Sir Furboy's 75 Books

Discussions75 Books Challenge for 2016

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Sir Furboy's 75 Books

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Modifié : Avr 28, 2016, 5:15am

I have let this go for a few years, but it is time I did another 75 book challenge. I am also doing a category challenge that I may cross link.

Anyway, here goes:

1. The Knife of Never Letting Go, Patrick Ness

Todd Hewitt is the last remaining boy in a town of men on a new colony planet. Only things on the planet did not go according to plan. There were aliens no-one knew were there, and then there was the germ that changed everyone so that Todd can hear everyone's every thought, and everyone can hear his too.

Everything changes one day, close to the birthday that will make him a man, when Todd hears something in the swamp - or rather it is something he doesn't hear, but that not hearing changes everything.

This is a remarkable young adult novel by a very clever writer. The story is excellent, told in the first person with a very immediate style. There is no hanging around either, as the book launches into a series of events that slowly and carefully unravel an intriguing mystery. World creation was clever here, although in some ways it seems to be an allegory on the colonisation of America. Characterisations are very rich, and although there is a polemic to the story, it does not fall back on stereotypes, and is not a case of moralising by the author. Indeed, in places it is exactly the opposite. Todd comes to realise that sometimes there are no good choices.

This is a book about love, hate, redemption and human frailty. It is and incredibly interesting novel that I cannot do justice to in a short review and is highly recommended.

Modifié : Jan 3, 2016, 4:25am

Welcome back! I really enjoyed The Knife of Never Letting Go when I read it a few years ago.

Jan 2, 2016, 8:01pm

Hey, welcome back!

Jan 2, 2016, 9:11pm

Great to see you here!

Happy New Year!

Jan 3, 2016, 1:05am


Jan 4, 2016, 5:21am

Thanks for the welcome messages. It is good to see some familiar faces.

Modifié : Avr 28, 2016, 5:15am

2. Ship Breaker - Paulo Bacigalupi

This novel is a well written and imaginative work set in a future where natural resources are running dry and the world is riven by huge inequalities. Nailer is a teen who works as a ship breaker, part of a gang who work to salvage whatever can be sold from the hulks of old ships. The work is hard and dangerous, and only rewarding for the very few who manage a lucky strike and also protect their finds from those who would take it from them.

Everything changes for Nailer when he discovers a wreck of a rich yacht, and then discovers a living "Swank" on board. Through an extraordinary and, in the minds of many, foolish act of compassion, Nailer gets drawn into a world of elite power politics. In over his head, he shows courage and determination to do what he knows he must, to bring about a wonderful tale of high adventure.

The story is set in a different looking gulf coast of America, where rising sea levels have changed the geography from what we know. It is both a dystopian look at our future and also perhaps a social commentary on our present, but first and foremost, as it should be, it is a great read for young adults and adults alike.

Modifié : Avr 28, 2016, 5:16am

3. Boy 7 - Mirjam Mous

This was my first book ever read in Dutch. It was a little strange because it was actually set in the USA, which I did not realise when I bought it. I was expecting more immersion in Dutch culture from my first Dutch read, but I suppose there is no reason why Dutch authors must only write about Dutch speaking places.

Boy 7 (an older teen) finds himself alone on a remote world with no memory of who he is, or what he is doing there. He has a backpack, a phone with a voicemail message from himself telling him not to call the police, a roll of banknotes, a picture of a grey building, a Pizza Hut leaflet and a scrawled telephone number that turns out, when he calls it, to be a public payphone.

That is an interesting way to start a book, and he is quickly befriended by a girl, Lara. Lara is about his age - old enough to drive though. She takes him to her aunt's guest house, and slowly Boy 7 begins to trust her enough to enlist her help in unravelling the mystery.

This was actually a very interesting read. The story moves along quickly enough, which was good as it made up for my slow reading speed with it. There are some nice twists and turns and a story about corruption and power, and events much larger than just one boy lost in the American desert.

Some things seemed a touch odd - principally the way that Lara just accepted that Boy 7 would be called Boy 7 (the only name he can think for himself based on the number on his clothes) - but perhaps that is explained by later events.

This is a good young adult story.

Modifié : Mai 5, 2016, 6:10am

4. A Boy Called Hope - Lara Williamson

Dan Hope hasn't seen his dad for four years until the day he pops up on television as a news reader. This event spurs him to try to make contact, but the attempts are ignored - or perhaps the messages are just not getting through.

We hear about how his older sister has gone all mean and weird, and about his mother's new boyfriend. We see him struggling through school and life in a way that was hilarious and heart breaking.

Dan Hope is a wonderful naïve but still intelligent boy, sparkling with life and a sense of adventure. Written in the first person, his observations are just perfect, and I could not help but warm to the character at once. He sometimes blunders and sometimes marches headlong through a series of events that reveal things about himself and others that eventually reach to a very satisfying conclusion, if a touch bittersweet too.

A great coming of age novel, with wonderful characterisations. Thoroughly recommended.

Jan 14, 2016, 10:59am

5. Abomination - Robert Swindells

Over the years I have read a lot of books by Robert Swindells, and have often found them somewhat disturbing. This book just shouts out that it could be disturbing, and so it has been on my TBR shelf for some years just waiting for me to get around to it, and I have been avoiding it.

Which is a pity, as it turns out, because it really was very good!

Martha is the daughter of religious parents from an ultra strict Christian or Christian like sect. She dresses plainly, and lives a life without modern distractions like computers or TV (the book was written before smartphones, so they don't figure either). She is, nevertheless, in a state middle school, where she is bullied because she is different.

And then along comes Scott, a new boy in the school, whose engaging, winning, and wonderfully plausible character shines through the pages of this work. We spend half of our time in Scott's head, and half of the time in Martha's, and both characters are well drawn, but it is Scott who brings a touch of humour, and a good dose of normality to a book about something very strange indeed... because Martha's family has a secret. A secret called Abomination.

To avoid spoilers I won't say any more, but this book is well written, and despite the religious nature of some characters, it does not descend into any silly attacks on religion but rather looks at the choices some very flawed people might make, and the repercussions of these.

