Posts Tagged With: Reviews

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

Title: The Hunger Games (Hunger Games 1)
Author: Suzanne Collins
ISBN: 978-1407109084
Publisher: Scholastic
First Published: January 2009
No .of pages: 464

Rating: 4/5

Synopsis (from Fantastic Fiction):Katniss is a 16-year-old girl living with her mother and younger sister in the poorest district of Panem, the remains of what used be the United States. Long ago the districts waged war on the Capitol and were defeated. As part of the surrender terms, each district agreed to send one boy and one girl to appear in an annual televised event called, “The Hunger Games.” The terrain, rules, and level of audience participation may change but one thing is constant: kill or be killed. When Kat’s sister is chosen by lottery, Kat steps up to go in her place.

Review:
Oh. My. Gods!

How on earth did I manage to wait so long before picking up the first in this trilogy? I mean, the hype was all over the place, and then the film came out (which I rather enjoyed), but perhaps it was the hype that kept me away. Anyway, I finally succumbed and I am SO glad I did!

From the very first page, I was absolutely hooked. Katniss is such a wonderfully flawed character that we can all see a little of ourselves in her, both good and bad; the situation, which is almost like a teenaged version of  The Running Man, is edge-of-the-seat stuff; and the writing is so good it’s incredibly difficult to put the book down. Although there is some quite horrific violence and death involved, the descriptions are not so graphic that it would make it inappropriate for  younger ten readers – it really is handled superbly so that readers of almost any age can enjoy it.

I got so into it that even though I’m enjoying my current book, I find myself wishing I was was still reading The Hunger Games and I look forward to getting hold of the sequels so I can continue following Katniss – I’m just dying to find out what happens next. My favourite character, however, has to be Peeta – I think I fell in love with him just a little bit. Although Katniss is obviously very close to Gale, I just couldn’t warm to him in quite the same way, but that’s possibly because we don’t get to spend as much tie with him. Perhaps that will change as I get further into the trilogy. Either way, I’ll be reading them very soon!

Reviewed by Kell Smurthwaite

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Heat Rises by Richard Castle

Title: Heat Rises (Nikki Heat 3)
Author: Richard Castle
ISBN: 978-1401324438
Publisher: Hyperion
First Published: October 2011 (hardback) / October 2012 (paperback/Kindle)
No .of pages: 240

Rating: 3/5

Synopsis (from Fantastic Fiction):
The bizarre murder of a parish priest at a New York bondage club is just thetip of an iceberg that leads Nikki Heat to a dark conspiracy that reachesall the way to the highest level of the NYPD. But when she gets too closeto the truth, Nikki finds herself disgraced, stripped of her badge, and outon her own as a target for killers with nobody she can trust. Except maybethe one man in her life who’s not a cop. Reporter Jameson Rook.

In the midst of New York’s coldest winter in a hundred years, there’s onething Nikki is determined to prove. Heat Rises.

Review:
If you are a fan of the ABC show, Castle, then you will most likely already have picked up on the books that tie in – apparently written by the fictional character of Richard Castle (the author picture on the back cover is of Nathan Fillion, who plays him). Fans will most definitely enjoy the in-jokes and recognise the “real” situations and characters from the show that have inspired the “fictional” counterparts in the novels. They will laugh their socks off when Jameson Rook says things like, “I really am ruggedly handsome, aren’t I?” and get a real kick out of every Castle-ish turn of phrase.

However, even if they’ve never tuned into the programme (currently in its fifth season), crime fans will still be able to enjoy these books. Yes, they use every corny crime trope going, but it’s part of the fun.

Because that’s what these books are all about – having fun with the whole crime genre.

There’s no point in reading Heat Rises unless you have first read Heat Wave and Naked Heat, but once you have finished those, you’ll be champing at the bit to get hold of the next installment.

First and foremost, it’s another very clever tie-in with an increasingly popular crime drama, but Heat Rises (along with the prior novels) holds up in its own right. There’s very real suspense – you’ll be kept guessing till the “big reveal” and will enjoy every twist and turn along the way.

Reviewed by Kell Smurthwaite

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The Book of Madness and Cures by Regina O’Melveny

Title: The Book of Madness and Cures
Author: Regina O’Melveny
ISBN: 978-1780330464
Publisher: John Murray
First Published: 12 April 2012 (HB) / 11 October 2012 (PB)
No .of pages: 384

Rating: 3/5

Synopsis (from Amazon):
Gabriella Mondini is a rarity in 16th century Venice, she’s a woman who practices medicine. Her father, a renowned physician, has provided her entrée to this all-male profession, and inspired in her a shared mission to understand the secrets of the human body. Then her father disappears and Gabriella faces a crisis: without her father’s patronage, she is no longer permitted to treat her patients.

