Having experienced first hand the pain of losing a loved one to Alzheimers, I was slightly nervous about reading this book. I was concerned that the a...moreHaving experienced first hand the pain of losing a loved one to Alzheimers, I was slightly nervous about reading this book. I was concerned that the author would treat the condition in one of two ways, in that he would either sensationalise it's effects, or even worse would be playing it for laughs. I have to say that he has done neither, rather that he has been unflinching in his descriptions of the effects, but has shown it through caring eyes providing a most unusual story of happy ever after – even if the story does take us on a wonderfully uplifting journey before we get there. This is a story of true love played out over a lifetime, and what we are prepared to do for that love, even if the lives are not spent together.
It's rare to find a first novel that has as sure a touch as this one, with the writing being a combination of Bill Bryson travelogue with humour from James Thurber and Garrison Keillor. We are taken on a journey through modern American history, beginning with the early days of the civil rights movement, but the diversions and distractions take us to locations as diverse as John Boy Waltons bed and the Valley of The Kings in Egypt.
Despite the elephant in the room making its presence felt early in the novel, it is never allowed to stand near the window and block out the light. The writing is assured, and constantly finding the humour in the situations that arise. There is a sad undercurrent to the book, but it is very deftly handled and never allowed to drift into either melancholy or bathos. The characters are wonderfully drawn, and even in the later stages of the journey, are still allowed to grow and develop by the author.
I found myself increasingly drawn into the story and caring for the characters, even bursting into laughter in places, but you were always laughing with them, not at them, and the ending was beautifully handled, leaving you feeling all the better for having known the characters involved.
I know J. Paul Henderson has been given a three book deal, and I look forward to his next one – although he has set the bar very high for himself with his first offering. (less)
Having heard many good reports about Christos Tsiolkas previous novel, “The Slap” I was looking forward to reading his newest work, “Barracuda”, which...moreHaving heard many good reports about Christos Tsiolkas previous novel, “The Slap” I was looking forward to reading his newest work, “Barracuda”, which is the story of a talented swimmer who is so totally focused on success that he doesn't even comprehend the possibility of failure, so that when it happens he is unable to cope.
This is a good story, struggling to be an excellent one, but it is not an easy read – primarily because the main character is such a self-centred and unlike-able person, but I also found that I was becoming irritated by the structure of the novel itself, along with the artifices employed in the story telling. It felt at times as if the author had taken the chapters and randomly shuffled them, which did make it hard to get a sense of where the story was going, or had been. The author also had the main character using different versions of his name at different stages of the story, as if he was trying to provide signposts.
I was also uncomfortable that the author had chosen to give his protagonist quite so many hurdles to overcome – it seemed at times that he had been given the chance to make a trolley dash around the oppressed minority storeroom and giving him as many obstacles as he could find and then throwing them all at him at once.
Overall, though, it is a good but disturbing story of a fractured life, and dealing with the many issues that the main character faces in a very realistic way, showing that there are no easy answers to some peoples problems, and that some issues cannot be resolved.
The ending, although initially feeling unsatisfactory because of the lack of resolution, could be seen as being absolutely right, in that it is asking a question that no one can truly answer for themselves.