Jan 15, 2016, 9:39am

6. The Ask and The Answer Patrick Ness

Another fantastic book by Patrick Ness. This may be classed as Young Adult fiction but it might as well be classic science fiction. It picks up where "The Knife of Never Letting Go" leaves off and describes how Todd and Viola cope with being at the mercy of the former mayor and now president (or dictator) of the whole of "New World". In the course of the events we see a succession of moral dilemmas unfold, and as ever with Patrick Ness, there are no easy answers. Instead the protagonists must navigate their way through a quagmire of compromises and difficult decisions to stay alive, and to attempt to save each other.

Like all good science fiction, the writer writes of a future but speaks to today. You can see echoes of the whole concept of New World in the history of the European colonisation of the "New World", America, in the past. We can also see attitudes and choices and beliefs that can all be found in the world today.

A core point of tension in this book is the existence of "the noise", where men's thoughts are broadcast to others in their vicinity. We see that this is the way the whole planet works: everything on the planet speaks to each other. The sea is full of dangerous fish who tell you they are going to eat you, and then they eat you. The intelligent species of aliens communicate in this way so much that they have almost know spoken language. And yet curiously the women can keep their thoughts private - are unable to share their thoughts with others.

From a pedantic point of view, that is one of the less believable aspects of the book. The idea that aliens from another world (us) would be so well adapted that men could share thoughts in this way - and yet something about a lack of a y chromosome ensures women do not - stretches credulity somewhat, but engaging one's willing suspension of disbelief, it makes for some delicious tension and conflict that spills out into an all out war.

Additionally in this book there is a cure for the noise in men so that some men too can hide their private thoughts, but control of that cure is used to control the men too.

Personally I was particularly struck by some thoughts about the privacy debate when reading this. I am sure there is much else the book talks about, but at a time when the UK conservative government continues to fight to be allowed to access everything anyone says on the Internet, this book can certainly make you think. Because in this book, elites can choose to hide their private thoughts, but insist on being able to hear the thoughts of everyone else, for security reasons.

Other analogies to political debates come when all women are expelled, locked up or otherwise kept away from men because some of them may be dangerous, and because they cannot be spied upon. Also there was the part where women are fitted with a kind of branding ring that permanently marks them with a number, and the president/dictator asks: if they have nothing to hide, why wouldn't they allow it?

I am sure other people would find other things in this book because it is really very intelligent, very thoughtful, very profound. Definitely recommended.

Jan 18, 2016, 9:57am

7. Escape from Furnace - Alexander Gordon Smith

This is an unrelentingly miserable book that bizarrely is highly rated on Amazon. I do not quite understand that because as a story it has some major problems. All the same you can see why it might appeal to the imaginations of some of its young adult target audience.

Furnace is a new type of underground penitentiary for young offenders who the government has got really tough on, following some violent year in the recent past that has apparently completely changed social attitudes. Not to the point that the state executes the young criminals, but to the extent that they are happy to bury them deep underground for the rest of their natural lives, and never to be seen again.

One wonders, therefore, how that is really different from execution... but there we go.

So with willing suspension of disbelief firmly engaged, we follow 14 year old Alex down into Furnace, convicted of a murder for which he was framed by the prison governor himself. He may have been framed for that crime, but Alex is definitely guilty of others, including housebreaking.

When we join Alex in Furnace we find a regime that is so dark and disturbing that I just wanted to stop reading, and I cannot imagine ever recommending this book to anyone else because of it.

Unsurprisingly his thoughts turn to escape, and we follow him and a few others through a series of events that lead them to their escape attempt.

And then the book stops, like one of those free self published works that mistakenly thinks the way to keep its readers reading is to tell half a story and stop in the middle of it before charging for "book 2".

Usually this trick will cause me to add the author to my "never to read again" list, but I decided that on this occasion there was maybe just enough conclusion to the story to allow me forgive it. Just! In any case I was able to borrow book 2 from the library, so I leapt straight into that. See below.

Despite the fact that I read book 2, I am not recommending this one. Dark tales are all well and good, but there should be some let up to the darkness - and if that happened in this book, I missed it.

8. Solitary - Alex Gordon Smith

Book 2 of this series, or the continuation of book 1 if you prefer. We find out how the escape attempt proceeded, and although I would like to avoid spoilers, the name of the book is perhaps a bit of a giveaway.

And if book 1 was unremittingly dark, then book 2 was... well it was certainly no light at the end of the tunnel.

Actually there is, quite literally, a light at the end of a tunnel in this book, but don't let that fool you.

There are things about this book that I would admit place it better than self published works. the writing is competent, often good. The characterisations are pretty well thought through too. Alex in particular is a well considered character.

This tale is not terrible, and it has all the elements of a good escape from prison style story, but the horrors of the place are really rather overdone.

Jan 19, 2016, 5:05am

9. A Monster Calls - Patrick Ness

Continuing my exploration of this author, here is another delightful short tale. The author credits Siobhan Dowd with the idea, but she died of cancer before she could realise it, which makes the book much more poignant as it describes the terminal illness of 13 year old Conor's mother. Conor's father has divorced and moved to America, and the only other significant adult in his life is his grandmother who is somewhat old fashioned, proper, and unused to boys. He does not get on well with her.

But then a monster comes calling. A monster represented by an old yew tree behind Conor's house, and the first encounter with the monster is amusing and intriguing, as well as scary.

Conor's character is great. In deed all the characterisations work well in this book, and the story really tugs at the heart strings. All the characteristics of Patrick Ness's writing are there. First person narrative that is very immediate, difficult decisions and a lack of easy answers, and an emotional rollercoaster of a story packed into a small but interesting space.

This one rightly won the Carnegie medal in 2012 as well as the Greenaway medal.

Jan 19, 2016, 5:44am

>13 sirfurboy: I loved that one too and thought the illustrations were stunning. I think I heard they were also making a film.

Jan 21, 2016, 9:36am

>14 souloftherose:

A film would be very interesting.

