Sunday, 27 November 2016

Book Review: Beauty Sleeping by Farha Z Hasan

Beauty Sleeping by Farha Z Hasan.

This was a fairy tale within a Modern day Romance. I think the Romance worked better than the fairy tale elements. It is a solid Love story set in a community that is rarely touched on in mainstream romances which was very refreshing.

I found myself frustrated by the repetitive nature of Laila’s Narrative(The sleeping beauty of the title). We really learnt nothing of the nature of the prophecy that held her captive whilst in the comatose state, this the mystical side of the plot seemed under developed .

Things were hinted at but never really realised, the moving through dreams, astral projection and manipulations were all excellent devices but never really use to their full potential

Even as a pseudo Villain,  the selfish , vain greedy elder sister  as remembered by the other characters as the story unfolded, she was not interesting enough to hold down her side of the story, which is a real shame because the setting of a love story between Anglo-East Asian star crossed lovers, against a slightly magical backdrop was a plot  I was deeply drawn to and I enjoyed getting to know Safia and Aidan and watching their friendship blossom.

I am Grateful to Evatopia Press and folks at Netgalley for the ARC for giving me a chance to read this book.

As a love story I give it four out of five, but I am deducting a point for the slightly meandering narration by Laila that repeated phrases so often as to become ever so slightly tedious and the missed opportunity to make this a more magical read.

Thursday, 24 November 2016

Book Review : The Food of Love by Amanda Prowse

The Food of Love

This is the first Amanda Prowse book I have read, I am lucky enough to have been offered a copy via netgalley.

This book is not enjoyable in the sense that most books I choose normally might be. It is often very uncomfortable reading and uncompromisingly stark in it’s presentation of the ravages that Anorexia has on an entire family. I found myself getting angry, sad and appalled as each setback was revealed.

The changes in the once vivacious child, the physical destruction of muscle, bone and energy are awful  to experience but it is the honest examination of the effect on moods and the behaviour of sufferers that makes this horrific disease so much more  affecting as each family member is tortured by the arrival of a dark presence in their home.

I am not a mother and so I was often frustrated with Freya whose need to protect her child often is taken to extremes that I found wearying. I found myself  siding with more practical Husband Lockie, but it  was the interactions between sisters Lexi and older sister  Charlotte that eventually; (after a gargantuan effort on my part) reduced me to tears.

Here the message seems to be Love is powerful but in the face of a mental illness is is powerful enough to overcome? It is such a destructive illness and this story  is written cleverly so you expect one outcome and receive another and that emotional insecurity as a reader that really raised this book above the ordinary for me.

Ms Prowse is a skilled storyteller that writes familial situation stories with a deft hand, mixing the horrific with the sentimental and creates  almost magical vignettes within the main story , reinforcing how a close knit, loving family can heal and evolve in the face of huge emotional upheaval.


TBC Bloggers Event Book Eighteen North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell



North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell

North and South is the story of Margaret Hale who moves with her father  from rural  southern England to the fictional Northern Mill town of Milton.There she witnesses the huge changes wrought by the industrial revolution.  Seeing employers and workers clashing in the first organised strikes. Sympathetic to the poor, whose courage and tenacity she admires and among whom she makes friends, she clashes with John Thornton, a cotton mill manufacturer. This  novel traces both her growing understanding of the complexity of labor relations and her conflicted relationship with John Thornton.

My Review:

I love Elizabeth Gaskell! where Austen was concerned about the social Mores and class distinctions in domestic life, Gaskell goes deeper and into darker more contentious areas of life. This is a brilliant example, the tensions between mill owner and workers and  in turn John and Margaret's circle of well to do socialites are presented with stark clarity. All the while against the chaos two people who on paper would never be right for each other, are in actual fact perfect for each other.

John Thornton learns to let go of the bitterness that keeps workers aloof and Margaret in a state of slightly awed confusion as to why she is drawn to such a proud and steely man.

 It gradually becomes apparent with his attempt to elevate himself by learning to read that he is  a good soul, slightly shamed by his own humble beginnings and trying his very hardest to compete with those like Henry, Margaret 's other potential beau who has never had to struggle a day in his life for the creature comforts and yet he ultimately accepts Margaret's generous gift with grace and aplomb. Of all the characters, his is the most extensive and far reaching metamorphosis.

Why it is in my Top 20?

This is perhaps the most stark example of a book that at once is a accurate depiction of the tremendous evolution in manufacturing in the UK during the period and a searing story of a love between two people who on paper seem poorly matched but are drawn to each other through that difference. On each reading I gain more of an understanding of the period and I believe John Thornton is one of the most underrated Romantic heroes in literature.

TBC 20/20 Reviewers event Book Seventeen Mr Midshipman Hornblower by C.S. Forester


Mr Midshipman Hornblower

Military/NauticalAdventure

Seventeen year old Horatio Hornblower commences his career in the Royal Navy as an inexperienced midshipman in January 1794.  The late teens is considered late to begin as a Midshipman, eleven or twelve would be more the normThrough a series of challenges and adventures both in and out of combat, Hornblower proves  he is actually talented in both seamanship and leadership because his life experience and attitudes give him better perspective, whilst loyalty and fortitude allow him to be resilient in the face of hardship

My Review:

This was a hard choice as I am a bit of a fan of these heroes of History books, Sharpe, Aubrey and of course my boy Horatio Hornblower, who I finally plumped for on this list.
Mr Midshipman Hornblower is the first in the Young Hornblower omnibus which is how I have read the entire Hornblower saga and is the first  set of tales (chronologically speaking)  of a gangly youth  who joins the navy in the Napoleonic wars.

It is dense with nautical detail, ropes and whistles, salty sailors and stiff upper class Officers   but the adventures are  always more important than the historical detail. They are just so wonderful. Pithy and fun, never shying away from the harshness of life at sea whilst engaged in a war fought predominantly at sea where civilillian supplie boats were just as vital as warships and sea battles, but also throwing our young hero into daring raids, pitting him against zealots and bullies, and earning him the loyalty and respect of the men and officers alike.

