Review: Susan Nussbaum – Good Kings, Bad Kings

20140414-210915.jpgWow, I was seriously impressed by this book. First of all, I should say that I won the book as part of the Goodreads First Reads program, hence why my copy says ‘Advance proof copy, not for sale’. Although I think it’s been out for a few weeks now since I couldn’t start reading it as soon as it arrived.

This is the debut novel by Susan Nussbaum, but you would never tell from reading it. Expertly written to give each character a unique voice and leaving a profound impression on you by the time you reach the heart-rending conclusion, Nussbaum has crafted a masterpiece. No wonder she was winning awards before the book was even published!

The subject matter is not the easiest to read. Set in an institution for young people with disabilities, the book is narrated by a cast of characters including residents in the home, employees of the home and an employee of the outside company contracted to run the home.

The narrative of each character leads you to a strong emotional connection with each one in turn, making all of the horrible things that happen seem even more personal. You see, although this institution is contracted out to a seemingly professional company, corners are being cut to save money and it seems like most of the staff couldn’t care less about these brilliant individuals, casting them off as useless just because they have a disability, be it mental or physical.

But not all the employees are quite as heartless, as we hear from some of the employees who actually care about these young people and have the drive to do something to help them. Heartbreakingly, it seems to be too late for some of the poor residents, leading me to be sat at my desk at work trying as hard as I can to hold back the tears (and most definitely failing).

The strength shown by certain residents within the facility was amazing, after seeing everything that happened it would probably be easy to just give up and accept that this is your lot in life, but having the guts to fight against the system made these characters stronger than any characters in other books I have read recently.

I only had two problems with the book. Firstly, since we’re seeing life in the home from inside the home – the residents and the employees, and being shown just how bad the outside company is, it would have been nice if one of the characters had been someone at the outside company with responsibility for making the decisions. We get an insight into how they think when we see their crisis meeting, but still, it would have been nice to get deeper.

Secondly, the last chapter with Yessenia. I know it was supposed to round off the story nicely and show that Yessenia has been able to move on on her own and show some independence, but I thought it could have been done in a different way. I’m not sure exactly how though, and I guess that’s why I’m not an author.

I’ll be keeping an eager eye out for more books by Susan Nussbaum, she has the kind of voice I would love to read again and again.

5/5

Review: Liam Perrin – Sir Thomas the Hesitant and the Table of Less Valued Knights

Liam Perrin - Sir Thomas The Hesitant and the Table of Less Valued KnightsThis book was won through the Goodreads First Reads program. I have to say when I entered it, I was unsure whether I would like it or not. The title seemed odd to me, most likely because I’d never read anything King Arthur-ish before. I’d even steered clear of the program called Merlin when it was on BBC, convinced that I wouldn’t like it.

So I started this book with a completely blank slate, not knowing what to expect, but excited to try something knew. It took me a good few chapters to get into the story, but once I got to know Thomas I felt like I was along on his journey with him.

The story starts in a village called Fogbottom, a village besieged by terrible famine, slowly wasting away. We meet Thomas, a guy living under the shadow of his older brother William. William is convinced that Baron Fogbottom is hiding a shed-load of food, even though his villagers are starving and struggling for food. He decides to go up to plead with the Baron to give the village some food, but he is thrown in the dungeons for his efforts.

While Thomas is in the village a herald arrives pronouncing the marriage of King Arthur to Lady Guinevere. As part of his marriage celebrations, he is allowing one member of each family to go and ask him for one request. It is decided that Thomas should go and ask for help for his brother.

While he is on his journey to Camelot, Thomas runs into an old wizard named Pyralis. He agrees to help Thomas as long as Thomas agrees to one thing, to go fetch a giant’s tears. Despite how ridiculous this sounds, Thomas actually succeeds, and is rewarded with: a stinking sword with a stench of fetid cheese.

After making it to Camelot, Thomas joins the queue of other requestors, making friends with Philip, soon to become Sir Philip the Disadvantaged. He persuades Thomas that it’s no good asking for help for his brother, but that he should ask to become a knight so that he can save his whole village. And so is born Sir Thomas The Hesitant.

Sir Thomas gets himself into all sorts of trouble and makes an unlikely bunch of friends, and eventually gets into a position where he can fight for the future of his village. But with the backup of his misfit friends against the Baron and all his guards, can he possibly succeed? Well I’m not going to tell you.

