Book Reviews

Welcome to my Book Reviews!
Only my last 20 reviews show up here because in the way of all things techno-babble, every new review pushes an old one into the ether. If you’re really keen, you can see all my reviews on Goodreads here.
In case you’re wondering why I don’t include synopsises synopses a synopsis, it’s because of how I read reviews.
First, when I’m deciding on the next book to read, I read the publisher’s blurb. They’ve put a lot of time and effort into getting that just right so if it doesn’t grab me, no-one else’s summary is likely to do any better, no matter how well written.
Next I scan a few dozen reviews. I like to know what people think about the book: what moved them, what put them off, whether they want to read more. So the last thing I want is a few dozen almost identical summaries to destroy the excitement.
I like to keep the review as short as I can, but as you can tell, sometimes I waffle a bit. Especially if it’s really good. Or really bad not as good.
You can click on any title to be redirected to the original on Goodreads (you don’t need to be a member): then you can access other people’s reviews and the blurb and the many versions of the synopsii I left out. And if you make it through all of this, the graceful Margot likes grasses, insects and snails, but don’t feed her bread.


  • Review: The Desert Nurse

    The Desert NurseThe Desert Nurse by Pamela Hart

    My rating: 5 of 5 stars

    An exquisite, evocative, and powerful read!

    Reading The Desert Nurse was like learning about the horrors of WWI all over again. I cried tears of pain, exhaustion, and frustration, and yet more tears of hurt and anger.

    But I was also overwhelmed with pride, respect, and love.

    I’ve heard what it’s like for the men as they wait for battle to engage, of time spent trying not to think of the coming violence, or the inevitable suffering as they or their friends face pain, maiming, and death.

    But this story, so long overdue, tells what it was like for the women – not the women at home, but the nurses right behind the front line as they try not to think of the intense surgery to come, for the overwhelming numbers of dead and dying, for the men they know they can do little or nothing for, and for the hope they can save more than they lose when the fighting starts.

    From the opening scene, filled with a concise and unadulterated reality of the sexism women faced then (and many still face now), Hart demonstrates her excellent power over words. She sweeps you from Victoria Barracks in Sydney to Heliopolis Palace in Cairo with a single line of text, saving everything for the front line where she immerses you in Evelyn’s war: one-hundred-plus non-stop pages of it.

    And still they came, stretcher after stretcher, shrapnel wounds and gunshot wounds and bayonet wounds, broken ankles which had to be set and pinned, and, worst of all, amputations.

    Try not to feel Evelyn’s exhaustion with her, her elation, her suffering; her brave face and her putting aside of emotion to deal with literal life and death. Try not to experience an assault on your senses.

    As usual, Hart’s men are deep, complex, yet retain their own strength and masculinity. The lives of soldiers are full of small unrecognized acts of bravery, and sometimes the greatest of these aren’t celebrated publicly. Linus’s rescue attempt is one such example and honours so many men and women.

    And I still can’t read the eleventh of the eleventh ending without tears springing to my eyes like I’m really there.

    An outstandingly gorgeous story that fills a giant hole in our history; schools would do well to include it on their curricula.

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  • Review: The Girl Before

    The Girl BeforeThe Girl Before by J.P. Delaney

    My rating: 5 of 5 stars

    Ok I admit it, I avoided reading The Girl Before because I just couldn’t face yet another ‘girl’ book – until, that is, a friend insisted I would love it.

    And love it I did!

    Delaney drip-fed me just the right amount of info to make me think I knew the facts, and just enough clues to think I knew everything. I was busily updating my guesses, mapping and re-mapping events and motives in my mind, feeling completely in control right up until the bombshell-moment that I did not see coming.

    I loved the paralleling of the two girls’ stories, the way Delaney sometimes used repetition, sometimes left things unsaid (but obvious).

    More than anything (and no matter what happened later) I loved the way Emma’s brokenness was portrayed: the shame she felt after a sexual assault, and her twisted need for acceptance. As alien as parts of her character were to me, I have no doubt they are real and valid to some.

    Let this be a lesson to me to never judge a book by its title!

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  • Review: A People’s History of the Vampire Uprising

    A People's History of the Vampire UprisingA People’s History of the Vampire Uprising by Raymond A. Villareal

    My rating: 3 of 5 stars

    I pretty much always love a genre-crossover but this one pushed even my limits. Imagine reading World War Z with every 4th or 5th chapter replaced with a chapter from An Introduction to International Criminal Law and Procedure. No offence meant to the legal profession, but even lawyers skip at least some legalese.

    Having said that, the story is meant to be told after the fact, and is written from the perspective of a person having thoroughly researched many sources, so of course legal transcripts are going to form a part of that.

