Category Archives: Mini Reviews

Mini Review Madness Part II; Ruiz Zafon, Kelly, Harris, & Le Guin

So as Christmas is now less than a week away (eek) it means that New Year is less than a fortnight away and in an attempt to try and have written about nearly all the books I have read this year I thought  would write a couple of catch up mini-review posts. I would love to give them all a full review but I am running out of days to do that and all of the books have been featured on one of the three podcasts I co-host or host so links for more on them are available below, so really you get even more out of these than you would a normal review, sort of…

Marina by Carlos Ruiz Zafon (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, hardback, 2013, YA fiction, 296 pages, kindly sent by the publisher)

I am a huge fan of The Shadow of the Wind and having read Marina, which was published in Spain before it but has only recently come out here in the UK, I am really keen to read it all over again (and indeed might next year) because all the best bits of Ruiz Zafon’s last YA novel made me think of it. Initially this is the story of Oscar and how he finds the mysterious Marina on one of his escapades from the school gates on the edges of Barcelona where he boards. However a mild mystery of a woman in black and an unmarked grave, which Marina instigates they try and find out about, leads them to a much darker mystery and takes them through and under the streets of Barcelona. Sounds good doesn’t it and often it is. There are some wonderful ‘monsters’ and dark chilling moments yet I found myself rather distant and often uninterested in the tale of Oscar and Marina and much more so in the one involving a dark love story from the past. Ideal if you love Ruiz Zafon, or if you have a younger reader who might not be ready for The Shadow of the Wind and so could do with something in the interim.

You can hear myself, Kate, Rob and Gavin discussing this in more detail on the third episode of Hear… Read This

The Burning Air by Erin Kelly (Hodder, paperback, 2013, fiction, 355 pages, kindly sent by the publisher)

Possibly one of the best psychological thrillers that I have read this year and one that I didn’t, and won’t write about in too much depth for the fear of spoiling a chilling tale with a nasty twist and sting (or two or three) in its tail. Opening with a letter telling of a deep family secret which we soon learn is written by a woman recently dead, Lydia, we then join her bereaved family as they meet for Bonfire Night, as is tradition, along with spreading Lydia’s ashes. Sophie is recovering from a huge shock to her marriage and also having recently had a baby, a baby who is soon abducted by Sophie’s brother’s new girlfriend Kerry. I won’t spoil the plot any further (though that happens quite quickly on) other than simply saying that if you want a book about deep seated revenge and the darkness it can create then you should read this, as should you if you like a good thriller as this is a marvellous one – surprises will lie in store and you will be gripped to the end.

You can hear Erin and myself in discussion about the book on You Wrote The Book here.

Peaches for Monsieur Le Cure by Joanne Harris (Black Swan, paperback, 2013, fiction, 541 pages, kindly sent by the publisher)

After having utterly adored Chocolat (I love the film but the book is so much better) earlier in the year, I was ready to read everything and anything by Joanne Harris. Instead of reading one of her thrillers, ghostly tales or even The Lollipop Shoes I decided to go with my gut (quite literally as they are my favourite fruit of them all) and read Peaches for Monsieur Le Cure which finds Vianne heading back to Lansquenet-sous-Tannes, eight years after she opened her sumptuous chocolate shop, despite herself. Here she finds quite a different town from the one she left and an old adversary who of all things may actually need her help. Once again Harris vividly captures a town that has fallen ill at ease and out of sync with itself and indeed the world around it. Themes of race and racism, and generally being different, lie at the heart of a book which from the outside seems sweet but has much more going on darkly below the surface. I enjoyed returning to Lansquenet-sous-Tannes and was spellbound (see what I did there) by a tale of Vianne once more.

You can hear myself and Joanne discussing the book on You Wrote the Book here.

The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula Le Guin (Orbit Books, 1969 (2009 edition), paperback, 273 pages, borrowed from the library)

Hmmm. This is a tricky one to talk about as in terms of plot I am not sure I really understood the full premise the whole way through as there is so much confusing jargon about why Genly Ai finds himself on the planet Winter where the inhabitants have no gender apart from when them go into heat, or kemmer, and could become male or female. Suffice to say he does end up there and becomes part of a political conundrum that almost verges on war though Winter has never seen a war as its inhabitants are not want to fight either. Thematically the book, once you have worked your way through it, is inspired. The way it discusses political issues, possibly based around the cold war, are relevant now as are the themes of gender and sexuality. I just ended up thinking that whilst it was probably ground breaking in its time, whilst as I said it is still relevant now it would probably be more potent as a short story. It needs to hit you over the head, not have you trudging through snow for page after page after page. I also struggled to find a single beautifully written paragraph. So overall I loved the themes and discussions it raised, sadly though I didn’t love the execution of it.

You can hear myself, Gavin, Rob and Kate talking about The Left hand of Darkness on the latest episode of Hear… Read This

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So that is my second and final mini-review madness of the week and indeed the year. Let me know if you have read any of these books, or any of these authors other works and what you thought of them? Also let me know your thoughts on what you think about mini-review posts like these, is it nice to get a quick glimpse of some other reads every now and again or do you prefer the longer (and they are getting longer) fuller reviews?

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Filed under Carlos Ruiz Zafon, Erin Kelly, Joanne Harris, Mini Reviews, Ursula Le Guin, You Wrote The Book!

