Tuesday, 31 December 2013

New Year, New Me?

The ultimate question. If you could be a completely different person tomorrow, who would you be? You can be absolutely anyone, alive, dead, fictional... But once it's done, it's a done deal, you are that person forever. Or you can stay as you.
2013 has been a very strange year for me. I have had some absolutely incredible experiences, taken part in some brilliant events, met new people, tried new things. But some of the worst things have taken place this year. I've lost people I loved, some by choice, others left me and I've had a crisis of confidence in more ways than one.
I have discovered several things about myself this year, my morals and the way I view the world is shifting. I believe I have become more understanding of other peoples' beliefs and my mind is opening to new experiences. I always wished to be more spontaneous and to face my fears and I have definitely accomplished some of these things.
So next year, I am going to continue to be me. I am going to be more confident (which I believe I have already started to do), I am going to dress the way I want, do what I want to do, not follow the crowd. I am going to try new things (I had my first driving lesson today in ages), speak my mind, make myself heard and make a difference. During 2013, at my lowest point I often wondered if I would be missed if I were no longer here. But then one of my residents told me how much I mean to them, how much I made a difference to their life. Mrs Livingstone, the teacher of Pine Class told me how much the children love to see me and how many request to come and read with me. When I was unwell, my choir kids surrounded me with love and hugs despite me protesting due to being contagious. My Nan constantly tells me how stunning I am, even when she can't see me and I look tired and scruffy. Several friends have told me they wish they had my confidence and wish they were as strong as I am. I must be doing something right but how come I can't see it?
So yes, next year I will continue to be the new me. The new me with tattoos and piercings, the new me who challenges what I don't agree with. I am looking forward to more performances at The Attfield and the fantastic summer production with The OD Project. I miss my kids at school (both readers and choir) and it's only been two weeks! I look forward to (hopefully) a holiday with a friend, good times with those I love and fond memories of those who are now gone. This year I have discovered life is too short to waste time on people that don't care. I should spend more time with those who do. I can only continue to grow as a person (hopefully not in height) and I am looking to the future with excitement of all the things yet to happen, not worrying about all the uncertainty. Yes, life is about a journey, but it's also about those who come on the journey with you, not those who want to delay the train.

This post was inspired by...http://dailypost.wordpress.com/2013/12/31/prompt-new-you/

Monday, 30 December 2013

The Accidental Idea

Today's prompt was 'brainwaves'. I'm supposed to tell you all about the best idea I've ever had, how it worked out and why it was so amazing. The problem was, I couldn't think of one. I've had some great ideas over the years, either in class, with my friends or moments of genius where it felt like someone had possessed me briefly. But none were 'Eureka!' moments, none really solved a problem (some even caused more problems), and some ideas haven't even began, let alone finished.
So I chose to tell you about my accidental idea. During Christmas 2012 I helped Weston Rhyn Primary School with their nativity play. I love putting on a play and I love working with the class as whole (not just the three boys I see) so I had a great time. As the nativity play drew to a close Mr Hines (the brilliant Head Teacher) thanked me for being involved and giving up my time for free. I then uttered a sentence that would change the next year (and more) or my life. 'Does the school have a choir?' A brief image flashed in my mind of a Glee-like scenario, costumes, performances, big smiles on kids faces. Mr Hines replied with: 'You're welcome to run it if you like!' I felt my cheeks flush, mumbled that I'd think about it and went on home, eighties rock songs playing through my mind, top hats, air guitar! Maybe I could do this! Maybe I could run a school choir! There were several issues. I couldn't read music (at least, not to the standard normally required), I was very shy when it came to performing, I had no teaching experience whatsoever and I saw one child at a time, not 10, or more, as I hoped there might be. But my imagination was taking over, I could see song and dance numbers and young minds I could influence with my love of The Eagles, Disco and 80s Electro-Pop. So I went back to Mr Hines, and said yes.
The first year of choir was not necessarily a success, not in the performing sense. At one point I had a group of 18, all with different opinions, all fighting to be heard. More than that, they didn't want to know any of my suggestions and were only interested in singing Taylor Swift (who I admire for writing her own songs and having the ability to play an instrument, but still) and Adele, an incredible singer but very hard to sing as an ensemble. I tried several options of songs, 'Price Tag' by Jessie J, which sounded great until the solos came up and 'We're Not Going To Take It/We Built This City' by Twisted Sister/Starship which was brilliant in the end, but took a LOT of persuading.
But I persisted. By the Summer of 2013 I was very proud of my group and sad to see the majority of them leave, but knew that in the Autumn I would get a new group of children and a fresh start. This time there were less children, only 8, all girls. I struggled controlling 18 children, so this was much nicer and I already knew 6 of them well, knew their tastes, what they would like to sing. We were invited by St John's Church in Weston Rhyn to sing at their Carol Service. It was a great opportunity for the children to perform in front of an audience, but it was pressured. We only had four weeks to get our songs and performance ready. It wasn't Glee standard, but I was very happy with how it all turned out. We had plenty of positive feedback from the church goers and parents and one particular girl conquered her fear. I am immensely proud of her!
Now that Christmas is over we are moving on to Musicals, and I can't wait to get stuck back in. I can't wait to hear what the kids have been learning over Christmas (I have set them homework on various music legends) and I can't wait to start our new song 'Do-Rae-Mi' from The Sound of Music. Not only are the kids growing and learning every day they are becoming part of a team, working hard to achieve a collective goal and coming out of their shells. It's also helping me become more confident at performing, even if it is just in front of 8 children.
So for an accidental idea, I think it's going really, rather well!

This post was inspired by... http://dailypost.wordpress.com/2013/12/30/daily-prompt-brainwave/

Sunday, 29 December 2013

Pirate School (The Three Aaaarghs!)