Next book:

10. Magisterium The Iron Trial Holly Black, Cassandra Clare

This book achieved something that many books often fail at: it managed to surprise me with the ending. Perhaps I was not paying enough attention, because looking back, all the clues were there. Nevertheless it caught me by surprise and transformed the book from one I was fairly sure was going to be placed in the derivative "Harry Potter clone" category into one that was something else entirely. It also was transformed from the first in a series I would not have bothered complete into the start of a series I am now eager to continue with.

So what can I say without plot spoilers? Well I will describe what I *was* thinking as I read through, and just hope that the description is not a turn off, because the book exceeds expectations.

Callum Hunt is an ordinary boy living an ordinary life. Following an accident at birth he has a bad leg which prevents him from getting involved in much physical activity, but otherwise he is an all American boy. That is until he gets to try out for an American Wizard school known as the Magisterium,

Now Callum has known about magic all his life. he knows it killed his mother and no good comes from it. His father is a wizard who renounced his magic, and Callum is determined to do the same. He is determined to fail the entrance exam.

He nearly succeeds too, at one point being the first candidate to score negatively in a test, but as fate would have it, his wizarding powers just have a way of showing through and he scrapes into the magisterium. What is more, the foremost instructor in the school chooses Callum to join his elite group of apprentices.

What follows is Callum's first year at Wizard school, along with all the mystery of his birth, his father's dislike of wizards, his own powers and, of course, a dark wizard intent on ruling the world (what else?)

Worth a read for lovers of the young adult genre, or indeed Harry Potter / Magyk / Percy Jackson fans. It is not actually any of these stories, but you will surely think it is at times.

Jan 21, 2016, 2:11pm

>15 sirfurboy: Instant book bullet! The library has both books and so I've ordered them to be sent to my local branch.

Jan 22, 2016, 8:35am

>15 sirfurboy: Yes!!! That ending!!! It caught me by surprise as well and turned it instantly from a "meh" read to "HOLY CRAP I NEED TO READ THE NEXT ONE NOW." It did the same thing to my husband as well, because he got so excited to read it after I was flailing around the house extolling how awesome it was, and when he was about 3/4 of the way through, he came to me looking smug and a little disappointed...and started complaining about how it was so derivative, he knew where the story was going, etc...but then he read the final 1/4 of the book and FINALLY UNDERSTOOD (and I had the last laugh after all). Mua-hahahaha!

Jan 22, 2016, 10:01am

I am glad it was not just me who was caught by surprise then.

Thanks for writing back, and Roni, I hope you like the book as much as we did!

Modifié : Jan 22, 2016, 11:15am

11. Earthfall Mark Walden

I am a bit embarrassed to put this one on my list because I found it on my ereader, could not remember it and so started reading it... and then I kept having a sense of deja vue, so I knew I had at least started it before, but I could not remember the end so I assumed I had not finished it. I kept going and the deja vue kept happening, until eventually I finished it and thought:

Well I know now why I forgot about this one.

It is not a terrible book. Sam is on his own and there has been an alien invasion of Earth. Every day is a struggle for survival, and one day that struggle looks set to overwhelm him. But then he is found by others and joins a renegade group fighting the invaders.

Good solid science fiction stuff for young readers. They will probably enjoy it, particularly late primary school age (9-11ish) and particularly boys. However I fully expect to have forgotten this book again sometime soonish, and that is down to weak characterisations, and the lack of anything really bold and original in the plot. Also some aspects seemed rushed, such as Sam's training, and that added to the sense of weakness in the characterisation.

I am well above the target demographic for this book, and although I love children's and young adult books, I would hate for anyone to think children will dislike this one just because of my problems with it. Younger readers will find what they want to find in it and enjoy it, but us older young adult readers may want to pass on this one.

Fév 1, 2016, 6:37am

12. Le Mystère de Gros-bois - MiTacq

Le Mystère de Grosbois is the first book in a Belgian (French language) comic book series called "La Patrouille des Castors" (The Beaver Patrol). It is drawn by MiTacq and the story is by Jean-Michel Charlier. It was first published as a series between 1954 and 1955 but published as a single book in 1957.

The Beaver Patrol consists of six scouts, each taking an animal moniker. Poulain (foal) is their leader, and when this book starts we find them on a hike in a forest where they come upon the ruins of an old abandoned abbey, empty since the French revolution. The Forest and abbey belong to the Baron de Grosbois, who is a kindly if reclusive old man living with his grandson, Alain.

There is a legend that the ruins of the abbey contain the treasure of the Baron's ancestors, hidden and lost in the turmoil of the revolution. The scouts are taken by the story as you would expect, and search for the treasure, but they are not the only ones looking!

This is a grand old fashioned boy's own story in comic book form. It is written entirely in French, and I am not aware of any English translation. I understand that the books are quite widely known in France though.

There is humour, mostly centring around one character, Tapir (whose moniker is the same in English). there is also a Tin-tin style adventure with treasure and thieves, good guys and bad guys.

Being a comic book it was also a good first book for me to read in French. as the amount of text, whilst not insubstantial, was less than a written novel, and the pictures helped too.

This is the first of a reasonably long series and I will keep going with these.

Fév 4, 2016, 6:14am

13. Gamerunner B R Collins

Rick is a gamerunner in a massive virtual reality RPG in a dystopian future world. His job is to look for bugs in the code, and he gets to play all day and live well in a protected bubble in the headquarters of the company who make the game. His father, Daed, is the game creator.

Things go sour one day when someone finds a hack into the roots of the maze and looks like he will successfully complete the RPG quest for the very first time. Rick is sent in to stop him, because under no circumstances must the game be finished.

This book was a fast moving adventure that built heavily on the dystopian genre and on computer gaming trends. The world has suffered climate catastrophes so that the air poisons you and the rain will kill you. The rich cocoon themselves away from a world that is disintegrating right outside of their little bubbles of safety.