Mini Review Madness Part I; Arnott, Sloan, Grimwood & Richards

So as Christmas is now only a week away it means that New Year is a mere fortnight away and in an attempt to try and have written about nearly all the books I have read this year I thought  would write a couple of catch up mini-review posts. I would love to give them all a full review but I am running out of days to do that and all of the books have been featured on one of the three podcasts I co-host or host so links for more on them will be available below. For the first instalment (seeing as some of you have said they would like to see more ‘meh’ thoughts on books) we have two books I really wanted to love but sadly didn’t and two books I really, really liked but wasn’t in the best frame of mind to write about? Intrigued? Read on…

The House of Rumour by Jake Arnott (Sceptre, hardback, 2012, fiction, 403 pages, kindly sent by the publisher)

I have had an interesting relationship with Arnott for quite some time. His books either leave me feeling he is an absolute genius or they leave me feeling quite cold. The House of Rumour is a book which left me feeling both. It tells multiple tales which all interweave in various ways from a group of cult sci-fi writers in California to Ian Fleming as he spies for his country and is embroiled in an operation to use occultists against Hitler and the Nazi’s across the water. It sounds bonkers and indeed it is bonkers and I really should have loved it but overall I was just really, really confused. Initially I couldn’t work out how all the strands interlinked and started to resent Arnott for being too clever and showing off with it frankly. A shame for me as the story of Fleming and his days in the secret service which inspired Bond was absolutely blindingly brilliant and I could have read a whole book of. I just didn’t care about the rest, even when Arnott includes some brilliant short pieces of gender bending they lost their sheen when he almost repeated his tricks over and over again. Many people will love this, I just wanted the Fleming sections sadly – it is where the heart of this book really lies.

You can hear myself, Rob, Kate and Gavin discussing this on the second episode of Hear… Read This.

Mr Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan (FSG Books, hardback, 2012, fiction, 288 pages, bought by my good self)

A book about a bookstore, or bookshop as we Brits like to call them, should be the perfect read for me and initially this one was. Who could fail to fall for a book that centres around a mysterious bookshop and its mysterious owner, who Clay comes to work for after the recession hits his career, open twenty four hours with some members who take out the strangest books from the most secretive section of the bookshop? I know, sounds amazing. Until Sloan goes all modern world and technological on us, gets the object of Clay’s desires, Kat, to help him solve a mystery and the book then seems to be sponsored by Google every sentence as that is where Kat works. It began to get on my nerves, I wanted less about this one dimension modern youths and more about the strange old people reading the mysterious books in a certain order. Wholly unsatisfying and a wasted opportunity if you ask me, many people LOVE it though.

You can hear myself, Gavin, Kate and Rob discussing this on the first episode of Hear… Read This.

The Last Banquet by Jonathan Grimwood (Canongate, hardback, 2013, fiction, 359 pages, kindly sent by the publisher)

The first of the two books that I really wish I had been able to write about after reading them, but Gran was sadly so poorly, is The Last Banquet by Jonathan Grimwood. Set in eighteeth century France, which I know nothing about, I thought I would struggle with the life story of Jean-Marie d’Aumont but I was completely immersed as we followed him begging on the streets, and eating dung beetles (wonderfullt described), to his rise – through patronage and the military – to becoming one of France’s best diplomats and a spy. The period, especially all the shenanigans going on in Versailles, are brought vividly to life without ever having any ‘research’ or showy off detail being banged over your head which I think Grimwood is rather a genius for. The prose is as brilliant as the story, which I thought the ending of was superbly done, and Grimwood creates a heady atmosphere all through the descriptions of food. Subtly and deftly done, marvellous!

You can hear Gavin and myself talking about the book with Jonathan Grimwood on The Readers Book Club (rest its soul) here.

Snake Ropes by Jess Richards (Sceptre,hardback, 2012, fiction, 343 pages, kindly sent by the publisher)

I feel doubly bad about not mentioning Snake Ropes more as not only have I not given it a full review, I also couldn’t record the full episode of The Readers Book Club with Gavin, but family had to come first. Let’s not get maudlin though. So, Jess Richards’ debut is a tale set on an island somewhere just off the edge of any map where all the boys are disappearing. As the novel opens ‘the tall men’ come to the island bringing trade after which Mary, one of our two gutsy narrators, soon discovers her brother is missing and decides she must find him. Elsewhere on the island Morgan tells us of her life locked away from society, but how are the two stories linked? The mystery and tale that follows involves selkies (I loved the heartbreaking selkie tale so much), crows that turn to stone and the Thrashing House, one of the most scary and creepy created building houses I have fictionally stepped into. A wonderfully written, and incredibly emotive, magical tale for adults, highly recommended.

You can hear Gavin and I in conversation with Jess Richards about the book on The Readers Book Club here.

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So that is my first mini-review madness of the week. Let me know if you have read any of these books, or any of these authors other works and what you thought of them? Also let me know your thoughts on what you think about mini-review posts like these, is it nice to get a quick glimpse of some other reads every now and again or do you prefer the longer (and they are getting longer) fuller reviews?

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Filed under Jake Arnott, Jess Richards, Jonathan Grimwood, Mini Reviews, Robin Sloan