    I adapted.

    But even putting the clashing genres aside, I was pulled out of the story too many times: a segment supposedly occurring in Australia’s Melbourne was entirely American—complete with cowboy hat; an interviewee’s recall of a meeting at least two and a half years ago not only details the exact meals both of them ate but also recalls information about the feral pigeons cruising the cafe (I’m a bird-nerd and even I ain’t gonna be able to remember those details unless it was a particularly life-changing meeting); and odd emotional reactions such as the occasional unwarranted shouting in mid-conversations or an ultra-quick recovery from the murder of a much-loved relative.

    And as for one particular unwitnessed murder towards the end, how do we know what they whispered? No-one else was there! Unless the murderer is the writer (which doesn’t match up with what we know) this is all guesswork. And yet the introduction clearly states that ‘other accounts’ are negligent at best, their prose too concerned with the salacious details of irrelevant events (not that I’m accusing said pigeons of being salacious exactly).

    Possibly the most annoying of all is that the uprising of the title hasn’t finished, so don’t expect any closure. None. Come on! You can’t have all that build-up and hint-dropping like we never had a chance or many people would point to that day as the last time the human majority felt any sympathy with the Gloaming minority without something actually happening afterwards to look back from.

    And yet I couldn’t put the book down. Despite its inconsistencies, A People’s History is compelling reading.

    I can imagine it being found a couple of hundred years from now—considering its ‘expert’ feel, would people treat it as truth? Or would our future selves, knowing it be fiction, wonder what else we faked? The holocaust? Vietnam? Trump?

    A movie version would lose a lot of that, but at least then I should get my closure!

    I received a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review

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  • Review: Throne of Glass

    Throne of Glass (Throne of Glass, #1)Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas

    My rating: 5 of 5 stars

    What a beautiful breath of fresh air this is! A return to fantasies of old!

    I can’t sing the praises of this book enough, but I’ll try.

    Firstly, Maas draws fully-formed and multi-dimensional characters: the baddies aren’t all bad, the good have done things they shouldn’t have, even the bit-players have personality.

    Our first introduction to the world is from the point of view of a have-not. We see the wrongs of the kingdom and the suffering of its people and know its rulers to be cruel. The protagonist is believable and well-crafted and the balance between back-story and actual story is perfect. But when we see the world from the perspective of one of those haves it turns out not all is as it seems: the antagonists are just as deep, just as full of drive. We begin to wonder if the protagonist has the right world-view even as we know she can’t be far wrong.

    Secondly, there’s the story itself. It grows. The plot is believable. New side-stories come in at the perfect times. The perspective changes at a pace to keep us interested as well as showing us more about the characters we’re so damn attached to already.

    But best of all, the ending is a double-whammy and is really what gives it the fifth star: not only does it all wrap up nicely at the end, but there are so many hints at hidden pasts and future alliances that I can’t wait to read the next one. I’m hooked!

    My only regret is that when I had the chance to buy the full set I only bought the first. (That, and I couldn’t put it down long enough to include any excerpts here. You’ll just have to read it for yourself.)

    It puts me in mind of Terry Goodkind’s Sword of Truth series * – not the storyline, but the breadth and depth and scope and the general way you just can’t be pulled out of the story even if you want to.

    Definitely one of my top reads for this year!

    * The early part of the series, when it was still great – say up to The Blood of the Fold or, at a push, The Faith of the Fallen.

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  • Review: The Paris Seamstress

    The Paris SeamstressThe Paris Seamstress by Natasha Lester

    My rating: 4 of 5 stars

    Yet another classic from Natasha Lester! Her depiction of life in troubled times, and the far-reaching effect this has on the self-confidence, contentment, and love-lives of so many people is outstanding.

    I admit it took me 169 pages to feel anything though: I couldn’t identify with the characters before then and maybe that’s why I found time confusing (was that night in Paris really just one night?). But it might be my own fault – I love Lester’s work so much I probably put unfair expectations on her.

    I was delighted not to pick all the resolutions – I love it when an author can keep me in suspense, making me feel so smug when all along she’s carefully in control. More than once I was blown away and moved to tears, or driven to feel her characters’ frustration.

    This is definitely a great read: beautifully executed, moving, passionate, and warm.

    I received a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest opinion

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  • Review: Before I Let You Go

    Before I Let You GoBefore I Let You Go by Kelly Rimmer

    My rating: 5 of 5 stars

    This is possibly the most realistic book I’ve had the pleasure of reading this year! Nothing is simple, no matter how it may seem like it is, and nothing gets resolved, no matter how obvious the path to resolution is to those of us on the outer.

