Friday, 18 November 2011

Between The Lines Is Back!

TA-DA! I'm back!

After much anticipation (and three exams, two assignments, a week of staying with a friend, a week of said friend staying with me, a two week holiday to Florida, and almost a week to recover from it all....) I am pleased to announce that Between The Lines Book Reviews is back on! I have missed doing the blog very much but unfortunately due to all the aforementioned commitments I just couldn't find the time to fit it in. Things seem to be quietening down a bit now, so I should hopefully be able to pick up where I left off. With a bit of luck I'll be able to carry on right through Christmas and New Year as well! Famous last words.....

Admittedly, I haven't had the time to do much reading over the last few weeks. Well, I was hoping to do loads when I was away, but my Kindle (which was the only reading material I took with me) decided it'd be a great idea to break on about the fourth day of my holiday. Cool. It was a fault with the Kindle itself, so I managed to get a replacement under the warranty, which arrived yesterday morning, so I have reloaded all my books and plan to get stuck back into them over the weekend! There are some fantastic-looking titles on there so look out for the reviews over the coming weeks.

However, those are not the only things to look forward to. I've got loads of interesting and exciting book-related things planned for the coming weeks and months so sit back and enjoy the ride :)

Have a great weekend everyone, whatever you're reading! :) x

Saturday, 24 September 2011

30 Week Book Challenge #2 - Your Least Favourite Book

I know this is slightly later than promised, but this week it's the turn of my least favourite book. I only very rarely put down a book halfway through reading it if I'm not enjoying it - I can't allow myself to do that as I feel I will never know what exciting thing might have been just over the next page...kind of an OCD thing, don't ask! So I've pushed myself to struggle through some really awful books during my time, but far and beyond all the others, the book I enjoyed the least has to be 'The Catcher in the Rye' by J. D. Salinger.

I know, I'm sure many of you are falling off your chairs at this as I know it's very popular and is even considered a 'classic' by some. If you are one of those people, I'm awfully sorry for not sharing your love. But seriously? I just didn't see the point. It was the most ridiculous, pointless book I ever read. In my opinion, it didn't have any plot to speak of, I didn't get along with any of the characters, and it was far too short.

My dislike of this book may have something to do with the fact that I read it as an early-teen, and so didn't appreciate it or its metaphors or social commentary or whatever it is that makes this book so popular. Whatever it was, I consider reading it as a waste of my time, hence why I won't ever be reading it again!

Friday, 23 September 2011

Book Beginnings On Friday

I know I've been rubbish this week, and I'm sorry. Does the fact that I have a French oral exam tomorrow count as an excuse? :) No? Oh well, worth a try...

However, I have still found time to fit in a Book Beginnings post. This is part of a weekly meme hosted at A Few More Pages. To participate, share the opening of whatever you're reading, along with your thoughts on just that beginning.

This week has seen me finally get round to starting 'Crazy in Paradise' by Deborah Brown. She sent it to me a few weeks ago, and I'm ashamed that it's taken me so long to get to! This is the author's short description of the book:

Madison Westin, the main character, inherits her aunt’s beachfront motel in the Florida Keys, or so she thinks. Tarpon Cove is not your typical sleepy beach town: Seduction, drunks, ex-cons and fugitives are not the usual fare for someone looking to start a new chapter in their life. Wrestling control of the property from both the lawyer and the conniving motel manager will be no easy feat. But Madison likes living on the edge so she feels right at home. Bullets fly, a dead body turns up, a kidnapping and blackmail. Madison really has to learn not to leave home without her Glock or it could get her killed.

I've been quite looking forward to reading it, as it sounds both fun and exciting. Anyway, here's the opening:

"There should be a law a person can't die in South Florida during the summer. The death of a loved one was hard enough without the added humiliation of sweat."

I like the wit in this! I imagine that if I lost one of my nearest and dearest, being a bit hot and sweaty would be the least of my concerns! If I were to look at just the first sentence, I would suggest it seems intriguing and a bit mysterious, with the hot, sticky summer weather making a great setting for a book of this type. However, when you include the second sentence as well, it really lightens the tone and - as inappropriate as it may sound - makes the event more fun. So far the rest of the book continues in this sort of style, and I'm really enjoying reading it!

In other news...

As I say, I know I've been slack this week, and next week will probably be the same, but hopefully I'll have this week's 30 Week Challenge post up this afternoon. As for reviews, I have a few piling up, so with a bit of luck I'll find the time to put the next one up this weekend. If I don't quite manage it, please bear with me!

Friday, 16 September 2011

Book Beginnings On Friday

Book Beginnings On Friday is a weekly meme hosted at A Few More Pages. To participate, all you have to do is share the opening of whatever you've been reading and your opinion of said beginning. Then just link it back and take a look at what everyone else is reading!

Recently my mum and I went on a bit of a book buying spree, and one of the titles we bought was 'Afterwards' by Rosamund Lupton, which I opened up and started reading last night. Here's the opening, which I have taken from the prologue:

"I couldn't move, not even a little finger or a flicker of an eye. I couldn't open my mouth to scream."

Wow. This grabbed my attention straight away! Why can't this person move anything? They can't be tied up or trapped because surely they would still be able to move their eye... And what is happening to them that's so scary they want to scream? Frightening stuff! I'm immediately keen to find out what has happened to this person and why... I have read on a bit further into the book but I don't want to give anything away!

I'm not exactly sure of the genre of this book - I think it's sort of like a mystery, but a very emotional one. Lupton has also written another book called 'Sister' prior to this, which I believe is a mystery although I haven't read it, so I assume that this is along the same sort of lines. Please do correct me if you've read 'Sister' and I've missed the mark completely. 'Afterwards' is written in an unusual style but you'll either have to wait for my review on it or read it yourself to see what I mean! All in all so far it looks like a good'un.

Have a good weekend folks x

Monday, 12 September 2011

30 Week Book Challenge #1 - Your Favourite Book

So here we are! The start of a 30 Week Book Challenge (meant to be 30 Day, but I decided I couldn't keep up with that) where each week I will share with you one of my picks on a given topic. Before I start, I'd better to say I nicked this challenge from here - that post, as well as all the participating posts after it, are written by the lovely Nadine Rose Larter, author of Coffee At Little Angels.

Anyway, first up is my favourite book. This is so much harder to choose than I expected! I enjoy so many books, and often I form some sort of emotional or meaningful attachment to them, that it's hard to choose one over the other. Nevertheless, after much deliberation, I have opted for a book which I haven't read in years, but which I plan to pick up again soon: 'The Clan of the Cave Bear' by Jean M. Auel.

No surprises - it's set at the time of the cavemen, when there were two tribes, one distinguished by their darker features, the other is known for the people's light colouring. The paler clan is more physically and psychologically advanced than the other, and one might say more 'clever'. One little girl from the lighter clan is orphaned, and taken in by the rival, darker clan, and throughout her life she both confuses and stuns her guardians with her bright mind.

Not my usual sort of book, I know, but somehow it has just always captured my interest. The era of the cavemen is one we know very little about, so perhaps it is this insight into their lives which intrigues me. Perhaps it was the allure of an exceptionally bright young girl being far more advanced than anyone she knows. Perhaps it's just the descriptive writing style or the plot. I'm not really sure why I like this book so much, but I just do!

It is the first of a series, but it is the only title I have read. From what I understand, the rest of the series goes a bit downhill, so I have no intention of reading anything else from it. I don't want to ruin the magic!

I originally saw and enjoyed the film version of this when I was tiny - I was probably only about 6 or 7 at the time - well before I ever knew it was a book. Some years later I saw the book for sale and couldn't resist buying it, which is a decision I'm really pleased I made! I must have been pre- or early-teen when I first read it, so it took me quite a while to get through (it's 587 pages) and some of it went over my head, but I really enjoyed it.

As I say, it's been years since I last read it, but recently I've put it back in my TBR pile, as I'd love to re-read it again and see if I still enjoy it much as I always did!

Friday, 9 September 2011

Book Beginnings On Friday

To tie in with the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks this Sunday, I will share the opening of 'That Day In September' by Artie Van Why, which I read this week.