Last time I was in The Salvation Army Shop in town I somehow managed to get into a debate with the person behind the counter and an elderly lady behind me.
The man behind the counter wanted to teach in Primary School, but with his speciality being History, he was struggling. The elderly woman was firmly convinced that subjects like History shouldn't be taught in Primary School when children were behind on their reading, writing and arithmetic (the 3 Rs).
I volunteer with the charity Beanstalk, which encourages and develops children's reading skills. I do it because of my passion for books and remembering what it's like to be lost in my own imagination, in incredible worlds with exciting characters on wondrous adventures. I see first-hand the children that are struggling with their reading and writing. They're often struggling with every aspect of education as well as socially and crave the one-on-one attention that I give them. I see three out of a class of thirty, I could see many more and children often request to come and read with me. It's brilliant that they want to read with me, but I also wonder how many of the children would actually benefit from the time I spend with them.
As well as reading with each child twice a week I am involved in the class, with the teachers. If there is a school trip, or a nativity play I am asked to assist and do so willingly. It makes a pleasant change for me and the children. The most recent trip was to the Grosvenor Museum in Chester. They've been learning about Romans for the past few months, everything from Roman Baths to Gladiators. The Grosvenor Museum put on a brilliant itinerary. The children learnt about archaeology, heating systems, armour, food (and cooking processes), including a marching exercise with a real-life Roman Soldier (not really, but he had a rather lovely pair of legs!). Most of it was hands on, practical, combining learning with fun. The following day they wrote a report on the museum, what they saw, what they enjoyed. They spent the day learning and THEN they wrote about it.
This was my argument in The Salvation Army Shop. Yes, children are behind, some drastically so, but in order to get better at writing, reading and arithmetic, they need things to write about, to read about and to work out. Practising the same sentence over and over again is boring, and definitely not inspiring, writing a story about a Roman Soldier is exciting, it's an adventure! Before they know it, they're learning without really knowing it.
If I was to redesign school, from the ground up I would include more or less what is included now, Art, History, Geography, all those subjects that inspire. Children can be inspired by all kinds of things. I would promote the arts, anything creative as I believe the imagination is one of the most powerful tools each of us has. Dance, Drama and Music would also feature heavily as I believe all of these subjects are overlooked in Primary School. Drama promotes confidence which a lot of children lack. One of the children that I read with loves Drama and I write mini-plays for us to act out during our sessions. He's reading without even realising it and he often wants to write his own after, which develops his writing skills. In fact, the only subject I would remove from Primary Schools is a foreign language. Although I believe learning French or German is important in learning new skills and developing an understanding of culture, I think the English Language should be mastered first. Foreign Language should be left for Secondary School.
The only other thing that should be included in school is manners. I run my local school choir, something I enjoy which is a lot of fun, the youngest child in 6, the oldest 11. Last year, I discovered that despite all their musical ability the one thing they lacked more than anything was respect for each other and their opinions. Manners are something I would have thought parents would have taught their children but it was definitely an issue and I wasn't the only one to discover this. I take pride in my patience but the only time I lost my temper was on this subject. Maybe manners and good behaviour should be taught in schools too.

This post was inspired by... http://dailypost.wordpress.com/2013/12/29/prompt-new-school/

Sunday, 22 December 2013

Book Review: Darkly Dreaming Dexter (Dexter #1) by Jeff Lindsay

Darkly Dreaming Dexter (Dexter, #1)Darkly Dreaming Dexter by Jeff Lindsay
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I had watched the Dexter TV series before I read any of the books, so I went in with a preconceived notion of the characters, and I already knew the ending. It didn't stop me from enjoying Jeff Lindsay's writing.
For those unfamiliar, Dexter Dreaming Darkly follows the murderous blood splatter analyst as he dishes out his own punishment to those that have slipped through the cracks. Seeing the world through Dexter's eyes is brilliant. If Dexter was a real person he would certainly have some kind of psychological or behavioural condition but thankfully the author doesn't play on this, he is just Dexter and everything he does seems unfathomably reasonable.
All of the characters were interesting and unique. I particularly liked his foul-mouthed sister Deb. I also think it should be mentioned that the people who cast the TV show did a great job, especially with Dexter's colleague Vince and his boss LaGuerta.
I also liked the way Lindsay described Miami, almost like it was a character. He brought the city alive in full vivid technicolour!
Overall a brilliant twist on the murder mystery that zipped along nicely. I can't wait to read the next one!

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Saturday, 14 December 2013

Book Review: James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl

James and the Giant PeachJames and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

At Weston Rhyn Primary School Roald Dahl is the current display in the library. Every time I go in there for volunteering a smile appears on my face and I try my best to persuade the children to let me read them a little bit of any of his books. But alas, I did not succeed, so I decided to read one myself and James and the Giant Peach was the one I picked.
I remember the film with fondness and as soon as I entered Dahl's incredible world the childlike feeling of glee rushed back to me.
The way James and his insect friends are described are vivid and each character is interesting and unique. I particularly liked the Centipede and his 42 pairs of boots. The book is also educational, informing children about the different characteristics of insects, while making them funny. I also enjoyed the different songs.
As a twenty-one year old, revisiting Roald Dahl was a joy and I aim to read more, hopefully to inspire the children next time.