    Rimmer says she had some prior knowledge and did a lot of research, but the result is so outstanding that I wonder she isn’t a psychologist herself.

    Firstly, to anyone who has never had to deal with a heroin addict, let me save you some bother – they can be the most abusive person you will ever meet. Even one who is a total stranger will appear to know exactly what to say to push all your buttons. They are hands-down the hardest people to deal with.

    But Rimmer managed to restore my empathy for those afflicted. She made me appreciate how complex the cause can be, and how convoluted the resolution is. As Rimmer herself says, “Addiction is ugly, but its victims each have a story and a life that matters.” Would I have been strong enough to do the same for my own sisters if they’d needed me this much? As much as I adore them, I sincerely doubt it.

    This book is beautifully done, and while I’ve always struggled with understanding addiction, I would never EVER see the answer as enacting a stupid law of criminalizing substance abuse in pregnancy.

    I challenge anyone to read this and think differently.

    Again as Rimmer says, “in a compassionate society, there has to be a better way”.

    I received a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

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  • Review: Mort

    Mort (Discworld, #4)Mort by Terry Pratchett

    My rating: 5 of 5 stars

    Poor Mort. Before he was apprenticed to Death it took two pages for his father to describe him in conversation:

    the sort of body that seems to be only marginally under its owner’s control…built out of knees…his legs go all over the place…his heart’s in the right place…couldn’t find his arse with both hands…sometimes he starts thinking so hard you has to hit him round the head to get his attention

    And once apprenticed, he has a hard time coming to terms with Death: mucking out his stables, walking through walls, and altering the very fabric of the multiverse through his actions.

    In Mort Pratchett’s style is a wicked mix of subtle and in-your-face, and puns within jokes are common (yes, he really said ‘fragrantly’):

    A lot of stories are told about scumble, and how it is made out on the damp marshes according to ancient recipes handed down rather unsteadily from father to son. It’s not true about the rats, or the snake heads, or the lead shot. The one about the dead sheep is a complete fabrication. We can lay to rest all the variations of the one about the trouser button. But the one about not letting it come into contact with metal is absolutely true, because when the landlord fragrantly shortchanged Mort and plonked the small heap of copper in a puddle of the stuff it immediately began to froth.

    Normally I find stopping to re-read a passage because the sequence is backwards (ie the effect comes before the cause) is annoying to the point of terminal, but with Pratchett it’s part of the joy–he makes you feel like you’re in on the joke:

    [Mort] drummed his fingers on the table, although the sound was surprisingly muted.
    ‘Sorry,’ said Cutwell. ‘I can’t get the hang of treacle sandwiches, either.’
    ‘I reckon the interface is moving at a slow walking pace,’ said Mort, licking his fingers absentmindedly.

    And sometimes he mixes poetic descriptions into the mix to really throw you offguard:

    It was midnight in Ankh-Morpork, but in the great twin city, the only difference between night and day was, well, it was darker. The markets were thronged, the spectators were still thickly clustered around the whore pits, runners-up in the city’s eternal and byzantine gang warfare drifted silently down through the chilly waters of the river with lead weights tied to their feet, dealers in various illegal and even illogical delights plied their sidelong trade, burglars burgled, knives flashed starlight in alleyways, astrologers started their day’s work and in The Shades a nightwatchman who had lost his way rang his bell and cried out: ‘Twelve o’clock and all’s arrrrgghhhh…’

    But more than anything, this is a moving story that will leave you feeling like you know Death a whole lot better–and maybe even feel a bit sorry for him.

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  • Review: Taming Toxic People (The science of identifying & dealing with psychopaths at work & at home)

    Taming Toxic People: The Science of Identifying and Dealing with Psychopaths at Work & at HomeTaming Toxic People: The Science of Identifying and Dealing with Psychopaths at Work & at Home by David Gillespie

    My rating: 5 of 5 stars

    After hearing Gillespie interviewed on ABC radio I was intrigued by the concept of psychopaths being far more prevalent than we think, but as soon as I started reading Taming Toxic People I recognized the traits in people I’ve known in my own life:

    …confuse the hell out of us…bizzare and highly unpredictable…callous and parasitic…obsessive micromanagers…workplace bullies…just as likely to chop off your hand as shake it…

    Gillespie uses comfortable and informal language (‘the names and many of the identifying circumstances have been changed to protect … well to stop me being sued’) to share his findings in the hope that we can ‘tame the tigers rather than cower before them’.

    He uses real life examples like Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, Ted Bundy, and Dr Patel and some not-so real life ones like James Bond and the replicants from Blade Runner to give us a meaningful perspective on the traits and behaviours of these toxic people.

