Having just missed one hundred books in the first year of The Book Challenge, in 2010, I made the full tonne. Still reading, but without the challenge, take a look at the reviews for the books that I have read this year.

Saturday, 12 August 2017

Book 222 - Magician by Raymond E Feist

Book - Magician
Author - Raymond E Feist
Year - 1983
Pages - 681 (Author's Preferred Edition)
Genre - Fantasy
Series - The Riftwar Saga
Recommended by Adam Newell

For us teachers, it is the summer holidays, and that means three things can happen - catch up on television, catch up with friends and catch up on reading. This feels like a nice situation where all of them combine.

Having spent years waiting for the next in the A Song of Ice and Fire series by George R R Martin to be released, I finally caved and decided I'd rather not be spoiled and would watch the TV series.  These are the greatest books ever and I cannot recommend them highly enough, but also, do watch the TV series.  It is a fantastic adaptation of the books.

As I was piling through them, my housemate from university, Adam, got in touch.  I have Adam to thank for getting me into this series of books as he lent me A Game of Thrones when we first got to uni.  It got me to thinking about the only book that he held in higher esteem, and despite itching to reread (for the sixth time) Martin's books, I thought I should revisit this classic.

And very glad I was that I did.  This book has all of the hallmarks of the greatest of high fantasy - battles, wars, dragons, elves, dwarves - and characters that transport you.  Set in the world of Midkemia, we follow the magician's apprentice, Pug, as their world is invaded by warriors from the world of Kelewan.  With a shifting viewpoint, we discover what is happening on both worlds and the book covers years and years of the war, giving it a scale that you rarely see in just one book.

Whilst by no means the first fantasy book of this scale and influence (I think Tolkien has that wrapped up, even if there are technically earlier) it still predates many of the books that we see as classics of the genre, and I don't think it would be an exaggeration to say that Magician is an influence on many of them.  It is also the start of a whole new world of stories from this universe.  I read most of them about fifteen years ago, but Feist has released many more since.  I think that this warrants a series reread!

In a moment of great timing as well, I am quite hungover this morning from meeting up with Adam and his fiancee (together all the way through from university!) Alex last night, and awoke to finish the book off.  Adam deserves credit for leading me in the right direction on so many fantasy novels, and it was a genuine treat to see them again after many years.  Thank you!

10/10

Thursday, 20 April 2017

Book 221 - Titan Sinking by James Dixon

Book - Titan Sinking
Author - James Dixon
Year - 2014
Genre - Non-Fiction (Wrestling)
Pages - 221

Before I start talking wrestling - because I know that it is not necessarily the kind of thing that dozens of you who read this (if I manage to reach dozens!) are particularly interested in - I should say that I have started numbering books differently.  I have added up all of the books that I have reveiwed her on my little blog and this is number 221.  So that is how I shall do it from now on.

On to the important thing of talking rasslin!  Titan Sinking documents the intricacies of 1995 in the then WWF.  Wrestling fans of the time will know that as an annus horribilus for the company.  Vince McMahon was fresh off of a grand jury trial suggesting that he was supplying steroids to his workers, and as a result he got rid of many of the huge muscle bound stars that were in the fed at the time.  This left a massive gap, and we who are inclined to look back fondly tend to remember the likes of Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels coming to the forefront and becoming stars.  We try and push back the fact that this year also saw the debuts of Duke Droese, the wrestling binman, TJ Hopper, the wrestling plumber, and Mantaur, a wrestling bull.  No, really.  This is the period in time that when I am teased for liking to watch two half naked men pretend to fight each other, I can look back and think that at least I am not watching an evil dentist fight a clown.

This makes it an interesting period to look at, so I eagerly bought this and tucked straight in.  At first, I was a little underwhelmed.  Dixon has a tendency to write as though he was there - mentions of Vince sighing and putting his head back in his chair for instance - that I don't think work very well in a historical look at things.  However, it didn't take long for me to change my tune.  This book is incredibly well researched, and presented in an engaging and entertaining way.  There is somewhat of an over reliance on two or three sources - Jim Cornette and Bob Holly seem to have something to say about everything - but I will genuinely forgive this for the fact that it shows that it has been researched!  The temptation to include unfounded gossip must be great, but when that happens, Dixon is clear that this is what it is.  His seven or eight pages on the Randy Savage and Vince's daughter Stephanie rumours are wonderfully written and the best thing that I have seen on that possible event.