So she sets out across Europe to find her father. Following clues from his occasional enigmatic letters, Gabriella crosses Switzerland, Germany and France, entering strange and forbidding cities. She travels to Scotland, the Netherlands, and finally to Morocco. In each new land, she uncovers details of her father’s unexplained flight, and opens new mysteries of her own. Not just the mysteries of ailments and treatments, but the ultimate mysteries of mortality, love, and the timeless human spirit.

Review:
In recent months, I seem to have read several novels which have very similar features – 16th Century Venice; female doctors struggling to practice medicine under the bigoted rules of the time; traveling far from home – as a result, large parts of this debut novel felt familiar. There were aspects that set it apart, but it was, overall, much of a muchness with the others and although I enjoyed it, I got slightly less out of it than I might have done had I not read others first.

If anything, The Book of Madness and Cures felt a tad long-winded at times, and despite the excerpts of the titular book (actually The Book of Diseases) being part of the plot, I found their inclusion to be intrusive and disruptive to the flow of the story around them, so much so that I eventually found myself skimming over them to get back to the proper narrative.

It is a meandering tale that takes its time to unfold, so that it feels like the reader is keeping pace with the travelers as they spend months journeying through strange lands, facing hardship and persecution, on a voyage of self discovery and reunion that often feels like it will never come to a conclusion. When it finally does, it feels a little rushed. I felt that I cared for very few of the characters, least of all the absent father descending into madness as he tries to escape his own failings in foreign lands. Gabriella seemed emotionally stunted, and the only ones I really felt for were her companions, Olmina and Lorenzo, who were kind, loyal and understanding as Gabriella persisted in her quest.

The redeeming feature is the writing itself, which is warm and rich – O’Melveny has many a beautiful turn of phrase and her skill with words is to be commended. I will look forward to seeing what she next brings to the page.

Reviewed by Kell Smurthwaite

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A Brief Guide to Jane Austen: The Life and Times of the World’s Favourite Author by Charles Jennings

Title: A Brief Guide to Jane Austen: The Life and Times of the World’s Favourite Author
Author: Charles Jennings
ISBN: 978-1780330464
Publisher: Robinson
First Published: 5 February 2013 (paperback) / 15 November 2012 (Kindle)
No .of pages: 288

Rating: 5/5

Synopsis (from Amazon):
Jane Austen is a mystery. The first incontrovertibly great woman novelist, she is, among other things, one of the finest prose stylists in literature; the first truly modern writer, the Godmother of chick lit. She is also the greatest enigma (next to Shakespeare) in English literature. Soldiers in the First World War sat in the trenches and read them for the civilising comforts they provided. Hard-nut literary critics such as F. R. Leavis lauded their austere complexity. World Book Day, 2007, found that Pride and Prejudice was the one book ‘The nation can’t live without’. In this witty, accessible guide, Charles Jennings goes in search of this enigma through her words as well as her times, including a short biography, an overview of the novels, as well as the world that she inhabited. Finally, the book contains Jane’s very own words of advice for the modern life.

Review:
It is a truth universally acknowledged that a reader with a complete lack of shelf space must still be in want of yet more books! It is also universally acknowledged that Jane Austen, after 200 years, still features on the top ten favourites lists of readers all around the world. She is an enduring icon, a woman whose writing has stood the test of time despite being very much of its time, and this brief guide examines some of the reasons behind that.

Set out in four distinct sections, the guide covers Jane’s life, her novels (in order of publication), the Regency period that her novels have come to so beautifully represent, and the after effects of her work on the world of literature.

Never before have I had so many people interested in the book I am reading – I read this in various public places and could barely finish a page without someone asking which Austen novel I was reading or if I was enjoying the book – even those who professed not to like her novels asked what it was I so loved.

I’ll confess, I’m only partially a Janeite – I find Persuasion slow, Sense and Sensibility dull and Emma infuriating. However, I grew to love Mansfield Park, delight in Pride and Prejudice, and hold Northanger Abbey among my all time favourites. Her Juvenilia, I find, is hit and miss, underdeveloped and very much a product of a writer still trying to develop her craft, but all this is beside the point. The fact remains that people couldn’t resist quizzing me the moment they saw me holding a book bearing the name of Jane Austen – she truly is the world’s favourite author.

