Friday, 30 August 2013

The Absolutist

The Absolutist by John Boyne
Published 5 July 2012 by Black Swan
I like to read historical fiction and John Boyne has produced a stunning First World War novel encompassing the horrors of war and the fragility of humanity.
Tristan Sandler travels to Norwich to deliver a pack of letters to Marion Bancroft, sister to his comrade Will. The year is 1919.
In 1917, Will Bancroft laid down his gun in the trenches of Northern France and declared himself not just a conscientious objector to the war, but an absolutist. He was shot at dawn.
This novel is fierce and powerful, heart-wrenching and tragic. A must read.


Whisper by Chrissie Keighery
Published 1 July 2012 Templar
Whisper is a YA coming-of-age novel with a difference.
Demi contracts meningitis as a teenager. She recovers but she is left profoundly deaf. Her life is changed forever.
The novel focuses on how Demi learns to communicate again, to cope with a new school and make friends in a silent world. Alongside witnessing Demi's struggle, we see the affect of this life changing event on her family and friends.
Chrissie is Australian and a few Aussie expressions do creep into the novel which brought back afternoons of Home & Away! I felt it helped with the setting and the character's voice. I felt an emotional tie with Demi as I read her story.
Whisper is a very readable novel. I would recommend this book for a leisure read but it would also work well as a PHSE tie-in in the classroom.

Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Lockwood & Co: The Screaming Staircase

"Hauntings are our business..."
Lockwood & Co: The Screaming Staircase
Published 29 August 2013 Doubleday
I have two confessions...
1) I have NEVER read a Jonathan Stroud book before. I am aware this is a shocking error and shall have to be rectified before I end up in library purgatory.
2) I am a complete scaredy cat and do not read ghost stories.
So, when I received a review copy of Lockwood I was...unsure to say the least, but I thought give it a go - expand your reading horizons, and I am SO glad I did.
Ghosts are real. The Problem is widespread with many reports of Visitors and fatal cases of ghost-touch. In order to deal with The Problem, agencies started springing up, staffed by...well...children to assist the haunted. One such agency is Lockwood & Co. The book follows the Lockwood team on several of their cases.
I loved loved loved this book! It is exciting and unputdownable. The writing is utterly brilliant and so engaging I was drawn into the story from the start. The characters are fab, each with their own talents and strengths and equally needed to succeed as a team. I particularly like the charismatic Lockwood who I see as a young Cumberbatch!
The book was scary, with several scenes that left me wincing with quite vivid mental pictures - but as I said, I'm a big softy. I cannot wait to read more in this series, Lockwood is one of my best books of the year.
Thank you for the review copy, I'm off now to seek out Bartimaeus!


Friday, 23 August 2013

Langdown Manor

Langdown Manor by Sue Reid
Published 6 September 2012 Scholastic
After Penelope's mother dies, her father sends her away from India to stay with relatives in England.
Terribly homesick, Penelope soon realises only her small cousin Clemmie is keen to know her. Her aunt is cold and cousin Arabella is spiteful. Penelope finds solace in riding her horse, Starshine and soon finds herself falling for groomsman Fred.
Set in alternating chapters - one for the upstairs goings on and one for the downstairs servants, this historical Downton-esque teen fiction is a good read and shows well the social difference between the family and staff, the rich and the poor.
I look forward to reading what happens next. 

America Pacifica

America Pacifica by Anna North
Published 4 August 2011 Virago
A new ice age has come.
The world is freezing.
People are dying.
A new island is discovered hundreds of miles off America's coast, unaffected by the freezing conditions gripping the planet.
Ships set sail, making for the island of America Pacifica and a new life there under the governorship of Tyson, but not everything is how it was imagined in this dystopian thriller.
Darcy's mother, her protector in this harsh world, is missing. Will Darcy find out what happened? Will she find her mother? Or will Darcy be forced to face life on America Pacifica alone?
I really enjoyed reading America Pacifica and hope there will be a continuation to this gripping novel. A terrific debut from Anna North.  

