Best Adventure – Matthew Reilly

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What a wild ride! This book is so much fun. Anyone who has read Reilly’s earlier work will have an idea of what to expect. For anyone reading Reilly for the first time, you’re in for a blast. Think Hollywood blockbuster for the page.

What surprises me is how many negative reviews for The Great Zoo of China appear on Goodreads. Seriously, what do people want? Most of the criticisms are shallow and snobby and I’m really shocked. Reilly even says, to paraphrase, he wants readers to enjoy his books and have a good time, which I did. I can understand people might find some of the elements cliched but so are a lot of books – think stereotypical Mills and Boon, half the fantasy I see being published or the young adult, I need to have a boyfriend to be a real girl, garbage, Walking Dead or half the dreck out of Hollywood lately. If these are the dominating books on your shelves, you will never convince me your argument is valid. Never. Ever.

Suspend your disbelief, go with the flow and enjoy yourself.

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Most Beautiful – Billy Coffey

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Allie Granderson, 12 years old, and her best friend Zach go in search of her mother who disappeared during a tornado five hundred and forty three days ago. The first thing you learn about Allie is she’s independent, head strong and in some ways, older than her years.

It is actually quite difficult to write a review for this book because it so different from what I usually find myself reading and because it was nice. Nice is also an inadequate word because whatIn the Heart of the Dark Woods proves is that there are writers who can tell a story that is reliant on skill and talent rather than built on shocks and vulgarity. Do not misunderstand me, I also like these books but occasionally, it is a pleasure to step away from them.

The strength of the characters in this book and the imagery used to portray them are so stark and vivid. Coffey describes the desolation and the cold and the pains of the children’s bodies and all of the elements feel so real. There are moment in the book where I sighed aloud in frustration and disappointment as something went wrong for Allie and Zach.

I would recommend this book to anyone who wants to reset the reading button in their heart and soul.

There’s so much you can know and so much more you can’t and that’s why God has sharp edges. Hug Him anyway. A life with pain means more than a life without it.

Most Surprising

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I’m not entirely sure what I read but I enjoyed it.

Yes, there are moments where you think “that’s not nice” or “geez, why am I still reading this” etc but the story is so well told and the writing is really vivid, engaging and clear. I felt as though I could see every detail – from the bedrooms to the biscuit crumbs. Looking over the reviews of other readers, it seems we are split down the middle of liking of loathing. Ladies is one of those books where you need to be in the right emotional / psychological mind set to finish. I know from experience, that if your own circumstances aren’t right, certain books simply act as triggers for more stress (or any other negative adjective) but if you leave them six months, all the original niggles are gone.

This book was a gamble request on Netgalley and it didn’t disappoint.

Best Horror

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It is almost instantaneous that a reader understands this book will be different from others. We have the semblance of normal, working father in a mobile library, a bored kid who, through a series of events, turns into a passive, agreeable angel where once she had been a rude little shit. What makes this unique? The simple fact that the father, Oliver Gooch, doesn’t really like his daughter very much and quite easily sees the flaws in her. So refreshing from the gushing parent in fiction who thinks their child is perfect and how dare you not agree with them.

Our narrator, Oliver Gooch, isn’t terribly likeable but there is something addictive about him. Who of us hasn’t wanted a cozy job where you could virtually do whatever you wanted as the whim took you. Until Chloe’s accident, this is almost the life Gooch was living. When all this changes, Gooch decides to open a bookshop. The bookshop isn’t anything special, Gooch himself admits you could buy most of his stock in high street or charity shops but he has the alleged milk tooth of the great Edgar Allan Poe. Along the way, he inherits a crow and all strange things begin to happen. All of the strange things are entirely plausible and I found myself jumping at noises in my flat as I read them in the book. Graham has taken a mundane series of events and turned them into something other. There is a feeling throughout the book of a Stephen King influence. Even though I say there is a King style influence, I do not want anyone to think I am taking away from Graham because there is also a very English feeling to Wakening the Crow.

This isn’t your typical, cheap shocks, horror novel. It plays on your mind. You can imagine every moment of this book and it worms itself into your subconscious. I would recommend this book to anyone who likes the horror genre who wants to scare themselves with their own imaginations.Wakening the Crow allows for your imagination to go into overdrive as the words are incredibly visual while not being overwhelmingly descriptive.