Horatio is never brash or gung ho, in fact he  is personally critical of himself and  worries over every decision that might end in dark for his fellowmen due to a decision he makes and for me it makes him one of the finest literary  heroes of our times.

Why it is in my top twenty?

This source material gave me the sight of Ioan Gruffudd’s bare bottom in the seminal ITV  adaptations of the nineties. I read every book with a voracious appetite and return to them often. In fact I ran a Hornblower book club on Facebook for a whole year to share my love with others.

Wednesday, 23 November 2016

TBC 20/20 Bloggers Event Book Fifteen Jo's Boys by Louisa May Alcott

Jo’sBoys /Little Men

Playing a little bit fast and loose here with the brief, but I could not let this one pass.

This is the continuing story of those beloved March Girls from little women and Good Wives, often packaged in one volume so I am lumping together the second pair in a similar manner.

I am a terrible sucker for these older children’s classics, I am one of the Many who wanted Jo and Teddy to get together only to be gently intrigued and seduced by gentle Professor Friedrich .

Jo’s Boys  and little men are a little bit more testosterone infused as the titles suggest, but still are imbued by the beautiful romantic idealism of the previous books.

The women are now all mothers themselves, Jo and Friedrich have opened a school and aided and abetted by the various cousins take in a whole rag tag menagerie of Boys from broken homes or with unfulfilled gifts and talents.

This is a gentle book that lightly pokes you in the ribs with morality about sharing, about prejudice and about the value of learning every single day. It is a great book for younger kids, enough naughtiness and adventure to keep active boys amused whilst still giving a great message.

Little Men completes the stories of the March family, revealing what happened to all those rag tag boys  and the family that did their best to give them a great start in life and it is a bittersweet story that like all of the books in the  series, ,it  does not shy away from the realities of life that death will inevitable come to meet us and that not all endings can be happy. This makes a good children’s book great in my opinion.

I read this book as a child, a musty copy stored in a mildly damp hallway, the dust jacket slightly torn  and I adored it. I read it again a couple of years ago and got a whole new level of enjoyment. I wholeheartedly recommend it!

TBC 20/20 Bloggers Event Book Fourteen - Drawing Blood




Drawing Blood by Poppy Z Brite.
Horror/cyberpunk


Synopsis:
This one is definitely for the readers who like something of a more. eerie Bent.
The novel concerns Trevor McGee, a comic book artist and the sole survivor of a family murder-suicide which has left him a loner and haunted by more than horrific memories, a chance meeting with Zachary Bosch, a bisexual  computer hacker, and their  simultaneous arrival at McGee's old family home in Missing Mile, North Carolina begins a horrific chain of events that will leave both men changed forever, with only each other to rely on when the house starts to fight them for their sanity and self, bonds are forged and tested to their very limits.

Warning: This book contains graphic sex of a homosexual nature so might not be suitable for every reader.

My Review:

This book is a conundrum it is a thrilling story with many horrific elements, but it is so much more than a horror. It is more two love stories with a thread of menace running throughout.

First is the story of Trevor who needs to forgive a Father who allowed his demons to get the better of him,now Trevor needs to allow himself to accept the darkness in Robert McGhee and forgive himself for being the only one who was spared his Father’s twisted act of Love that left his brother, Mother and Father himself, dead.

Second is a story of another lonely man, clever and crafty and yet unfulfilled, emotionally bereft, unable to trust and yet he finds in Trevor someone who at once is desperately vulnerable, but also strong  enough to break through the walls of isolation he has built around himself.

Poppy Z Brite is an assured writer when it comes to subcultures and outsiders, she writes about people in the margins with the surety of one who has lived there herself. There are many genres encapsulated in the plot  here that will  hold and appeal to Jazz fans, lovers of the graphic novel  and
those who live outside of social Mores and forge their own paths both chemically and in their lifestyles.

Drawing Blood  is gory and exuberant, but also equally accessible to people who enjoy a story about loneliness, isolation and redemption.

Why is this in my Top 20?

This book is generally not the kind  of book I would generally choose if given a free rein in a bookshop, but it came to me as a gift at a time when I was open to new things and I am thankful as it  introduced me to a story that was much deeper and emotionally rich than the  blurb on the back would ever suggest and led me to other authors in the genre of horror that are now firm favourites like the works of Joe Hill.

TBC 20/20 Bloggers Event. Book Thirteen. Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell



Johnathan Strange and Mr Norrell
By Susannah Clarke

Fantasy/Historical Fiction

In1806 The Learned Society of York Magicians, who believe that magic died out several hundred years earlier are in session. Declining only in theory, they believe all Magic is disappeared from England, they learn of Mr Gilbert Norrell, who owns a large collection of "books of magic", which he has spent years purchasing to keep them out of the hands of others. Norrell proves his skill as a practical magician by making the statues at York Minster speak. 

This sudden notoriety leads to the resurgence of Magic in the land,and a rich plot that encompasses a myriad of adventures with necromancy, Fairy Kings, magical kidnappings,The Napoleonic war, rivalry, chivalry and Romance.


My Review:

This is a sumptuous story, a rich Tapestry that marries a story of manners and romance in the Napoleonic Wars, Strange is a wayward should before magic finds him. His courtship and then devoted marriage to his loyal and kind wife is a book in itself.

Norrell is arrogant and deeply flawed but a reluctant hero lurks beneath his surly exterior and by Story's end you kind of adore him.

Even the nefarious villain of the piece is oddly alluring, at once we are drawn to and revolted by his magnetism as his machinations manipulate and torture.

The style is lyrical and beautifully crafted in a style that seamlessly marries a  gloriously complex fairy tale into a book set in a time of history much written about in more sedate literature, where the war with Bonaparte was  all that was talked about in drawing rooms across England. The story addresses so much more than it first appears, ideas of slavery, female subjugation in marriage and fear of change, Magic a fine symbol of industrialism  during the same period.

It is obvious that even if all of it did not make it into this first book, that so much myth and legend was created as a foundation  for the specific plot line here. The legends and tales contained within work well in isolation, but within this whole are tremendously effective.

The characters are some of the most well established and rounded  I have ever read and there is quite a number of them here, each with major  part to play in the story, each creating catalysts that drive the story forward.