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Thursday, 12 December 2013

Book Review: The Strain by Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan

The Strain (The Strain Trilogy, #1)The Strain by Guillermo del Toro
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I found out about The Strain a while ago and as a fan of Guillermo del Toro's directed works and a lover of all (Twilight and True Blood excluded) things vampire I thought it would be an interesting read.
For me, the best part of the book was probably the first third. I always knew where the book was going, but the tension and the mystery as Flight 753 lands at JFK airport and the events that follow, were exciting and thrilling at the same time.
The main protagonist is Dr. Ephraim Goodweather. For some reason, in my head I imagined him as Denzel Washington, this 'strong' character. He and his co-worked Nora Martinez work for the CDC and are the first inside the mysterious plane. They are both likeable, although I feel that Nora has less of a personality than Eph and later on in the book is made to stay behind and look after Zack, Eph's son, rather than go and fight, which I think is a little sexist. In fact, this book does not have strong female characters. Nora and Kelly (Eph's ex-wife) both play small parts and are subject to the decisions of the men around them.
The other lead is Abraham Setrakian, described as an aged Holocaust survivor. He is by far the more interesting character of the two, with a story and a personal vendetta against The Master, the head of all vampires.
It may seem that I am being negative but I did thoroughly enjoy this book. As I said, the initial discovery of the plane kept me on the edge of my seat and the study of the victim's as they attempted to work out what had happened was exciting. It's a different approach to the vampire story, they are a virus rather than a monster.
The vampires themselves are not your 'run of the mill' either. Their transformation is not pretty, neither is the end result. It's refreshing to read a different take on the genre, especially as it's been done to death lately for a primarily teenage and young adult audience.
For me, New York City was an integral part of the story. There was focus on the World Trade Centre (although events of 9/11 were not dwelled on) and the subway systems. I particularly enjoyed a section where the characters entered the subway system, del Toro certainly wracked the scary factor up there!
I'm looking forward to reading the rest of the books in this series, and watching the TV series that is soon to be our screens.

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Sunday, 1 December 2013

Book Review: Nineteen Eighty Three (Red Riding Quartet) by David Peace

Nineteen Eighty Three (Red Riding Quartet)Nineteen Eighty Three by David Peace
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Nineteen Eighty Three is the final book in the Red Riding Quartet and there's only one word to describe it. Sublime.
David Peace is a phenomenal writer. His writing style is quick, slick and draws you in. I find myself sucked into the hazy world of corrupt cops, earnest lawyers and journalists fighting for the truth.
The characters he writes are all flawed, there are no Hollywood heroes here, which makes more for the interesting read.
The narrative is led by three individuals, policeman Maurice Jobson, lawyer John Pigott and young prostitute BJ. All three of them are tangled up in the web of conspiracy and cover ups around the disappearances of young girls in the Yorkshire area.
Jobson is the lead investigator, but also the reluctant heir of Bill 'Badger' Molloy's scheme to get rich quick. Pigott is representing Michael Myshkin, who was arrested and charged for the murder of one of the girls and BJ is on the run from everyone and everything.
None of the Red Riding Quartet stands alone, they all form one large story told by different characters, but I think reading them one after the other would be too much, too intense. Having said that, I think it was too long since I read Nineteen Eighty and some of the details were a little dulled in my head. I'd seen the incredible Channel 4 adaptation (well worth a watch for any fan) and I think that helped certain characters cement into my mind. For me, Jobson was David Morrisey, Pigott was Mark Addy and BJ was Robert Sheehan. For me this was a help rather than a hindrance.
As the narrative changes between these three characters it can be initially confusing as to whose point of view it is with the start of each chapter. That's the only reason I marked it 4 stars instead of 5. Otherwise, it's a series like no other. If you can hold your stomach (it's certainly not pretty and described with graphic detail) and you can put up with the bad language then jump into this world. David Peace's heady world of violence and corruption is a world like no other and I can't wait to read more of his.

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Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Book Review: The Long Earth by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter

The Long EarthThe Long Earth by Terry Pratchett
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This book was recommended to me by my Aunt, who is an avid fan of Terry Pratchett. I have only ever read one more of his works, that being Good Omens, which I enjoyed but didn't fall in love with as many have.
The concept behind The Long Earth is certainly interesting and original. The idea that individuals can 'step' East or West to parallel worlds is brilliant and isn't something I come across very often. But I didn't feel that Pratchett really told a story, it was more of an experiment.
Our two main characters are Joshua, who was born on one of the parallel worlds and is a natural stepper, and Lobsang, who is essentially a computer. Together they travel through the worlds on a dirigible called Mark Twain, to explore and discover new worlds.
I found Joshua quite a weak character with not much personality. He was brought up by several nuns and all of them appear funny and quirky but none of this has rubbed off on him. Lobsang on the other hand is great. He can be irritating, but is interesting and unlike any other character I've read before.
There are quite a few smaller characters whose stories run alongside, like a police officer in Madison, Wisconsin, a family who leave their son behind to start a better like and Private Percy, who accidentally 'steps' during the First World War. In fact, I would have liked to read more about Private Percy, but we're given a snippet and then it's forgotten about.
All the ideas on their own are brilliant, but it just seems quite aimless and I was surprised to find that not only is there a sequel out, a third is due out next year and both authors have signed a contract to write three more. I don't think I'll give up on Terry Pratchett, but I think I'll head towards his Discworld series.