The book had promise, but it was really a pretty miserable lead, and the story did not so much as finish as come to a crashing halt with pretty much everything unexplained and unresolved. As a story, this book fails. It felt like Murukami for young adults, and I am no fan of Murukami's habit of just abandoning his plot when he seems to get bored of writing!

So I tried to think if there was something deeper going on with the story. Why had I invested my time in reading a book that failed to resolve itself? What was it trying to tell me? I decided that the author was probably trying to make the story like a video game that also leaves you feeling like it is unresolved and demands you play it again. That may be why he chose to end the way he did - it was all a video game analogy.

That may be what he intended but it was not a video game, it was a story, so I did not much like the ending.

Is it a story that makes you think, though? Perhaps on that score it succeeds a little. You get a strong sense of "there must be more to life than this" from this book, although the book doesn't find anything more. In fact it all felt very nihilistic and depressing. A couple of faint touches of humour lift it slightly, but really this book must be aimed at angsty teenagers with a penchant for wearing black and playing violent video games.

I don't think I will be recommending it to anyone.

Fév 4, 2016, 2:27pm

Bummer! Thanks for taking one for the crew.

Fév 5, 2016, 10:57am

Yeah, really. The concept sounded interesting to me, especially as my son spent time as a game tester for a big time game company in his younger days.

Fév 9, 2016, 6:09am

14. Monsters of Men - Patrick Ness

The third in this trilogy and another wonderful book by Patrick Ness. Todd and Viola now must battle against not just the evil Mayor and the terrorists who fight him, but also against a whole army of the indigenous people of New World. And again the whole concept is clearly based on the colonisation of America, but set in a science fiction setting on a new planet, which allows the Spackle to be a little more alien, although perhaps not so very alien.

A Spackle army marches on New Prentisstown from one direction, and the forces of the Answer from the other. Mayor Prentiss has been freed by Todd to help defend the city, whilst Viola is with the scout ship, in hopes of acquiring additional aid. Events take various messy turns, and all the decisions are hard. Is Todd falling under the mayor's power? will one of the Spackle, The Return, mete out vengeance on Todd? Will the world be destroyed in a terrible scorched earth scenario?

Ultimately this story spins to a satisfying and fitting conclusion, but not before taking some twists and turns, some more predictable than others. Characterisations here are excellent. There are no cardboard cut out figures, and every character is beautifully nuanced, with a depth that shows why Patrick Ness is such a good author. I was reminded in some ways of Robin Hobb, who also can make you love all her characters and really understand them.

There is also Patrick Ness' trademark immediate writing which is very powerful. At one point, however, the alien Spackle seemed to think/talk just like Todd and I felt that maybe the author had failed to distinguish his voice appropriately. I then wondered if it was deliberate. The point is that The Return is a lot like Todd. Nevertheless it felt strange to have the same voice there, albeit it was a minor issue.

In terms of pure science fiction, perhaps the Spackle were just not alien enough. However I don't think that was the author's intent. The book is an allegory on human nature, and speaks to our real lives right now. The alien setting just provides a safe space in which to put all this conflict and messy decision making without the cultural baggage that a historical narrative would give it.

People will talk about these books for a long time, and deservedly so. However ultimately they are just a really good read and thoroughly recommended.

Modifié : Nov 29, 2016, 4:26am

15. The Reluctant Assassin - Eoin Colfer

Book one of a new(ish) series by Eoin Colfer, based around a secret FBI witness protection programme which keeps witnesses safe by sending them into the past - specifically Victorian London.

This is a good young adult story with heros, some dark villains, some gore and a good touch of humour. Pretty much Colfer's stock in trade really, and will delight his fans.

For me something doesn't quite click with Colfer's work though, and as with Artemis Fowl, I won't be excitedly rushing through this series. I would, however, give book 2 a go if I was at a loose end.

I can't really put my finger on what was wrong with this book, if anything. I think young adults will love it, but perhaps I have read too much in the genre and just didn't quite get excited by it.

Modifié : Nov 29, 2016, 4:27am

16. Earth Afire - Orson Scott Card, Aaron Johnson

I accidentally read this book before reading Earth Unaware which precedes it. That really did not help, but I managed to fill in the gaps over time.

The book purports to be a prequel to the now much overdone Ender cash cow. When the Ender series was still just a trilogy I loved it. The fourth book was interesting and clever too. Gradually, however, Card managed to keep milking the story until it no longer rated so highly for me. The book that broke it was the one that read like a massive game of risk, which exposed the superficiality of the politics and motivations.

Now, having written the Ender story from multiple points of view and having launched various characters off on their own, card has taken to retelling the story of the formic invasion of Earth.

And retelling is the word. Maybe reformulating or rewriting is also the right word because this invasion is not at all the one hinted at and discussed in the Ender series. I felt strongly that I was reading some other story entirely. This claims to be the Ender prequel but in fact it is just another alien invasion of Earth story, with card's stock in trade genius kids playing their parts.

And it is all a bit tired now.

This is a writer who was desperately original when he started off but is now just churning out the same old same old.

Characterisations are poor in this book. The action is fast and it is readable enough, and it could please readers who like an easy read alien invasion. I am not sure how much of the writing is done by Card and how much is Aaron Johnson attempting to write in the style of Card, but I don't really care anymore. I won't be filling in the gaps on this one - and as I have read every other book and short story by this author, that should be telling.

Modifié : Nov 29, 2016, 4:28am

17. Ghost Hawk - Susan Cooper

Susan Cooper's novels are always intriguing and interesting. This one is a well researched piece set in New England where a native boy's life will become entwined with the life of a European settler.

Avoiding spoilers is tricky now, because something quite strange and a little disturbing happens quite early on in this story that marks it out as quite different from what you might expect from this story, although perhaps there are clues in the title!

That event certainly disturbed me, but ultimately the book became better for it, and much more poignant in the end, when Susan Cooper seems to insert herself into her own story. She has mentioned before in her afterword of another book that she was privileged to meet the characters of her own stories, and so in this one she really does meet one of them, very briefly.

This was a touching tale, and I liked it a lot. However I suspect some might find the story a little disjointed. It is not a plot driven narrative but an exploration of historical events, and as with real historical events, they don't all happen in the way that a perfect story might allow.