All the while the Magic is encompassed within a story of love, friendship and heroicism that is moving and rich, a clever concoction that makes you laugh cry and wonder in equal measure.



Why is it in my top twenty?

The sheer denseness of the ideas behind the central Magic is so cleverly woven and planned and the characters are all so beautifully drawn that you cannot help but be drawn in and held prisoner by the tale until it's cataclysmic finale!

TBC 20/20 Bloggers Event , Book Twelve Dead Witch Walking by Kim Harrison




Dead Witch Walking -The Hollows Series Book One by Kim Harrison


Genre: Urban Fantasy

Synopsis 

Dead Witch Walking , is the first in the The Hollows series featuring Government  Bounty hunter Rachel Morgan. This is an urban fantasy book and  primarily comprises series  of  mysteries by author Kim Harrison, published by Harper Collins, It revolves around an alternate history set in the city of Cincinnati and its suburbs.
In the 1960s there was a cataclysmic event for humanity .Government experimentations with GM resulted  in (get this !! ) a genetically modified tomato that decimated the human population. As a result magical and supernatural , primarily Witches, Vampires and Werewolves are now able to mix freely with the severely depleted Human population; The series is set approximately forty years after this plague, referred to as 'The Turn' within the series.
Rachel is a witch who works with local law enforcement agencies. The series also focuses on Rachel's relationships with her work partners, a living vampire and a Pixy named Jenks as well as her varied personal relationships with males of various  of the different species represented.


 My Review:

There are obviously many series of a similar nature, but I chanced across this series whilst going through a Vampire Period after the Twilight furore was starting to abate. This book was a comic
revelation and I fell in love with the characters and the premise within moments of cracking the spine. Jenks is a foul mouthed little pixy whose curse chains make me chuckle even now. Ivy the
coolest of beautiful vampires and our heroine  Rachel is a feisty young woman  who brings all the tricks to the table, sufficiently hands on, willing to bend the rules and a loyal and dedicated ally to her friends with an interfering mother to add to the mix. The premise is strong and the introduction of the lowly tomato as a reason for a human apocalypse is just a thing of beauty, brilliance and pure bizarreness.

There are Vampire politicians, Elven Businessmen, human beings who are infinitely more monstrous than their supernatural neighbours and of course the pre requisite vampire  bad boy who intrigues, befuddles and annoys Rachel in equal measure.

There is much to enjoy here and the series develops a deeper and more darker tone as it progresses, but this initial offering is light and frothy, gutsy and very very funny. There is light and shade at work here, sweet sentimental moments  appear alongside the action and intrigue. Harrison has woven a very believable back-story and her characterisation is faceted. This works best when we contemplate the mortality of pixys in a world where Vampires, elves and demons have immortality or at least extended lifespan. Jenks and his pixy family are the highlights of an excellent opener for me, but all characterisation is rounded and there are no real cliché's which can be the curse for similar books within the genre. If  trying Dead Witch Walking  does not encourage further reading of the series I will eat a  modified tomato!

Why it is in my Top  20?

Firstly many of the  titles are takes on the spaghetti Westerns  and any author who can play around with Clint Eastwood to create an edgier appeal to the series  with a female protagonist has to be a winner.

Second  any book that can Make a curse word  Tinkerbell you need to read  it in my humble opinion!









TBC 20/20 Bloggers Event Book Eleven - Five Quarters of the Orange byJoanne Harris

Book Eleven - Five Quarters of the Orange by Joanne Harris


Synopsis: The book revolves around the life of Framboise Dartigen

Set in both present day France and during the German occupation. Framboise returns to her childhood home to set up a restaurant.  Using the deliciousrecipes left to her by her mother whose wartime actions meant the family left under a cloud. Hiding her identity , particularly when professional  critics sing the praises of her food, leading to unwelcome advances from her children and interest in the town about who the newcomer is? She remembers her difficult relationship with her mother and two siblings as well as her dangerous friendship with a young German officer. 

My Review:

Full disclosure, I could have included any number of  Joanne Harris books on this list, but I found this to be the one that gave me the most immersive reading experience. The story is beautifully evocative of  a childhood in a rural town during the German occupation. Framboise is a spiky, interesting  and lonely child and the cruel trick she plays that forms the basis of the title is indicative of the way that her isolation and lack of understanding of her Mother's treatment of her and her siblings, leads to far reaching and tragic events.

Food as ever plays a massive part in the power of the story.We can taste the sticky sweet juice of oranges on our tongues and the slow melt of the bitter chocolate that is the means that the children are befriended and persuaded to have loose lips about friends and neighbours. The recipes her mother collected are precious and guarded with deliberateness.

This is a story about a need for acceptance and personal forgiveness. The events of her childhood are shocking and dark and have coloured her life into middle age. When she begins to process them with the clarity of hindsight in the place redolent with blame and recrimination, she learns to open herself up enough to allow herself to finally heal and learn from the past to inform the future and live a happier life.

Why it is in my top twenty?

It is a beautifully written book just heaped  with elements to pique the senses and the central stories are haunting and dark and yet ultimately it ends on a hopeful note. The  wartime setting is a wonderful foundation for the rich plot.

Tuesday, 22 November 2016

TBC 20/20 Bloggers Event Book Ten - Goodnight Mr Tom by MichelleMagorian

Book Ten of my Top Twenty is Goodnight Mr Tom By Michelle Magorian


Category: Children's Fiction

Synopsis: Tom Oakley, a Widower and man who keeps himself to himself, whilst still helping where he can in the village becomes the guardian of a little boy named William when the Second World War and Evacuation  become a grim reality in the lives of many in the village. William's shy and nervous demeanour hides a talent for Art and a quite harrowing home life back in London. This is the story of how Tom and William learn to trust and open themselves up  again after personal tragedies,all played out against the backdrop of war.

My Review:

I am a huge proponent of adults reading what are ostensively children's books, this is a perfect case in point. I defy anyone not to enjoy this simple tale of two (arguably three, but I will not spoil it) lost souls finding each other.  The most beautiful of stories is depicted here. It is not twee or cloying just sweetly sentimental, oddly emotionally arresting and desperately memorable.