Overall, this is an earnest and thought provoking book, but the pity is that, like the main character, it could have been so much more. (less)
**spoiler alert** When I received a review copy of this book as part of the "RealReaders" programme, I was quite intrigued by the blurb on the back -...more**spoiler alert** When I received a review copy of this book as part of the "RealReaders" programme, I was quite intrigued by the blurb on the back - I had heard of James Sallis, and have had "Drive" on my "to-read " pile for quite a while. I should have taken more notice of the word "experimental" in the blurb, though, as that was quite significant. I was expecting to encounter something along the lines of an Elmore Leonard, with a complex and unfolding plot, with twists and turns along the way, finishing with a surprising and satisfying twist at the end. If that is what you are looking for, this is not the book for you. It is more along the lines of a written example of using negative space, as it is what is not talked about that is important. It's very difficult to discuss the book without giving spoilers, as so much of the book is dependent on context and filling in the spaces that are left blank. If you don't want to read any spoilers, skip to the next review! The subject matter of this novella is rather timely coming so soon after the release of the victims in Cleveland, and it seems to be the authors attempt at looking at the effect of abduction on the victims. We are told that the protagonist, Jenny Rowan, is one of the "good people" but we soon learn that she is also a very damaged person. There is an elephant in the room throughout this book, in that we are told very little of what she actually went through, apart from being kept in a box under her abductors bed - it was only after reading the book, and sitting down and thinking about it that I realised that Jenny has only moved through a succession of boxes. She is essentially a very closed off person, trying to please those around her, but keeping herself boxed up to avoid any hurt or damage. She makes a huge effort to trace her parents, but then makes no effort to re-establish any relationship with them. She never digs deeper than the surface with anyone, and never allows them to get too close to her - and much the same happens to the reader. There are also some very strange divergences within the plot - she manages to strike up a friendship with the (Female, black) President... and walks away from it - but the grounds for that friendship are never really established, nor her reasons for walking away. The whole book seems to be a collection of loose ends and divergences, loosely structured around a series of reminiscences that taken as a whole seem not to make much sense. However... despite the drawbacks, along with the lack of depth and overall superficiality of the book, it's real genius lies in the attempt to show us that the "others of my kind" are all of us, in that we all suffer damage and hurt, yet we all show a face to the world that can be controlled by others.(less)
I received this book from the author after a discussion on here about another book I reviewed - and the basic premise brought back some very embarrass...moreI received this book from the author after a discussion on here about another book I reviewed - and the basic premise brought back some very embarrassing memories for me! I have to be very careful not to give away any spoilers, even for people who have read it, so I will just say that getting involved with identical twins can be very confusing! It also brought back happy memories of millenium era Manchester, and captures some of the joys and frustrations of the time beautifully - those of us old enough will probably still shudder at the thought of 56k dial-up, Pentium II PC's and Windows 98... and at how wonderful they seemed at the time!
The main character, Alex, is a thirty year old, still living at home with his Mum and his sister, Kelly, and seems to have been stuck in a groove ever since his girlfriend at university dumped him, until a chance encounter gives him a chance to get his life back on track.
The story is beautifully told, with multiple layers, while at the same time giving us a straightforward romance firmly rooted in family life, with all it's trials and tribulations - while also operating a shell game worthy of the late lamented Elmore Leonard, where not only does the story have a twist in the tail, but it has an entirely different story going on underneath, yet still in plain sight...
This is the type of book that rewards re-reading, as you begin to spot more depth, and notice the clues you missed the first time around - although in some cases, you may need to make good use of Google and Wikipedia ( and in one instance with me, XKCD - which I think is a website Alex would love!)
This is the first book I have read by Karl Drinkwater, but it will not be the last - if only I can get through my "to read" pile (although it now seems to be becoming a heap!) (less)
When I received a copy of this book from RealReaders I was wondering just what to expect between the covers, as this is the fifth book in the series....moreWhen I received a copy of this book from RealReaders I was wondering just what to expect between the covers, as this is the fifth book in the series. Fortunately, it works well as a stand-alone read, as the author provides enough background description to allow you to understand the relationships between characters that have obviously appeared in earlier volumes.
Kemal Kayankaya is a private detective in Frankfurt. His Turkish parents having died when he was young, he has been raised by his German adoptive parents and now lives with a former prostitute who owns a wine bar. He is almost the ultimate outsider, as he is seen as a Turk by the Germans, but he can't speak Turkish. His work in trying to find a missing sixteen year old girl brings him into conflict with the Muslim community, which he then makes worse by taking on a job protecting an author who has written a work about Muslim society where the main character is coming to terms with his homosexuality.
The book is written in the first person, which works well with the private detective persona, and the writing is very descriptive without being florid.
The story is well paced, and the characters well drawn, even if one or two border on becoming caricatures - but that is understandable in such a short, tightly paced book.
Although I did have problems at a couple of points in the plot, overall this was well written and enjoyable - and I will be looking out for the previous books in the series.
Regrettably, this was Jakob Arjouni's final work, as he died from pancreatic cancer after completing the book.(less)
Conn Iggulden sheds light on a turbulent period of English history with a very readable work on the origins of one of the biggest power struggles in t...moreConn Iggulden sheds light on a turbulent period of English history with a very readable work on the origins of one of the biggest power struggles in the history of the crown by focusing on the lesser characters and using their stories to illuminate the growing struggle between the descendents of Edward III.