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Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Book Review: Amazonia by James Rollins

AmazoniaAmazonia by James Rollins
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

It was the blurb of Amazonia that got me hooked.
'A government agent stumbles out of the world's most inhospitable jungle... he went in with one arm missing and emerged with both intact.'
I was in immediately, jungles, government agents, the regrowth of limbs, what more could a girl ask for?
Our journey into the wilderness is headed by Nathan Rand and a team of doctors, experts and of course, several CIA agents as they track Agent Clark's (formerly of one arms, now of two) route through the jungle in the hope of ascertaining how his limb grew back. On their way they encounter all sorts of mutated animals, deserted villages and signs of a mysterious tribe feared by all. And don't even get me started on the evil Dr. Favre and his girlfriend who has a penchant for making shriveled heads.
I don't want to give too much away of this book, but the best way to describe it (and I mean this as a compliment), is that it's a blue print for an action adventure movie. It's full of cliches and often quite predictable but it's fun, it's an adventure!
The characters are all interesting, if a little stereotypical and none of them are safe as they fall to the mercy of the jungle. One of them even has a pet jaguar (brilliant!).
I would love to see this in a cinema, sometime in the future. In the meantime, enjoy it for what it is, a romp in the Amazon, not a fine piece of literature.

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Friday, 23 August 2013

Book Review: Safe House by Chris Ewan

Safe HouseSafe House by Chris Ewan
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Safe House was available on Kindle, for little to no cost so it was a book I picked on a bit of a whim.
We meet plumber, Rob, who is called to a remote house to fix the boiler. Things seem a little 'off' when he arrives but he soon befriends the blonde girl who is currently living there and agrees to take her out on his motorcycle. That's when things go from bad to worse. The motorcycle crashes and the girl vanishes. In fact, the police are claiming she never existed. Rob decides to take matters into his own hands.
It's refreshing to read a mystery-thriller that isn't lead by a police officer, or a member of the government etc. It being set on the Isle of Man also gives it a close-knit style and that feeling that everyone knows everyone else.
As well as following Rob and private investigator Rebecca as they attempt to track down the girl, we follow the girl and the events that take place surrounding her and her reason for being at the house in the first place.
In this book I liked the clue solving element, cracking passwords, working out where a bag is stashed or where things are hidden. However, this book did take me nearly a month to read. I'm not sure whether that's because it's on the Kindle (books always seem to take longer on there), or whether it was because the story dragged, but overall, I may venture into the world of Chris Ewan again.

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Thursday, 25 July 2013

Book Review: Skin (Jack Caffery #4) by Mo Hayder

Skin (Jack Caffery, #4)Skin by Mo Hayder
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The first Mo Hayder book I read was Birdman and I was hooked instantly, and can still remember parts of it in my head as clear as day
Skin although not the second in the series, was the next one I read. This time as well as DI Jack Caffery, we are joined by diver, Flea Marley.
The strength of Hayder's writing is what kept me going in this book. She writes suspense and excitement brilliantly and the twists and turns come thick and fast. The situation that Flea finds herself in was an unusual one and it was interesting seeing how she coped with the situation. I must admit, I found her relatives infuriatingly annoying (in a good way!), which shows how well written the characters and events were.
I think the reason I gave this a three, rather than a four, or a five, was the superstition element of the book. I didn't particularly enjoy it and would have been quite happy with the police procedural with Flea and Caffery. But I will definitely be reading more of Mo Hayder. She's a brilliant writer and if you want to raise your blood pressure a little, get stuck in.

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Wednesday, 3 July 2013

Book review: Joyland by Stephen King

JoylandJoyland by Stephen King
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Stephen King is one of the best storytellers that has ever existed. Ever. That's the only way to describe him, the only way to explain how wonderful this book is. I personally prefer his simpler stories, like Carrie, or Misery. Not too much going on, but the characters pop out of the pages and you instantly feel for them, their situation, their surroundings.
Joyland is one of these books. We follow Dev, as he is employed at Joyland in the summer of 1973. From the first few lines I was hooked into the story. Dev is likeable, and the story is told in his voice, which makes him easy to sympathise with.
Along the way we meet a menagerie of interesting characters from Rozzie, the eccentric fortune teller, his friends Erin and Tom, handyman Lane, to Mike, his mother and their Jack Russell. Yet despite their eccentricities, none of them seem out of place. Joyland itself is described vividly, and the essence of the seventies seeps through too.
The main story is more about the murder of several young women, notably Linda Grey at Joyland, over the years and Dev and Erin's work into solving it. It is captivating, as King's work normally is and your breath is held as he peels back each layer, revealing more clues. But unfortunately for me, I guessed who the perpetrator was, which was disappointing, but there's always that pleasant feeling of being right.
The tale of Mike, his mother Annie and their dog Milo runs alongside this one. The characters are portrayed brilliantly and I was hooked on every word spoken. I didn't feel like I was rushing through their parts to get back to the murder either, which I have done is some other books.
So overall, more books like this please Mr King! Stories and characters with heart that let your imagination run wild.

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Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Book Review: The Shakespeare's Curse (Kate Stanley #2) by Jennifer Lee Carrell

The Shakespeare Curse (Kate Stanley, #2)The Shakespeare Curse by Jennifer Lee Carrell
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I started reading The Shakespeare Curse several times before I actually managed to get in it enough to enjoy it and be hooked.
I'd say this is a story of two parts. The first is set at Dunsinnan, a castle in Scotland as actress Janet Douglas invites Kate to be involved in a special production of Macbeth. Events send Kate and other characters across London, through secret passageways and old museums.
As a lover of Shakespeare and of Scotland I was enthralled by the prospect of this book. But that was the problem. It never quite lived up to it's blurb.
I found many of the characters to be irritating, or unbelievable, while those I did like got killed off. In particular, Lily, the grand-daughter of the aforementioned actress. She acts so irresponsibly, and with little regard for anyone else by the end I just wanted to slap her.
The saving grace of this book is the Shakespeare, and Jennifer Lee Carrell's ability to write suspense and adventure. For those who are not familiar with Macbeth she explains the play simply, without 'dumbing down', for those who are familiar, they will love the quotations and gobbets. I also particularly liked the historical parts of the book, set in the 17th century.
I enjoyed the second part of the book more than the first, as I felt the pace speed up and things actually started moving. Stories of secret passageways, hidden rooms and long lost artifacts always excite me and this had plenty of them.
Overall, as a lover of Shakespeare, this will be enjoyed, but start with the first book, which I found much better.