This is cleverly characterised, so many Trope's could have been utilised here, but they are not. Tom is not cantankerous or angry at life, he is resigned to his daily life, he did not expect to be shepherding a small boy over the hurdles of growing up so he never preparedfor it, but he is kind hearted and open to change once he realises it's benefit to William. The boy William  is not a rebellious child or a wallflower, he is the rather the confused result of a horrendous upbringing with exceptionally mixed messages bombarded at him. I would be a bit timid if I had been similarly moulded in my formative years!

The style is easy, the tone in the main is light and this helps immensely when darker themes are introduced, anti -semitism, Religious zealotry and mental illness care all introduced seamlessly and it is in this more faceted story that I think this child's book stands up to Adult scrutiny. Children will see the darker characters and themes and root for Tom and William, sharing in William's highs and lows with relish, but adults can see the grey areas in those characters and scenarios and gain another layer of satisfaction in the light and shade of this one of my favourite stories.

Why is this in my Top Twenty?

Quite simply it is a book you can read again and again and still get that warm feeling that a lovely tale always imbues.  A kids book I read first as an adult and one I will continue to champion. Buy it for everyone you know.

TBC 20/20 Bloggers Event Book Nine. Affinity by Sarah Waters

Book Nine of My Top 20  is Affinity by Sarah Waters.




Category - Literary Fiction

Synopsis: Margaret Prior is a young woman of wealth and standing. An unsuccessful suicide attempt reveals a disatisfaction with her lot in life and so in order to have a meaningful impact she undertakes a job at an Eastend Prison to rehabilitate women Prisoners. There she meets Selina Dawes who is incarcerated after a seance she was conducting ended in tragedy and social outrage.

At first skeptical about the woman's gift, eventually the power of Selina's conviction begins to  pervade Margaret's mind.

My review:

This is a very particular niche of fiction here. Gothic, Victorian melodrama with some sapphic overtones. This is a darkly atmospheric book, relying on the best elements of gothic literature, the book excels in the description of the Milbank Prison which is heady with rich and Abhorent aromas, the aural stimulus of cries moans and entreaties of the wretched and the finality of heavy keys in thick doors and padlocks.

I enjoy the way that the book never allows you to feel comfortable, never makes you feel definitively that you know exactly what is happening below the surface of all the characters and I like very much that Margaret is at once vulnerable but independent of spirit. She is not a wholly sympathetic person but that just adds to the atmosphere as she takes a journey of discovery within and without herself.

A good book is not necessarily a happy book and this cannot  in any way or shape be classed as an upbeat story,  but it is arresting in a gradually evolving, ever turning of the suspense screw. And the story will stay with you for days after the last page is turned. Hauntingly so.

Why is this in my top Twenty?

This book was a birthday gift from my best friend who made it her personal mission to break me out of a prolonged period directly after uni that had seen me read very lightweight romances and the sheer "cold water slap" this book gave me through tone, imagery and literary aftertaste has meant it has been an enduring favourite despite the dark undertones.


The TBC 20/20 Blogger Event Book Eight The Guernsey Literary and PotatoPeel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer


Category - Scifi /Fantasy/YA

Synopsis:

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is set in 1946 as London emerges from the Second World War. The novel's protagonist, Juliet Ashton, is a moderately well-known writer who under A mom de plume wrote humourous articles to help the war effort. 

When a chance letter arrives from a member of a very unusual book club on the channel Island of Guernsey arrives, initially asking for books to share in the group . Juliet begins to dig deeper and as the origins of the group and the make up of the membership begins to be revealed through humourous and moving  correspondence between members and herself , the stories move her so much that she finds the kernel of the more weighty work she has been searching for to occupy her time and her heart.

Why I am reccomending this book?

I cannot recommend this book any more highly than to say, it reduced me to both giggles and tears on public transport several times in the few days it has took me to read it. 

Loving the light tone of the letters in the start , I was really happy to see them balanced with a darker more sombre tone to the anecdotes of the islanders who became dear,dear friends to me through the reading of this lovely book. 

I have holidayed on Guernsey and Jersey and the Occupation  and the hardships suffered by the channel islanders was never far from one's consciousness, particularly when their stand was perhaps the only thing preventing mainland Great Britain from being occupied. The  human stories encapsulated here were evocative and bittersweet. 

Even reading about the origins of the book was enjoyable .The similarities between Juliet and her Alter ego author Mary Ann were quite moving in of themselves.

Much has been made by some reviewers of a American writing in a English voice, to me, a Brit who loves language of any kind, this did not jar me in any way . One word in many seemed a little bit modern, but who cares about that when the story is so utterly delightful?

Why is it one of my top twenty?

I  often think that a best books can be a springboard into further study or as a learning tool and even fairly lightweight fiction can be such a spring board. Thus I suggest this as a gentle taster for those readers who may not be aware of the reality of the occupations on the Channel Islands, the fictionalised tales may well spark a more  detailed examination of a lot of the biographical books available. It warmed my heart, it reduced me to tears and it stuck with me for weeks after I finished the last page.


TBC 20/20 Blogger Event Book Seven The Host By Stephanie Meyer

 Book Seven of My Top 20 is  The Host





Category - Scifi /Fantasy/YA

Synopsis:

Earth has been invaded by peaceful beings  called souls from another world who take over human
Hosts. They have obliterated all illness and sickness, everyone is polite and shares their belongings. Wanderer is one such Soul, but something has gone horribly wrong, she has moved from several worlds over centuries but her host body here is rebelling, her host's consciousness is still present and cognisant and she will not give up without a fight. 

Melanie is protecting her loved ones and her tenacity is making it hard for Wanderer to fight Melanie's thoughts and  more importantly her feelings.

As a result, Wanderer is in love with a human man she has never met so she and Melanie . both go on the run from a tenacious Seekers a kind of kill squad to find human rebels and convert them.

Why I am recommending this book?

This book is not a teen romance, and so if you have been avoiding it because of the connection to the Twilight novels, please don't, whilst most of the human characters are in their early twenties, it must be remembered that Wanderer is actually centuries old and wise beyond even her years. 

Yes there is a romance that gradually and beautifully forms, but in reality there are many more versions of love at play that are much more nuanced  and cleverly crafted here. 