That was not a problem for me though, and this is a thought provoking novel that shows this author has not lost her ability to spin a good tale.

Modifié : Fév 12, 2016, 12:27pm

Got tired of Orson Scott Card a long time ago--too many plots hinging on abusive relationships. So I'm with you there. Always wanted to love the Artemis Fowl books like my sister, but just liked. Looks like Gamerunner was trying to be another Ready Player One, which I did quite love, without hitting the mark. I have the first of the Ness trilogy in my tbr pile and will try to get to it this year as part of my ROOTS goal. And I love Susan Cooper and this is one I haven't read yet.

Fév 17, 2016, 5:00am

>28 ronincats:

It turns out that I have Ready Player One in paperback. Or at least my eldest daughter does, and she is reading it right now. When she is done, I will pinch it!

Fév 17, 2016, 5:16am

18. A Confusion of Princes - Garth Nix

I have read just about everything by Garth Nix but this one had slipped me by, for no better reason that I bought it for my daughter and after she was done, she placed it on a shelf in her room and I forgot all about it.

It was nice to rediscover it though, and the story is an interesting one, as you would expect from this author. This is set in a future galactic empire that covers millions of star systems, and ruled by an emperor that is connected to thousands upon thousands of princes through a kind of telepathic link known as the Imperial Mind. We follow Prince Khemri from his ascension and through his career as a prince. He is up front at the start of his tale that he died three times, because the imperial mind can restore a stored consciousness to a new body where necessary.

There are a variety of techs in this universe, and princes are selected for their aptitude with these. However they also vie for power and are as likely to assassinate you as to help you.

All in all this is a nasty world (or universe) filled with hierarchies and conventions and good guys and bad guys and a whole lot who just act the way they do because that is the way people act.

However Nix pulls this all off fantastically. His story is rich in detail, and action packed too. there are good characterisations, poignant moments and plenty of humour.

If you are looking for something like the Old Kingdom tales then this is not that. However this is a great story that shows Nix's versatility.

As in the Abhorsen stories, there is just a little sex, not described in detail, but enough that I would suggest this is a teen read rather than for younger children in general. Having said that, the references may be oblique enough that they would pass younger readers by. Maybe.

Anyhow this is still a great story. I am glad I found it again.

Fév 17, 2016, 5:28am

I have a bit of a dilemma with one other book I have read now. The book was written by someone I know and was self published. The writer was hoping for positive reviews but I cannot in all honesty give one. It really could have done with a good edit before being published, but even then the story has some faults (Mary Sue's, antagonists never really succeeding in anything, a big event that perhaps should be the climax happening in the first third and then largely forgotten, and as a Christian book, I think some bad theology!)

So... do I just list the title and no review? Or do I write a review and not mention the name of the book? or do I bite the bullet and write a full critical review? Or option 4: pretend I lost it? :)

Advice would be appreciated.

Fév 18, 2016, 6:00pm

Is this someone who is serious about their writing? Would take criticism well? Wants to get better? If so, I'd write a detailed critique to share with them personally, and ask if they want you to review the book at all publicly. If you do, I'd keep it general--needs some work but perhaps shows some promise? I know these things can be very touchy.

About the Young Wizards series, since you bought the first on Kindle, be aware that Duane's website usually has specials on the boxed set of all the first 10 books, often for as low as $24.99 for the set and recently someone mentioned $19.99.

Fév 19, 2016, 5:07am

Thanks for the advice, Roni. The detailed critique may be a problem because I think this person believes he is more than able to write a money spinner best seller and just knocked this out in a month with the intention of getting rich quick through Amazon. I don't think he is a serious writer (never knew him to write any fiction before), and he just went straight to self publishing without stopping to ask for advice. As such I think maybe my critique would be taken negatively.

I have tried suggesting a few issues already (e.g around typography, because I don't have to admit to having read the book to point out the wrong paragraph styles being used).

I have already been asked to review the book publicly, but the assumption is that I will give it a good review on Amazon. "Shows potential but needs some work" may be a useful phrase, thanks :)

Modifié : Fév 19, 2016, 5:12am

19. War of the Roses: Stormbird - Conn Iggulden

Conn Iggulden writes great historical novels, intertwining history with ordinary lives of common (but fictional) folk. He is not afraid to theorise about history behind the scenes and work those theories into his stories, and what results is a living tale that is full of interest and intrigue, and rich in historical detail.

The War of the Roses is not an area I knew a lot about before reading this book, but I am now considerably better informed. This book is the first of a series, and it is a series I will be continuing with interest.

Fév 19, 2016, 10:31am

>33 sirfurboy: Ah, with that attitude, don't bother to put any work into it! And with that attitude, I suspect he isn't someone who is particularly close to you.

Fév 22, 2016, 4:34am

Thanks again Roni, well no disguising this I guess:

20. Day of the Prophet - John Kay

Self published piece, interesting concept, needs some work.

Fév 22, 2016, 4:38am

21. War of the Roses: Trinity - Conn Uggulden

Second of this excellent series and the events move swiftly on, plunging us into battles and struggles and revolts, all told with the same energy and clarity that is the hallmark of this author. I have learned a lot about this period of Anglo/French history, and very much enjoyed doing so. Highly recommended.

Modifié : Fév 23, 2016, 4:35am

22. Cyfres Pen Dafad: Jac - Guto Dafydd

(Title means "Sheep pen series: Jac". This is a Welsh language book)

This book is marketed as for 11-15 year olds. Jack (whose age is never mentioned but appears to be in the middle of that intended age range) discovers a dead body in sand dunes near his home in North Wales. He is determined to get to the bottom of what has happened. Who was the murderer and why? He latches onto and helps out Jim the local police detective.

The story is something of a boy’s own detective adventure, but I found myself confused as to what age it was really intended for. I think teen readers would find this a bit young for them, and might be driven somewhat to distraction by the preposterous way that Jac inserts himself into the role of detective and has the police working with him! Younger readers who might let that slide could potentially be turned off by the slightly gory nature of the murders – but perhaps not! So I suspect the readership of this will be at a younger age than advertised.