    With practical instructions on how to deal with the psychopathic neighbour, parent, partner, child, or workmate, and tips on how companies can prevent psychopaths becoming entrenched in their workplaces (hint: by promoting honesty) this is an invaluable read.

    When you’re between a rock and a hard place you need to become the rock

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  • Review: The Death of Holden (The End of an Australian dream)

    The Death of Holden: The End of an Australian DreamThe Death of Holden: The End of an Australian Dream by Royce Kurmelovs

    My rating: 5 of 5 stars

    Kurmelovs must have done a mountain of research into what the media describes as a simple issue of cost-effectiveness – the result is a heart-rending story about the people it affects, people just like the rest of us, raising children and working to live.

    Local politicians positively spin the opening of the latest Hungry Jack’s franchise as ‘good for local jobs’ because the official youth unemployment rate in the area is pushing 17 per cent or higher.

    And yet the Australian car industry closure affects people raising those very youth, and what jobs can they look forward to? Are bartending and premium agriculture in the ‘New Economy’ of Tourism, Food, and Wine in a water-poor state secure jobs?

    All it would take is one bad recession, or one long drought, for it all to be wiped away again.

    And if you, like our governments, are thinking start-ups and tech will take the place of manufacturing jobs, think again.

    Guys popping rivets on cars and driving trucks aren’t going to be working in start-ups. They don’t even have the networks to get those jobs done.

    It would be easy to come away from reading this book feeling that it was just a series of stories, each with similar beginnings, similar twists, and very much the same endings. But that’s because the closure of the Holden plant in Australia isn’t just an isolated event, and it didn’t just affect a small group of people.

    If we are to understand how the transition from an industrial society to a post-industrial one will affect each and every one of us, then we need exposure to these stories because as this book shows us, the bland politicized statement ‘stop giving them handouts’ ultimately affects us all.

    I won a copy of this book in an on-line competition with Kill Your Darlings

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  • Review: Paramedico – Around The World By Ambulance

    Paramedico: Around the World by AmbulanceParamedico: Around the World by Ambulance by Benjamin Gilmour

    My rating: 5 of 5 stars

    It’s funny how clueless we can be when it comes to the way other countries do things that we in the first world take for granted. I thought all ambulance services were basically the same, with only tiny differences between adoption of new drugs or new techniques, perhaps a doctor on this one but not on that one. But I guarantee I will never see ambulances used to transport live goats and butchered meat to the poor in Australia like they do in Pakistan, home to the world’s largest private ambulance service.

    Time and time again my eyes were opened reading Paramedico.

    From South Africa where anything but a five-minute-scene-time is a fail (no matter what the injury, and closely monitored by stony-faced supervisors with stopwatches); to Macedonia where an elderly dehydrated and weak patient can be left at home on a drip with instructions on how to remove his own cannula; to Mexico where an elderly patient can break every bone in her body after being hit by a high speed car but gets no pain relief (but does get a ride to hospital filled with delays and jarring bumps).

    Ambulance ‘drivers’ in London who spend their work days transporting wealthy people to doctor’s appointments. Venetian paramedics who can’t give CPR because it just doesn’t work on a little boat. A Pakistani ED that miraculously clears in only a few hours after nineteen dead and fifty injured in a gruesome suicide bomb attack.

    And the different work ethics! Honestly they’re like something from a grim, dark comedy – drinking strong spirits on the job, strapping a colleague to a stretcher and dousing her in cold water for her birthday, jumping on each other in a huge pile, or selling gory photos to journalists; at the same time as some working 48 hour shifts, or dealing with ten or twenty gunshot murders in a shift. That’s TEN or TWENTY. Gunshot murders. Per shift.

    Equipment is hard to come by in many countries: some crews have to carefully ration their disposable latex gloves, many don’t have drugs – not even the drugs that revert a cardiac arrest.

    But perhaps my favourite eye-opener was how various control centres around the world treat their patients. In Macedonia call-takers abuse callers for ‘not being sick or injured enough’ and slam the phones down. In Pakistan, numbers are barred after a hoax call. A world away from the ‘every caller wins an ambulance’ of Australia.

    If you like having your eyes opened, if you like learning about how tough others have it without actually having to experience it, then this is a must-read. The only bad thing I have to say is that the section on Pakistan went on for too long – but there was an awful lot to tell there, so I get how that can happen.

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  • Review: Seven Days of Us

    Seven Days of UsSeven Days of Us by Francesca Hornak

    My rating: 4 of 5 stars

    A whole family in lockdown over Christmas? By choice? It may sound like a crazy setting for a story, (because we all know what families are like at Christmas, right?) but the characters themselves make for a compelling read.