I absolutely loved this book, like I said earlier, once I’d read the first few chapters I felt like I was on this quest along with Thomas. The world of Camelot was so perfectly described that even though I’d never read anything about it before, I could picture it vividly in my mind.

I loved the idea of the underdog being capable of so many things. No matter if you’re on the ‘table of the less-valued’, if you believe in something and you have the gumption to change it, you can accomplish it. Never discount the ‘less-valued’, and in the case of Bane, never expect to be classed as top dog before you’ve earnt the right.

So I guess there’s only one thing left to say: Somnia, Salvebis. *

5/5

*Nonsense, You’ll be fine.

Review: Maureen Nicholl – Into The Darkness

Maureen Nicholl - Into the DarknessI won this book as part of the Goodreads First Reads giveaways and before I started reading I already knew I was going to be disappointed with it. It’s a novella, meaning that it’s only 57 pages long. So either the story was going to be terrible and I’d hate it, or the story would be amazing and I’d be disappointed that it was so short.

And yep, the story was great, but I got to the end wanting so much more. The story revolves around a lonely and socially awkward mall security guard named Duncan and a rebellious teenager named Calvin. They’ve met many times in the past, usually in the mall where Calvin and all his friends make Duncan’s life horrible, taunting him with names like Officer Doughnuts. Ironically, the first place we meet Duncan is in the doughnut shop, where he is ordering his usual order of not one, not two, but six doughnuts, his usual nightly order, to cover up his feelings of emptiness.

As Duncan heads home from work, he drives past an abandoned car at the side of the road by the old abandoned mental hospital and stops to investigate. He finds the circumstances highly suspicious, but when he calls the ‘real cops’, they’re not interested. He decides that he will take matters into his own hands and find out what has happened.

But Duncan doesn’t have any friends and he doesn’t know the layout of Brookfield, so he’s nervous about going there. On a whim, he decides that Calvin could maybe help him. After all, he’s always hanging round there with his friends, drinking and causing trouble. Duncan has recently pulled Calvin in for underage drinking, so he knows his number and gives him a call to see if he is willing to help. Calvin agrees, but only with conditions. Duncan is so intent of finding out what is going on that he agrees to meet Calvin the same night.

When Calvin and Duncan get to Brookfield, Calvin goes in first to see if he can find any of his friends to see if they have heard anything. While he’s gone, Duncan wonders a short way into the woods and gets himself into the same trouble that the poor owner of the car found herself in. It’s then up to Calvin to get them free, leading to almost disastrous circumstances. Although it’s Duncan that instigates the ‘adventure’, it’s Calvin that finds out the most about himself, and seems to metamorphosize¬†from his old delinquent self over the course of one short night. And happily, it looks like Duncan may have finally found the friend he always wanted, and got himself his dream job which was denied to him so many years ago.

I really enjoyed this book, it was fast paced and I couldn’t put it down. Of course, it was only 57 pages, so it didn’t take long for me to reach the end and be left wanting so much more. I would have loved the book more if it had been longer, maybe more back story to the characters, or more of what happened after. Looking on Goodreads, it looks like this author only has one book, but I’ll be keeping my eye out for more.

4-5

Review: Nicola May – The Bow Wow Club

Nicola May - The Bow Wow ClubI was absolutely delighted when I received a tweet from Nicola May saying that she had read my review for Working it Out and she wanted to send me an advanced copy of her new book, The Bow Wow Club, which is out next month. I really enjoyed the last book, and it was so cool to know that I was reading the book before pretty much anyone else. Because it’s not out yet, I’m not going to give too much away about the plot, because it’s not fair to have that all over the internet before the book is even out.

I don’t think I’ve ever had a book make me cry within the first 10 pages, and especially not make me laugh and cry at the same time. But this did. The book is a sequel to Working it Out; we are back a couple of years later to catch up with Ruby, but her life hasn’t been going too well and she’s in a bad place. But throughout the course of the book, with the help of a great set of friends including her lovely neighbour Margaret and her nutty friend Fi (who is not exactly trouble-free in this book either), she gets herself back on track.

I found myself getting caught out in the book by predicting what was going to happen and then being proved wrong again and again by twist after twist which kept the book exciting. I found the Bow Wow Club itself a lovely place (although not what I first thought it was going to be), and each person in there had a sad tale to tell, but all ultimately helped Ruby in her journey to self re-discovery.