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Thursday, 13 June 2013

Book Review: The Bone Collector (Lincoln Rhyme #1) by Jeffrey Deaver

The Bone Collector (Lincoln Rhyme, #1)The Bone Collector by Jeffery Deaver
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I read The Bone Collector after watching the 1999 film of the same name staring Denzel Washington and Angelina Jolie, so I went in with characters already in my head, despite the descriptions in the book being different to both actors.
The other day I was discussing with a friend the different kinds of books you get, and I'm not talking genres. This book is a 'rip-roaring' read, in that, it's quick, fast-paced, full of tension and excitement. But once you've read it, it doesn't stay with you. Some of my favourite books I can remember great chunks of, I can clearly see images in my head, but this isn't the same with The Bone Collector.
I don't think Jeffrey Deaver is a bad writer at all. In fact, I think he's a great writer, for keeping up the suspense. I remember reading the book eagerly, each crime scene that Amelia Sachs processes and investigates is very descriptive and almost graphic in detail.
I also remember being surprised at the ending, which is different from the film, and the person responsible for the crimes was a shock, which I always like to be at the end of a mystery.
Overall, I enjoyed it, and would probably read some more by Jeffrey Deaver when in need of some quick thrills!

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Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Book Review: Silence of the Grave by Arnaldur Indridason

Silence of the GraveSilence of the Grave by Arnaldur Indriðason
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Arnaldur Indridason is an author I discovered last year almost accidentally due to my A-Z of authors, and I'm so glad. The story opens with a toddler chewing on a bone, a human bone, which leads to the discovery of a body.
As always, the author keeps the reader gripped on every page with twists and turns aplenty. The story switches between the main character, Detective Erlendur and a family in the midst of World War II.
I personally preferred the parts about the family in the 40's. I found their story to be interesting and I felt and wanted to fight for every character. I found myself willing the mother of the family in question to succeed, to win, to stop being abused by Grimur, probably one of the most horrible characters I have ever had the pleasure of reading.
But similarly, the investigative side of the story and the complexities of Erlendur and his family also providing interesting reading and a longer narrative over the series of books.
As always, the setting of Iceland, creates a brilliant atmosphere. I often felt that the location in this novel was another character, integral to the plot. But the one thing that sold this book for me more than anything else, was that the identity of the victim wasn't revealed until very near the end of the book. The suspense and the genius of the author for keeping the reader interested and eager to find out who the victim was and how they were killed is excellent. I can't wait to read more by Arnaldur Indridason.

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Thursday, 30 May 2013

Book Review: The House of Silk by Anthony Horowitz

The House of SilkThe House of Silk by Anthony Horowitz
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book was recommended to me by the owner of my local bookshop Booka. I'm working my way through the complete collection of Sherlock Holmes very slowly as the book is mahoosive and I can't take it anywhere with me.
The House of Silk is a brilliant, rip-roaring read, full of Victorian urchins, mystery, intrigue and horse and carriage chases.
Anthony Horowitz is a great writer and I had no problem imagining Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson. The prologue which explains why the book was only recently published is also a nice added touch.
As always with Holmes, the plot is complicated with twists and turns on every page. The way Horowitz details Watson and Holmes' relationship and how much Watson cares for Holmes is lovely to read as a lover of these stories.
The reader is propelled into Victorian London with all of it's charm and characters and you are gripped from beginning to end trying to work out how everything is linked. I also think Horowitz dealt with a delicate subject matter very well without sounding preachy or going on about the 'message'.
And for me, despite their series being set in modern London I pictured Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman as the aforementioned characters. I really hope Horowitz decides to write another Holmes novel as I enjoyed this one immensely.

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Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Book Review: The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd (Hercule Poirot, #4)The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I'd heard that this book was amazing when it came out. That it was groundbreaking, and shocked all of it's readers. So I went into The Murder of Roger Ackroyd with excitement and anticipation.
Don't get me wrong, I love Agatha Christie and the characters she creates. I love Hercule Poirot although I always picture David Suchet in my head, and I love how the plot unravels bit by bit.
Poirot sees so much that other people miss, and it's clever how information is deduced.
My only complain, and it's my fault as opposed to the author's, and that's I worked out the ending. I like being held in suspense until the last minute, so for me I was disappointed. But, for it's time The Murder of Roger Ackroyd would have been shocking and an ending nobody saw coming. Unfortunately this isn't the 1930's. I look forward to my next Christie novel!

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Sunday, 12 May 2013

Book Review: The Invisible Ones by Stef Penney

The Invisible OnesThe Invisible Ones by Stef Penney
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I haven't been able to go to A Book And A Beer Club in aaaaages because of my shift pattern. But now that my shift has changed I still can't go. But I've started reading the books to catch up and get back in to the swing of things.
I'd never heard of Stef Penney or her other books so I had no expectations going into this book. The Invisible Ones follows a private investigator called Ray and a fourteen year old boy called JJ as Ray investigates the disappearance of a woman named Rose Janko.
Following both narratives keeps it interesting, and it helps the reader understand more about this community of people. I also liked the glossary of words at the beginning of the book.
Overall, this is a different kind of missing persons case. I found it interesting, and as I was reading I felt myself getting sucked in without even realising it.
Although I've heard this is different to Stef Penney's other work, I am looking forward to reading it.