That is also a good thing because the writing suffers from some issues. Characterisation is weak, and there is little development of the embryonic side plots. A romantic interest hits the buffers as soon as Jac predictably fails to turn up for his first date when Jim invites him along to do police work, for instance. After that there is only really one mention of the event and that is brief and contrived.

Younger readers won't mind because what is left is a fast plot based detective adventure without getting distracted by any other stuff. Nevertheless I can't help but think that if this book had been presented in English it would have been unlikely to get published. Not as a young adult novel, although perhaps as a younger children's novel.

Being set in North Wales (near Bangor) this story is written in North Wales dialect. Welsh dialects differ quite strongly, particularly between North and South, and so there were some phrases that had me scratching my head a little, but by the end of it I felt a lot more fluent in the dialect!

There is a twist in the end of this story. I predicted it very early on, and many other readers will too, but it does make the story more powerful.

All in all, this was a grand boy's own adventure about a boy who turns detective on the trail of a murderer.

Fév 24, 2016, 4:18am

23. The Rest of us just live here - Patrick Ness

This book is wonderful, funny, realistic and yet quaintly absurd in a manner not dissimilar to Harry Potter, and an all round good story. Nevertheless I have to give a huge warning to would be readers: Don't read this at the same time as, or anywhere close to reading Mortal Instruments! Not because there is anything wrong with this book, but because it so perfectly skewers all the urban fantasy tropes that it will certainly colour your impression of that other work.

Mikey is a ordinary (read: "mundane") teenager who lives in Washington State. His mum is a slick politician at a national level, whereas his dad is an alcoholic with a criminal past that he escaped conviction from through family connections and the desire not to mess up his mum's career.

The family are pretty mixed up. His older sister almost died from anorexia and he has OCD, which is well described and shows a level of research into the condition by the author. The most normal member of the family is doted on younger sister who is mad about a band called Bolts of Fire.

The problem is that he lives in a town where Things Happen. (Like a "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" Hell mouth, or other such urban fantasy settings). Some of the kids in school are known as the Indie kids, the special chosen ones, the "non mundanes". These kids attract strange occurrences – such as vampires, prophecies and end of the world, soul eating ghosts etc. and the High School occasionally gets blown up because of it, but mostly the Indie kids are just that group of secretive kids having adventures and only really showing up on the radar when they die, which happens a lot.

Mikey is not an Indie kid and this book is not about them, it is about the normal kids, the mundanes, those on the outside. He just wants to graduate and go to the prom with Henna (who he’s had a crush on for years). Something is definitely happening though as the Indies start to drop like flies. A run in with a zombie deer almost brings him into that world - but not quite.

Oh and did I mention Mikey's best friend Jared, who is gay, a strong supportive character, a good friend and... one quarter god of mountain lions!

This book is fantastic because it has very real, down to earth issues in wonderfully colourful and interesting characters living in the mundane world with all the while this zany background weirdness going on just out of reach.

And the satirical nature of that is biting! It really brings into focus all the shallowness of the urban fantasy stories that are so popular, and in typical Patrick Ness style, gets the reader thinking a bit more deeply about the characters of people, the choices we make, and how the rest of us do, indeed, just live here - but that is enough, because when it comes down to it, the real stories are just more interesting.

Mortal Instruments, which I read at the same time, is just entertainment. This is literature - and very entertaining literature too. Highly recommended.

Fév 24, 2016, 4:19am

24. City of Bones - Cassandra Clare

What happens if you take all the best ideas from a range of best selling young adult fantasy books and mix them all up into a new story? Mortal Instruments is the answer.

This is my second book I have read by Casandra Clare, and although I was positive about her first book, I now find that some of the issues I had with that first one may be habitual rather than a deliberate ploy for that book.

City of Bones is a story that starts in a Buffy the Vampire style urban fantasy setting, where a teen, Clary Fray, goes to a night club called Pandemonium and sees a blue haired boy and a black haired girl pursued by someone with a knife. On rushing headlong after them, she witnesses the blue haired boy being killed and vanishing. She is seen and the perpetrators explain that this is a demon returned now to his home dimension. Her best friend Simon returns with help, but cannot see the perpetrators, and so the mystery begins.

Only it wasn't much of a mystery because it was all so utterly predictable. This story is Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Harry Potter mixed together, but without the humour. There appear to be borrowings from other places too. The way the philosopher's stone...sorry the mortal cup that everyone is looking for is hidden made me think that Clare had read Susan Cooper, and indeed the fact that one of the mortal instruments turns out to be the book of Gramarye puts the question beyond doubt. Mortal instruments as a title has for a long time confused me with Philip Reeve's Mortal Engines series, and I think the name of the villain, Valentine, and other elements of the plot are borrowed from those (much better) books. The borrowings from Harry Potter are too extensive to list and sometimes so in your face it is almost scandalous, although I was put more in the mind of Buffy (or perhaps the spin off Angel) than Harry Potter, because the story was very much urban fantasy with funny faced demons. Ultimately I would rate it along with Twilight: meant for young teen girls and otherwise best avoided.

The writing was occasionally distracting too, with too many adverbs and some purple prose, but mostly I found the angsty teen sarcasm just grating on me. I think dialogue in this book is a real weakness, although some of the internal monologues were also just as bad. A few times I just audibly sighed, and it was a struggle to finish this book.

Like Twilight, this book could certainly have its admirers, even though I will never be one of them. If you haven't already read all the best young adult fiction that is out there then this book could be a riveting read of unexpected twists and turns, but as it was, I was rather unsurprised by any revelations - even the last big one.

Casandra Clare is not a terrible writer. It is clear she has the ability to put words together into a tale that keeps people reading, and manages to pull all her extensive source material into something that, although very very derivative, could be an addictive tale. I have read many worse stories than this, but rarely one so unoriginal, and that is what annoyed me most. I think Clare could produce some really great stories if she applied her considerable talents with some fresh and original ideas.