Book Beginnings On Friday is a weekly meme hosted over at A Few More Pages. To participate, just share the opening of whatever you've been reading during the week, and if you wish, give your opinion of the opening. Then link back and see what everyone else is reading!

'That Day In September' is a personal memoir from a man who was working in New York at the time of the terrorist attacks. He witnessed everything first-hand and is now still struggling to come to terms with what he saw, right to this day. Here is the opening from his very emotional story:

"I want it to go away. I don't want it to have happened."

This is part of what the author has called a 'reflection', which makes up the first chapter, and it is all written in this style. Straight away you can just sense the emotion and anguish that the author must be feeling, and it sets the tone for what's to come. I can but imagine what it must have been like to be there, but this opening had me gripped straight away to read about a man's real-life experience, to give me more of an insight than the television pictures could ever give me.

If you're interested in reading more of my opinion on this book, you can read my full review which I posted this morning.

That Day In September - Artie Van Why

As it’s the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attack this Sunday, I have a review of a special book, ‘That Day in September’, by Artie Van Why, to mark the occasion.

On the 11th September 2001 two planes were flown into the Twin Towers in New York as part of a terrorist attack, which killed 2996 people and injured (physically and psychologically) many more. It was the day that changed the world.

I’m sure we all remember seeing the awful images which played out across our screens on that fateful day. The world watched in horror as innocent people lost their lives as a result of a minority group’s extremist views. Most of us can probably remember where we were and what we were doing when we heard the news, and it has stuck with us ever since. Artie Van Why certainly can – he was working in a building opposite one of the World Trade Centres when the first plane struck, and this is his story.

Artie left his building shortly after the first plane struck and headed out into the devastation. He stood amongst falling debris, watched helplessly as people fell to their deaths, and saw the second plane strike the other building. Amidst his fear, he attempted to give help to others where he could, but luckily he was unharmed throughout the whole experience. However, he has lived with what he saw every day since, and now that he has decided to put his story down in writing, he has been able to give those of us who weren’t there a glimpse of what it must have been like. His words are shocking, deeply saddening, inspirational, but most of all an incredible tribute to everyone who was there that day, and to everyone who lost their lives.

I was only nine when the attack happened, so don’t remember the moment I heard about it (probably because at the time I didn’t properly understand what it meant), but I remember sitting watching the pictures on TV later that evening, and over the following weeks and months. I’ve also seen loads of those documentaries and programmes which contain footage from the scene, and the one thing I have always found the hardest to watch, right from that first evening, are the pictures of people who felt they had no choice but to jump from the buildings, knowing full well that either way they were going to die. For me those pictures are the worst. That’s why, when I read that Artie watched some of those people, from right up close, my heart really went out to him as I can’t even begin to imagine what it must have actually felt like. That fear, that helplessness.

That’s the thing that comes across a lot throughout this account, is the complete dread and inability to anything that everyone there felt. This is an amazing first-hand account of what really happened, and although it’s the closest I’ll ever come to knowing what it was like, I’m sure it only scratches the surface.  Nevertheless, it is a heart-wrenching tale filled with emotion, right from the first page until the very last.

My mum always says I have an incredible ability to let upsetting things wash over me, and although I don’t see it as being ‘incredible’ (I just see it as being me), I am aware of the fact that I don’t let things bother me if they have any negative emotion attached to them. Don’t ask me how, that’s just what I do. I’m certainly not one for showing any sort of emotion – positive or negative – when I’m reading. However, the first page of ‘That Day In September’ had my eyes welling up, and from there it just went downhill! There were many times throughout the course of this memoir that I found the words blurring as I cried. I don’t know whether it was just the upsetting subject matter, the ‘realness’ of the first-hand account, or the emotional writing style which got me going, but either way I found this to be a deeply moving story.

Despite this, not all the emotions were negative. At several points I was astonished at the courage and selflessness that people there showed, Artie included. They had no reason to help anyone but themselves – the natural instinct would have been to run as far and as fast as a means of survival – but yet Mr. Van Why stopped to help a complete stranger. As I’m sure many survivors do, I think Artie feels he could have and should have done more to help or save others, but from what I read he already showed more courage and helpfulness than I could ever have done.

Furthermore, to be faced with so much death and destruction has turned many people away from religion, saying that if there was a God, He would never have let such an awful thing happen. Even people who were never there have lost their faith over the events they saw unfold. However, I find Artie inspirational and a breath of fresh air as he said the following: “You know, I don’t believe I had witnessed the wrath of anyone’s God that morning. What I had been a witness to when I looked up at those burning towers was the ultimate evil that man is capable of.” I find this quotation so deeply saddening that man can be capable of such atrocities, but at the same time refreshing to know that he doesn’t hold anyone accountable, doesn’t blame anyone, but those few, sick people whose idea it was.

This story is very short, as I devoured it in just half an hour – it was interesting, gripping and compelling. I found that the author didn’t go into huge amounts of detail or description, but this honestly didn’t bother me at all. I imagine that the scenes were so horrific that any survivors would have difficulty remembering the events in any great detail, as their minds must just have blocked everything out, so I was glad to read of exactly what Artie could remember. In addition, the story is so emotional and moving that if there had been any greater detail or description, it would have just been too hard to read. This may be a short book, but it was enough. I could put it away once I’d finished reading and move onto other things: the people who experienced it first-hand never can, and are living with it every day of their lives.

Needless to say, this book contains some very upsetting and sensitive subject matter, so may not be suitable for younger audiences. As I said, I’m a bit of a tough nut to crack, but even I cried at this, so please be aware of this if you have a more fragile disposition.

If you can spare just a small amount of your day to read this, I would recommend it. Whether you want to read a personal memoir, pay tribute to everyone who lost their lives, or simply gain a greater understanding of what it was like for those on the ground on the day, this book is worth it every time. I’m pleased that Mr. Van Why decided to pen his memories, as he has put down on paper his part in one of the biggest events in living history, which will help the future generations to learn about what happened, and hopefully it will keep the memories alive of all the people who lost their lives.

This is the type of event that only the people who were actually there will ever truly know what it felt like, but I feel like this story has certainly opened my eyes to what really happened and the consequences. I saw the pictures from afar, but now I see the personal side.

My deepest thanks to Mr. Van Why for sending me a copy to review. :)

A paperback version is currently available on Amazon for £5.62, or Kindle copies can be bought for £4.30 each. The author says that for him, this is not about making money, but rather it is about his story being told.

The BBC wrote a piece on the author earlier this month, which includes a small amount of what is covered in his book, as well as pictures and an audio clip of the man himself. Highly recommended extra reading!

Summary: A deeply moving, very personal account of a first-hand experience of 9/11
Rating: It feels crude to give this sort of book a rating, as it’s not about that, it’s about a man getting his story out. Nevertheless, if I had to, I’d have to give it the highest rating of 5/5 for the courage that he showed, and the very moving tale.

In memory of all 2996 people who lost their lives in the terrorist attacks of 11th September 2001. xXx

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

A Brief Interlude

Firstly, let me apologise, apologise, apologise for my absence over the last ten days...two weeks...three weeks... Goodness, I don't even know how long it's been! Time is flying! I have been up to my ears in work, so, much to my dismay, have had to put my blogging on hold for a while. I have been severely lax with my reading, reviewing, commenting, and networking, for which I am so sorry! However, I just wanted to let you know that I am still here and that I am coming back! Over the next couple of weeks I should be able to get back into this a lot more. Hopefully.

With regards to reviewing, it has been at least a week or two since I last posted anything which is something I vowed would never happen! But thankfully, I will be popping up within the next few days. I have a review which needs to be posted this week, next at the latest, so keep your eyes open for that! Hopefully that will go hand-in-hand with more reviews and the re-start of my Book Beginnings involvement.