The love of family, commitment to community spirit, the ability to change a hard set  opinion about someone who is perceived as an enemy, the  safety of others and sacrifice to save those you love.

All this good stuff is wrapped up in a cat and mouse chase between a morally ambiguous Seeker and some wonderful science fiction elements that just fit the narrative like a glove and elevates what might have been that feared teeny,trite story and makes it into a saga to savour and enjoy whatever your age or for that matter, your gender. The parallels with the current refugee debate are also quite stark, here Wander integrates with the human rebels but also enriches their existence by bringing elements of her culture into their lives, no better way to see how those who are different can be accepted and become valuable members of any society.

This is in my top twenty because when a YA book that is not about a young girl dying of cancer and the young beau she leaves behind; has me a weeping and muscus ridden mess  and I immediately palm the book off onto my Mother and Grandmother despite neither of them ever showing the slightest interest in sparkly granite skinned blood sucking teens,  and then read it again as soon as it is returned? Well then it has to be a keeper!

TBC 20/20 Blogger Event Book Six. Dime Store Magic by Kelley Armstrong



 Book Six  of My Top 20 is  Dimestore Magic  by Kelley Armstrong

Category - Vampire Fantasy

Synopsis: 

This is the story of Paige Winterbourn a twenty three year old woman, who worries about her weight, despairs over her lack of boyfriend and how she is going to talk her young ward out of trying to raise her dead mother with Black Magic. Yes Paige is a witch  and Savannah her fifteen year old adopted daughter whose  parental rights are  put in jeopardy when Savanah's Father demands  her back now that her Mother is gone and so begins this rollicking ride of sorcerers, necromancy and lawyers

My review

The first of my slightly more contentious choices this one, it is the third in a series and despite the brilliance of Bitten and Stolen which are fabulous books in their own right about a female werewolf and her Pack family which I also strongly recommend, it is in this book where I feel the Otherworld series really started to blossom for me.


There are many authors who write good vampire fantasy and maybe grittier stories than these,but Canadian Kelley Armstrong has a real knack of crafting a fun story that will appeal  to fans of more than supernatural fiction and this is no exception.  The Otherworld series has such an intricate cast of characters that pop up in each other's timelines and this book is when the Council of magic really comes to the fore. The council is like an overseer making sure no magical race starts overstepping and bringing unwarranted attention from the humans. The premise of which had been set up nicely by the Werewolves of Bitten who had been monitoring their own and are then invited to take a seat on the council that monitors witches, vampires and other races.

Paige is a wonderfully reluctant heroine and the feud between witches and sorcerers is a clever device to set up the tension between her and my Favourite hero  from the many men  in this series, Lucas Cortez  and  with the inclusion of half demon Leah who features in future books. The beauty of this particular tale is in actual fact the human element are the biggest monsters here and the prejudice here is symbolic of all that suffer at those who are afraid of difference.

Why is it his in my top Twenty?

This is a courtroom drama, a romance and a supernatural adventure all rolled into one and any book that utilises a human hand as a candelabra has to be a winner, right?

Monday, 21 November 2016

Book Review: Death Stalks Kettle Street by John Bowen


Death Stalks Kettle Street. By John Bowen

Gifted a free copy by the author via TBC on Facebook, I am pleased to say - What a corker of a book!

The planets aligned and the perfect combination of character, plot and structure were produced.

An OCD amateur sleuth, a mildly disabled female cohort. A brilliant setting and a quirkily  staged set of murders.

Red Herrings and likely suspects season the dish,  a street riven with clever deaths with  the clues sent days ahead of the crime giving poor Greg a man unable to be spontaneous due to his affliction a terrible dilemma.

If this were just a cosy crime, it would be good.There are shades here of Agatha Christie here.However the brilliance of including device of a writer's course directing the reader to  the  clues and patterns of the  genre  to look out for and a veritable masterclass in how to actually Craft a cosy murder story is genius!

The draft of Beth’s draft novel is also…well novel and produces a kind of unwelcome but beautifully realised syncopation to the flow of the story.

For the first time in a long time, I did not cotton to the killer until our hero and that was a rather lovely bonus!

The most appealing thing about the book for me was the brilliant interplay between Greg and  Beth Grue. The sensitive way both OCD and Cerebral Palsy were approached was the clincher for me. These two people generally dismissed by society are not only fully rounded and complex human beings but they find a synchronicity with each other that outweighs their physical and mental limitations allowing their gifts shine. A lovely partnership in all the words’s various connotations!

Fabulous, please buy it and then share it.

Sunday, 20 November 2016

TBC 20/20 Blog Event Book Five. Children of the Dust by Louise Lawrence


Book Five of my Top 20 is Children of the Dust

Category: YA/Children's

Synopsis: Nuclear War had happened. No one is prepared, Sarah and her family with no knowledge are trying to survive after surviving the initial blast and shockwave . This book in three parts charts the events for a group of interconnected young people across three Generations as they weather the detonation, rebuilding and seek renewal and renewal.

My Review:

A short book, one you can comfortably read in one sitting. Sarah Lawrence writes one of the most powerful books for children I have ever read. This is the very first Dystopian novel I ever was exposed to and it has echoed into every single one I have gone on to read subsequently. 

As an adult ,It is a no holds barred exploration of the lack of power we have as civilians if our elected representatives allow that fateful button to be pressed. As a child it was the incarceration that affected me, the claustrophobia of a family being trapped in a room trying to avoid the radiation, barricading windows with mattresses and bin bags and naive realisation that it had been pointless as radiation sickness began to strike Sarah's  family down.

The two following parts are at once horrific and yet hopeful. This is a children's book, but it is not innocent and it never seeks to soften the realities of what might happen if bombs are ever released again. The future Lawrence envisions is advanced in some respects, but also reverts back to a less sophisticated and more visceral existence that leaves me pondering whether the Great Britain of 2016 actually any safer than the Britain of the 1980s where the fears of the Cold War, from which crucible of ideas and mistrust this book is actually born.