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Thursday, 2 May 2013

Book Review: Caught by Harlan Coben

CaughtCaught by Harlan Coben
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The first Harlan Coben book I read took me less than twenty four hours. I read it solid, couldn't put it down. Since then I have been a massive fan of his. I prefer the stand alone novels to the Myron Bolitar series and one or two of the books I found a little predictable or I guessed the ending, (which I don't like to do!) but this wasn't one of them.
We first meet Dan Mercer, the coach for a hockey team of foster and orphan children. He's going to see a girl named Chynna who needs his help. As soon as he arrives he gets jumped on by a camera crew led by reporter Wendy Tynes, who picks up the narrative from then on.
I like the way Coben writes Dan Mercer, you feel like you're in his head and that you understand the man. From the off I got a judgement of him and I never doubted him. I won't say too much because I'll give away the story.
Wendy Tynes is a decent female lead, and strong, which I particularly admire, but can be a little annoying at times. Her sense of humour is great, and she gets sarcastic quickly which I relate to. Her faith in the other characters is also interesting.
The only thing that I didn't really like about this story is the American High School stuff, and I know, seeing as it's set in America and about a missing school girl, it has to be, but I find it all a bit cringey. The couples are all high school sweethearts and I doubt that's the case in real life.
The ending also fell a bit flat for me. I had my sneaking suspicions all along that it had to be one of a few people, so I wasn't shocked at the ending, not as much as I like to be at the end of a Harlan Coben thriller!

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Saturday, 27 April 2013

Book Review: Dying Fall by Ruth Galloway

Dying FallDying Fall by Elly Griffiths
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I've always been a fan of Elly Griffiths' Ruth Galloway books. To me they are the perfect combination of murder mystery with a sprinkling of lovey-dovey stuff. I think the characters play a large part in this as by and large, I love Ruth Galloway. I think she's funny, clever, brave, and I love the fact that she doesn't see it. Sometimes, she can bang on about her weight too much, but I'll overlook that for such a strong female lead.
Cathbad and Nelson are also great characters. I love the spiritual side of Elly Griffiths' books, it stops them from becoming bog standard police procedural. Cathbad's actions in this book made him one of the central characters and it's nice to see his view on the world.
Nelson is still as stoic as ever. Spending a week with his family provides a lot of the comedy, and the tension as Ruth, Kate and Cathbad come to dinner.
It was nice to have a change of scenery and head to Blackpool and Lytham, although I did miss Cloughie. But I think the new location improved the story line. Nelson wasn't the one running the police investigation so we got to see him and Ruth in a new light.
I also enjoyed the fact that, in quite a traditional way, there were only a few suspects and each new piece of evidence sent you to one, or another. I didn't guess the murderer, but then, the Ruth Galloway books are different for me. I enjoy the ride rather than race to finish. Talking of endings, the last books have always had the same ending, Ruth gets herself in trouble, someone (normally Nelson), saves the day. It was good to have a different ending and I'm not a parent, but the way Griffiths' describes Ruth's emotions was incredible.
Without giving too much away, the archaeology aspects of this case are also really interesting too for any history buff.
Overall, the only thing I had a major problem with is the title. It kind of gave away the ending a bit and wasn't really linked to anything else. I think 'The Unquiet Grave' would have been much better!

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Friday, 19 April 2013

Book Review: Casino Royale by Ian Fleming

Casino Royale (James Bond, #1)Casino Royale by Ian Fleming
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I thought it best that my first foray into the written word of James Bond be Casino Royale, seeing as it's the first and one of the books for World Book Night 2013. I've seen the recent film version starring Daniel Craig (not the David Niven spoof) so I had a vague idea of the plot and certain characters.
The character of James Bond isn't always what you expect. He views women as sex objects, or something that 'gets in the way' which the film has used but softened to a degree. Bond has also put a deposit down on a Morris Minor, which is so un-Bond-like that I had a bit of a giggle at that.
Ian Fleming is a great writer. By the end of the novel I felt like I knew the characters, and he explains the card game very well. I had no problem following the game and the tension as Bond and Le Chiffre played was brilliant. I felt myself clenching my hands as the stakes grew.
Overall, a brilliant read and I can't believe it took me so long to read it! I can't wait to get onto the next.