    Each of them is selfish in their own way – the snobbish food critic father who thinks nothing of the restaurants he destroys in his column; the shallow younger daughter who thinks only of herself and her vision of a perfect life; the self-martyred mother and her self-martyred older daughter, both of them expecting everyone else’s undying gratitude for their choices. And all of them communicate poorly with each other, resulting in secrets.

    It’s inevitable that something has to give. And it does: in a kind of coming-of-age (albeit late) and mid-life-crisis combination that’s triggered when visitors arrive (they walk right past the innocuous sign that merely says ‘Please leave all deliveries here, as we are unable to sign’) and are forced to join them in quarantine.

    The story is told in alternating third person across about half a dozen characters, so it’s not a relaxing read (the constant perspective changes require too much attention). I found it best to read a chapter or two then put it down for later or I’d forget whose point of view I was reading and come to the wrong conclusions.

    There’s also an unfortunate mistake that destroys a pivotal part and broke the implicit trust between book and reader: the text says three people walk into the kitchen for The Discussion we’ve been eagerly anticipating but the next change of perspective only features two of the three characters, discussing the third like she’s not there. It sounds small, but it was confusing enough to pull me out right of the story at the worst possible time. Something went wrong off stage and we only find this out for sure two chapters later.

    But I loved that I didn’t see the end coming – it was well concealed and had me kicking myself for not noticing – and the epilogue is the most moving chapter of the book: so short, sweet, and perfect. But don’t jump to it – it will be meaningless and spoil absolutely everything!

    All in all, a very good read and a lovely insight into why people do what they do.

    I received a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

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  • Review: Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children

    Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children (Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children, #1)Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs

    My rating: 4 of 5 stars

    This is a good story and a great premise – an aging World War II veteran telling wild tales that couldn’t possibly be true, with the (obviously touched up to appear supernatural) photos to ‘prove’ them; and his sixteen-year old grandson who has never faced a real challenge in his easy life.

    Motivations and character quirks were believable and convincing: Jacob’s dad screeching with excitement when he spots a grace of Manx Shearwaters, seemingly oblivious to Jacob himself who’s nervous, seasick, cold, wet, and finally facing a serious challenge: birds being the last thing on his overworked mind.

    And in a good way, you can actually sense Riggs’ thought process – he finds a bunch of strange photos and wants to spin a story that balances credibility with fantasy so he creates a world behind those photos, inventing strange characters and impossibilities to match. The wights of the story are a good example that shouldn’t spoil anything: you know those old black and white photos you see where something’s gone wrong in the processing and the subject’s eyes seem all-white? They’re wights. And they have a background and a reason for existence that Riggs has created. And they’re as evil and scary as they look.

    Two parts felt forced though – without giving anything away there was a throwaway comment about an airport that jarred so much it screamed ‘clue’ and give away one of the big twists; and our attention drawn to a particular red LED light was so unsubtle it had only one obvious purpose, so I couldn’t help but glaze over the next few scenes until the purpose revealed itself.

    For the most part though the story flows nicely, reads well, and follows its internal logic. The issues relating to time are handled exceptionally well. Characters have their own unique quirks and voices and I could relate to and understand most of their motivations.

    This was definitely a book to get lost in, but I’m not driven to buy the next in the series.

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  • Review: The Light Fantastic

    The Light Fantastic (Discworld, #2)The Light Fantastic by Terry Pratchett

    My rating: 4 of 5 stars

    Pratchett’s world develops so much more in this, the second Discworld novel. The LIght Fantastic picks up where The Colour of Magic left off, following the bumbling adventures of Rincewind, Twoflower, and The Luggage.

    Pratchett’s similes are still unique, such as when describing the inside of a cloud –

    Rincewind looked around, but for all the variety and interest in the scene around him they might as well have been in the inside of a pingpong ball.

    – And so is his humour –

    Riding along with her were a number of swarthy men that will certainly be killed before too long anyway, so a description is probably not essential.

    – But his rambling has tightened considerably, such as this digression about honesty in reporting –

    Thus, if a legend said of a notable hero that ‘all men spoke of his prowess’ any bard who valued his life would add hastily ‘except for a couple of people in his home village who thought he was a liar, and quite a lot of other people who had never really heard of him.’ Poetic simile was strictly limited to statements like ‘his mighty steed was as fleet as the wind on a fairly calm day, say about Force Three’, and any loose talk about a beloved having a face that launched a thousand ships would have to be backed by evidence that the object of desire did indeed look like a bottle of champagne.