Also, I have one other thing for you to look forward to! You know those 30 Day Challenges which have been floating about on cyberspace recently? Well I have found a book one (most of you have probably already done it, I know I'm a little slow), which I would love to share with you. I thought it'd be a good idea to share with you some brief opinions of mine on a wide range of books - I'm going to try and be varied, to show you that I do have some wider tastes! However, I don't want you to bombard you with posts every day (and, to be honest, I don't know that I'll keep up with it every single day), so I've decided to turn it into a '30 Week Challenge', giving you one post a week. That sounds like a fair deal to me! I'm really excited for it, and I hope you are too. I hope to be starting that soon, so please keep checking back :)

I think that's all for now. As I said, I just wanted to reassure you that I haven't fallen off the face of the planet, and to let you know that I have some exciting things up my sleeve. I hope all of you are keeping well, and I look forward to seeing you in a more formal, regular fashion again soon! :)

Friday, 26 August 2011

Book Beginnings On Friday

This week has been a bit manic for me, as I've got my final two assignments both due in on Wednesday so I've been busy trying to finish them in time. Apologies if my blogging has been a bit slow because of it! It also means that I haven't had much time to read, either, so haven't started anything new :( Instead, I'll share the beginning from 'Breakneck', by Erica Spindler, which I'm saving for a rainy day when I don't have a lot else to read.

This is my post for Book Beginnings On Friday, a weekly meme hosted at A Few More Pages. To take part, share the opening line of the book you're reading or will be reading soon, and give your opinion of the opening.

'Breakneck' is a thriller, but to be honest I didn't really pay much attention to the blurb before I bought it. Why? Because I found it in a £1 shop - yep, just £1 for a whole book whose RRP is 6.99! I just couldn't pass up that opportunity! Any book, with a cover that looks like it's my sort of thing, has got to be worth a pound. Into my basket it went, saved for that special occasion. Well, here's the opening:

"The kid's eyes snapped open. Matt Martin. Twenty-one-year-old computer-hacking loser. It took omly a moment for his expression to shift from sleepy confusion to horrified realization: there was a stranger in his bedroom. That stranger held a gun to his head, to the tender place between his eyes, just above the bridge of his nose."

Exciting! I normally prefer to give you just the opening sentence, but I thought this paragraph was too thrilling to keep it from you. I already have a million questions; who is this kid and what has happened to have him looking down the barrel of a gun? And who is it pointing the gun, and why? Waking up to find a stranger in the house is something I'm very fearful of, so to read this opening has fired up my adrenaline already. This has all the signs of a brilliant opening... I think I'm hooked!

Thursday, 25 August 2011

Die Laughing - Louis K. Lowy

It’s the 1950s and Sam E. Lakeside is an up-and-coming stand-up comedian who has just been given the opportunity of his life – to perform on the Steve Allen show. But before he makes it to stardom, he has a run-in with some shape-shifting, green-gas-shooting aliens, who, along with their leader, are trying to rob the Earth of its oil. Helping the aliens with their mission would shoot Sam into the nationwide limelight, but trying to save the planet would jeopardise his career and his big break. It’s a tough choice to make… If you’re a comedian and the world’s in your hands, it’s no laughing matter.

At first I was a little unsure about if I should go for this book or not. It’s described as ‘a humorously dark sci-fi adventure’, which my regular readers will know is not normally the type of thing I would go for! Sci-fi is not something I know a lot about, so I umm’d and aah’d a lot beforehand; I wanted to make sure I could be objective. That is my job, so as I’ve been trying to broaden my range, I threw myself in at the deep end…

Sam E. Lakeside is a funny guy put in a very difficult position. Having recently read and reviewed the autobiography of a comedian and how he rose to fame, I have an understanding of how difficult it can be to reach the top, so I sort of felt for Sam as he struggled to get his big break. He is always cracking jokes, but I think he is probably quite an insecure character behind his showmanship, what with his difficult childhood and confused love life. This made him very endearing, as there was so much more to him than just being a funny-man. Talking of his jokes, in my opinion they were mostly quite cheesy, but on the whole they managed to make me smile. Nothing laugh out loud funny, but they were pretty good. I can only imagine the author had a whole load of fun with a joke book while writing! Either that, or he’s thought up all these jokes himself and should make a go of it as a comedian! It was easy to see Sam's dilemma, but sometimes I thought it should have just been a straight-forward decision – surely the safety of the whole world is of paramount importance?! I know it’s all a bit tongue in cheek, but this aspect of his character lessened my opinion of Sam a little bit.

It was for this reason that I probably gelled with Cricket (Sam's friend and sidekick) a bit more – she was by far my favourite character. She couldn’t understand Sam’s indecision, but was too scared and caring to let him go it alone with the aliens. She was forced to spend time with (anything more we are only left to assume) the aliens’ leader – who is also a human – so my heart went out to her as it bordered on blackmail or abuse. I especially liked the way she managed to stay so calm under such difficult and stressful circumstances. She has a love interest, but this was a minor storyline and served to make the characters seem more real, rather than being the main focus of the plot.

I found the aliens in this book really funny actually – they can change their form to look like anyone in the world…as long as they’ve appeared on TV! This proves for some very famous, surprising and humorous appearances, including Marilyn Monroe, Nat King Cole, and others. The aliens can’t speak English properly (apart from swear words – typical!) so have to be taught, otherwise they come out with some rather amusing phrases. In their natural form I expect them to be pretty scary, but the green stuff that they shoot out their index fingers at threatening or annoying humans is a nice, cool touch.

The story as a whole was very light hearted and humorous, and included all sorts of hidden jokes and quips. There was just the odd reference which was very sharp and witty, and clever if you notice them. I only noticed a few, but given my slightly limited knowledge of the context, I’m sure there are many more you can pick up on!

Lowy has a very easy to read writing style, which made for a smooth, quick, enjoyable and easy read. There were a few flashbacks from Sam, but they weren’t confusing or out of place at all. Throughout the whole book it was always clear what was going on, who was good and who was bad, and so on. I can only assure you that due to the writing style, reading ‘Die Laughing’ was a pleasure.

The plot had a good mixture of tension and calm, as it was fast paced and exciting at times, but slower paced at others. However, I didn’t find it boring or dragging at all, as the story was still interesting and funny, and the aforementioned writing style kept the pace moving. In any case, I didn’t particularly mind having slower parts, as it meant it felt extra exciting when all the action came!

The ending of a book is very important to me, as it’s the final impact that the book makes on me which is what I’m left with afterwards. I usually like books to go out with a bang – not literally! What I mean is that I like books to keep me hooked right until the end, and if they have some sort of twist or unexpected event, all the better. Well, the ending of ‘Die Laughing’ didn’t set my world on fire, but it wasn’t what I expected either. It wasn’t a shocking twist ending, but I was suitably impressed! Read it, then you’ll see…Betcha didn’t see that coming!

As I hope I’ve made clear, this is a very fun story, but I have a feeling that it also has some very serious and important messages held within. Sort of like Avatar, only not as hard-hitting. I say this because obviously oil plays a major factor in the plot, as the humans and aliens are basically vying for power and oil in equal measures. Therefore, I think that the book takes a very hard look at what will happen to our planet if we continue to fight like animals over this precious resource. However, it’s not done in a very obvious way; the message is delivered in a softer, more subtle way through the fun and humorous plot. I don’t know if this was the author’s intention or not, but this is a clear and important message which I picked up from reading the book.

I would say, though, that to appreciate ‘Die Laughing’ fully, you should really be some sort of sci-fi aficionado, or at least have seen some of the more popular and famous sci-fi films. It might also help if you have at least a little knowledge of American celebs in the 50s. I fall at most of these hurdles, yet still enjoyed and understood the story, but I think if I’d had more of a working knowledge of these things I would have been able to appreciate it more fully. This links back to my decision to read this book – it isn’t anything like my usual sort of thing, but I have certainly broadened my horizons! If this does sound like something you read a lot of, I’m sure you’ll get more out of it than I did; if, like me, this is a treat or an unusual read, look at it as just that, and don’t worry if some of it goes over your head. Not that it’s too specialised or highbrow, just that you may not be used to the topics covered.