Wakening the Crow does feel as though it runs out of momentum towards the end as Gooch becomes increasingly haphazard. Some reviewers have seen this as a negative, however, I feel it works and completes the narrative because it shows the characters mind after a stressful twelve months.

I acknowledge I’m reading an ARC copy of this book but I hope it was given another once over by an editor as there are some glaringly obvious mistakes throughout this copy. My local library doesn’t have a final copy in their stock for me to check. (Sorry). Don’t let this deter you though. The book is so much better than a couple of mistakes!

Best Translation – Fiction & Non-Fiction 2016

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WOW! I am so impressed with this book that I desperately need Archer to push for the second and third in this series to be released in English. Beatrice Kaspary is one of my new favourite women in fiction. She is a divorced mother of two children who is actively involved in one of the biggest cases of her career and while others around her might think she isn’t coping with all of the demands placed on her, it is clear in the writing, this is not the case. I think she is fantastic!

The characters in this book are all so familiar from the first page even though the reader has never met them. Bea and her police partner, Florin are identifiable as a well paired team and the only duo I can say they remind me of is Anya Lipska’s Janusz Kiszka and Natalie Kershaw. The reader is enveloped in the novel and it is incredibly hard to pull yourself out of the text to do anything else life demands.

It was also nice to not know who the murderer is and remain fooled right up to the big reveal. I made so many mistakes in guessing before the halfway point, I stopped trying.

Congratulations must also go to Jamie Lee Searle for the fantastic translation.

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From the looks and stares and the “what’s a nice girl like you reading a book about him” comments, it would seem that this book is going to make an impact on an immediate, visual level. The cover really is the first challenge a reader faces, especially, if like me, you find only a few other people from history as terrifying as Hitler. The second is fighting your reaction to disbelieve a situation like this could have been a real thing.

Some of the people I’ve discussed this book with have been worried Ohler’s work is an apologists history of the Nazi regime. A few of them, no matter how much I tried to explain, refused to believe that this could be a condemnation of Hitler because “the author’s German.” Honestly, I could unpack that statement but we only need to look at the world we live in to know that this is an enormous conversation. What is abundantly clear from the beginning is that Ohler is not apologising for the crimes of Hitler and Nazi’s. Anyone who reads Blitzed and draws this conclusion has completely missed the point.

What proof can I offer to back up this statement? I can offer the following;

On this tranquillizing painkiller (Eukodal) the Fuhrer was fully in command of himself: this was the true Hitler, and that was how he had always been. The overestimation of his own significance and misjudgement of his opponents were both captured in his blueprint, Mein Kampf, published in 1925. His opioid addiction only cemented an already existing rigidification, a tendency to delegate violence and contributed to the fact that in the last phase of the war and in the genocide of the Jews he never once thought of relenting.

So the goals and motives, and ideological fantasy world, were not the result of drugs, but established much earlier. Hitler did not murder because he was living in a haze – quite the contrary: he remained sane until the end. His drug use did not impinge on his freedom to make decisions. Hitler was always the master of his senses and he knew exactly what he was doing. He acted always in an alert and cold-blooded way. Within his system, based from the beginning on intoxication and a flight from reality, he acted systematically and with terrible consistency to the end. He was anything but insane. A classic case of actio libera in causa: he could go on taking as many drugs as he liked to keep himself in a state in which he could commit his crimes. It does not diminish his monstrous guilt (Ohler, 230-231).

I’m not a historian of WWII. In fact, up until very recently, I wasn’t interested in the era and for this I blame incredibly boring high school history teachers. Followers of this blog will also know that this month is being devoted to non-fiction (with one exception) and while Blitzed wasn’t on my original list, the podcast by Dan Snow and Ohler on the History Hit network got my attention. You can listen to the podcast here – and you really should. It’s mind boggling.

This book will re-write what we know and what we accept as fact. Ohler has turned my understanding of the period and Hitler, on its head. Honestly, all of the upper echelons of the Nazi party and the SS, who were popping the same pills as Hitler can be held equally accountable. The whole period seems to have been a perfect storm of horrible people doing obscene things and believing the entire time that they would always get away with it. If you’re looking for a reading challenge, try Blitzed and Sarah Helm’s If this is a woman. They’re a powerful combination and serve as a warning to us still today.

“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”
― Edmund Burke

Most Disappointing 2016

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My review is going to be the polar opposite to many of those already available to read. I don’t wonder if I missed the point as I don’t know there was much of a point to be made.