    Trust me, that’s tighter than in The Colour of Magic!

    And, (drumroll) only three footnotes!

    Also, I suspect the slip about the toothless Cohen the Barbarian ‘gritting his teeth’ was an intentional mistake because that’s just the kind of audience we Discworld readers love to discover and feel smart about.

    But it’s the foreshadowing I love the most, over short and long terms. A discussion about where Twoflower bought The Luggage introduces our first wandering shop (sorry, tabernae vagantes). Disappearing as suddenly as it appears, its passing leaves nothing behind but a blank brick wall. In our world, we probably think it’s a fly-by-night shop that shuts down almost as suddenly as it opens, a purveyor of quality $2 goods, but it has a much more fantastic reason for existence in The Light Fantastic. In the short term, we know not to trust an apparently blank brick wall our heroes later encounter, but it also comes up many books down the line in a Vimes story with far greater significance. Pratchett is a master of such foreshadowing (which helps in the rambling funny bits).

    Another talent that’s becoming stronger in The Light Fantastic is what I call the Pratchett Unsaids. You have to be alert at all times reading the Discworld novels, because while your mind is busy wandering off thinking about whether you need more chips, a paragraph with a hidden depth passes you by –

    Weems crept very cautiously through the scrubby, mist-laden trees. The pale damp air muffled all sounds, but he was certain that there had been nothing to hear for the past ten minutes. He turned around very slowly, and then allowed himself the luxury of a long, heartfelt sigh. He stepped back into the cover of the bushes.
    Something nudged the back of his knees, very gently. Something angular.
    He looked down. There seemed to be more feet down there than there ought to be.
    There was a short, sharp, snap.

    See? If you’re not paying attention, you have no idea that The Luggage just ate poor old Weems.

    All in all, The Light Fantastic is a far stronger and tighter story than in The Colour of Magic, and I can’t wait to get to reading the next one. Again. (It’s Equal Rites by the way. Yep. TP is king of the pun.)

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  • Review: The Girl With All The Gifts

    The Girl With All the GiftsThe Girl With All the Gifts by M.R. Carey

    My rating: 5 of 5 stars

    Before I read this, I thought zombies had run their course. I love them, but it seemed like everything had already been done. Huh. I was so wrong.

    I was initially intrigued because the book is all about ten year old Melanie; her views on the world, her struggle to find her place in it. Yet a ten year old protagonist means a young adult audience, and is usually written in first person, but The Girl With All The Gifts was neither of those things, yet both.

    Many of the concepts are adult – nazi-like lab experiments on children with no anaesthetic, discussions on the reproduction of zombies, the eating of a person alive and how that ‘food’ feels in your belly. Hawk, even the real-life existence of the cordyceps fungus of the ant world is not the stuff of young adult stories.

    Yet so many of the concepts are childlike, or at least adolescent – smelling flowers in a field for the first time, spending a night outside in the relative unsafety alone, or lying about events to protect the deemed innocence in parental figures.

    Melanie, too, is both – mature in her outlook and knowledge, yet childlike in her reactions and hopes (a little reminiscent of Data from Star Trek actually).

    And while everything is distinctly written in third person, Carey encapsulated thoughts and emotions so well it may as well have been written in first.

    Each character grows in harsh circumstances, each of them balance issues of trust and control, and each of them plumb their own depths in the process, sometimes surprising themselves with doing the ‘right’ thing and other times finding it wasn’t so ‘right’ after all. I will not give away the saddest and most complex of these issues, but as soon as I read this I cried and cursed and questioned right along with those involved –

    She didn’t want to trouble him with this stuff when he’s dying, but she won’t lie to him after he’s asked her for the truth.

    – and read the next five pages in a single breath.

    This is a beautiful exploration of an ugly dystopian world, and exceeds all of my expectations of a zombie story.

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  • Review: The Colour of Magic

    The Colour of Magic (Discworld, #1)The Colour of Magic by Terry Pratchett

    My rating: 4 of 5 stars

    Firstly, a word of warning – if you’ve never read anything in the Discworld series, do not start here! I recommend you start at least seven books in, maybe at Pyramids. All good comedy take a couple of episodes to find its feet and truly get underway.

    These days, if The Colour of Magic was sent to a publisher with a covering query letter, I imagine the publisher would reject it for its rambling, its groanable puns, and its use of the most non-recommended perspective ever (omniscient third person) – and that’s without discussing the cons and cons of using footnotes and a prologue. Lucky for us this book was published in a different era, with looser restrictions and far more love-of-story and trust in a then unknown!