Overall, ‘Die Laughing’ was like nothing I’ve ever read before! I thought the characters were great as they fit well within the story, and I really enjoyed the flowing writing style. The political messages were important, and even if you take nothing else away from reading this, you may be convinced to spare a thought for what might happen if we continue to fight for oil. However, I didn’t have a good background knowledge of the context or of famous sci-fi films, so I don’t think I enjoyed this book as much as I could have: this let it down for me, although it is my own fault of course! I’d recommend it only if you have more sci-fi experience than I do – either way, it’s certainly a fun read which is something different from anything you will have already read!

Many thanks to Mr. Lowy for providing a copy for me to review :)

Summary: A good, fun sci-fi story – just not for me.
Rating: 3/5

Friday, 19 August 2011

Book Beginnings On Friday

I've already used one Jo Nesbo book for a Book Beginnings On Friday post a few weeks ago, and this week sees me opening another of this author's books.

Book Beginnings On Friday is a weekly meme hosted at A Few More Pages. Just share the opening line or two of the book you're reading, and give your opinion of that opening. Then go back and take a look at what everyone else is reading!

So, my Jo Nesbo book of choice this week is 'The Snowman'. I've decided it's probably a good idea to give you an idea of the genre in case you're unsure, as there's been a bit of confusion in the past! Jo Nesbo has been dubbed as 'the new Stieg Larsson', so 'The Snowman' is a Scandinavian crime/thriller story.

Here's the opening:

"It was the day the snow came."

I love how ominous this sounds! There's always a correlation between bad weather and impending doom in film and literature, so to have foreshadowing right from the start is exciting. In addition, I'm sure we've all seen some sort of disaster or chilling thriller film where all sorts of scary things go on in the deathly silence and loneliness that snow brings, or amidst blizzards, so if they're anything to go by, this book should be a real nail-biter. I think this is a fantastic opening (in fact, the whole of the first chapter is very chilling!), and has me anxious, excited and intrigued all at the same time, so can't wait to read more!

What's your opinion?

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

The Distant Hours - Kate Morton

'The Distant Hours' is the third novel by author Kate Morton. Her first two works, 'The House at Riverton' and 'The Forgotten Garden' were published in 2007 and 2008 respectively, and both books were Sunday Times #1 Bestsellers in the UK. All three are stand-alone novels and are not part of a series.

'It started with a letter.'

In 1992, Edie Burchill is a young lady who has a job she loves, a mother who won't open up, and a newly single life. One day, a long lost letter arrives for Edie's mother, Meredith, which sets the ball rolling to uncover the past which Meredith would rather be kept hidden. As Edie digs deeper, she begins to unlock the secrets of Milderhurst Castle, deep in the heart of Kent, to which Meredith had been evacuated during the war.

Living in Milderhurst Castle are three elderly, lonely sisters: the twins Persephone and Seraphina, and their younger sibling Juniper. Percy and Saffy have spent the last fifty years of their lives looking after Juniper, who lost her mind after being stood up. But the past is never that simple, and it's up to Edie to uncover that which has lain buried for decades, and set things to right.

'The Distant Hours' is a book full of secrets and regrets, resurfacing memories, and the passing of time.

This was the second book by Kate Morton which I have read. I read 'The House at Riverton' a few years ago when it was first published, and although I enjoyed it, I think I was a bit young to fully appreciate it. So it was with both excitement and wariness that I opened the cover of 'The Distant Hours', as I didn't want to be disappointed by lacklustre revelations.

I needn't have worried.

'The Distant Hours' gripped me right from the start. Morton has a very easy-to-read writing style, which I find very compelling. Her vivid descriptions make the words come to life in a way I have never experienced before: she uses every sense to draw the reader in, to be able to truly visualise what they are reading. The great rusting gates beneath Edie's fingers; the thick smell of smoke; the coolness of the water in the pool; the beautiful swish of pink fabric and the treat of a wartime cake all involve the reader and transport you straight to London and Kent as you follow Edie and the other characters on their journeys of discovery.

By the end, the revelations are not disappointing at all, and completely made sense to me. I hadn't imagined exactly what happened, so it was a real surprise which left me both feeling sorry for the Sisters Blythe, yet really understanding under the circumstances. It's amazing just what lengths people would go to to protect themselves and others, and the book as a whole will really make you think about your relationships with members of your family.

The story was very gripping, right from the start. Not in a thrilling, edge-of-your-seat way, but in an 'I want to find out the secrets which this castle holds' kind of way. At 600 pages it is quite a chunky book, but I devoured it quickly and found myself loathe to put it down.

The story jumps about between 1992 with Edie's explorations, and 1939-41 during the war. Each time there is a change of setting it is clearly marked at the beginning, and as long as you take note of the dates you won't be lost. The jumping back and forth isn't confusing in the slightest; instead, it is done very cleverly as just as Edie makes a discovery or a query, the reader is taken back to the time when it actually happened, by way of explanation.

It is told from several different characters' points of view, but again it isn't confusing at all. The name of the character who will be taking you through that section of the book is mentioned within the first few sentences, so you won't be left grasping at straws as you try to guess who you're following.

The characters themselves are all very interesting and dynamic, as Morton has presented them in a very believable way. Again, through her powers of description, the author has given us multi-dimensional characters, all with flaws and saving graces. Percy is fastidiously loyal to both the castle and her family, to the point of being controlling and taking charge of their lives, whilst her twin Saffy has been longing for a life away from the castle, a life of her own. It is just her weakness and her mothering instincts over her sisters which keep her rooted to Milderhurst. Juniper is quite different, with the reader being given fleeting glimpses into the nature of the once captivating and enigmatic girl, who becomes captured, reliving one awful night of her life over and over again. Edie is a thoroughly modern woman, who is discovering the world on her own, and although she has to rely on her rather difficult parents sometimes, grows and develops as a character throughout the book. These are just the main four of the character list, but the others are no less interesting and 'real'. Morton has not just brought the story, the castle, the setting to life: she has brought the characters to life as well.

I get the feeling that some of what Kate Morton has written she has taken from her own experiences. Meredith, Saffy and Juniper all love writing, so when one of them (I don't recall which) makes a mental note to jot down a peculiar characteristic of someone they meet in their writer's journal, I wonder if it is something that Morton has done herself, in the process of writing this book. I hope that makes sense, but even if I'm wrong I get a strong sense that Morton has thrown herself into this book - on her website it says that 'Kate continues to write the sorts of books she can disappear inside'. She has clearly done that in 'The Distant Hours', and she takes the reader with her.

I ended up feeling completely satisfied when I finished the book, as all the loose ends were neatly tied up. All the little hints and clues which are fed to the reader throughout the book, without them ever noticing, all make sense by the end - and it really is by the end, as the last piece of the puzzle only fits into place within the last three or four pages. This is definitely a book which I will be reading again, and I would recommend any other readers doing the same, as there are probably hundreds of subtleties and nuances which go straight over our heads the first time round.

The only - and I mean ONLY - thing I can find fault with in this book is that it contains a number of typing errors. I noticed at least seven which were glaringly obvious to me, such as incorrect punctuation, grammatical and spelling errors, and more. For example, Edie's mother was once referred to as 'Meredity' rather than 'Meredith'. All of the errors which I noticed were obvious things which should have been picked up on numerous times during the publishing process; they clearly haven't heard of proof readers! It's only a minor niggle, but I think a book of this calibre could have at least merited a bit of closer attention to pick them up as it certainly interrupted my reading experience.

In short, this is a terrific book which I give a full five stars. It makes for very compelling, interesting, riveting reading and will have your eyes glued to the pages from the first page to the last. Kate Morton is a superbly talented writer, the likes of which are very rare, and 'The Distant Hours' has given me the kick-start I need to go back and re-read 'The House at Riverton', as well as pick up her other works, past and future.

At the time of writing, a paperback copy of 'The Distant Hours' is available for £3.99 from Amazon, or for £6.39 from The Book People. A Kindle edition is also available on Amazon for £3.59.

Summary: Simply beautiful.
Rating: 5/5!

Friday, 12 August 2011

Book Beginnings On Friday

Well folks, I've had a pretty rubbish week. I'm so glad that I've got books to bury myself in and escape from everything! This week, to read away my worries, I started reading 'The Little Stranger' by Sarah Waters. I'll use the opening from this book for this week's Book Beginnings On Friday post, which is for a weekly meme hosted at A Few More Pages. To participate, just share the first line or two of the book you're reading, along with your opinion, then link your post back and have a look at what everyone else is reading!