This brief guide to Austen and the world around her is absolutely fascinating. Janeites will devour it, but even those of us who have mixed reactions to her work will find themselves pulled into the genteel world of the lady who left us six of the best-loved books the world has ever known.

Reviewed by Kell Smurthwaite

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Rules of Civility by Amor Towles

Title: Rules of Civility
Author: Amor Towles
ISBN: 978-1444708875
Publisher: Sceptre
First Published: January 2012
No. of pages: 352

Rating: 3/5

Synopsis (from Fantastic Fiction):
Set during the hazy, enchanting, and martini-filled world of New York City circa 1938, Rules of Civility follows three friends–Katey, Eve, and Tinker–from their chance meeting at a jazz club on New Year’s Eve through a year of enlightening and occasionally tragic adventures. Tinker orbits in the world of the wealthy; Katey and Eve stretch their few dollars out each evening on the town. While all three are complex characters, Katey is the story’s shining star. She is a fully realized heroine, unique in her strong sense of self amidst her life’s continual fluctuations. Towles’ writing also paints an inviting picture of New York City, without forgetting its sharp edges. Reminiscent of Fitzgerald, Rules of Civility is full of delicious sentences you can sit back and savor (most appropriately with a martini or two).

Review:
This is what chick-lit would be like if it were written exclusively by men. No, I don’t mean lad-lit; that’s a completely different animal – this is more like chick-lit with all the fluff removed. There is absolutely nothing frothy about Rules of Civility but there is still the lightness and ease of reading without any of the brashness you might expect from a man writing from a female point of view.

In fact, there is a sense of honesty about the character of Katie Kontent (Kontent like the state of being, not Kontent like something in a box) that is quite refreshing and delightful. The story from Katie’s point of view has a gentle flow that carries the reader forward at a steady pace, which is why it’s such a jolt when you come to a section told from Tinker’s point of view – you suddenly feel like you’ve run aground on a sand bank for a while till Katie takes the rudder and you’re able to push off again.

There are no wildly exciting escapades here, just a subtle meandering as the characters meet and mingle, crossing the boundaries of their respective social circles and having their lives affected by those interactions. There is no sense of urgency, and no hurry to get from one moment to the next – you just drift.

And that, I think is the main problem. The characters feel like they are in want of just a little more plot. There is growth – the characters develop and learn about themselves and each other, but there is little real action. That said, there is something quite pleasant about just sitting back and enjoying the ride as you glide from the first page to the last.

Reviewed by Kell Smurthwaite

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A Turnkey Or Not? by Tony Levy

Title: A Turnkey Or Not?
Author: Tony Levy
ISBN: 978-1908582607
Publisher: Apex Publishing Ltd
No. of pages: 250

Rating: 4/5

Synopsis (from Amazon):
A chance meeting on holiday in Majorca changed Tony Levy s life forever and launched him into a 25-year career in a job that he never would ve considered previously: working in Her Majesty s Prison Service. This book catalogues Tony s personal experiences of working as a prison officer, from his early days at high-security HMP Pentonville to his final years in therapy-based HMP Grendon. Filled with interesting observations and incidences, hilarious wind-ups and memorable characters, this autobiography is the story of a journey, from the happiest days in what will always be a potentially volatile environment to a complete state of disillusionment as an old dinosaur that no longer fitted into the modern prison service world. Tony gives an honest account of his feelings, as someone who would never be a yes man and toe the party line, in the face of a constantly changing environment that had become increasingly controlled by political correctness gone mad and by budgetary needs rather than human needs. He was a man who cared, and even though his heart was sucked out of his job, he never lost his dignity or respect. Most importantly, he would never allow himself to be reduced to just a turnkey.

Review:
A Turnkey Or Not?
is a humorous and frank autobiography by an ex-prison officer. As my Dad has been a prison officer in the Scottish Prison Service for 25 years, I thought I might find it interesting… and I was right! It’s an insightful, often surprising look at life on the outside of the bars, but inside the prison system and I loved it!

Levy’s professional life has been filled with quirky characters (and I actually feel he is one of them!) and his anecdotes are, more often than not, touched with a fondness for those featuring in this story of his work, and where friendly feelings have not been evident, he has been respectful and mindful of how others might take his revelations, giving nicknames and pseudonyms at every point.