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Sunday, 14 April 2013

Book Review: Dead Until Dark by Charlaine Harris

Dead Until Dark (Sookie Stackhouse, #1)Dead Until Dark by Charlaine Harris
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Okay, deep breath everybody, because I have been saving up this rant for quite a while now.
I love vampire stories, I watched every single episode of Buffy and Angel and have read copious amounts of vampire fiction (however I feel I should mention that I have not read and have no desire to read the Twilight series).
There are some proper die hard fans of the Sookie Stackhouse series, and I'd seen trailers for True Blood and thought it looked good. Maybe I shouldn't have had any expectations going into this, but I was expecting an edgy, gory book, filled with sexy vampires, lots of action and tension. What I got was a massive let down.
For a start, Sookie, although nice must have some kind of personality disorder (on top of her little gift) because she can't make up her mind and her reactions and emotions are all over the place. One minute she's in love with Bill, the next minute she hates him. There seems to be no flow of thoughts through her head that are connected. It's more off again, on again than Ross and Rachel and at least both of those characters were likable. She also gets angry at her friends without good reason. For example, Andrea wants her to babysit the kids, but doesn't want the vampire there. Having been to 'Fangtasia' (awful name by the way), she must understand why Andrea thinks vampires are horrible and instead of storming off in a huff, she should have talked to her.
The conglomeration of other vampires we meet vary in style and substance. We meet Viking Eric, with his long blonde hair (I liked the fact that vampires couldn't change their hair once they'd been turned) who seems a bit unrealistic, but hey, he's a vampire and Long Shadow, a Native American vampire. I thought that was a fantastic idea, maybe he should have his own prequel.
The actual plot running alongside all the vampire goingson is that girls are getting murdered for being associated with vampires. The murder mystery side is good and to be honest that was the thing that kept me going to the end of the book. In fact, I added a star back on when I found out who it was because I didn't see it coming.
I also have an issue with the style of writing as a whole, it seemed so clunky and disorganised, and did we really have to know what Sookie was wearing all the time? In fact, most of the residents of Bon Temps seemed to have a fashion issue.
I told you this would be a rant! On the subject of fashion (sort of), my one rule when reading vampire fiction is that no matter how good the vampire is, he still has to be sexy (which is why I refuse to read Twilight, vampires don't glitter). I get that Bill is a good vampire and doesn't kill people anymore. I'm not expecting to walk around in leather, but there was one line that made me laugh out loud and I don't think it was supposed to. Bill and Sookie were just about to 'get it on' and he 'toed off his sandals'! Haha! I mean seriously men wearing sandals is never a good thing, ever, and vampires should definitely not be wearing them!
So as I was reaching a third of the way through I wondered why people wanted to read this book, why they kept coming back, why on earth it was a bestseller. I thought, it must be the sex. Having read some reviews of the series True Blood I know that it features a lot and gathered that they had adapted that from the book. So, the first sex scene arrived and it was dreadful, as Sookie would say 'gosh darn awful'. There was no fizzle, no excitement, no chemistry between the two. And they seem to have sex at the most awkward of times. One moment their chatting, or arguing, or she's crying and then they're at it. At one point Sookie says something about Bill's 'personality' and I wonder if she's actually met him because he doesn't seem to have any.
Another reviewer said that Dead Until Dark is like a supernatural soap opera, and I definitely agree with that. Everything seems overly heightened, characters and dialogue are over the top and they even have the names to match. It's quite ironic that the vampires (who are called Bill, Liam, Eric, Pam...) seem to have the most boring names, yet they're supposed to be the interesting people.
Overall, this book started out a guilty pleasure and just turned guilty as I read on. I may read another, but I think I'll check out the series as I've heard it's good and much better than the books!

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Monday, 8 April 2013

Book Review: Nineteen Eighty by David Peace

Nineteen EightyNineteen Eighty by David Peace
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I'm a massive fan of David Peace, I love his writing style, the rush. I always feel like I am completely absorbed in the story and the characters when I'm reading it.
I'd read both of the preceding books and I'd seen all of the superb Channel 4 TV series, so I had a good idea of what would happen. Maybe this was my downfall, because there was less anticipation, I knew what to expect and generally where the story would be going.
I love how David Peace writes, like you're in the character's head, hearing their thoughts. The tension is impeccable and the dialogue zips along a break neck speed.
I can't wait for the fourth and final installment!

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Saturday, 30 March 2013

Book Review: Murder On The Orient Express by Agatha Christie

Murder on the Orient ExpressMurder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I had attempted to read this before, when I was a little younger, and I couldn't really get in to it. There was something that stopped me from delving in to the world of Christie. This time around, I absolutely loved it. It took me all of one page to get hooked in to the narrative, the characters and the fantastic dialogue. I've also been a fan of watching Poirot and Miss Marple on the TV, but I'd never read any of them before.
Murder On The Orient Express is perhaps the most famous Agatha Christie novel and features the best ever Belgian Detective, Hercule Poirot. The story revolves around the murder of Samuel Ratchett, which occurs just as the train grinds to a halt due to a snow drift. Leaving Poirot to conclude that the murderer is still on the train.
I won't spoil the ending, I remembered what happened about halfway through as I had seen the adaptation on ITV at Christmas 2010, but the way Poirot solves the mystery is brilliant.
I always find that with Agatha Christie I am taken off into this wonderful 30's world, full of intrigue, surprises and little French sayings!
Overall, très bien!

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Saturday, 23 March 2013

Book Review: The Walking Dead Vol. 3 by Robert Kirkman

The Walking Dead, Vol. 3: Safety Behind BarsThe Walking Dead, Vol. 3: Safety Behind Bars by Robert Kirkman
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I'm reading these books alongside watching the TV series, so I'm a little bit bias in that respect. So in my head, Andrew Lincoln is Rick Grimes, along side the other actors from the fantastic programme.
I think the issue I have is the tension that is missing from the books. The illustrations are good, the characters interesting, even if there are a few too many for me to keep track of.
The story is genuinely interesting, and I love that the writers focus on the emotions of the characters and how they react to everything happening as well as zombie attacks.
But the ridiculousness of events make me roll my eyes. Everyone appears to be shacked up with the most unlikely people, Rick is willing to let four prisoners just move in without any concern over the safety of his family and last but not least there's a lesbian kiss.
I find that everything just happens too quickly and there's no time to process it. If it was a novel, maybe it would be better.
I also find that characters are less sympathetic. Hershel, who I like in the series, I don't like at all in the book.
So overall, this is a three. I will continue reading in hope that the series gets better but I think I will enjoy the TV series more.