I'm sure you all know by now that I really love reading, books, the whole shebang. Of course you do - why else would I be doing this blog if I didn't?! I really look forward to reading, but occasionally, I come across a particular book which for some reason really captures my interest and really excites me. I mean REALLY. 'The Little Stranger' is one of those books; I couldn't wait to read it. My mum was reading it first, and finally passed it on to me this week! YAY :) So, here are the first few lines:

"I first saw Hundreds Hall when I was ten years old. It was the summer after the war, and the Ayreses still had most of their money then, were still big people in the district."

I really like the reminiscent feel to this beginning. It's full of mystery and intrigue, and has really captured my interest as to why and how the Ayreses started their demise. What has happened in those years since the narrator was ten? From the little review/quote things on the back cover, this book will be gripping, chilling and full of suspense. I'm not that far in, but it has certainly got my interest and is building tension already!

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Coffee At Little Angels - Nadine Rose Larter

When Phillip is tragically killed in a hit-and-run accident one morning, his group of friends from his teenage years return to their hometown, to reunite, lay past issues to rest, and say one last goodbye to their friend.

‘Coffee At Little Angels’ is the first novel by Nadine Rose Larter, which she has self-published. She found the inspiration for this book when one of her high school friends died in a car accident, and that coupled with the way she misses him formed the basis for this book. Although this is a sad, tragic way to come up with a plot, it actually works in the author’s favour as the book seems so personal and real. None of it seems made up, or as if Larter was imagining what it would be like or how someone would react – as a result, the story is so believable and the character-reader bond is strengthened tenfold.

Aside from Phillip, whose death is being mourned, there are seven other main characters, plus several peripheral characters such as wives, husbands, bosses, and so on. At first this was quite a struggle to cope with, as it’s many more main characters than I’m used to. Furthermore, there are two female characters, one called Maxine and one called Melanie, which I found difficult to tell apart at first. Having said that, each of the characters is introduced by Sarah near the beginning, as it clearly sets out who are the main characters, or rather, who were in the tight friendship group as teenagers. This makes it clear who is important, and after a while you begin to get to know the characters and it becomes clear who is who.

Each character is completely different, with each having loveable aspects and annoying features too! From overdramatic Melanie with her ‘too-perfect’ home life, to the super-desirable Josh, to Caleb, who is much quieter and tries to hide his interracial marriage, there really is a character for everyone. They are so different that I’m sure that virtually every reader will be able to find a character with whom they can identify, or at least find certain features in several characters which they understand. At the same time, they may be different, but it’s easy to see how such contrasted personalities could have fitted together to form such a tight-knit friendship group – I only have to look back at my own group of friends as a teenager to confirm that such differences are in fact possible! This is great, as the reader really gets to know each of the members of the group, and I would even go as far as saying as the group isn’t made up of just eight people, but rather it’s made up of nine – the reader joins the characters to form one more in their friendship group. Also, from what I know of her, I think there’s a little bit of the author in each character, which I think is charming as it seems so much more personal to her, and once again so much more real.

I would say that the plot is almost entirely character-based. The story begins with Phillip’s death, and ends not long after his funeral – the interim only spans a few days, so there isn’t really time for a huge plot to develop in between. However, I don’t think this is a problem, as the dynamics and relationships of the characters are so entwined and consuming that any complicated plot would just get in the way and detract from the story. There were a few times when there was a hint, a mere suggestion of some sort of twist or mystery to come (to do with how Phillip died), but these did not develop into anything further. I was a tad disappointed as that was something that could have been expanded on or developed into something bigger, but as I say, this is the type of story where you just want to read more and more about the characters, and anything more may have been overwhelming.

Obviously most of the themes within ‘Coffee At Little Angels’ are serious, but occasionally there are moments which are light-hearted and funny too. This really helped to lift the mood and turn the situation from a depressing one to something easier to cope with. In a similar way to many of the characters, at these moments I found myself feeling guilty for being amused at a time when there should be mourning, but actually I think we all (both myself and the characters included) realised that this isn’t necessarily always a bad thing.

I mentioned that the themes contained within are quite serious – clearly death is a major player, but at the same time so is life. At the same time, the story is about friendship and relationships, change over time, the past, memories, regrets and hope…but somehow these themes which I’ve mentioned don’t quite cover everything. They may be contained within the story, but just listing them doesn’t really do the book justice. I feel like there’s something else contained within, something glaringly obvious but which I can’t quite put my finger on…it’s more of a tone or a mood which naturally encompasses all of life’s challenges. ‘Coffee At Little Angels’ is very touching and poignant; it is a little sad at times, but more in a reminiscent way than a dreary, miserable one.

The author lives in South Africa, and there are a few South African references, although not many. Larter has said that there are very few proper nouns or place names on purpose, so that anybody, no matter who they are or where they live, might pick this story up and relate to it. However, there were just a couple of things South African – one example being Oros, an orange juice – which I understood as I used to live in South Africa and could recognise the names. For the most part, these references shouldn’t be a problem for most of you; I can count the number of occurrences on one hand, and I only thought I’d mention it in case you think it’s all made up!

In general, I would say that this is a good book, and I would recommend it. I didn’t really find it fun or enjoyable as such, more interesting and moving. It certainly makes you think about the relationships you have with your friends and family, and what to do with them while you still have the chance. I think it’s great that any reader should be able to dip into it and identify with both the story and the characters, as it means the author has managed to tap into such universal emotions. She has been successful in addressing very difficult topics, but ones which affect each and every one of us at some point, as well as the coming together of different people and cultures, which is no mean feat. If you’re interested in fast paced, fun, exciting stories then maybe you should leave this until another time, but if you’re in the mood for a heartfelt, emotional tale then this is a brilliant choice. This is the type of book that every person should read at some point in their lives or another, so give ‘Coffee At Little Angels’ a go!

Many thanks to the author for providing a copy for me to review :)
Summary: A very moving story
Rating: 4/5

Sunday, 7 August 2011

Must Be Award Season!

Wow! There have been an awful lot of virtual spangly dresses, typed thank you speeches, and online awards floating about in cyberspace recently! Much to my surprise, honour and delight, two days ago I was awarded a Liebster Award from Laura Sullivan (author of the fabulous book Brightwing), of The Omniscient Third Person. Before I had the opportunity to pass on the award to others, last night I was again awarded a Liebster Award from the lovely Marlena Cassidy over at The Words Behind The Writer! I am absolutely over the moon that these ladies have chosen to give me this award, and it now falls to me to pass it on to some other amazing bloggers.

The goal of the award is to spotlight up and coming bloggers who currently have less than 200 followers. It is hoped that the recipients will:

1. Thank the giver and link back to the blogger who gave it to you.
2. Reveal your top 5 picks and let them know by leaving a comment on their blog.
3. Copy and paste the award on your blog.
4. Have faith that your followers will spread the love to other bloggers.
5. And most of all - have bloggity-blog fun!

I have a bit of a dilemma on my hands as to who to choose as my favourites. When I was given the Liebster Award the first time, from Laura, I immediately thought that my easiest, number one pick would be Marlena to pass it on to! Sadly, I wasn't quick enough and Marlena was awarded it by someone else - I think it would be a bit weird if I handed it straight back to her, but I wanted her to know I would have chosen her, and she deserves some recognition and love, so please head over and follow her anyway! :)

As one of my choices has already gone, I will just give you four more of my top picks, who are all thoroughly deserving and who run some brilliant blogs, so go share the love! In no particular order, they are:

1. Rea Book Review - I couldn't let you go without giving you more book reviews to get your teeth into could I?! Rea has a whole range of book-related posts, reviews and giveaways, and she always has something new going on. She mostly writes about chick lit, so she's a great place to stop if you're looking for something new to read :)

2. Two Special Wires - Awwww this is so cute! Two Special Wires tells the story of Jake and Fergi, two gorgeous Wire Fox Terriers. They had troubled puppy-hoods, as they both used to be puppy mill breeders, but they have new lives and are now spending their days having tons of fun and adventures with their new family. The blog is written from their points of view, and is all about what they get up to - it's so adorable and a story that's full of hope, so I'm sure you'll like it. They're trying to get the message out about puppy mills, adoption and rescue, so please take a look for that reason alone, if nothing else!

