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