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Friday, 22 March 2013

Book Review: Close to the Bone by Stuart MacBride

Close to the Bone (Logan McRae, #8)Close to the Bone by Stuart MacBride
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I always feel like I'm in a safe pair of hands with a Stuart MacBride novel, especially those featuring the only sane in policeman in Aberdeen, Logan McRae. Close to the Bone is no exception.
In this story, the first victim we come across is a man who has been 'necklaced', which for those not up to date on their gang related terminology is when somebody's head and arm is stuck through a tyre, which is then set alight. What follows is more gruesome murder, all centred around a book called Witchfire, which is currently being made into a film. There is a certain crew member which most fond readers of the Logan McRae series will be surprised and delighted to find has returned, if only briefly.
MacBride does two things that I absolutely adore, and that balance out each other perfectly. His dark, horrific murders, described in perfect detail and the humour from his eccentric characters, particularly DCI Steel and DS Rennie. I also enjoy the fact that the characters are progressing in their careers. Logan himself is now an Acting DI.
This plot in particular is interesting and I really enjoyed how everything comes together. Every small case is all part of one big plot.
We also have to contend with Logan's personal life, and I'm personally awarding myself ten points for working out what was going on with Logan's girlfriend. (I've not read Shatter The Bones by the way.)
The writing and dialogue is quick witted, and I find myself laughing and then grimacing in horror. Stuart MacBride is a genius and I'm not far off reading all of the Logan McRae books now. I can't wait to get my hands on another!

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Saturday, 9 March 2013

Book Review: It by Stephen King

ItIt by Stephen King
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

It took me a long time to get through this book. The Three Musketeers took me a whole month, this took me a month and three weeks. I'm not entirely sure why, because I normally zip through even the longest Stephen King books.
First of all, I will start with the positives of It. Stephen King is a fantastic writer, there is no changing that. He could make even the boring, most mundane text interesting and vibrant. The events, characters and plot of It are all superb. The seven children who we meet throughout the book are brilliant. All of them are unique and have different, specific characteristics which make them enjoyable to read. Their relationships, which are important to the story are well thought out and believable. The idea, is also exceptional. The villain of the piece is Pennywise the clown, who can become what each child fears the most. Every twenty seven years he returns to Derry, Maine and kills several children. What's more, he can only be seen by children. The story follows the children in the fifties as they encounter Pennywise as eleven year olds, and in the eighties when they are in their late thirties.
I'm amazed that King can write in a stutter, an Irish and Mexican accent. All of these are believable and surprisingly readable.
There are only a few negatives, despite the amount of time it took me to read this book. The first is that King overcomplicates the ending. To avoid spoilers I'll just say, the bad guy is not what you expect. For me personally, I think Pennywise is much creepier than what's behind the mask. For a generation of people, King made clowns absolutely horrifying.
The other negative is the sexual content that appears near the end of the story. I think it's inappropriate and unnecessary considering the age of the protagonists. There must have been another way for the children to reconnect with each other than what King has written. If the children had been a little older, maybe I wouldn't have been as bothered, but I work with children of that age and they really are still children.
Overall then, three stars for a book that I was looking forward too, but ultimately disappointed by. I think I'll have a King break for a little while.

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Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Book Review: The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

The Book ThiefThe Book Thief by Markus Zusak
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I wasn't entirely sure if I was going to like this book. From the blurb I could tell that I had never read anything else like it. In fact, I doubt there is another book like it at all.
It's the story of Liesel, who is 'The Book Thief' from when she leaves her home and arrives with her foster parents Hans and Rosa, to living as a teenager through Nazi Germany and the Second World War. It sounds depressing, but despite it's sad moments, it really isn't. It's sweet and funny with a menagerie of interesting characters that she meets through this period of her life, my favourite probably being Rudy Steiner, her best friend and a Jesse Owens wannabe.
The fact that it's narrated by death also makes it interesting. He has a different take on the events in the story. It isn't related to religion in any way either which I think is better. Death isn't God, he's just the caretaker.
The Book Thief really is for book lovers, it takes you on a wondrous tale without really leaving Himmel Street.
This is a book that I will cherish for a long time and I look forward to reading it again and passing it onto others. It made me laugh and it made me cry and it's a book everybody should read.

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Saturday, 12 January 2013

Book Review: How To Lose Friends And Alienate People by Toby Young

How to Lose Friends and Alienate PeopleHow to Lose Friends and Alienate People by Toby Young
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This book does not do Toby Young any favours. I'd seen the trailer of the film, but other than having a vague idea of what it was about I pretty much went in blind.
First of all, I don't think I am the target audience for this book. I'm that kind of person that Toby Young describes that is interested (not obsessed) with celebrity culture. The bits I found most interesting were the times he was trying to get into parties and the various encounters with celebrities or people of authority. The bits where he droned on about his school days and psychology were lost to me. My brain just seemed to glaze over.
Half of the time, Toby comes across as likeable, you could even sympathise with him, but for a lot of the time he does come across as a twat who gets himself in these ridiculous situations.
One part I did find interesting was the law suit with the famous couple. I would have liked to know more about that. I would have also liked to know what the people mentioned in the book think about what Toby has written.
Two stars for the silly, funny bits, but minus three for his idiocy.

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Wednesday, 2 January 2013

Book Review: Sky Burial by Xinran

Sky Burial: An Epic Love Story Of TibetSky Burial: An Epic Love Story Of Tibet by Xinran
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I had a great deal of trouble finding an author beginning with the letter X and after reading some great reviews I settled on Sky Burial by Xinran. The story is about a Chinese woman who goes searching for her husband who joined the army and went to Tibet in the height of their conflicts. My knowledge of Chinese and Tibetan history is absolutely pants so I went into this book with no knowledge of any of it. In fact, it was the bit that I cared least about, but Shu Wen's story was magical, sad, interesting and suprising. Being introduced into this culture is fascinating and makes me want to visit Tibet and China. Wen's relationship with the Tibetan family she encounters is enlightening and is a true show of human compassion. But the most important thing in this story is Wen's relationship with her long lost husband Kejun. The lengths she goes to find him are indescribable, astonishing and are a mark of true love. The reason why I didn't give this five stars was because I struggled to understand all of the politics and the end I felt was a little disappointing and left some things open. I understand this is a true story and the author has tried to contact Shu Wen again, so maybe there will be more of her story in the future.

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