    For lovers (and everyone else, those soon-to-be-lovers) of Discworld, this is a nostalgic look at Terry Pratchett’s early designs. A flat earth, carried on the backs of four elephants, who in turn stand on the back of a turtle. He’s still getting some of the finer points right (Death in particular, who never again has such emotion invested in reaping a soul, who never again actually kills someone himself).

    Pratchett has a rare and beautiful sense of personification, of intent in inanimate objects; take this example of a ride on the back of a dragon by someone scared of heights –

    The flat summit of the Wyrmberg rose up at them, lurched alarmingly, then somersaulted into a green blur that flashed by on either side. Tiny woods and fields blurred into a rushing patchwork. A brief silvery flash in the landscape may have been the little river that overflowed into the air at the plateau’s rim. Rincewind tried to force the memory out of his mind, but it was rather enjoying itself there, terrorizing the other occupants and kicking over the furniture.

    – his similes are incredibly unique –

    It sounded like the sort of scream that brings muscular help.

    – as is his imagery –

    It’s a little known but true fact that a two legged creature can usually beat a four legged creature over a short distance, simply because of the time it takes a quadruped to get its legs sorted out.

    This is a series where all the non-mainstream beliefs of humans (ok, crazy beliefs – and I’m looking at you, flat-earthers) are actually real, where a tiny imp sits inside a camera and paints pictures very quickly, where the speed of light is often overtaken by the speed of dark, where things exist simply because you believe in them, and where science is something too crazy to exist, and if you keep talking about it you’re liable to get yourself looked at funny.

    This is a great ‘flashback’ story after reading a few of the others, and a great insight into how Discworldians (particularly Ankh-Morporkians) think. I’m not a fan of Rincewind himself, and even though I would have loved to meet the luggage or Twoflower again one day, I’m glad Pratchett had so many more ideas to go on with.

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  • Review: And Thereby Hangs a Tale

    And Thereby Hangs a TaleAnd Thereby Hangs a Tale by Jeffrey Archer

    My rating: 5 of 5 stars

    Fifteen short stories, ten of them based on truth.

    Many are scams (which lovers of Not a Penny More, Not a Penny Less will recognize) – from an incredibly brazen heist, to an imaginative twist on the young-nurse-cheats-old-man’s-family-out-of-their-inheritance scam, and a cruel capitalization on being a doppleganger.

    But many more are sweet, or serve a deserving justice, are full of love, or just show the absurdity of man: as the story of a secret kept for eighty years, of being careful what you wish for, of true love starting at a set of traffic lights, or of a crazy way of establishing a new territory for one’s country will attest.

    And these are just the true ones!

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  • Review: Sully: My Search for What Really Matters

    Sully: My Search for What Really MattersSully: My Search for What Really Matters by Chesley B. Sullenberger

    My rating: 5 of 5 stars

    What I expected from this book was a small section of background, followed by the detail of the bird strikes and forced landing of Flight 1549, with the remaining half the book dedicated to the aftermath. Something a fly-nerd like me would love.

    What I got was so much richer! This wasn’t just a dramatization of the Air Crash Investigation episode. This was the full story of Captain Chesley B Sullenberger. This was his upbringing, his student pilot days, his immersion in flying, his dedication to bringing home his plane safe and whole, and the sacrifices this has cost him along the way.

    In short, it’s as the title says: Sully.

    Incredibly, and probably as a result of all the things he is, Sully manages to stay humble throughout. He shares the limelight with those who got him to where he is, from the test pilots who volunteer-ditched their beautiful B24 Liberators in Virginia’s James River, to Captain Ogg’s water-landing in the Pacific (I’m still crying over those canaries), to the entire crew involved in his now-famous water landing on the Hudson.

    It also contains my favourite instruction, one that I have always tried to live by (and one that should be bandied about more often, but this is only the second time I’ve ever heard it): aviate, navigate, communicate. Fly the plane, know where you’re flying it, tell someone where you’re flying it, in that order. Adaptably good advice for any stressful situation.

    This is a beautiful biography from a man of honour and I salute you, Captain Chesley Sullenberger.

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  • Review: Always And Forever

    Always And ForeverAlways And Forever by Cathy Kelly

    My rating: 4 of 5 stars

    This is the story of Leah, an enigmatic woman who works to achieve some kind of spiritual awareness in others, rather than the story of the three women around whom most of the story unfolds, and I liked the the way Kelly downplayed her role.

    Leah is kept out of most of the story and she’s very unsubtle when she does appear. In the meantime, we follow the lives of three other women, whose paths eventually cross, and who seem to have no idea of the transparent, obvious and well-meaning motives of Leah’s.