3. Edge Of The Plank - I'm really going with the animal thing today! (Hmm...we just got a new puppy today so that may have something to do with it......). Anyway, this great blog is run by Matthew, who loves to write about anything that inspires him. Film reviews, TV, photography, nature, music - you name it, if it inspires him, it's there. Oh, and there's an awful lot of cute animals on there too! Goodness, I'm soft...

4. The Book Addict - The premise of this blog is, I think, a good idea - it's a personal challenge to see how many books The Book Addict can read in a year. I write a review on each book I read, but I don't consciously count each one...although I think I should, and will probably start in 2012! The Book Addict gives an opinion on each book they finish, and there are some really unusual choices on there, so it always proves an interesting visit!

Well, that rounds up my top picks :) Please, please, please drop by and visit these amazing blogs - they need (and deserve!) your love! Well done everyone, now it's your turn to take a bow :)

Friday, 5 August 2011

Book Beginnings On Friday

This week has been a bumper book week for me - I've made a large dent in my TBR pile, have a couple of reviews underway which will be coming soon, and I've finally joined the Kindle generation! Woop woop :) To mark my step into the new, technological world, I couldn't resist buying a couple of Kindle books to read on my new toy.

The first Kindle book I bought is '9th Judgement' by James Patterson, which is one of his Women's Murder Club books. I know, I know, it's not the most recent's not even the first one in the series! But being the stingy thing that I am, it was the cheapest James Patterson book that I could find, and from what I understand they don't really have to be read in order anyway (I hasten to add, it'll be my first venture into the Women's Murder Club, although I've read other stuff by James Patterson before).

This is my weekly Book Beginnings On Friday post, a great meme which is hosted at A Few More Pages. To participate, share the opening line of whatever you're reading, and if you wish share your opinion of that beginning. Now I love James Patterson's books, and can usually rely on them for one hell of an opening. Let's see if this one fits the bill:

"Sarah Wells stood on the roof of the carport and snaked her gloved hand through the hole she'd cut in the glass."

Well, this opening sentence is definitely intriguing, although it's not a real shocker. Nevertheless, any story that starts with a skilled breaking and entering scene fills me with plenty of hope and expectation about what's to come. It does make me wonder where she's trying to break into, and why...and in any case, having a female breaking and entering is unusual enough to get me interested! This sentence alone isn't immediately gripping, but I assure you it gets better - by the end of the first chapter (which, true to James Patterson's form is short at only three and a half pages long) my heart was racing, I found myself holding my breath, and I was hooked! Now, please excuse me as I escape to carry on reading.....

Monday, 1 August 2011

Brightwing - Sullivan Lee

Lucy Brightwing is the last of the Tequesta people, an ancient Native American tribe from deep in the Everglades in Florida. She dreams of being able to gain her own land for her people, to rekindle her heritage and secure the future of the Tequesta, so pulls off a multi-million dollar gem heist to pay for it all.

On her way back to her land, she meets brothers Edgar and Mallory Battle, who themselves are fleeing from the police after a prison break and the string of murders which lie behind them. The Battle brothers are a liability for Lucy, but she feels drawn to them – can she really risk the entire security and future of her people just to help these criminal brothers? To find out what happens, you’ll have to read it for yourself!

Sullivan Lee has written several traditionally published books for children and YA under the name Laura L. Sullivan, but ‘Brightwing’ is her first self-published novel aimed at adults. She is a former Deputy Sherriff so is able to give an insight into how things would have gone on with the police and fleeing criminals, which is great as it means everything that takes place is completely believable.

At first I was a little unsure about what to expect from this book. To me, the cover and title gave me the impression that this would be a fantasy book, whilst the summary of the book didn’t really give me that impression at all (apart from the name Tequesta, but I’ll come to that later). Well, I don’t know if anyone else is thinking the same thing as me or not, but either way I assure you that it isn’t a fantasy story at all. It’s more about adventure, crime, action and a bit of romance, so don’t be fooled if you’re expecting something in the fantasy genre.

The first thing that I noticed and really liked about this book is that the protagonist (Lucy) is female. Edgar and Mallory are absolutely essential characters too, but Lucy pips them to the post in terms of importance. I think it’s great having a female main character in a book, as it’s something I don’t often see, especially in such a powerful role. In most of these types of books it’s a man who is the hero and runs the show, so it was both refreshing and inspirational to have such a headstrong (and physically strong!), sharp-witted lady showing us how things are done.

As an aside, if you read my Book Beginnings On Friday post for this book you will remember the discussion about whether the character was being sincere or sarcastic. If you don’t want to find out the answer, I’m about to say, so feel free to skip to the next paragraph! Well, the speaker was Lucy herself, and contrary to my suspicions she was in fact being sincere! That’s what makes Lucy such a great character, that she has a huge heart and cares for others, and she shows remorse even when she feels she has wronged someone. She had the greater interests of her people at heart, at any rate!

The Battle brothers are also characters which I found myself being drawn to unwittingly. I mean, they’re criminals on the run, who have a violent past to them, and are being branded as cop-killers, so they shouldn’t be attractive, right? So wrong. Mallory is a very difficult character to get to grips with, as he has a very cruel, violent side to him, but he isn’t aware of society’s norms or values so doesn’t understand that what he is doing is wrong. It is his almost childlike nature which makes him endearing – even though the reader knows he is like a wild animal, ready to snap at any moment, you can’t help but feel protective over him. It’s almost like a love-hate relationship, but it gives the book a different, edgier twist, which also makes the reader debate the morals of what’s going on. Edgar, on the other hand, is easier to find endearing as he is a genuinely nice character who has his heart in the right place, but unfortunately has just been caught up in the wrong events, and with a self-inflicted, overbearing obligation to look after his brother finds it hard to escape from the life he currently lives. Edgar definitely has the potential to become a literary hunk, if we’re just given the opportunity to get to know him a little better!

On the whole I thought that this was more of a character-driven story than a plot-driven one. Of course there was a plot, which was actually very exciting and well developed, but I felt that a lot of the focus was on the setting and the characters. I enjoyed this and found it quite refreshing as I am often faced with fast-paced action all the way through, but it’s worth bearing in mind depending on the type of book you’re looking for.

Talking of the setting, it was beautifully described. It’s mostly set in the Everglades in Florida, which by all accounts is a magnificent area. I have a trip to Florida planned for a few months’ time and will visit the Everglades (although probably not the deepest darkest parts mentioned in this book!) so it really gave me a taste for the area and showed off the natural features of the land. It was amazing to read how humans can adapt to this environment and survive in it, and live side by side with nature.

In a similar vein, it was really interesting to read about the Native Americans and their history. I mentioned earlier that I thought that the name ‘Tequesta’ sounded made up, like something out of a fantasy book, but to my understanding they are actually a real tribe. Knowing this, it’s wonderful to read and understand that the ways of the people aren’t entirely a work of the author’s imagination, but that they at least stem from a real way of life. Lucy also tells a few folk stories at various points throughout – as with folk stories you never quite know if they are real history or just myths, but they’re interesting nonetheless. At these points in other books I often lose interest and I end up skimming them, but in ‘Brightwing’ I followed each one easily and eagerly. Perhaps it is my natural fascination with the Native American people which captured my interest; perhaps it was the fact that the stories were imaginative and beautifully written… I’m willing to go with a bit of both.

This book is very well written and is so easy to read. Sullivan Lee is clearly a very talented writer who has managed to create a story which is intriguing, exciting and captivating right from the start until the end. The only thing which I think is missing is the promise of a sequel! (Hint hint ;)...) I’d love to read a sequel, to have more exciting stories and to find out what happened next…

Overall, I really enjoyed this book and would thoroughly recommend it. It’s a bit different from other books of the same genre out there, which I think is refreshing. The characters are well thought out and diverse, they’re captivating yet invite wariness. The setting and descriptions are lovely, and it’s so interesting to read about a culture which many of us know nothing about. It’s a thumbs up from me!