Reading this book, I almost felt like I was meeting all his colleagues in person and I found I could picture them, hear their voices and join in their camaraderie as each chapter unfolded, and I progressed with them all, moving from one prison and position in the hierarchy to the next. Really, I almost felt like I was sitting having a coffee with an old friend who was recounting the more interesting episodes he had experienced and seeing the twinkle in Levy’s eye as he jests, then the more serious expressions as the tide turns.

Whether or not you know anyone who has ever been a prison officer, I think this has a broad appeal that should leave most readers feeling satisfied and entertained. It’s definitely well worth picking up.

Reviewed by Kell Smurthwaite

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Sisters Red by Jackson Pearce

Title: Sisters Red (Fairytale Retellings 1)
Author: Jackson Pearce
ISBN: 978-1444900606
Publisher: Hodder
No. of pages: 368

Rating: 4/5

Synopsis (from Amazon):
The story of Scarlett and Rosie March, two highly-skilled sisters who have been hunting Fenris (werewolves) – who prey on teen girls – since Scarlett lost her eye years ago while defending Rosie in an attack. Scarlett lives to destroy the Fenris, and she and Rosie lure them in with red cloaks (a colour the wolves can’t resist), though Rosie hunts more out of debt to her sister than drive. But things seem to be changing. The wolves are getting stronger and harder to fight, and there has been a rash of news reports about countless teenage girls being brutally murdered in the city. Scarlett and Rosie soon discover the truth: wolves are banding together in search of a Potential Fenris – a man tainted by the pack but not yet fully changed. Desperate to find the Potential to use him as bait for a massive werewolf extermination, the sisters move to the city with Silas, a young woodsman and long time family friend who is deadly with an axe. Meanwhile, Rosie finds herself drawn to Silas and the bond they share not only drives the sisters apart, but could destroy all they’ve worked for.

Review:
Not so much a modern retelling of a fairytale, but a modern paranormal urban adventure with fairytale overtones, Sisters Red gathers together elements of the Red Riding Hood story with Snow White and Rose Red, and sets in firmly in modern-day Atlanta, GA with the wolves being supernatural creatures, and the sisters themselves being anything but victims.

Jackson Pearce has twisted the tale and skewed it in such a way that the feisty heroines are a force to be reckoned with – woe betide the wolf that tries to prey on them! The scarred and battle-weary Scarlet is such a wonderful character that it would be easy to overlook her quieter younger sister, Rosie, were she not so brilliantly realised herself. As for Silas, well a good friend is always an asset and although these girls can stand firmly on their own two feet, an extra pair of hands always comes in handy in the fight against evil.

I’ll not say I didn’t see the big twist coming, because I did spot it quite early on, but I didn’t care because I still wanted to read on and find out where the story would go and what ,exactly, would become of our intrepid trio.

If you like your fairytale heroines practical, with no need to wait for rescue from a handsome prince, then the Sisters Red are the girls for you. Long may the new breed of folk legends and twisted tales continue!

Reviewed by Kell Smurthwaite


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Black Swan Rising by Lee Carroll (Transworld Book Group)

Title: Black Swan Rising (Black Swan Rising Book 1)
Author:
Lee Carroll
ISBN:
978-0553825572
Publisher:
Bantam
First Published:
2010
No. of pages:400

Rating: 3/5

Synopsis (Amazon):
New York jeweller Garet James has her fair share of problems: money, an elderly father, a struggling business. One day she comes across an antiques shop she’d never noticed before. The owner possesses an old silver box that’s been sealed shut. Would she help an old man and open it, perhaps? She does…and that night strange things begin to happen. It’s as if her world – our world – has shifted slightly, revealing another, parallel place that co-exists without our knowledge: the world of the Fey…

Garet learns that one of her ancestors was ‘the Watchtower’: an immortal chosen to stand guard over the human and the fey worlds – a role that she has, it seems, inherited from her mother. But the equilibrium between these two existences is under threat. The 16th-century magician and necromancer Dr John Dee has returned, the box has been opened and the demons of Despair and Discord released. In a race against time and impending apocalypse, it is Garet who must find Dee… and close the box.

Review:
I desperately wanted to like this more than I did. I love dark urban fantasies, especially where vampires are involved, but I found I wanted this to be darker and edgier than it was.

That’s not to say it’s not good – it is good. There’s a fascinating blend of fact and fiction, with real historical figures borrowed from their own times to lend credence to those from folklore and legend. And the characters are pretty solidly written too. I really liked Garet she’s fallible and real – but there was something missing for me. She just didn’t come across as a take-the-reigns kind of girl and I wanted her to be more forceful.