Rather than telling the story from the viewpoint of either Henry VI or Richard, Duke of York, as most historical fiction seems to do, Iggulden focuses on the minor characters, showing their feelings and their struggles as they are caught up in the unfolding drama, and how their lives are drastically changed by their masters actions and inactions.
Much in the way the story unfolded at the time, you are slowly drawn into the lives of the disparate characters at the heart of the book, and given reasons to care what happens to them, with some beautifully drawn depictions of the turbulence of the time, and a real sense of what the events would mean to those caught up in them, as well as being shown how the characters were shaped and moulded by their participation.
There are also plenty of battle scenes in this book that will leave you with a good understanding of why the French hated to face English archers, and of just how much skill and training it took to be an archer ( although a true understanding only comes the first time you try and draw back a longbow! ).
The story of Jack Cade also provides you with an insight into the anger and fear felt by most of the population at the time, and their sense of injustice and betrayal, while at the same time leaving you fretting over the safety of the queen.
The author has done a wonderful job of weaving together the threads of the story to give a consistent whole, while drawing on so many viewpoints, while also allowing the characters to develop along with the plots - and there is a lot of plotting and scheming going on, from factions trying to protect the throne and from those trying to unseat its occupant. Obviously, as this is the first of an intended series, there is still a lot of the story to be told, but the finale does leave you wanting to read more.
This was one of those rare books that I was reluctant to finish, as doing so means having to leave the story only partly told, and I await the publication of the next volume eagerly, but it is also a book I would recommend to anyone with an interest in history, or someone who wants a cracking good read! (less)
This is a beautifully written book that takes a very simple plot and assembles it like an intricate jigsaw, frustrating at times, but ultimately rewar...moreThis is a beautifully written book that takes a very simple plot and assembles it like an intricate jigsaw, frustrating at times, but ultimately rewarding.
The story opens with the main character, Thea, being taken by her father to the camp in the Blue Ridge Mountains from her home in Florida, her first time away from home, being sent away after an incident that had brought shame on her family, leaving her to cope with her feelings of guilt.
The book develops quite gently, slowly bringing the pieces together to enable the reader to piece together the story, while at the same time isolating the characters and insulating them from the outside world, while at the same time mirroring it. There are hints of the social and economic issues of the time, mostly through the troubles affecting some of the minor characters, together with indications of the social conventions of the time, which in the end allow Thea to achieve her independence by subverting them to her own ends - and in a way which serves to protect other people, and allowing herself to achieve closure to her own problems.
Being a male in my fifties, this is not the sort of book I would normally read, but having been sent a review copy, I decided to give it a try. I would have to say is that most of the descriptions I have seen of it sell it short, as it is not really a romance in the normal sense of the word, in that the person the main character is looking to love is herself. It's not really a coming of age story either, more a coming of independence, which is finally achieved in a very satisfying ending that leaves the reader wanting to see more of how Thea lives her life from that point on.
If you are expecting a great romance, or a modern retelling of Gatsby, then you will be disappointed, but if you are looking for a well written book that draws you into the story, and gives a good idea of the lives of the daughters of Southern Gentry when the depression hit, as well as one that deals with the obsessions of young girls for horses and ponies, without drowning you in minutiae about tack and horse care, then I have no hesitation in recommending it as a very good read. (less)
Having studied the period in which this book is set during my Catholic school education, I was looking forward to reading this story without the jaund...moreHaving studied the period in which this book is set during my Catholic school education, I was looking forward to reading this story without the jaundiced view inherent in Catholic views of the period, and was eager to re-immerse myself in the period. In his fictionalised re-telling of the story of the siege of Malta, Simon Scarrow has to try and tell the story of a long and bloody siege in a manner that will engage the reader.
As ever with historical fiction, the first decision has to be who will do the telling, should it be a real life figure who was known to be there, or should it be told by an imaginary character with a tragic back story and a secret quest. Scarrow opts for the second option here, which I found to be one of the major flaws with the book, in that in order to provide the tragic back story, he takes the protagonist away from the centre of the action for many years, so that in effect we miss out on all the political and military build-up to the siege, and just have the protagonist dropped back into the action in time for the start, never gaining any real understanding of why it was happening beyond the level of “that heathen over there wants to be a bully and overthrow Christendom” without really dwelling on the ideological rifts that were dividing Europe at the time.