If you are a fan of Dystopian tales, you should definitely add this to your repertoire, it is not as lush as Oryx and Crake, which is  another book on my top twenty list, there are no love triangles or fights to the death against simulated foes  in barren or simulated landscapes, but it is the familiarity of the setting which to my mind makes it even more resonant and so lingers longer in the mind.

It is ideas rich but simply formulated which means it is very ,very accessible.

 Why is this in my Top 20 ?

I cite my teacher Mrs Mutton who when I was about nine decided that she would read this book to us before home time every day. Sadly for me, my class was a naughty little group so she never got further than Sarah's story, so with it's echoes rearing it's head more and more as I read the Hunger Games and Divergent Trilogies, I decided to read  it in it's entirety two years ago at age thirty nine.

 It becomes an instant classic and a book I  would set as required reading for every young person, it is they who ultimately will shoulder the burden of avoiding a similar confluence of events in the future.

TBC 20/20 Bloggers Event Book Four The Black Velvet Gown by CatherineCookson


Book Four in my Top 20.  The Black Velvet Gown  by Catherine Cookson

Synopsis:
Riah Millican has been left widowed with three small children to take care of so she takes up a role as Housekeeper to well read and slightly hermit like Master who through some quite underhand machinations manages to ensure Riah stays in the house despite her best efforts to leave after an unfortunate event seemingly would suggest this is not the best place to be raising young children.

Biddy is Riah's daughter, well educated whilst a child under the tutelage of The Master, but sent as a laundry maid to the big house where an ability to read write and even recite poetry immediately makes her a target for bullying from those that think that girls should be seen and not heard. The book follows her struggle for her intelligence and ability to be recognised and the finding of a kindred spirit in a most unusual place.

My Review:

Anyone with an interest  in Historical Fiction will be aware of Catherine Cookson but I suspect that she might well have fallen out of fashion with such a plethora of books to choose within this genre. That is an awful shame. 

I first read  this book back in my late teens and like many others was introduced to catherine Cookson by an random marauding of my Grandmother's bookshelves, but I balk at the idea that this is an old ladie's book. It has a complex plot in two distinct halves one focusing of the struggles of Riah and the second the travails of her daughter Biddy.

Both Mother and Daughter are literate thanks in part to Riah's husband who shared his own ability with his wife before he dies. Unable to remain in the mining village, she and her children set out onto the road to try to find work and a place to live. Ultimately she finds it at the home of the Master who becomes both boon and burden to them both.

As with all Cookson novels the divide between rich and poor is examined at length and the differences in  the privileges  afforded to women and girls and men regardless of their level of education are also in stark relief.  I found myself sympathising with Riah and the way that perhaps by seeking to escape a prison of poverty, she is bound more tightly through the need to protect her children even giving up all hope of a happy and loving relationship despite finding one who might make her happy in that regard. Her strength is perhaps more than strident daughter Biddy.

Biddy rebels against injustice, battles for the right to express herself  and for others to be allowed to learn as she has done and will not be quietened and so through making an example of herself, she begins to rise on her own merits and comes to notice to more than her mistress and bewitches one of the sons of the family. Her fight for equality has resonance even today. It is a a rich tale with sharp edges, but a wonderfully hopeful ending.

Why this is in my Top 20 list?

I associated strongly with Biddy. Also I think that the time I read this book for the first time as a idealistic student has a  strong bearing on my enjoyment of it. I think that this has indelibly marked itself in my reading consciousness and contributed to my involvement in adult literacy support  classes whilst I was at University. 



TBC 20/20 Blog Event Book Three is The Outcast by Sadie Jones


Book 3 of my Top 20  is The Outcast by Sadie Jones

Category: Literary Fiction

Synopsis: Set just after World War Two, this novel charts the downward spiral and tortured redemption of a young man shattered by loss. The war is over, and Lewis Aldridge is getting used to having his father, Gilbert, back in the house. After Lewis witnesses his mother drown, the 10-year-old  is thrust into deep isolation and an act of rebellion and a cry for help, he is imprisoned and on his release, he embarks to rebuild his life and save both himself and the childhood friend who idolised him, the equally tortured Kit.

My Review:

Much has been said about the bleak subject matter by other reviewers. Many reviews I have seen speak to the oppressive nature of the book, but I really do not see it that way. Yes it is not a story of  romance in the classic sense, but it is enthralling and real in a way that is lacking in these conventional stories. The style is brittle and direct rather like the folk who inhabit the story.

There is no denying this is not your normal women's fiction, the themes of alcoholism, domestic violence and self harm are effecting and Sadie  Jones does not stray from depicting them honestly and unflinchingly. The violence and misery behind closed doors  is a prevailing theme and the claustrophobia of a post war small town is all the more heavy because of it.

One might not understand the compulsion to beat another into submission or to inflict pain on oneself as the only means to release, and it is hard to relate to the remote and troubled Lewis, but when you take a step back and realise from where it stemmed, you suddenly realise just how strong he had to be to get through his childhood even in this way.

 His mother  is smothered by middle class snobbery and her developing dependence on booze to get through the day is her downfall. His father remote and unable to adapt to domestic life afters his service in the war and  further alienated by his inability to break into the cocoon of co dependence set up by Lewis's mother as a defence against the world she despises. She unfairly created a life for Lewis that left him remote and then by leaving in such tragic circumstances, left him to inhabit it alone without giving his father a realistic way to reach him in both their times of grief.

He gets through, his coping strategies are limited, but he survives.

It's not all bleak, the idea of Lewis provides comfort and succour for Kit, whose dark confinement behind the mask of social standing and respectability set up by her utterly repellant parents and the blameless but silently complicit elder sister is pierced by the sunlight when Lewis is around.  The injustice of his treatment by all the "respectable people" in town gives her  a power of her own to suffer the twin torments of violent chastisement and utter ambivalence to her presence the rest of the time. In the end her small rebellions are for notice of any kind, but Lewis sees her. He sees her as she really is, a child forced to confront the reality and cruelty of real life far too early.

Not an easy read emotionally, but knowing that eventually two lost souls find each other and struggle to free themselves from what were horrendous situations is actually what ultimately makes this a story of redemption and satisfying. That we do not get a definitive happy ever after is actually  very refreshing, we are free to imagine the ultimate resolution for Lewis and Kit and in my mind, they live a life grateful for each other and spent lancing the poison of their shared childhoods so that although scarred they heal entirely.