Saturday, 17 August 2013

A Higher Call

A Higher Call by Adam Makos with Larry Alexander
Published 15 August 2013 Atlantic
"Can good men be found on both sides of a bad war?"
On December 20, 1943 in the skies over Germany, an American B-17 bomber and her crew are trying to make it back to England after a raid on Bremmen. The plane, 'Ye Olde Pub' has suffered severe damage, to the wing, nose and engines. Half of her rudder has been shot away and most of her guns have jammed. Inside, the crew aren't faring much better. One gunner, Ecky, is dead. Another, Russian has been shot and radio operator Pechout has frostbitten hands. Pilot  2nd Lieutenant Charlie Brown knows their chances of making it back are slim and so offers his crew the option to jump. Being POWs would at least mean survival rather than ditching into the North Sea. None of the crew jumped. "The Quiet Ones" as they were known, stayed together; Charlie, Pinky, Frenchy, Pechout, Blackie, Russian and Ecky.
Lieutenant Franz Stigler was walking across his airbase at Jever when the labouring bomber flew low over them. The German's couldn't believe the crew's audacity. Stigler was a fighter pilot, and a very successful one. He needed just three points - a bomber victory - to be awarded the Knights Cross, a sign of honour. The B-17 was his.
Once Franz was airborne, he quickly caught up with the bomber. As the gun turrets swung towards him, he aimed his guns back at the American plane - but neither fired. Franz couldn't understand why the bomber made no defence against his lone 109 fighter. Franz took a closer look at the bomber and realised how badly damaged she was. "Every foot of the bomber's metal had silver holes where the bullets had entered...". He saw the crew, the injured and the dead and he saw the course they were flying on - the quickest way out of Germany yet a line of defence stood in their way.
Rather than obey orders, rather than get his three points and his medal, rather than attack, Franz protected the B-17 and her crew by flying at her wing, over the line of battery gunners who were both taken by surprise and concerned not to hit their own fighter. He escorted them out to sea, signalling to the pilot to fly for Sweden and neutral territory. Charlie and his crew couldn't understand the German's actions and were aghast when they saw Franz salute them, and fly back towards the German coast. He had let them go. No, more than that, he had protected them and saluted them. It was an act of honour.
A Higher Call is the story of American 2nd Lieutenant Charlie Brown and German Lieutenant Franz Stigler. It tells of their growing up, their time in the forces and the harrowing missions they completed, and of their lives afterward. It is a truly remarkable story and one I am glad to know. At the time of the incident, "their heroism was being swept under the rug."Thanks to Adam Makos and Larry Alexander, that is no longer the case.
This book was sent to me for review. I have never read military non-fiction before and I know, with the amount of books I have yet to read, I would not have picked A Higher Call up from the shelf. Although interested in History, my family's contributions in World War II were for the Army - not the Air Force so I have no knowledge of planes, flying, ranks and operations. I do now. I am so very glad to have read these brave inspiring young men's stories. I found I was completely immersed in their experience. The book contains maps and photographs that helped me understand more of the mechanics and geography of the war in the air. The best part were the photographs of Franz, Charlie and the rest of the pilots that appear in the pages, to see those brave selfless young men.
Lest we forget. 

Wednesday, 14 August 2013


Longbourn by Jo Baker
Published 15 August 2013 Doubleday
Pride and Prejudice is one of my favourite books. It is witty and sharp and full of marvellous characters. I have re-read the book many times and am always on the lookout for more - the sequels, the what-if books that have been written in their dozens.
Longbourn is different. If, like Lady Catherine De Bourgh you think "I know it all!", think again for this is the servants story. It tells of Mr and Mrs Hill, Sarah, Polly and newcomer James. Of cleaning and cooking, sweeping and mending. Of love and desire and secrets and loss.
I really enjoyed this book - the scenes of domesticity and seeing the Bennet family though the eyes of the help.
Thank you so much for the proof, Longbourn is a welcome addition to my bookcase and I hope it shall be for yours.

New England Rocks

New England Rocks by Christina Courtenay
Published 14 August 2013 Choc Lit Rocks
I have always had a soft spot for Choc Lit publishers and was thrilled when they announced the launch of their new YA imprint Choc Lit Rocks.
New England Rocks is the first title for this imprint, itself the first in a series by award-winning author Christina Courtenay.
I love reading about New England and was excited to read this novel. It has a very cool contemporary cover featuring main character Rain.
Rain has been expelled from her British boarding school for bad behaviour and, in order to teach her a lesson, her titled father demands she attend the high school local to their home in New England, USA. Rain is furious and determined she won't be staying, but a few encounters with high-school-hottie Jesse just may change her mind.
Now for the painful part. New England Rocks did not rock my world. I read a lot of YA fiction and there is a need for more contemporary romance in the market. Authors like Simone Elkeles and Jennifer E. Smith can't do it all on their own! I finished it, but this novel seemed too coincidental...too contrived. I can't see a titled, educated and successful man like Rain's father interrupting her top-level education by sending her to a local high school to do home economics.

I find Jesse mediocre. His description fits the hot rock star persona but his demeanour just doesn't cut it - he's not bad enough! With his family situation on top you'd expect him to be more angry loner, determined to succeed on his own terms. Rain herself I found a contradiction. She has no qualms in downing tequila and driving the 'Lambo' without a licence but then she's looking for someone to cover for her while she goes to see the band. Doesn't add up.

