Having just missed one hundred books in the first year of The Book Challenge, in 2010, I made the full tonne. Still reading, but without the challenge, take a look at the reviews for the books that I have read this year.

Sunday, 3 June 2018

Book 225 - Bush Falls by Jonathan Tropper

Book - Bush Falls
Author - Jonathan Tropper
Year - 2004
Pages - 245
Genre - Fiction
Bought for me by Bob and Michelle

Joe receives a call from home - his father has had a stroke and he needs to get back as soon as he can.  Trouble is, Joe has not been back home to Bush Falls in seventeen years, and in that time he has made his fortune off the back of a tell all novel he wrote about everyone he grew up there with. Now he must go back and deal with all of the awkwardness he has avoided for so long.

Bob and Michelle got me this book for Christmas, and after Bob's stellar recommendation of Tropper's brilliant How To Talk To A Widower I was pretty excited for this one.  Whilst it does not quite live up to the dizzy heights of this previous recommendation, it was still very definitely worth the read.

Tropper has a great ability to just about make you just about start to hate a character, and then just drawing it back in time to appreciate them more.  This is constantly in evidence with Joe who is often self pitying and annoying, but is also very much aware of it.  This means that all of the little threads that the author creates manage to just about come together to make a great story without winding you up too much.

Which is good, because there are definitely some clunky characters here who need this excellent story.  The love interest is just a little on the nose, and other stock characters such as the gruff dad and the hard nosed basketball coach, have all of the potential to make this a book of stereotypes, but luckily, Tropper is a skilled enough writer to be able to absorb this into his work and still come out with a great book.  It is obvious that this is early writing by him, but the potential shines through easily, and is well worth a read.

As a side note, this seems to be called The Book of Joe in America, but I can't find out why if anyone has any ideas?

8/10

Book 224 - Northern Lights by Philip Pullman

Book - Northern Lights
Author - Philip Pullman
Year - 1995
Pages - 397
Genre - Fantasy
Series - His Dark Materials

I have just spent an absolutely beautiful week in Venice.  It was such a wonderful relaxing holiday, which is something I don't really tend to do.  My holidays have concert performances in them, or consist of visiting many shows in Edinburgh. But this time, whilst we did an awful lot of walking and saw an incredible amount of cool stuff, we also did a lot of resting.  Very good idea, and particularly for my reading.  It has been a while since I read a book but hours on the beach gave me the chance to get through this classic.

I first read Northern Lights (I'm not going to call it The Golden Compass - that is the Americanisation of the name) when I was about sixteen years old.  I can remember it being pushed as a children's book the whole way through my lower school and at the time was on a par with the Harry Potter series. Probably the only thing that has separated them has been a big movie version after Pullman's first His Dark Materials book adaptation was pretty universally panned.  This is a pity, as I remember the books as excellent, and so with a BBC adaptation due relatively soon I thought it would be a good idea to have a reread.

The conceit of the book is excellent - set in a somewhat timeless, but probably early twentieth century - alternate version of Oxford, we follow Lyra, an orphaned tearaway, left in the charge of Jordan University.  Their world is similar to ours in many ways, but a major difference is that every person is followed by a representation of their soul - a daemon.  This daemon takes on the form of an animal and is capable of having conversations with you.

The story is full of twists and turns as Lyra encounters travelling gyptians, armoured polar bears and legions of witches as she tries to discover why there are children disappearing from all over the country courtesy of the mysterious Gobblers. And it is thoroughly charming.  Lyra is an incredibly likeable protagonist, with Pullman managing to make her incredibly believable as a young girl, and the myriad of characters all come across as rather well fleshed out, even those who have less time to shine in this book.

However, I must say that it was not quite the book I remembered it as.  It has that unmistakable feel of being the first book of the series, with the author not able to go full out and get totally lost in what is possible to tell.  I have read the two follow ups, and I think I may have been hoping for more because the full tale is excellent, but I can see myself giving higher marks to the follow ups as I reach them.

As a side note, I was gripped enough that when reading this at the Lido beach in Venice I got lost in it and got some terrible sunburn.  I don't know whether that deserves to lose it a mark or gain it one, so I shall leave it be.

Read another half a book whilst away, so I should have another review up soon.  Or have this sentence here as a stark reminder to myself to be less rubbish at reading the mental pile of books that I am sitting on.

8/10

Monday, 28 August 2017

Book 223 - A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms by George RR Martin

Book - A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms
Author - George RR Martin
Year - 2015
Pages - 355
Genre - Fantasy
Series - World of A Song of Ice And Fire
Compilation of three novella
The Hedge Knight (1998)
The Sworn Sword (2004)
The Mystery Knight (2010)
Known collectively as the "Dunk and Egg" books.