BRIEF WORD: The BBC two -part adaptation was outstanding, wonderfully cast and evoking the feeling of the book entirely.

Why is this in my Top 20 Books?

The idea of these two children brutalised both emotionally or physically by the blatant  turning away by decent respectable folk who prefer to think that life is idyllic again now that the fighting has ceased and ignoring the awful affect  six years at war had inflicted is interesting to me. Lewis is not a romantic hero, but the affection and love he develops for Kit is deeper and somehow purer for his flaws. Here we have a tale of redemption that touches the heart whilst still leaving the reader shaken to the core. 


  

TBC 20/20 Bloggers Event: Book Two, Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood


Book Two of My Top 20 is - Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood
Category  - Literary Fiction

Synopsis : The Human Race has been Obliterated. the Snowman is seemingly the only surviving man, he has two over reaching problems, his food supply is running out and he is the figure of worship and adoration of a group of creatures he has called the "Children of Crake" Green eyed, simple creatures who follow him around like a object of mystery and deity. 

Back when Snowman was called Jimmy and Crake was known simply as Glenn, they were best friends of a sort, their shared oddness maintained a bond, but Glenn's intelligence far outweighs his friend's and they are set on different life paths.

Glenn's part in the cataclysmic event that destroyed everything and the woman called Oryx who came between them both caused a fissure so great that nothing could reconcile them and now Snowman has to fight for survival every day.

My review:

Attwood is one of the best things to come out of Canada after Ryan Reynolds. Her writing is so deceptively simple in structure that it belies the complexities of ideas that she packs into her novels. I love her style, it is beautiful, lush and languid, is often direct, sometimes savage, but always easy to read. 

She is also a very diligent researcher. In readiness for this review series, I too did some research and listening to an archived episode of Desert Island Discs for BBC a Radio 4, she spoke to the  level of factual elements to all her books, her fiction is often an embellishment of scientific truths and 
discovery. That embellishment is not as outlandish as one might think in this instance.

Here in this haunting book of a man made apocalypse born of  what is basically human greed and mismanagement of resources, we find a place not so far removed from our own. The scariest things are those closest to our own experience, just amplified to create fear. 

Food is scarce and humanity is not thriving physically, but hugely advanced in the heir ability to utilise science.Chickens are bred  so mutated to the point they look nothing like birds anymore, just multiple breasted deformities that live and breathe. Pigs have been bred as organ harvesting vessels and the Dollar and image are King. Comparisons to our own food chains are not as big a step as one might imagine with growth hormones and antibiotics being commonplace in food agriculture, deformity in beef cattle is already evident with water injections to plump chicken for the supermarket shelves.

Normally her deftness with female characters is unrivalled, her  characters well rounded , flawed but present in their own fragilities, but here in Oryx the girl whose life is punctuated by abuses by powerful men, she seems removed from reality, slight and almost mythical. This is used to great effect once Snowman is left alone with the Crakers. 

Snowman and Crake are more solid, neither one particularly likeable, but riveting to observe, as a hero Snowman is very passive and defeatist until it is too late and the arrogance of the ultra intelligent is perfectly displayed in the ego of Crake.


Why have put this in my all time Top 20?

Great books are those that either teach us something about ourselves or inspire us to be more true to our own beliefs, aspirations and dreams. Anyone who takes a brief meander through my non book blogs will find my soapbox often in place when it comes to Food and resources, this book was like a siren's call to the activist in me who loathes the fact that British apples can be sent overseas to be polished to suit the aesthetic needs of the average British Supermarket consumer or that the hormones used to treat cattle are leaching into the water plains and hormonally altering fish and other aquatic wildlife.

Also it is just a horrific but utterly beautiful landscape, where even the mutated are part of a vivid whole that blasts the eyes with images that take eons to leave your mind before returning unsolicited to haunt you again months and years later.



TBC 20/20 Bloggers Event. Book One. The Tiger's Wife.


 Book ONE  of My Top 20 is The Tiger's Wife by Tea Obrecht

Category - Literary Fiction, Mythology /Folklore.

Synopsis: Natalia a young doctor hears of her beloved Grandfather's passing in a place far from home in the former Yugoslavia and convinced it is connected to the tales she heard at his knee about a Tiger who esacaped the Zoo during the Second World War and the stories of the Deathless Man who is always present when people meet their demise, she embarks on a journey to find out.

My review:

Picking this up purely because it was set in Yugoslavia, the land of my forefathers, I saw it was the winner of the Orange Prize and the premise intrigued me. 

The story of an accomplished modern young woman, learning of her Grandfather's death and  travelling through a landscape still scarred by the war in the Balkans in the 1990s to find out why he died quite so far from home, spoke to me on a very personal level. Her travels are both geographical and fraught and nostalgic and whimsical. 

Having had such a close relationship with my own Grandfather and travelled into rural Croatia to scatter his ashes, the resonance was just too strong to ignore.

My guess is there is no middle ground with this book, you will either love it or hate it. I  very obviously loved it. One  of the complaints levelled against it in reviews  since I returned to it,are the detailed character descriptions of even incidental characters as well as protagonists . To me though learning about the different folk who make up the cast of this epic tale, enriched the the story no end,
 some good, some bad and some are too enigmatic to pigeonhole; the vividness of setting was something I particularly enjoyed and the rustic nature of their existence transported me.

The folklore elements, particularly the Deathless man were beautifully depicted and the brief encounters with him are macabre and bizarre and spoke to the rural stories from Eastern Europe that one associates with the  pre communist age. 

The starving animals in the Zoo and the subsequent escape of the Tiger was a wonderful injection of pathos and symbolic of the fact that casualties of war never actually ultimately end with those holding the weapons and the mirroring of the recent history that Natalia herself  has weathered in the deprivations and brutalities of conflict are also resonant.

I lost myself in this book and found myself thinking about it long after I read the last page.

Why I have put this in my all time top 20?

Simply put it is almost a tribute  written especially to my own Yugoslavian Grandfather who was also a weaver of tremendous tales and a man I wish we had mined more from before we lost him.