Lastly, the New England thing was disappointing. The Fall foliage is mentioned towards the end of the novel but other than that the book could have been set in Anywhere, USA. No covered bridges, clapperboard houses, trips to the Cape or mentions of Harvard.

Overall, New England Rocks didn't quite work for me.   

Wednesday, 7 August 2013

The Disgrace of Kitty Grey

The Disgrace of Kitty Grey
The Disgrace of Kitty Grey by Mary Hooper
(Proof Copy)
Published 9 May 2013 Bloomsbury
I am a huge fan of Mary Hooper's historical teen fiction so when a friend passed this proof on to me I was thrilled.
Kitty is a dairymaid in the 1800s. She loves her work and her cows and her sweetheart Will, the local ferryman.
When Will disappears leaving his little sister with Kitty, she is furious - sure he has abandoned them to make his fortune in London. When her mistress askes Kitty to collect Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice from a bookshop in London (nice tie with the P&P 200th birthday!), Kitty is only too happy to oblige. Just how hard would it be to find Will in London and reunite him with his sister? Poor country Kitty has no idea.
The novel is well paced and wonderfully descriptive - I flew through this book reading of all of Kitty's trials and tribulations. The character of Kitty is very likeable. She's a good girl so her desperate plight was distressing in places.
As always, Mary Hooper's historical settings are magical and the novel includes some historical notes on Newgate Prison and transportation as well as a butter-making method perfect for your inner dairymaid!


Monday, 5 August 2013

Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald

Z by Therese Anne Fowler
Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald by Therese Anne Fowler
Published 11 April 2013 Two Roads Books
This book is almost required reading for me and so thank you Lisa for the ARC. I adored The Paris Wife by Paula McLain - the story of Hemingway's hard-done-to wife Hadley and so when I read about Z, it went straight onto my TBR list. I was not disappointed.
Z is the story of the first flapper, Zelda Sayre, later Fitzgerald. It begins in Montgomery, Alabama with a very young, bold, effervescent Zelda living life just the way she wants to. She has beau's a-plenty and is the life of the party when she meets Lieutenant Scott Fitzgerald - and the rest, as they say, is history.
The Fitzgerald's are the glitterati, the glamour, the champagne fizz - everyone wants a piece. They live in an exhausting New York whirlwind of gaiety but alongside this is Scott's competitive struggle to go one better with his writing. To be the best, the one, celebrated and Zelda was right there - his muse, his accompaniment, his co-star and lastly, his wife.
As they travel through Europe and even to Africa, meeting Hemingway, Stein, Porter, Pound and Picasso we see the Fitzgerald elastic stretch and eventually snap.
Zelda's frustration, need and helplessness make Z a very emotional read. As I was reading I would think she's only 23, 25, 28 years old. What a life, a sad life.
Z is a love story, a tragedy, a wonderful novel. Upon finishing it I felt exhausted - but I loved it. Well done Therese for giving Zelda Fitzgerald a voice.

Saturday, 3 August 2013

Island Wife

Island Wife, Judy Fairbairns, front cover
Island Wife by Judy Fairbairns
Published March 28, 2013 Two Roads Books
A fascinating memoir of Hebridean family life.
Judy and Alex meet and marry. Judy goes from being a nineteen year old city girl to a busy wife and mother on a successful farm when the opportunity arises to move to Tapsalteerie - a Hebridean estate - and Alex and Judy take it. 
Now an island wife, she has "...a full hand and no mistake..." with a husband, five children, Granny-at-the-Gate and numerous animals let alone the hundreds of visitors to the family's B&B, whale watching business and recording studio. We read about their lives throughout the coldest Winter on record...and beyond.
Told with candour and humour, this book holds marvellous descriptions of a beautiful, rugged, untamed landscape - I had to keep Googling flora and fauna!
Amusing one minute, heartbreaking the next - Island Wife is the story of one woman's struggle to find happiness on what must have felt like the edge of the world.

Thursday, 1 August 2013

Mr Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore

Mr Penumbra's 24 Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan
Mr Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan
Published August 1 2013 Atlantic Books
Before I begin, I feel I must first point out that this review has not been written in Gerritszoon font. I am sorry.
I was sent a proof copy of this novel under absolute secrecy. It arrived at work and was, thankfully, labelled Open in Secret! thus avoiding any awkward conversations with colleagues.
When I did get to a suitable spot and opened the pages - what a joy! Mr Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore is such a clever novel. Original, multi-faceted, a real gem that mixes tradition with technology in a fascinating way that challenges the way you think about books.
I cannot say too much. If you should happen to acquire this book, guard it well. Read it, enjoy it, and although you shall be bursting at the seams to discuss it, carefully speak of it only to trusted parties.
Festina Lente
*Thank you Atlantic books for the proof. Love the post-its and the FLC logo stamp!*