Review: George R. R. Martin – A Feast For Crows

George R. R. Martin - A Feast For CrowsLooking at the reviews of this book on Goodreads, it seems most people are annoyed about the fact that it took so long for this one to come out after the last one. Thankfully, since I’m behind the crowd as usual, I don’t have that problem. However, with only one book left for me to read, I think I’m probably soon going to be in the same place as everyone else, impatiently waiting for the next one!

However, back to the book in hand. I have to say that I didn’t think I was going to enjoy this one as much to start with and it did take me a fair few chapters to truly get engrossed, but in fact by the time it got to the end, I was enjoying it just as much, and if not more, than the previous four.

The main reason I was aprehensive at first was the sudden addition of a lot of new characters. I had pretty much just got used to the myriad of characters from the previous books, and then Martin suddenly decides to include a whole bunch more. At first I found this quite annoying, trying to keep up with who was who, but that quickly faded and I was back to being engrossed in the story.

*Possible spoilers from here on*

It surprised me that a few characters were hardly mentioned at all, Rob, Tyrion and Daenerys being the main culprits. I personally didn’t think there was enough of Arya either, but she’s always been my favourite so I was bound to think that.

It was very nice to get to know the other characters a bit better though, particularly Samwell and Brienne. And I’m very sure that since the next book is called ‘A Dance with Dragons’, we’ve got plenty of Daenerys to come.

As well as complaining about the length of time that this book took to be released, a lot of the reviewers on Goodreads complain about the pace of this book being far too slow. I personally can’t say that I found this a problem. I was engrossed from start to finish, and would have read it much quicker if only I’d had more time for reading.

Granted, there wasn’t quite as much action as the previous tomes, but it’s nice to take a step back sometimes and get a bit more of the backstory and the history and politics of the seven kingdoms without gratuitous killing and raping. Although there’s still plenty of that to be found, so if that’s what you like, you won’t be disappointed.

The book ended on rather a high for me, with my most despised character Cersei looking like she might finally get her comeuppance for all her scheming and lying, and her brother Jaime ignoring her pleas for help. I’ve been waiting for this for quite some time, so I hope that it concludes the way that I hope it will. Although knowing Martin, it most likely won’t. I don’t seem to have got much of what I wanted from this series, although I was warned not to form attachments to my favourite characters so I guess that’s my fault really.

I did get a brief feeling of excitement every time two unrelated characters crossed paths, hoping beyond hope that they might realise their connection so that they could help each other out, but that never happened. But hopefully some of my more treasured characters will be reunited soon. Hopefully, but probably not.

We’ll see what A Dance with Dragons brings, but at over 1000 pages, it might be a while before the next review!

4/5

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: 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: 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

100 Book Challenge? – It Definitely Was!

Well I set my self a lofty total of 100 books in 2012, which turned out to be a little too high. I made it to 67, but I’m still quite happy with that. I started off the year with the best intentions and I managed to keep up until about June. And then Cameron moved back from Huddersfield and I was round at his house or going out more often, and the books kind of stopped flowing (I only read one book in July). I managed to pick it up again a bit later in the year but it wasn’t enough.

I’ve really enjoyed it though, I’ve tried a lot of books this year that I would never have thought to read thanks to recommendations from awesome people, sci-fi and fantasy are two genres that I’ve never really read before but will definitely be trying again.

I saw this ‘Best of Books 2012’ survey on one of the book blogs I read, so I’ve pinched it for my challenge review.

Best Book You Read In 2012? (You can break it down by genre if you want)
I think this comes down to two. For pure magicallity and captivation, I’d pick The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey. It was completely different to anything I’d ever read, but the story of little Faina was both mesmerizing and heartbreaking at the same time. In terms of hard-hitting plots and something that stuck in my head for long after I finished reading, I’d pick When She Woke by Hillary Jordan. The plot wasn’t easy to read, but extremely well written and brilliantly thought provoking.

Book You Were Excited About & Thought You Were Going To Love More But Didn’t?
The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen would definitely qualify for this. It was the first book I read this year and didn’t really set the tone right for the other 99 books I planned to read. Since I’ve read it I’ve heard a lot about Franzen and how good he is supposed to be, but I found this book way too long and I just couldn’t get any connection to the characters. I’d had high hopes for the book but it left me feeling very disappointed.

Most surprising (in a good way!) book of 2012?
This would definitely be Century Rain by Alastair Reynolds. I was leant this book with the assurance that it was really good, but I’d never read any sci-fi before and I had no idea what to expect. But it was amazing, fast paced and full of nail biting moments that kept me gripped until the end. I’ll definitely be reading more Reynolds this year.

Book you recommended to people most in 2012?
This would probably be The Hunger Games (I, II and III). I loved it when I read it and a few people I know have also read it and enjoyed it too, including my dad who usually reads sci-fi and crime books, but loved how easy to read the trilogy was.

Best series you discovered in 2012?
This would probably be The Hunger Games too. I loved it when I read it, and the only other series I have read this year were by Charlaine Harris (Lily Bard and Aurora Teagarden), which were less enthralling that I expected.

Favorite new authors you discovered in 2012?
I’ve discovered so many new authors this year that it’s hard to pick just a few, but I would probably say Kristin Cashore, Vanessa Diffenbaugh, S.J. Watson and Hillary Jordan.