    I loved the realism of the characters, with their unrealistic ideas: Mel with her impossible workload, and low self-belief, just waiting to implode; Cleo, full of an intelligence and self-confidence that even her own family finds intimidating; and Daisy. Trusting, happy, centred Daisy. I suffered the most with her, especially during her fog-filled week of self-deluded bliss – it was so perfectly depicted.

    Kelly manages to show us these women’s journeys from two persepectives – ours, where we know or suspect the truth and foresee the imminent crashes; and theirs, where they are snug and secure, if slightly unbalanced, and have no idea of the disasters unfolding. And she still manages plenty of surprises for the reader.

    A beautiful and well-written saga, with no pat answers or resolutions.

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  • Review: Adventures of a Young Naturalist: The Zoo Quest Expeditions

    Adventures of a Young Naturalist: The Zoo Quest ExpeditionsAdventures of a Young Naturalist: The Zoo Quest Expeditions by David Attenborough

    My rating: 5 of 5 stars

    Reviewing Sir David Attenborough was always going to be a daunting prospect. After all, who am I? Do I really have the right to judge the greatest naturalist of the 20th century (if not of all time)? But I’m glad I didn’t let that stop me, because this is a beautiful story, reminiscent of Gerald Durrell’s expeditions to the pampas of South America, or even the Alby Mangels World Safaris (minus the women).

    Written in a time when naturalists captured more specimens than they filmed, when land was openly cleared and slashed and burned en masse, The Zoo Quest Expeditions document a different world, one rich and diverse yet inevitably heading towards the issues we face today.

    Sir David is just as humble on the page as he is on screen; and his love of nature and respect for people just as obvious. He is at times self-deprecating; at other times he crows with delight, certain in his knowledge and skills. And then, as in the ending, he’s so deadpan he’s hilarious (don’t jump to it or you’ll spoil it – you have to know why he says it first).

    At first I tried to force the distinctive Sir David voice in my head as I read, but I couldn’t do it. Not all that surprising when you compare his book self with his documentary self: think Sir David in an episode of Frozen Planet where he says nothing for whole minutes, until a polar bear enters the shot – and then he simply says ‘bears’. Now think Sir David on the page, with no such pictures to paint the story, where he is more like the Sir David of interviews, or his Natural Curiosities series.

    This is an outstanding episode in the life of Sir David Attenborough and a joy to read. No wonder it’s been resissued in time for Christmas!

    I received a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

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  • Review: A Question Of Trust

    A Question of TrustA Question of Trust by Penny Vincenzi

    My rating: 5 of 5 stars

    What a strangely compelling story – or is it a series of interwoven stories?

    It was not written in a style I would expect for a look into the hearts and souls of people living their lives, falling in love, and going through tragedies, because it was so detached. I never once felt I was there. Instead, I was an on-looker, like a bird flitting from flower to flower. And somehow, this made it even more real.

    Vincenzi takes me to each ‘flower’ and gives me a glimpse of their lives right there and then. Sometimes a major drama is unfolding, other times I’ve only just missed it and experience the aftermath instead, before she takes me to the next character.

    She also makes a game out of each chapter opening – who are we dealing with now? Try and guess by the events or the setting because they’re the only clues you’re going to get. One whole (very short) chapter never named a soul (and it was the most moving chapter of all). Usually I’d complain about being pulled out of the story to figure things out, but this time that whole flitting flower to flower thing meant I was never there in the first place. It honestly made this a mildly voyeuristic experience.

    But while Vincenzi’s characters felt like fond memories of old acquaintances, giving me that ‘I wonder what they’re doing now’ sensation, they were also real. I loved Tom. Then I hated him. Then I forgave him, laughed at him, and decided he just wasn’t the nicest flower in the bush. I was glad I can walk away from him. And it was all because he was more human than character. He wasn’t all good, he wasn’t all bad. He held stupid ideals to his heart and stood on useless principles. He meant well.

    I should also lay acclaim at the feet of the historic side of this story – especially the medical aspect. Sometimes that history was its own drawcard: I mean, really – did doctors actually used to put a cervical stitch in place for placenta praevia?! (Oh. Wait a minute. I just looked that up. We actually still do that. See what I mean? The things you can learn by reading fiction.)

    The most moving part for me, the flower that made the entire flight of fantasy so rich and rewarding, was the children. I don’t do spoilers, and there are a lot of children in this story, but you’ll know which ones I mean when you read it. Right near the end, their very last mention. That undid me and I cried as though a whole Hollywood orchestra told me to.

    This is well worth the read, and I’m glad I savoured it, took my time with it, and made the joy last a whole 10 days.

    I received a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

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