If you have read all the best young adult fiction out there and want to read it again... I still wouldn't bother with this, because all those books that this one draws on just did those ideas better in the first place.

I won't be reading more in this series. I will still read the sequel to the other Clare book I read recently (Magisterium), but this experience made me rather less tolerant of the rather deliberate derivative nature of The Iron Trial, which is a pity. At least that book had a very unexpected twist.

Fév 24, 2016, 10:52am

>39 sirfurboy: Oh, dear, another book bullet. At least the library has this one. Lovely review!

>40 sirfurboy: Oh DEAR! That one's been sitting in my tbr pile for a number of years now, never moving up.

Modifié : Nov 29, 2016, 4:25am

25. Le Petit Prince Antoine Saint-Exupéry

This is a delightful book, but what is it? It is hard to say. Philosophy for Children? Or is it written for adults? A fairy story for grown ups? I am not sure. However you can completely understand why it is a classic of French literature. Moreover it is not a very long book, which makes it an easier read if you want to read it (as I did) in the original French.

The story starts in the most charming manner, with the young author being inspired by a book he read about boa constrictors in the forest that eat their prey whole. He thus embarks on drawing a picture of a snake that has eaten an elephant whole, only all the adults who see his picture think he has drawn a hat. The illustrations in the book make it clear why. When he draws another picture to show the hat's gory secret, he is persuaded to give up his magnificent future career as an artist, and so he becomes an aviator instead.

And then his plane crashes in the desert and in a perilous state with limited water, he tries to repair his plane, but is interrupted by a small boy who asks him to draw him a sheep. At first he draws an elephant eaten by a boa constrictor because that is all he can draw, but the boy knows exactly what it is (unlike the adults) and persuades the aviator to instead try again. He does so, only the drawing is not right and he goes through various iterations, until eventually, in frustration, he draws a box and says the sheep is inside.

"c'est tout à fait comme ça que je le voulais" says the Little Prince. "That is exactly what I wanted."

By the time I was this far into the book I was enchanted by it and very happy to read through to the end. There is plenty more of this, and some wonderful wry observations. The Little Prince, it turns out, comes from an asteroid, so far away and so small that it can only be seen by a telescope. A Turkish astronomer discovered it once and told a meeting of astronomers but no one believed him because of his clothes. Fortunately he wore western clothes on a later occasion and then they believed him.

And so it goes on, and there are meetings with all kinds of strange characters, and so much sub text that I can only begin to guess at what this book is all about, but I don't mind because I just enjoyed it as a story too.

It has a poignant part, but the ending is still a good one, and this book surely cannot disappoint.

This is widely available in translation, but it was a lot of fun reading it in French, as it was written.

Fév 26, 2016, 4:57pm

>39 sirfurboy: I've been meaning to read that one for a while - great to hear you enjoyed it so much.

Mar 8, 2016, 9:59am

A busy week or two means I have not finished many books although I have a couple to report. Here is the first. I will try to write a longer review of the second one by tomorrow

26. Timesnatch - Robert Swindells

A benevolent scientist, working on her own, invents a time machine that can snatch living creatures from the past. She only shares the invention with her family and uses it to restore recently extinct animals to the wild. Only as the animals get bigger the efforts begin to attract the attention of the military and the press, and it is not always so easy to hide what is happening.

Good adventure by an accomplished children's writer with a fairly predictable ending.

Modifié : Mar 10, 2016, 5:18am

27. The Gathering - Isobelle Carmody

This book is not currently available as an ebook, and is not in print, but I found an audio version in the library and listened to it whilst driving on a work trip. It is a pity that the text copy would be hard to come by as it is a very good book that reminded me in parts of "The Chocolate War" but also had a supernatural or "magical realism" element too that reminded me strongly of David Almond.

Cheshunt is, depending on how you look at it, a model low crime neighbourhood, or a fascist one complete with night time curfews. As soon as Nathaniel moves there with his mother it is clear that he is wavering towards the second point of view. It does not help that his mother has moved the two of them so frequently that he is heartily sick of his rootless existence. It is perhaps relevant that his estranged father has recently died. The town itself smells of death because of the abattoir located there.

Things turn sour in school quickly when Nathaniel challenges a science teacher's love of ants and the way they all do what they are told. It is apparent that individualism is not cherished here, and his headmaster talks to him about it and then issues a detention when Nathaniel refuses to join the school youth club, "The Gathering".

Daniel is not the only one who resists the drive for conformity, however, and it turns out that a group of students have coalesced around an unusual leader who sees them as a magical circle of chosen ones, each of whom must find their totem. The totems are ordinary objects that take on a supernatural significance, and here there is a clever walk by the author along a tightrope between imaginative games and something that is actually a little supernatural.

Behind everything there is a rising evil and a hidden past to Cheshunt and Nathaniel is to discover and confront both the history of the place but also of himself too.

This was a well written book for young adults, and deserves to be more widely known. It is set in Australia by an Australian author, but it could just as easily be America, or (sans mention of a hurricane) many other countries. definitely worth a read if you can find it, but unless your library has it, second hand or audiobooks may be the only way to go with this one.

Modifié : Mar 12, 2016, 5:20am

28. Ready Player One - Ernest Cline

My daughter was reading this book and enjoying it when Roni mentioned it too, after my poor experience with "Gamerunner". I have to say I was quite blown away with how much better this book is than Gamerunner which was aiming for the same genre.

It is the 2040s, and a new dystopian reality has emerged as humans run out of so many natural resources and economies are collapsing. Wade Watts is a teen born into this era, and like so many people of his time, he escapes the bitter and squalid reality by logging into a virtual utopia known as the OASIS - a massive multi user immersive virtual world that would be familiar to readers of "Snowcrash" or any who believe the hype (if not the reality) of Second Life.

The creator of this world dies at the start of this story, but in his will he initiates a worldwide competition to solve a series of puzzles and win a prize that will confer on the winner ownership of the Oasis, the company that runs it and all assests to the tune of $240 billion. Wade, like many many people, thus devotes his life to studying the puzzles hidden within this world's digital confines—puzzles that are based on their creator's obsession with 1980s pop, geek and nerd culture.