What I find interesting about this book aside from the wrestling, is that I do believe that it is self published.  I don't know too much about how this works, but it seems that with my Amazon Prime membership, I may be able to read this book - and his two follow up books - for free.  But I feel this would be taking money away from someone who is doing a great thing and putting a dream out there.  As a result, I am reluctant to do so, and although they are pretty expensive, I would like to save a little and get them in paper form I think.  If anyone knows anything different to this on how it works, then let me know as I would be very interested to find out more.

9/10

Thursday, 13 April 2017

American Gods - Neil Gaiman

Book - American Gods
Author - Neil Gaiman
Year - 2001
Genre - Fantasy
Pages - 635
Bought for me by Alex Campbell

Three years.  Three years since I reviewed a book on here.  And the really shameful thing is that in that time, I have hardly read anything!  Some plays and books for work, but not really very much in the way of things for myself.  That is, quite frankly, a little embarrassing.

However, I was bought this book for my birthday last week with the recommendation to read it before the TV series starts at the end of the month.  In my haste to avoid spoilers at all costs, and to make sure I read the book before I watch anything on screen, I thought I had best give it a go.

American Gods has a fantastic premise.  What if all of the gods that had ever existed actually did exist?  And what if they continued to exist to this day?  What if the only thing that meant a god could exist was someones continued belief in them?  What new gods would we be seeing formed before our eyes as we start to worship new things?

Shadow is a prisoner who starts to find out the answers to these questions.  Along with the premise, which is very much up my alley, Shadow is one of the best things about this book.  He is a strong, silent type who comes across as highly relatable, despite being nothing like me, or probably you.  He is the perfect connector between reader and story and goes a long way towards making the book a success.

An interesting writing approach also comes in the way that Gaiman peppers the book with sub stories.  We will occasionally take a small break from the main story to look at a smaller one in another part of America, or another time zone completely.  Most of these have some relevance to the main story.  Others just add depth and colour.  I would often find this a little frustrating, but they are wonderfully written and one in the middle in particular - spanning an impressive eighteen pages - could work as its own novella.

I urge anyone to read the book before they watch the film or TV version, and this is a must here.  It is a brilliant read that I have gotten through in a few days, and considering I have been on quite the reading hiatus, that is an impressive feat.  The trailer for the show looks good (and stars Ricky Whittle as Shadow, who, despite not being how I pictured him in my mind, had already struck me as the perfect choice), but nothing compares to reading first.

10/10

Saturday, 7 June 2014

Book 13 - Geek Girl

(note:  this is a review taken from the challenge that I undertook with my year seven class in 2013.  See here for my explanation of it)

Book - Geek Girl
Author - Holly Smale
Year - 2013
Genre - Teen Fiction
Pages - 356

This book was recommended to me by Rachel.  I had seen it displayed quite prominently in several bookshops over the past few months, and so knew that it would be a popular book amongst teens at the moment.  I cannot say that it is the kind of thing that I would usually read, and - if I am entirely honest - it struck me as a 'girls' book.

The book focuses on Harriet, a self confessed geek, who is dragged along to a fashion fair by her friend Nat, who wants more than anything in the world to be a model.  However, things don't go entirely to plan when it is not Nat who is spotted by the agents, but instead Harriet herself.  For someone who has always professed to hate fashion, how will she cope with the idea that she could be a model?

As I mentioned before, I approached this with the idea that it was a book for girls.  Whilst there is no denying that this is the prime target of Geek Girl, I have to say that I absolutely loved it.  Smale is a very talented writer who has created such amazing and likeable characters that it is incredibly easy to become fully absorbed in her world.  The storyline is not something that holds any interest to me, but through great writing and wonderful characterisation, I was so hooked that I read the whole book in one sitting.

If you are a teenage girl, then this is the book for you.  However, if you are not then don't discount it.  Reading books that you never usually would and loving them is exactly the kind of thing that makes this challenge worthwhile.

10/10

Book 12 - Twelve Minutes to Midnight

(note:  this is a review taken from the challenge that I undertook with my year seven class in 2013.  See here for my explanation of it)

Book - Twelve Minutes to Midnight
Author - Christopher Edge
Year - 2012
Genre - Fantasy
Pages - 256

This book was recommended to me by Paige.  She decided after only a few pages that she was not very impressed by it, so I shall be interested to see if my opinions are different, or if her opinions change as she finishes it.

It is the late nineteenth century and Penny has become one of the most successful writers in London.  This is despite her being only thirteen years old.  Despite writing under a pseudonym, she quickly becomes caught up in mystery when all of the inmates at Bedlam Asylum start to write unusual things at exactly twelve minutes to midnight each night.