Sitting waiting for the finale of this season of Game of Thrones this week, I was sorely tempted, yet again, to start the series of books that it is based on for another reread.  This is a definite mistake as even after getting rid of around 150 books this summer, there is still nearly 1,500 in my room.  But Martin could not stray too far from my mind, and so I turned to this compilation of the novellas he has written based in Westeros.

Dunk is a seven foot tall hedge knight, who finds himself entangled with the precocious Egg, a little prince who wishes to be his squire.  They compliment each other perfectly - tall, strong and slow Duncan, and small, wily and clever Egg. Told over the course of around three years, these stories serve as a peak into the world of Westeros through events that whilst not quite normal, still are not as earth shattering as some of those we are seeing in the show at the moment.

Where this all becomes really interesting is that they are set around a century before the events of A Game of Thrones.  There are namechecks going both ways between the two, and an understanding of post dragons (and, I guess, pre-dragons) Targaryen rule is thoroughly interesting.

My only gripe here is the illustrations.  They seem to be a reason to excuse a new printing of this, but I do believe that it is the only stand alone version of these three stories, so that would have sufficed.  Instead, they are a distraction that is not really needed - anyone reading these is probably able enough to use their own imaginations.

If you are new to the work of George RR Martin - and I mean the books, not just the TV show - then this is not the place to start I would say - just fling yourself full on into the main series. But for those of you craving some more Westerosi action whilst you wait for the next book in the series to come out, you can do far worse than this.

9/10

Saturday, 12 August 2017

Book 222 - Magician by Raymond E Feist

Book - Magician
Author - Raymond E Feist
Year - 1983
Pages - 681 (Author's Preferred Edition)
Genre - Fantasy
Series - The Riftwar Saga
Recommended by Adam Newell

For us teachers, it is the summer holidays, and that means three things can happen - catch up on television, catch up with friends and catch up on reading. This feels like a nice situation where all of them combine.

Having spent years waiting for the next in the A Song of Ice and Fire series by George R R Martin to be released, I finally caved and decided I'd rather not be spoiled and would watch the TV series.  These are the greatest books ever and I cannot recommend them highly enough, but also, do watch the TV series.  It is a fantastic adaptation of the books.

As I was piling through them, my housemate from university, Adam, got in touch.  I have Adam to thank for getting me into this series of books as he lent me A Game of Thrones when we first got to uni.  It got me to thinking about the only book that he held in higher esteem, and despite itching to reread (for the sixth time) Martin's books, I thought I should revisit this classic.

And very glad I was that I did.  This book has all of the hallmarks of the greatest of high fantasy - battles, wars, dragons, elves, dwarves - and characters that transport you.  Set in the world of Midkemia, we follow the magician's apprentice, Pug, as their world is invaded by warriors from the world of Kelewan.  With a shifting viewpoint, we discover what is happening on both worlds and the book covers years and years of the war, giving it a scale that you rarely see in just one book.

Whilst by no means the first fantasy book of this scale and influence (I think Tolkien has that wrapped up, even if there are technically earlier) it still predates many of the books that we see as classics of the genre, and I don't think it would be an exaggeration to say that Magician is an influence on many of them.  It is also the start of a whole new world of stories from this universe.  I read most of them about fifteen years ago, but Feist has released many more since.  I think that this warrants a series reread!

In a moment of great timing as well, I am quite hungover this morning from meeting up with Adam and his fiancee (together all the way through from university!) Alex last night, and awoke to finish the book off.  Adam deserves credit for leading me in the right direction on so many fantasy novels, and it was a genuine treat to see them again after many years.  Thank you!

10/10

Thursday, 20 April 2017

Book 221 - Titan Sinking by James Dixon

Book - Titan Sinking
Author - James Dixon
Year - 2014
Genre - Non-Fiction (Wrestling)
Pages - 221

Before I start talking wrestling - because I know that it is not necessarily the kind of thing that dozens of you who read this (if I manage to reach dozens!) are particularly interested in - I should say that I have started numbering books differently.  I have added up all of the books that I have reveiwed her on my little blog and this is number 221.  So that is how I shall do it from now on.

On to the important thing of talking rasslin!  Titan Sinking documents the intricacies of 1995 in the then WWF.  Wrestling fans of the time will know that as an annus horribilus for the company.  Vince McMahon was fresh off of a grand jury trial suggesting that he was supplying steroids to his workers, and as a result he got rid of many of the huge muscle bound stars that were in the fed at the time.  This left a massive gap, and we who are inclined to look back fondly tend to remember the likes of Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels coming to the forefront and becoming stars.  We try and push back the fact that this year also saw the debuts of Duke Droese, the wrestling binman, TJ Hopper, the wrestling plumber, and Mantaur, a wrestling bull.  No, really.  This is the period in time that when I am teased for liking to watch two half naked men pretend to fight each other, I can look back and think that at least I am not watching an evil dentist fight a clown.