There wasn’t really anything I didn’t like about the book, it kept me scrolling and scrolling to get to the end, and as I had connected so much to Ruby in Working it Out, I had an instant connection with her as soon as I started reading. It took me a while to warm to Michael, at first I was suspicious of him, but it turns out that he was the only guy who didn’t really deserve suspicion.

The only thing that lessened my enjoyment of the book was that there were a few spelling and grammar mistakes which stopped the flow of the book a few times while I went back to re-read the sentence, but I’m sure that’s to be expected when you’re reading an advanced copy of a book.

To sum up: if you love chick-lit and you like a book that takes you through a whole range of emotions but ultimately makes you smile, then this book is perfect for you.

5/5

Review: Graeme Simsion – The Rosie Project

Graeme Simsion - The Rosie ProjectThis book was received from the Goodreads First Reads program, where you can enter a giveaway for the chance to win an advanced copy of many books. I believe by the time I received this book, it had already been released in shops, but it made me very happy that mine says ‘Advance Reading Copy’ on the back, and for an extra bonus, it’s autographed too!

The book centers on Don Tillman, a very smart but socially awkward professor of genetics at a university in Melbourne. He has only two friends (Gene and his wife Claudia), and has never been on a second date. He’s perfectly content with all areas of his life, but for one thing. He wants a wife. His problem is that every woman he dates ends up having some problem; they smoke, they wear excessive make up, they’re vegetarian, they’re always late, and so on and so on. Don’s problem is that he has to sit through a date with these women before he realises what is wrong with them.

He decides on a questionnaire to pre-filter his dates to help him find the perfect woman – ‘The Wife Project’. The problem is, once he has asked all the questions he wants to ask, it comes out at 16 pages long. He uploads it to his online dating profile and waits for the women to start contacting him.

Days after posting his questionnaire, a young woman called Rosie turns up at his office. Don assumes that Gene has sent her following her submission of the questionnaire, but she’s actually there looking for his help as a genetics professor. She doesn’t know the identity of her father, and her mother died and only left her the clue that she was conceived at her graduation party. With Don’s help, Rosie thinks she can find her father, and so starts The Father Project.

Throughout The Father Project, Don carries the assumption that Rosie turned up as a possible Wife candidate, but she’s the worst candidate imaginable, she smokes, she’s a vegetarian, she’s always late, and she has no regard for schedules. But somehow, Don doesn’t mind, and you can see him slowly falling in love with her, in his own way.

Back to The Father Project, and Don tracks down an old graduation photo online, which happens to have the names of all the attendees written on it. Then starts the interesting and sometimes hysterical process of trying to get DNA from all these men without them knowing. Don has many sneaky ways of doing this, from stealing hair from a hairbrush, mopping pee off the floor of a bathroom, and even spending the night posing as a barman (which he was exceedingly good at, thanks to his spectacular memory).

One by one, the men are eliminated from possible fatherhood, but just as they are getting to the last few candidates, Don’s awkwardness in social situations, or rather one social situation in particular, pushes Rosie and Don apart, and it seems like The Father Project may have come to an end.

I’m going to leave my story review there, because I don’t want to spoil the ending for anyone wanting to read the book.

As soon as you start reading, you’re immediately endeared to Don. Even though he’s not very good in social situations and he has routines for everything, including a 7 day set meal plan where he eats the same meal every Monday, every Tuesday etc to avoid the pain of shopping and concentrating on cooking new meals, he seems like the most charming guy and someone you would love to be your friend. He reminded me a lot of Sheldon in The Big Bang Theory, intensely clever but inadvertently funny. But throughout the book, I never found myself laughing at Don, just at the situations that he found himself in, like the Jacket Incident at Le Gavroche. There were many moments when I actually found myself laughing out loud, it’s a good job that I was at home.

The writing drew me in completely and I devoured this book within a few hours, I just couldn’t bring myself to stop reading and put it down because I had to know what was going to happen next. I would love to read the book again later this year at a more leisurely rate to find the nuances of the book that I no doubt missed from being sucked in so completely. Graeme Simsion is definitely on my list of authors to watch out for, I would love for a follow up sequel to this story so that we can hear more from the lovely Don.

Definite 5 star book.

5/5