At the time of writing, this is only available as an ebook – you can currently buy a Kindle copy from Amazon for the extraordinarily cheap price of 86p (or $1.38 from the Amazon USA site)! However, I understand that hard copies will soon be available, too, so it’s worth keeping an eye open for when they become available!

Many thanks to the author for providing a copy for me to review :)

Summary: Dangerous people in a dangerous this dangerously good book.
Rating: 5/5

Friday, 29 July 2011

Book Beginnings On Friday

This week has seen loads of new things added to my pile of books to be read, so I thought I'd share the opening of one of them for this week's Book Beginnings On Friday post. This is a weekly meme hosted at A Few More Pages. To participate, share the opening line or two of the book you're reading and give your impression of that opening.

Time to decide which one of my new additions to my TBR pile to share with you... This week, I think I'll go for 'Die Laughing', by Louis K. Lowy.

" "I couldn't trust my wife, that's why we got a divorce." Sam E. took a drag of his Pall Mall. He blew a heavy smoke cloud into the dark room."

I know that this is a little longer than the openings I usually give you, but I thought it was important as it really sets the tone nicely. The first sentence alone wouldn't have really grabbed me or told me a lot, but what with the dark room and smokey atmosphere, it has really created an air of mystery and intrigue and captured my interest. I can't jump to any great conclusions about the book as a whole just yet, so will reserve judgement until I've read a bit more of it.

I'd love to hear your thoughts!

Thursday, 28 July 2011

The Undertaker Giveaway Winner!

Over the past week I've been running a giveaway to win a copy of 'The Undertaker' by William Brown. Entries were low, but out of all the comment and e-mail entries, a winner has been chosen! Congratulations to........

Marlena Cassidy! :)

Marlena, you will receive your copy via e-mail from the author himself, so keep checking your inbox!

Thank you to everyone who entered, congratulations and comiserations. Keep checking back for more great giveaways in the future!

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Life And Laughing: My Story - Michael McIntyre

Firstly, apologies to any non-UK readers who don't know who Michael McIntyre is! He's an extremely popular English comedian - just look him up on YouTube and there's loads of clips of his performances on there, and I'm sure you'll love him!

Everybody loves a good laugh, and Michael McIntyre is a national treasure. Also, everybody seems to love a good 'celeb' autobiography - these days you only need be in the spotlight for a few months before your rags-to-riches life story adorns every bookshop's shelves. That's why, when I realised that Michael McIntyre hadn't released a story of his life until 'Life and Laughing' was published in October 2010 (with the paperback version coming out at the end of March 2011) I was very surprised...and keen to read it!

This book tells the story of Michael's life, from his birth, right up until he found fame, and with a brief commentary on what has happened since. It has been a life of laughs and love, trials and tribulations, ups and downs, and this book has shown the public a side to Michael which very rarely gets seen.

Being an autobiography, it is written by Michael McIntyre himself, which is very obvious from the style of writing. It is written exactly like he talks, and often I could even visualise him saying the words! He hasn't tried to be fancy or a flouncy well-practised writer, with an extraordinary vocabulary and meticulous grammar, the story edited to within an inch of its life. No; he has managed to put down on paper, quite simply, himself. It is a very honest account, and it's clear that the words have come straight from his mouth - no ghostwriter in sight!

Michael is a comedian - his job is to make people laugh, and by all accounts it isn't forced or put on, he is a naturally funny person. This really comes across in his book, as it's very funny and there are jokes on each and every page. I'm not one for laughing out loud at books, but one of Michael's talents is that he turns ordinary, everyday events into hilarious moments, in a way that just captures life - he does this both on stage and in the book, and it really had me giggling several times at the things he says.

Of course, if you're not a fan of Michael McIntyre or his comedy, firstly what is wrong with you?! And secondly (and more seriously) this book may not be for you as it just oozes with his comedy style.

Once Michael finds his passion for comedy, he gives several examples of his scripts and jokes, to give the reader an idea of the types of material he was coming up with at the time. This is a nice touch, which takes us from simply reading about his life to actively getting involved in it. The reader goes from being an onlooker to an active participant, a member of his audience.

However, before he even gets that far, in the first half of the book he uses some of his jokes to describe events - jokes which he has performed on stage. This only happened two or three times, but as I was reading I was sure I already knew the rest of what he was going to say...until I realised I'd seen him perform them on TV. This isn't a problem and of course he's allowed to pepper his work with his own comedy material, but in a way I felt a bit cheated. Couldn't he have described those events in his own, honest, factual words, rather than lifting them from a performance and making the events into a show? Perhaps I'm being picky, but I thought it was worth mentioning...

As a rough estimate, I would say that the first third of the book is dedicated to Michael's life as a youngster, and there's a lot to do with members of his family and what they get up to. By the sounds of it they too led very interesting lives, and without doubt it impacted on Michael and the way he grew up and began to see the world, but maybe it would have been nice to have more of his childhood memories. How did he spend his Sunday afternoons? What did he think of his teachers? Did he ever hide his peas under some other food? His family obviously meant the world to him and played and essential part of his life, but he did devote a large portion of this book to them. It should be his story, not theirs.

Furthermore, the third quarter (or so) talks a lot of Michael's struggle to succeed in the comedy world, and of his efforts at the Comedy Store and Jongleurs. I found that this part was - dare I say it - a little boring? It seemed to drag on a bit, but you could argue that this is a good thing. From what Michael says, it is an incredibly difficult thing to succeed in comedy and very few make it to real stardom, so perhaps this section drove home this point. His life was routine and unexciting, dragging on from day to day, and this is reflected in this part of the book. Hmm...maybe it isn't such a bad thing after all, but is actually a very clever, well thought out writing tool!

I did get the impression on several occasions that Michael McIntyre was exaggerating some events. He's a funny man, and I know that his job is to turn the ordinary into the extraordinary, but on occasions I felt he took things too far. I wanted to read about his life and what actually happened, not what could have happened if everyone was exuberant and everything was exaggerated. Again, this didn't happen a lot, but when it did I just felt like he was trying too hard and could have just expressed things as they really happened, honestly, without all the show.

Nevertheless, I feel like I'm picking away at this book and finding faults with it at every turn, and I get the feeling I'm giving you that impression too... However, these are only occasional things I noticed, which only result in me knocking one off the rating. It really is a very honest, captivating read. I said at the beginning that he hadn't tried to be perfect, he had tried to be himself, and that's why I think I can overlook these minor details. Had the book come across like he was a word-perfect author as well as a fantastic entertainer, I think I would have criticised it for not being personal enough. As it is, it's a remarkable personal account.

The first half of the book is very jokey - it's a joke a sentence, or just about. It is very funny to read, but at times I just wanted a bit of seriousness. You know those people who laugh at everything and can never take anything seriously? And after a while you just want to shake them and tell them to not make a joke out of every little thing? That's how I felt once or twice through the first half, but by the second half the tone of the writing had changed completely. It was not such funny, laugh-a-minute type reading, but more serious and important. I guess Michael grew up and realised that life can be tough sometimes... This second, more serious half was actually very touching. As I said, the life of a comedian is far from easy, which Michael really manages to convey. He has experienced dejection and rejection, and I found myself feeling very sorry for him. His writing is very honest and conversational, which draws the reader in, so I went on his difficult journey with him. That's a very difficult thing for even the most successful of writers to do, so I commend him on his ability to convey his feelings! Behind all the gags and showmanship, there are some very endearing moments. If you look behind the performance at the man himself, this is a really touching piece of writing which gives insights into the life of Michael McIntyre which I had never guessed would have happened. Onstage, he is the ever-happy, chubby Chinese man when he smiles...but behind that life hasn't always been easy for him.