Blog Event: Top Twenty Books of All time (...So far)


A few months ago I was asked to compile a list of my Top Twenty books  of all time by my Book club "TBC on Facebook". A group 6000 strong of readers and Authors who read, books are sacred and the craft is our religion.

As a regular Reviewer /Blogger of a wide range of genres , it was deemed my choices might be of interest to a wider audience  and so after a lot of internal mental arguments, re-reads and oscillating over which book from certain favourite authors should make the grade, I finally plumped for twenty.



What follows in the next four days are  fleshed out posts about my choices for that event.

(These entries include reviews, the brief for the event was just a synopsis and the reason it made the cut.)

The Rules:

I could choose any book  in any genre EXCEPT Crime, Psychological Thriller etc as others regular bloggers in these genres were tasked with that. Many great books fall into those genres  and may have made my Twenty, but for the purposes of the event I am unable to draw into my list.

Over the next four days my list will appear here, one book per post and a widely eclectic bunch they are too!

The question was How does one choose only twenty out of all the books I have read in my 36- ish years of pretty constant reading?

Hard , so very hard! Nigh on impossible in fact.



Eventually I narrowed it down to the books that were most resonant at various times in my life, so this is not about the greatest works of fiction, the most worthy or "Wordy" books, but about the books that mean the most to me, the ones that have entertained or been catalyst for study or  just instigated personal rumination.

In a sense they represent me better than any social media profile could ever attempt to do and reveal I think, a fair bit about me as I look back over the list.  The list may differ greatly in ten years, but for now I am content with these.

You may think this is even a little self indulgent of me  and I think perhaps it is, but maybe just maybe it might cause you  to revisit your  own "reading life "or just coerce you to read something new or unexpected.

The act of reading has always been a gift to me, a gift that not everyone has; even in the advanced country I live in.

The statistics are worrying.



Statistics from 2014 show that one in five children in England cannot read well by the age of 11.

Research conducted in 2012 found that 17% of 15 year-olds in England do not have a minimum level of proficiency in literacy.

Analysis conducted in 2013 found that in England 16 to 24 year-olds have lower levels of literacy than young people in 21 out of 24 countries in the OECD.

Literacy levels are higher in Japan, Estonia, Czech Republic and the USA.


England is the only country where 16-24 year olds have lower literacy and numeracy skills than 55-65 year-olds, out of 24 OECD countries.

16% of adults (around 5.8 million people) in England and Northern Ireland score at the lowest level of proficiency in literacy (at or below Level 1).


Reading for pleasure

England's children have less positive attitudes towards reading than in many other countries: only 26% of 10 year-olds 'like reading' compared to 46%in Portugal, 42% in Georgia, 35% in Romania, and
33% in Azerbaijan

Most children in England do not read on a daily basis: in 2011 just over a third (37%) of 10 year-olds surveyed reported reading for pleasure every day.


In England, 36% of adults don't read for pleasure, rising to 44% of young people (aged 16 to 24).

In 2013/14, 18% of adults in England had only bought a novel or a book of stories, poetry or plays once or twice in the last 12 months.

In 2014/15, 30% of 5-15 year-olds in England had not visited a library in the last year. However, there are a significant number of regular library users in this age group: 20% had visited a library in the last week.

The frequency of reading for pleasure at age 42 is linked to vocabulary skills: those who read every day  at 42 have an advantage of 4 percentage points in their vocabulary over those who do not read as frequently.


Health and wellbeing impacts of reading

. Adults with lower levels of literacy are more likely to experience poor health and to believe that they have little impact on political processes, and are less likely to participate in volunteer activities.


Literacy has been found to have a relationship with depression: 36% of those with low literacy were found to have depressive symptoms, compared to 20% of those with the highest levels of literacy.

Reading for pleasure has been linked to a reduction in the symptoms of depression and to a reduction in the risk of developing dementia in later life.

People who read books regularly are on average more satisfied with life, happier, and more likely to feel that the things they do in life are worthwhile.

76% of adults say that reading improves their life and the same number says it helps to make them feel good.


Research has indicated that reading fiction is associated with higher levels of empathy and improved relationships with others.


With these facts in mind, I present you with my very subjective choices.

You may disagree with a few, but remember that every reader is different, just as every book is different in a reader's mind...  Jane Eyre or Hannibal Lecter of my imaginings will look nothing like the one in yours, every book is a GOOD book if you can be enriched by it, be that by the simple fact that it transported you away from your sofa, your life or your current state of mind for a while , or that it radically changes your world view. They all have merit.

They come in no particular order. They are not grouped by genre, they just ARE.

What might your top twenty reveal about you? I would love to hear from you as to what you might have chosen or to praise or berate my choices...

See you tomorrow for my first five!

Friday, 18 November 2016

Book Review: Christmas at the Cat Cafe by Melissa Daley


Christmas at The Cat Cafe. By Melissa Daley

This is the second in a series, but it does not matter so much in this instance as the story is cleverly woven to intimate at all the pertinent back story so as  to enable this to stand alone as a beautiful Christmas  tale.

The continuing story of Molly the cat who is the inspiration for a cat cafe where the feline personalities are just as important as the flavour of the coffee or delicious sweets available behind the counter.

Molly and her brood are to all intents and purposes settled at the Cafe, humans  and cats are in a gentle synchronicity until Debbie and Sophie's comfortable bubble is burst in one foul swoop by interfering sister Linda and her (gasp!) hyperactive dog.

On the surface this would be a humourous story about cats versus humans or cat versus Dog, but do not be fooled by the beautiful kitten  on the  truly delightful cover, this story has claws too.

It is much more complex and layered, this is a story about family, about abandonment issues, about prioritising love over loyalty and about not judging a person's character or motivations before seeking to hear them express them and the cleverest thing is it is all presented through the eyes of a group of cats and kittens.

The book is a lovely Christmas read, but it is not all fluffy tinsel and cocoa, it is dark in places, sad  and realistic, but it is hopeful and joyous at it's end which is all one can ask  for from Santa himself and prompts me to find out about Molly's origin story in Melissa's previous book too.