This book is strangely unsettling and not simply because Mayfield was raised in a funeral home. What unnerved me was the way she wrote about her family. Mayfield is very open when describing her relationship with her parents and her sisters and this is to be expected in a memoir, however, there came a point, a point I can’t put my finger on, when this moved into the realm of expose and tabloidism. The other part of this that made me uncomfortable was the writing style. In creating a memoir that reads as fiction, it raised the question of how much of this am I supposed to believe? If I wrote a book in this style my family would string me up. I can guarantee you, I would be disowned. Obviously, every family dynamic is different but the style doesn’t sit well with me.

Some reviewers have arguably felt the same as me when they write Mayfield’s work reminds them of Harper Lee ‘s To Kill A Mockingbird. They recognise the fictional overtones but ignore the dishonesty. To see how many other fictional books The Undertaker’s Daughter is likened to is a worry for me because it really does spark an element of mistrust.

Mayfield’s description of her sister Evelyn is cold. This is not to suggest it isn’t anything other than accurate, merely my observation.

Mayfield neglects for the majority of the book to reveal her age so working out whether she is a clever 6 year old or a struggling 15 year old is difficult. On the odd occasion when an age is given, I found myself thinking ‘really?’

Some of the “villains” in the book are not convincing just as some of the “heroes” are just regular people. This is very much a perspective point. The reader is never truly given enough context to decide on the character of a person.

Nothing really happens to Mayfield that makes her book extraordinary. Remove the funeral home and the inheritance and you have the stock standard story of millions of families around the world. Alcoholic, cheating spouse, struggling children, the sale of a business, familial deaths – all fairly standard.

The standout element of The Undertaker’s Daughter is the eyewitness account of southern America at the end of segregation and even then, I have misgivings. I never really believed Mayfield had any feelings for the boys she dated – it felt as though she were being deliberately contrary and provocative but that to, I guess, is the point of being 15.

Initially, I did try to read every word and given the book the attention it deserves because regardless of whether I liked the end product, a lot of time and effort has been spent on the final product. At the 60% mark, I must admit, I began to skim read and jump large portions. At 80% I nearly gave up completely.

It is very important that you, the reader of this blog, understand I am not in anyway trying to make less of Mayfield’s life. What started off as an interesting memoir has been let down by a lack of focus and an inaccurate promotional circuit which has to be laid at the door of the publisher. The only part I do hold Mayfield accountable for is not reporting the teacher who was molesting girls. It doesn’t matter what age or era or context, there is no excuse for letting people like this get away with their proclivities.

I’ve given this book 3 stars but only because I want some wriggle room for the other 10.5 months left in 2016. If I were reading this in November I wouldn’t have been so generous.

Most Boring & Most Overrated 2016

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100% not what I expected. 100% disappointing. This reads like a bad first year essay. It’s repetitive and dull and I really didn’t get anything out of it.

You’d probably learn more interesting information from the links in the bibliography. In fact, the bibliography is probably the best thing about the book.

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Contradictory, condescending, ego driven clap trap. I’m sorry. This book is all the reasons I don’t like self-help books (which this is even though Gilbert claims it’s not).

Big Magic might be just what some people are needing to read. For me it didn’t help and it certainly didn’t make me feel confident in my own creativity. It actually had the opposite effect. Some points;

– I don’t want to feel as though I’m being patronised by someone who keeps calling me “you guys”. I’m not Gilbert’s friend, I’m her reader. I don’t want a relationship with her and I don’t want to be addressed as though she’s some street smart kid talking to the boys.

– The idea that when she embraced another author her idea about the Amazon rainforest deserted her is load of claptrap. What universe is Gilbert living in?

– The self-effacing, faux modest, name dropping was a trope that didn’t work well at any point in the text.

– Conflicting ideas and motivations. Plumbers are necessary but art isn’t. Doesn’t that completely defeat the point of the entire book?

– If you’re going to write what is essentially an autobiography, you need to work really hard to keep the tone right. This book was all about Gilbert. Only about Gilbert and good grief didn’t we know it. Personally, I don’t like autobiographies. They’re dishonest and made up of anecdotes that make the individual look good. Not many are warts and all, to quote Cromwell.

– One reviewer states that the “level of bullshit reached astronomic proportions” and there is just no way to argue this point. It’s 100% true.

– I know I’ll be in the minority for not liking this book and I’m not going to apologise for that. I’m allowed to not like something I’ve read BUT if it does help someone achieve their potential that’s a very good thing.