disappeared, and so has the victim's money and a piece of bone which may prove the "Indians" had a written culture. A half-breed Cherokee trapper is arrested and beaten up to try nad force a confession out of him, but the magistrate has more compassion than the fur-trading company to whom all are in thrall, and releases him. Mrs Ross and Parker embark on an epic journey, tracking her son and another, fainter set of footprints, across snow and ice. In their wake are more Company hunters, bent on tracking them down...

It is a wonderful story, set in 1867 and featuring an agoraphobic heroine who must overcome her fears (and her growing passion for her guide) to find justice. In many ways it reminded me of Ursula le Guin's masterpiece, The Left-Hand of Darkness, for though this is meticulously researched historical fiction, not fantasy, it shares the same sense of passion and desperation growing on the extreme edges of civilisation. All the characters are well-drawn, and though the narrative switches between first and third person, it is consistently interesting and beautifully written. My one complaint is that the Line subplot, about some religious Scandanavian settlers, isn't really necessary. It's about racial prejudice, mother love, greed, illicit passion and what happens to people when they spend too much time alone. Whether you like detective novels or literary fiction it's unmissable.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Aug 12, 2009 10:46 AM BST


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