When I started the book, I was ready to agree with Paige.  To start with I am not sure that it is the most interesting thing I have read recently.  However, once I got past the slightly gothic nature of the beginning, I found myself getting more and more into the plot of the book.  The slightly magical nature of much of it was interesting, and I think the main point behind the book was excellent.  However, I did want things to develop far more than they did.  Everything seemed to come to a close a little to quickly, when I could see the potential for it to carry on for further than just this book.

As I understand it, this is the first part of a series.  I would be interested to see how Edge develops his characters, and despite being a little disappointed with some elements of this book, I would still give the next one a go.

7/10

Book 11 - Love Lessons

(note:  this is a review taken from the challenge that I undertook with my year seven class in 2013.  See here for my explanation of it.  This one has a proper edit at the end as well.)

Book - Love Lessons
Author - Jacqueline Wilson
Year - 2007
Genre - Romance
Pages - 264

This book was the recommendation of Sophie.  I am aware of Jacqueline Wilson - she was my little sister's favourite author as she was growing up, and as a result there were loads of her books around our house - and I have read one or two of her books.  However, she is a very prolific writer so there will always be plenty more to go, and this was not a book that I had come across before.

Prudence and her sister Grace are home schooled by their overbearing father, but when Prudence starts to rebel against him, he suffers from a stroke.  Whilst he recovers in hospital there is no option for Grace and Pru to start at the local secondary school, but for someone who has spent almost her entire life being schooled from home, Pru has a lot of difficulty fitting in, and causes plenty of problems along the way.

Wilson is famous for writing books for children about real issues, and in that regard, all of the books that I have read before by her have done very well.  There are believable real characters and no punches are pulled when it comes to talking about the world.  However, I found this book to be less real, and at times rather uncomfortable.  Prudence herself is not a particularly likable character, and she starts to grate from rather early in the book.  You can understand why, but it does not do a lot to improve the readers enjoyment of the book.  As the story goes on it becomes morally dubious and I am not sure that it is a book that I would ever recommend.

As an author, Wilson is still incredible, and I would recommend that you try reading one of her books - maybe Double Trouble or one of the Tracey Beaker books, but I cannot say that this book was one that I particularly enjoyed or would suggest you read.

(edit:  The thing I didn't really want to go into here with regards to the review appearing on a blog for a year seven class, is that this book goes a bit beyond being 'morally dubious' as I suggest above.  The main thread of the story is about the lead character, a teenage schoolgirl, falling for her teacher, and him reciprocating.  I tend to believe that there is no problem with promoting some serious issues in books for teenagers, so would applaud this approach by Wilson - indeed something she is well known for doing - if it were not for the fact that she treats this as though it is something perfectly natural, and there are no consequences for anyone as a result of it.  I didn't like the insinuations behind this, and as a huge children's author, I actually found it pretty irresponsible of Wilson to suggest that it is the kind of thing that is not a problem.  It is treated like no big deal by the end of the book, when in actuality he is predatory and in real life his actions would have had a lasting effect on this girl. I can't believe that someone of Wilson's standing would not make a point of suggesting that anyone in that situation should talk to someone about it rather than thinking it will all be fine.)
4/10

Book 10 - Framed


(note:  this is a review taken from the challenge that I undertook with my year seven class in 2013.  See here for my explanation of it)

Book - Framed
Author - Frank Cottrell Boyce
Year - 2005
Genre - Adventure
Pages - 320

This book was recommended to me by Brooke, and from the start was one I was looking forward to reading.  Boyce is a writer whose books I have been recommended several times, and he has become even more famous in the past year for having written a large part of the opening to the London Summer Olympics in 2012.

Framed tells of a boy called Dylan who lives in a town in North Wales.  His quiet life changes when an old mine in the town becomes the place in which incredibly expensive paintings are hidden by London's National Gallery.

The strongest part of this book is the characterisation.  You find as you read it that you fully believe in all of these unusual characters from a little Welsh town.  Dylan himself is a great character, and Frank Cottrell Boyce manages to mix together a strong character with traits of naivity and humour in order to make him an incredibly engaging person to read about.

Many of my friends who have recommended reading Boyce's books only started reading his stuff as adults themselves, and in that regard, despite this being a book aimed at children, I certainly believe that it can go beyond that and be read by anyone of any age.  I know that I certainly intend to give some of his other work a go.

8/10