This makes it an interesting period to look at, so I eagerly bought this and tucked straight in.  At first, I was a little underwhelmed.  Dixon has a tendency to write as though he was there - mentions of Vince sighing and putting his head back in his chair for instance - that I don't think work very well in a historical look at things.  However, it didn't take long for me to change my tune.  This book is incredibly well researched, and presented in an engaging and entertaining way.  There is somewhat of an over reliance on two or three sources - Jim Cornette and Bob Holly seem to have something to say about everything - but I will genuinely forgive this for the fact that it shows that it has been researched!  The temptation to include unfounded gossip must be great, but when that happens, Dixon is clear that this is what it is.  His seven or eight pages on the Randy Savage and Vince's daughter Stephanie rumours are wonderfully written and the best thing that I have seen on that possible event.

What I find interesting about this book aside from the wrestling, is that I do believe that it is self published.  I don't know too much about how this works, but it seems that with my Amazon Prime membership, I may be able to read this book - and his two follow up books - for free.  But I feel this would be taking money away from someone who is doing a great thing and putting a dream out there.  As a result, I am reluctant to do so, and although they are pretty expensive, I would like to save a little and get them in paper form I think.  If anyone knows anything different to this on how it works, then let me know as I would be very interested to find out more.

9/10

Thursday, 13 April 2017

American Gods - Neil Gaiman

Book - American Gods
Author - Neil Gaiman
Year - 2001
Genre - Fantasy
Pages - 635
Bought for me by Alex Campbell

Three years.  Three years since I reviewed a book on here.  And the really shameful thing is that in that time, I have hardly read anything!  Some plays and books for work, but not really very much in the way of things for myself.  That is, quite frankly, a little embarrassing.

However, I was bought this book for my birthday last week with the recommendation to read it before the TV series starts at the end of the month.  In my haste to avoid spoilers at all costs, and to make sure I read the book before I watch anything on screen, I thought I had best give it a go.

American Gods has a fantastic premise.  What if all of the gods that had ever existed actually did exist?  And what if they continued to exist to this day?  What if the only thing that meant a god could exist was someones continued belief in them?  What new gods would we be seeing formed before our eyes as we start to worship new things?

Shadow is a prisoner who starts to find out the answers to these questions.  Along with the premise, which is very much up my alley, Shadow is one of the best things about this book.  He is a strong, silent type who comes across as highly relatable, despite being nothing like me, or probably you.  He is the perfect connector between reader and story and goes a long way towards making the book a success.

An interesting writing approach also comes in the way that Gaiman peppers the book with sub stories.  We will occasionally take a small break from the main story to look at a smaller one in another part of America, or another time zone completely.  Most of these have some relevance to the main story.  Others just add depth and colour.  I would often find this a little frustrating, but they are wonderfully written and one in the middle in particular - spanning an impressive eighteen pages - could work as its own novella.

I urge anyone to read the book before they watch the film or TV version, and this is a must here.  It is a brilliant read that I have gotten through in a few days, and considering I have been on quite the reading hiatus, that is an impressive feat.  The trailer for the show looks good (and stars Ricky Whittle as Shadow, who, despite not being how I pictured him in my mind, had already struck me as the perfect choice), but nothing compares to reading first.

10/10

Saturday, 7 June 2014

Book 13 - Geek Girl

(note:  this is a review taken from the challenge that I undertook with my year seven class in 2013.  See here for my explanation of it)

Book - Geek Girl
Author - Holly Smale
Year - 2013
Genre - Teen Fiction
Pages - 356

This book was recommended to me by Rachel.  I had seen it displayed quite prominently in several bookshops over the past few months, and so knew that it would be a popular book amongst teens at the moment.  I cannot say that it is the kind of thing that I would usually read, and - if I am entirely honest - it struck me as a 'girls' book.

The book focuses on Harriet, a self confessed geek, who is dragged along to a fashion fair by her friend Nat, who wants more than anything in the world to be a model.  However, things don't go entirely to plan when it is not Nat who is spotted by the agents, but instead Harriet herself.  For someone who has always professed to hate fashion, how will she cope with the idea that she could be a model?

As I mentioned before, I approached this with the idea that it was a book for girls.  Whilst there is no denying that this is the prime target of Geek Girl, I have to say that I absolutely loved it.  Smale is a very talented writer who has created such amazing and likeable characters that it is incredibly easy to become fully absorbed in her world.  The storyline is not something that holds any interest to me, but through great writing and wonderful characterisation, I was so hooked that I read the whole book in one sitting.

If you are a teenage girl, then this is the book for you.  However, if you are not then don't discount it.  Reading books that you never usually would and loving them is exactly the kind of thing that makes this challenge worthwhile.

10/10