Garet’s training also seemed to happen very quickly with not much happening as a result of it, which is a shame, because I felt it was a trick missed. Perhaps (and I can only hope I’m right) her newfound skills will come into play a bit more in the sequel.

Overall, Black Swan Rising is a nice bit of escapism and if you like urban fantasy, this could be just the ticket for you. There’s certainly enough to keep one entertained and maybe just enough to hook you for the second installment.

Reviewed by Kell Smurthwaite

You can find out more about the Transworld Book Group HERE.

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Caligula by Douglas Jackson (Transworld Book Group)

Title: Caligula (Roman Trilogy 1)
Author:
Douglas Jackson
ISBN:
978-0-552-15694-3
Publisher:
Corgi
First Published:
Feb 2009
No. of pages:496

Rating: 4/5

Synopsis (back cover):
Rufus, a young slave, grows up far from the corruption of the imperial court. He is a trainer of animals for the gladiatorial arena. But when Caligula wants a keeper for the emperor’s elephant, Rufus is bought from his owner and taken to the palace.

Life at court is dictated by Caligula’s ever shifting moods. He is as generous as he is cruel – a megalomaniac who declares himself a living god and simultaneously lives in constant fear of plots against his life. His paranoia is not misplaced however; intrigue permeates his court, and Rufus will find himself unwittingly at the centre of a conspiracy to assassinate the emperor.

Review:
Fans of intrigue, action and historical drama will all be thrilled by the first novel in the Romans trilogy by Douglas Jackson. From the first sentence, the reader is totally immersed in the unfolding drama – once can almost taste the paranoia dripping from each page as it is turned.

Caligula’s sadistic tendencies, even as a child, are quickly revealed, but so is the constant fear with which he lives and I, very surprisingly, found that on occasion, I actually felt some sympathy for him – I wasn’t prepared for that and it was a refreshing change. Rufus, and his friendship with Cupido, were written with such devotion that one could almost believe the author was writing about close friends of his own, such was the realism of both their characters and their relationship. As for Bersheba, the emperor’s elephant, she has such character that it’s no stretch of the imagination to feel her presence and hear her huffing breath as one reads – she’s right there beside you.

There’s excitement by the barrel load and the roar of the crowds in the arena is almost palpable, along with the stench of the animals and the stink of sweat and blood. It’s a vividly recreated world that one feels could almost be touched. It’s not just a story, it’s an experience.

I highly recommend this novel and am champing at the bit to read the rest of the trilogy.

Review by Kell Smurthwaite

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Denied by Pat Brien

Title: Denied
Author: Pat Brien
ISBN: 978-1848764132
Publisher: Matador
First Published: September 2010
No. of Pages: 402

Rating: 2/5

Synopsis (Amazon):

The battle between good and evil has become a war between love and lust As the black clouds of the industrial age begin their creeping domination of Northern England, a brooding vampire, Bachell, settles on the outskirts of a bustling Lancashire town, searching for the perfect victim. Under a death sentence by a powerful female vampire, Maria, with whom he is obsessed, he has neglected his needs to a dangerous degree. Now he must either feed successfully or face a fate worse than death. And his perfect victim must be willing. Not only is the strong-willed but naive Katie not willing, she is soon to be married. This leads Bachell into a desperate game of manipulation and seduction, dramatically pitting the ideals and emotions of young love against the dark forces of sexual fantasy and lust. In the bloody aftermath, a group of vampire hunters head to Paris to destroy their enemies. However, with Maria reigning from the shadows, they find themselves having to make dark choices. As disaster looms, they seek the help of a shy, beautiful young man, whose deadly power stems from a tragic curse.

Review:
As someone who loves vampire fiction, I was very much looking forward to reading this new addition to the blood-sucking canon.

Denied showed so much promise, but despite having a slightly more original concept than most recent vampire novels (most of them for the teen market and angsty Twilight Saga rip-offs), but it seems to lose sight of its aims half-way through, with far too many threads that take too long to go pretty much nowhere.

The novel is split into two halves where it really should have been split into two books – Denied and its sequel, and it even leaves things slightly open for a further foray into the story without promising to do so. Even so, I don’t think I would personally bother picking up a sequel were one forthcoming.

None of the characters really ring altogether true and there are many stereotypes as well as characters that pop up in places with no real purpose, which is a shame, because if Denied had been tighter it could have been a riveting read. Unfortunately it was just too long for what was there.

Reviewed by Kell Smurthwaite

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