Best book that was out of your comfort zone or was a new genre for you?
There’s two books that I would pick for this. Century Rain by Alastair Reynolds and Graceling by Kristin Cashore. Both new genres, but both completely amazing and left me definitely wanting to read more sci-fi and fantasy.

Most thrilling, unputdownable book in 2012?
This was definitely When She Woke by Hillary Jordan. The plot was so shocking and so different from what I’ve read before, but also so heart-wrenching that I just couldn’t put it down once I’d started reading.

Book You Read In 2012 That You Are Most Likely To Re-Read Next Year
Considering the length of my ‘to-be-read’ list, I don’t think I’ll be re-reading any books next year. Not because I don’t want to, but because I’ve got so many more books waiting for me!

Favorite cover of a book you read in 2012?
If we’re talking about favourite appearance of a book, I’d say either The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, with it’s lovely black-edged pages and beautiful artwork, or When She Woke by Hillary Jordan with it’s striking picture of a girl staring at you, combined with the bright red-edged pages.

Most memorable character in 2012?
This would have to be Bilbo Baggins from The Hobbit, although this is probably combined with the fact that the film has just come out too. But I loved that I got to know the character before I saw the film, whereas I’ve already got a fairly good picture of The Lord of the Rings, so when I read it earlier it won’t be my own creation.

Most beautifully written book read in 2012?
Definitely The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey, absolutely enchanting.

Book that had the greatest impact on you in 2012?
This is a hard one. I’d say it was probably The Five People You Meet in Heaven by Mitch Albom. It made me think a lot about the impact you can have on other people with even the smallest actions.

Book you can’t believe you waited UNTIL 2012 to finally read?
Definitely A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. I’ve really got no idea why I’ve never read this before but it was great to finally read it.

Favourite Passage/Quote From A Book You Read In 2012?
This would definitely be from The Five People You Meet in Heaven by Mitch Albom: “Learn this from me. Holding anger is a poison. It eats you from inside. We think that hating is a weapon that attacks the person who harmed us. But hatred is a curved blade. And the harm we do, we do to ourselves.

Shortest & Longest Book You Read In 2012?
The Longest books was Century Rain by Alistair Reynolds at 640 pages. The shortest was A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens at 104 pages.

Book That Had A Scene In It That Had You Reeling And Dying To Talk To Somebody About It?
Not much really springs to mind for this question, but I did have to talk to my friend straight away at the end of Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins, because it didn’t end how I expected it to!

Favourite Relationship From A Book You Read In 2012 (be it romantic, friendship, etc).
This would definitely be the relationship between Victoria and Grant in The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh.

Favourite Book You Read in 2012 From An Author You Read Previously
Definitely Deadlocked by Charlaine Harris – one of my favourite authors and the latest book in the Sookie Stackhouse (True Blood) series did not disappoint.

Best Book You Read That You Read Based SOLELY On A Recommendation From Somebody Else?
Two books: Century Rain by Alastair Reynolds and The Five People You Meet in Heaven by Mitch Albom.

So that’s my 2012 reading challenge over, not quite as successfully as I hoped but I’ve discovered some amazing new authors and tried books that I never would have dreamed of trying. Next year, I’m not going to aim for a specific number, but I do have in mind a lot of books that I want to read. Some longer ones that I couldn’t read this year (like LOTR and Anna Karenina), and some classics that I want to try, like Little Women etc. I’ve got a list of the top 200 books as voted by BBC readers. The list was voted in 2003, but it contains a lot of books that I do want to try, so my aim is to fill up this list a bit. I’ve read 49 from the list so far, so lets see how far I can get!

If you had a reading challenge last year, or you’ve set yourself one this year, let me know in the comments below!

Review: The Queen [Of Twitter] – Gin O’Clock

gin-o-clock-the-queenThis was a bit of an impulse buy after I started following ‘The Queen‘ on twitter. The tweets seemed pretty funny and the book was only £4 so it was worth a shot. It looked along the same lines as Mrs Fry’s Diary that I read last year and found pretty hilarious.

After I’d bought it, I saw a lot of reviews on Goodreads saying that it was a bit repetitive with the jokes, and I would kind of agree. The jokes were witty and topical to start with, but you do get the impression that the same joke is being told again and again – in particular picking fun at Clegg and Camilla. I think the book would have been better to dip in and out of over a few weeks rather than reading in two days, it probably would have felt funnier.

I could quote parts of the book, but you’re probably better off following ‘The Queen‘ on twitter, I think she’s much better in smaller bites.

3-5

Now Reading: Jonathan Coe – The Accidental Woman

jonathan-coe-the-accidental-woman-e1331237021290I’m not really sure what this book is about, it was part of a set of 3 books for £4 that I bought from the Book People in a recent order. When I read the descriptions online, it looked like a good book, but I’ve just seen that the average rating on Goodreads is less than 3 out of 5. Hopefully I’ll enjoy it more than that! The little review on the front is from Nick Hornby (one of my favourite authors), and says ‘Probably the best English novelist of his generation’. That’s pretty different from the Goodreads reviews, so I guess I’ll make up my own mind.

If you’ve read it, let me know what you thought!