Another problem was the need to make the book appealing to those with only a broad picture of the historical context, by bringing in characters such as Sir Francis Walsingham, and providing a quest that modern readers could understand. Unfortunately, that does have a knock-on effect, as when the “true meaning” of the quest is finally revealed, it also robs one of the narrative threads of the story of its impetus - plus, the reveal itself is rather buried under a tide of other revelations, during one of the climactic scenes of the book.
Although the quality of the writing was very good, and I would not doubt the historical accuracy, I did find the book very slow paced, and struggled with the characterisation to such an extent that I had problems distinguishing between two of the main characters, and the love interest seemed to be little more than a physical description with a very brief outline of her history. I was left with the feeling of an opportunity wasted, as there were several real life characters in the book that I would have liked to have been told more about, and the ending to me bore all the characteristics of a fast approaching deadline.
I will say that this would be a very enjoyable read to those that enjoy their historical fiction with an emphasis on fiction, but light on the history, and to those that are looking for something not too engaging to read on the beach - especially if you are holidaying in Malta. (less)
When this book first arrived I was concerned that it would disrupt my carefully constructed schedule, but after assessing all the facts I have come to...moreWhen this book first arrived I was concerned that it would disrupt my carefully constructed schedule, but after assessing all the facts I have come to the conclusion that I thoroughly enjoyed reading it.
I would advise anyone approaching this book to put aside your prejudices as they will be confounded in a variety of ways. “The Rosie Project” is a wonderfully witty and warm look at human interaction in its many forms, from the point of view of Don Tillman, a genetic scientist who is coping with his neuroses by fitting his life into a rigid schedule - until he makes the decision to try and find himself a life partner. Approaching the task with an obsessive thoroughness, he decides that the best way to do so is by drawing up a questionnaire to ensure that he wastes no time with unsuitable applicants. In the best traditions of the screwball comedies, his plans are diverted when his best friend sends Rosie to see him. Rosie is the complete antithesis of his desired life partner, and succeeds in causing chaos when she and Don get involved in a project to find her “real” father. The journey that both of them embark upon brings Don to question his assumptions about the world he inhabits and inspires him to a journey of personal growth in which he unwittingly causes those about him to grow with him.
This book manages to pull off a very difficult balancing act in that it deals with a mental condition in a warm and sympathetic manner, and in telling the story from Don’s viewpoint allows us to see his world as he sees it, and to understand just why he finds social interaction so puzzling - and I’m sure most men reading it will have some sympathy with his inability to pick up on signals from the women he interacts with. (There were moments that brought back embarrassing memories for me!). His personal journey will have you laughing out loud, cringing in sympathy and cheering him on, as well as giving you a greater understanding of the problems faced by people with his condition, as it will allow you to see just how strange a lot of our social conventions really are. Don’s struggle to understand by approaching every problem as if it could be solved using pure reason does give some of the funniest moments in the book. (I will never look at a skeleton the same way).
The pacing and rhythm of the book is engaging, as you do find yourself being dragged in to the story - at first to see what Don’s next faux pas will be, but soon to see just where the story is going. There are red herrings by the cran as the Father project unfolds, along with Don encountering his share of disasters - and triumphs! Graeme Simsion achieves the notable feat of making you care about someone who would, at the start of this book, consider himself unloveable.
In summary, although I wouldn’t normally read “Romantic Comedy”, this is one of those rare books where to categorise it as such would be to do it a disservice, as it is so much more than that. In the choice of protagonist it will probably draw comparisons to Mark Haddon’s “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time”, but that would be like comparing Captain Ahab to Long John Silver, purely on the basis that they were both unipeds. I would say that Don Tillman was more akin to Melvin Udall in “As Good As It Gets” and Don even draws that comparison himself. The strange thing is that despite his handicaps, Don is a very appealing character and his journey is enthralling and it’s resolution will leave you smiling - and wanting to hear more from him, and from this author! (less)
Due to outside influences, it has taken me longer to finish this book than it really deserved - but I do intend to set aside some time to read it agai...moreDue to outside influences, it has taken me longer to finish this book than it really deserved - but I do intend to set aside some time to read it again, hopefully before Gerard publishes the sequel.
I did find parts of the book very uncomfortable reading, having been through a similar situation to the one the protagonist went through before the start of the book, although not with the same degree of intensity. I will say though that it was the unflinching realism of that situation that dragged me into the book, if only to see how the character was going to deal with the various pressures upon him.