I should warn you that there is some occasional swearing, which I felt was a bit unnecessary. In fact, it shocked me a bit at first, as I haven't seen him swear on stage, so I didn't think such profanities could escape from such a nice, posh man's lips! They are few and far between (well, maybe quite common when he tells of his wife going into labour!), but I got used to it. However, I'm not sure I'd be happy about youngsters reading it...perhaps you could censor it when you read it, by blacking out the rude words first, before you give it to your children to read! :P

Also included at intervals in this book are pages of photos from throughout Michael's life, right from one of the first pictures ever taken of him, right until the moment he stood on stage under the spotlight in front of a packed Wembley Stadium. I love the photo parts of autobiographies - in this case there aren't too many pictures, but just enough to illustrate and document his life so far.

Overall, despite what it may seem, I actually really enjoyed Michael McIntyre's autobiography. I am a huge fan of his, so enjoyed finding out how he made it to where he is today. It may not be perfect (which could lead me to believe that it had been put together pretty swiftly - if they had taken more time over the book's production maybe more of those little niggles could have been ironed out) but it's a really open account and I thank Michael for being so honest. If you are also a fan of his, I would recommend you read this as it won't take long to read (it's only 384 pages long) but will show you the man beneath the bouffant hair.

At the time of writing, you can purchase a hardback copy for £10, a paperback copy for £4.49, or a Kindle copy for £3.99, all from Amazon. Audiobook versions are also available from Amazon at around the £10 mark.

Summary: Meet the man behind the man drawer! (The man drawer features in one of his most popular and well-known routines - look it up if you don't know it as it's brilliant!)
Rating: 4/5

DON'T FORGET! Today is your last chance to enter 'The Undertaker' giveaway! It closes at 6pm UK time tonight so get your entries in quick!

Friday, 22 July 2011

Book Beginnings On Friday

Happy Friday everyone! :) It's Book Beginnings On Friday time, which is a weekly meme hosted at A Few More Pages. Share the first line or two of whatever you're reading, and give your impression based on just that opening. Then link it back and take a look at what everyone else is reading too!

This week I haven't started anything new (how bad is that?!) but I have received a copy of 'Coffee At Little Angels' by Nadine Rose Larter, which I will be starting soon. So, I thought I'd share the opening so we know what we're getting ourselves into! Here it is:

"I went jogging on the morning that I died."

How's that for a grabber?! This opening has a kind of 'The Lovely Bones'-esque feel to it, as straight away we find out that the narrator is no longer with us. Jogging is such a routine, everyday thing that straight away I want to know what happened in between, between jogging and dying. I think this is a brilliant opening, and seriously cannot wait to find out what went so wrong, and to read what story this late narrator has to tell from the grave.

Let me know what you think!

Also, just a quick reminder, you may remember that a few weeks ago I shared the opening of 'The Undertaker' by William F. Brown for my Book Beginnings on Friday post. I know that most of you loved that opening, (and the whole book turned out to be really good, as you can read in my review) so now I'm giving you a chance to win a copy! It's a really good read, so if you liked what you saw before, click here to see the competition and enter! It's open until Wednesday 27/07/2011, so make sure you get in before then!

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

The Undertaker Giveaway!

We're halfway through the week already, so to celebrate it's competition time!

Courtesy of the author, I'm giving away one copy of 'The Undertaker' by William Brown. It's a great, exciting story and if you're interested in reading more about it you can read my review here.

Please be aware that as this is an ebook it is only available in electronic formats! Make sure you're happy with this before you enter :)

To enter, leave a comment below saying whether you would prefer a Kindle mobi format or an EPUB format if you win, along with an e-mail address so I can contact the lucky winner! If you're not comfortable with leaving your e-mail address in a comment, I will accept e-mail entries as well so send me a message and I'll add your name to the hat!

This giveaway is open internationally. You have from now until next Wednesday (27/07/2011) at 6pm (UK time!) to enter, at which point I will pull a name from the hat at random.

Good luck!

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

The Undertaker - William F. Brown

Peter Talbott is a widower, who one day after work finds himself with a .45 pistol pointing in his face. It turns out that somebody has been buried under Pete's name - as well as his late wife's...and they're not the only ones. Suddenly, filled with outrage, Pete finds himself thrown from being an ordinary software engineer to being involved in theft, corruption, death, and some downright dodgy dealings. 'The Undertaker' will take you along with Pete on a journey of discovery, into a world of crime that he never thought possible.

Peter is a genuinely nice character. The whole thing is written from his point of view, which makes it really easy to feel close to him. He's clearly just an ordinary guy, stumbling across and getting involved in some pretty extraordinary stuff, so the fact that he has his flaws (such as struggling to get over his wife's death and move on to carry on the rest of his life) makes it all more realistic. He has nothing to lose by following his instincts, and in the way in which Pete feels scared and incredulous, yet compelled to investigate has been conveyed well and believably by Brown.

During his escapades, Pete meets and befriends Sandy, a younger girl who is also involved in the drama. Sandy is an equally likeable character, as she adds a youthful, feminine edge to the story and softens Pete up a bit! She's very feisty, but I personally wouldn't get along with her if she was real, as she's a bit too clingy for my liking! Nevertheless, I like the innocent edge she brings to the proceedings, whilst proving to be rather unexpected at the same time too!

I really enjoyed this story, as it was full of excitement and action, including an explosion, a car chase and a run-in with a gang of youths. It was fast-paced and compelling to read, and several times found myself holding my breath with my heart in my mouth, waiting to see what would happen! It was very intriguing to try and figure out what was really going on, and the fact that the final outcome was plausible in real life is both scary and exciting!

As I say, the story is full of action and this does include some violence. However, it isn't graphic and I doubt anyone could get offended by it. I felt that when it came to the violence, it seemed to be more about the action, and getting across who was pulling which moves or who was firing at who (much like in a film), and less about getting bogged down with grisly, gory, graphic details. As a reader, I neither want nor need to know the painfully drawn out, intricate details of anyone's injuries, so Brown has scored highly in this department by tackling it with respect and care.

The plot itself, although it was a really good one, was a little simple at times. There weren't lots of layers and sub-plots all going on at once, which is something I don't come across too often in books these days. There was nothing overly detailed or complex about it, but this isn't a bad thing! It meant that 'The Undertaker' was a light read, which is sometimes nice if you just want a bit of escapism. If you're the type that prefers intricately entwined plots, then you may feel that this could have benefitted from sub-plot or two extra, to give it more depth. Otherwise, this is a lovely light read.

Around two thirds of the way through, I found that the action waned a bit, and in a lot of other books I would complain that it was dull and that the story dragged. Not in this case! On reflection, this story is so full of excitement, action and intrigue that it was actually nice to have a let up, and to let the dust settle. Far from being dull, the story still kept my interest as the relationship between Pete and Sandy developed. It was during this section that they really got to know each other, and started working as a team, which was a pleasure to read as I had been willing it to happen the whole time! To quote Hannibal Smith, I love it when a plan comes together...!

The only other niggle that I found was that there was Pete and Sandy, a couple of other essential characters, and quite a few others who we never actually meet. It's these last, distant characters, who we only know by name, that I found hard to get my head around. They all have American Italian names, which I found fairly similar to each other - and as there was nothing else that we could use to remind ourselves which name went with which persona, mostly blended into one. I know that it's a feature of the mafia type organisations and underhand groups in America, but it would have been nice to have a few different names in there, to differentiate between them. Either that, or make sure you concentrate when new characters are introduced!

Overall, I did really enjoy this book. It was very entertaining and exciting, but if you're looking for a book with a deep philosophical meaning, this might not be for you. I can thoroughly recommend it if you want a light yet action packed read with loveable characters you can relate to, and a good old fashioned crime story to get your heart going!

William F. Brown has previously published two other suspense novels, as well as having penned four award-
winning screenplays. This book, 'The Undertaker' is an ebook and so is only available in electronic formats. A Kindle copy can currently be purchased from Amazon for the bargain price of £2.14, and I think this book is totally worth it!

Many thanks to Mr. Brown for providing a copy for me to review. :)

**From tomorrow (20/07/2011) up to and including next Wednesday (27/07/2011) I will be running a giveaway to win a copy of this ebook here on my blog. It's well worth entering so come back if you're interested!**
Summary: An enjoyable, exciting book if you want a light, quick story
Rating: 4/5