It's quite difficult to categorise the book, as although it does start out as a psychological thriller, it does dip its toes into the shores of horror... and then has quite a long paddle amongst the serial killers.
The tension does build at a steady pace throughout the book, to the point where it does become quite hard to put it down, and you are dragged, at times unwillingly, through the characters descent into despair and (possible) redemption. The layers of his soul are laid bare for you to see, and there may be times when you wonder just how far things will go, but Gerard also brings enough warmth and light into the story with the family relationships that you find yourself sympathising with him. He also deals realistically with the grieving process, not sugar coating the periods of blame or guilt that one goes through in order to recover. I found myself rooting for Peter Murphy, hoping that he would get the chance to recover before life hit him with another hammer blow - one that we can all see coming.
I will now be very careful about making late night purchases on EBay though, after having an object lesson in just what sort of trouble you can get into.
If you like your reading matter to be very very visceral, and you want to hear from a fresh voice I can heartily recommend this book, and Gerard lives up to the promise shown by this offering then you will be able to say you were reading him before he was cool!
My cat also recommends this book - but then again, he does like serial killers...
Where to start - the best place is probably with the forward. It's a sign of how well respected Sir Terry Pratchett has become that it doesn't seem in...moreWhere to start - the best place is probably with the forward. It's a sign of how well respected Sir Terry Pratchett has become that it doesn't seem incongruous that the forward is written by A. S. Byatt.
The stories themselves consist of short pieces from throughout his career, right from the very first story he had published (and I'm jealous that a thirteen year old could write that well - my writings at that time seemed to consist of trying to sneak rude words past my teachers!)
The early works do show glimpses of the talent that was waiting to blossom, as well as some of his influences - Beachcomber showing his head in some of the early pieces. I wonder if the obvious influences of Coren in the pieces from the 1970's are due to admiration of his work, or possibly his editors admiration for the editor of Punch. It is also interesting to see the origins of some of his later works in these short pieces, including the "Bromeliad" and the "Long Earth"
The majority of the Discworld pieces were ones I had already read, although there was a surprise addition to one of them that I found very thought provoking.
Overall, this is probably more one for the dedicated fan than the casual reading, but being a dedicated fan, I thoroughly enjoyed it and would recommend it.
I started this book in much the same way as the main character - hopeful. It seemed so full of promise. Unfortunately, I very quickly found myself bec...moreI started this book in much the same way as the main character - hopeful. It seemed so full of promise. Unfortunately, I very quickly found myself becoming irritated by the writing style, which reads like a cross between a movie script and a Twitter feed. Is it really necessary for a 250 page book to have 115 chapters? - Especially when some of them are made up of only three or four words. I should have been forewarned by the footnote on the first page, where after saying "But she never ever felt nostalgia. That was something that was quite rare for Natalie" the author feels compelled to add a footnote saying "There's often a clear tendency for nostalgia in Natalies".
Even though the story is quite slight, there are plus points. The two main characters are quite well drawn, and the writing style is such that not only do you get to see their back story and motivation, but you get to see their thinking. Unfortunately, there are other characters who, for me, actively detracted from the book. Natalie's boss, Charles, in particular is supposed to be holding down a responsible position but acts in such a way that in real life, he would be in industrial tribunals and police investigations so fast his head would have been spinning. Considering the book is set within the last decade, he seems to have been drawn from the 1950's.
If you can put up with the staccato style, and are looking for something light and frothy to read on a weekend break, then this may be very much for you but if you are looking for a literary romance then, alas, you may be in for a disappointment - much in the style of a collapsed soufflé.
It was the first time I had read any of the authors works, and it was a pleasant surprise. For those of us brought up on the "Golden Age" SF, who enjo...moreIt was the first time I had read any of the authors works, and it was a pleasant surprise. For those of us brought up on the "Golden Age" SF, who enjoy "Space Operas" it was fun to discover that people do still write books like that.
This is the second book of an intended series, but worked perfectly well as a stand-alone novel. The plot was well paced, and you came to care about what happened to the characters. This was a nice pleasant read, and did make me want to come back to this series again, if only to see where the author takes it.
As with most space opera, this is more about the characters and plots than about science, and the plot was well thought out, with enough suspense to keep me reading until the end - and enough loose ends to make me want to read the sequel.
If you like good old-fashioned sf, then I would thoroughly recommend this book. (less)