As it turns out, Wade will uncover the first clue (that is not a spoiler - he tells us this in the first pages of the book), but with $240 billion at stake, that is not going to be problem free nor risk free.

In terms of structure, this book is a classic plot driven narrative in three acts. As such it feels like it is written to be a movie, and it was no surprise, when I finished the book and googled the author, to find that he is, in fact, a screenwriter. Moreover it seems he adapted his own book to be a screenplay and the film is slated for release in 2017.

I can also tell you that I will be watching that film, because this story really is a classic of its genre.

For me, the reading experience was enhanced by the fact that I grew up in the same era as the author, and all those 1980s references brought back many memories of the era.

There is a wealth of information in this book, and the history all appears to be quite right. I did not check some of the more obscure facts, but everything I remember is spot on.

Technically this is a good and well thought out book too. The author is clearly not just a "Dan Brown" style author who thinks he can write about geek stuff but is embarrassingly ignorant about it all. No, this author seems to understand how networks work, how online games and old arcade games work and, most importantly, how coding works.

He does not go into great detail about the coding, which is sensible - that would just bore some readers - but he shows an understanding about how programmers would make classes of objects, and then make instances of those classes, and how those classes would be distributed in world creation kits and such like.

One thing I struggled with slightly, although I am sure I understand his reasons, was that the world is described as "open source code", but then everyone hunting for the prizes is doing so by attempting to solve the puzzles in-world. To me it seems perfectly obvious that if the source code were available, even if the data itself is not available, you would probably have teams of people scouring the source for hooks, back doors or clues to solve the puzzle. Here though, everyone only searches in-world. A small gripe.

And then there was the part where I was convinced that the author was talking about one person in particular. An old friend of mine, Alan Cox. Now Alan was in University with me at a time when he was developing the first widely available open source multi user dungeon, AberMUD (it has a Wikipedia page). In fact some of my code went into AberMUD, although not much. We used to pull all nighters in a 24 hour computer room but my coding projects were generally different. Still we did play D&D together sometimes.

Alan took the pseudonym or handle of "Anarchy", but we used to joke around and call him Anorak (he did, after all, wear one!) So when I read about Richard Haliday in this book with his own avatar name of Anorak, I thought that Cline must be talking about Alan. I was even more convinced when I read about the girl who gave Anorak his name, a British Lord of the Rings fan, because Alan married Telsa Gwyn, AKA Hobbit. Moreover Haliday just sounded so much like Alan, albeit Alan never (yet) created an immersive 3D metaverse with haptic feedback. (He did, however, make a name for himself as one of the most important coders in the Linux community).

Sadly I had to pour a bucket of cold water over that theory when I discovered an author interview where he actually claims Haliday is mostly based on another British games programmer, Richard Garriott. Such a pity! Still the fact that I felt I was reading about a friend did add very much to my enjoyment of the book and my understanding (or perhaps mild misunderstanding) of the character.

Anyway a recommended read for anyone who likes good, well constructed, plot driven narratives, geeky books, or the 1980s.

Mar 11, 2016, 12:15pm

I've read Isabelle Carmody. I had one of her early books, Obernewtyn, but I donated it to the school library when I retired. An 80's dystopian YA, first of a series but I didn't continue with it.

So glad you gave Ready Player One a try and that your really enjoyed it. You appreciated a lot more than I could with your programming background and being the right generation for the trivia, but I thought it a very good story. Unfortunately his latest book, Armada, is getting routinely poor reviews.

Modifié : Mar 12, 2016, 5:19am

>47 ronincats: Obernewtyn is available for kindle, although if you did not continue the series then maybe I will let it slide (at least until I am hunting around for new books... well I can dream my TBR pile might shrink one day!)

Interesting comment about Armada. I looked at it before I wrote my review, thinking I might read more from this author, but I didn't pick it up. The write up just seemed to be a rip off of the movie "The Last Starfighter", and as I already knew this author knows all about 80's films, and is a screenwriter himself, he must surely have known this.

No doubt he brings something new to the story, but then, as the premise was reprising the computer gaming theme, I felt that this book had the feeling of cashing in on what had worked before. I will have to read the reviews now, however, to see if my guess was right, or whether there were other reasons people dislike Armada.

Mar 17, 2016, 6:40am

29. We can be Heroes - Catherine Bruton

Touchstone links to "Der Nine-Eleven-Junge" which appears to be the German title (The 911 boy). Weird.

This was a brilliant debut book by Catherine Bruton, written in 2011 about an English boy, Ben, whose father died in the twin towers tragedy. He is sent to his paternal grandparents in his 11th summer as his mother has been admitted to hospital because she "stopped eating". There he meets the neighbour's daughter, Priti. Priti is a very engaging character, somewhat precocious, intelligent, imaginative. Ben too is imaginative, and artistic. The cartoons he draws both in his head and on paper are a wonderful detail of this work.

Priti's parents are from Pakistan and are muslims, and before long the two of them are investigating whether Priti's brother might be secretly a suicide bomber. Meanwhile there is Ben's grandfather who holds racist attitudes and loves bad news, but is not a caricatured character -he has depth too. There is also Ben's uncle who is divorced, won't let his son, Ben's cousin Jed, have contact with his mother, and is a more extreme arcist who is clearly involved in a right wing extremist group.

There is also Priti's sister who is seeing a white boy of dubious background, and who will, according to Priti, be honour killed if she is found out.

All this is clearly a bit of a powder keg, with plenty of scope for misunderstanding and conflict, but in the midst of it are three ordinary children leading ordinary, imaginative and fun loving lives.

The book contains a nicely worked humorous counterpoint to what is therefore going to be a hard hitting look at racial hatred, violence, multiculturalism and extremism. It does it very well, not pulling any punches but also not being preachy or onesided.

The character journeys make this a very good read, and I will certainly add this author to my list of those whose books I would read again.

Mar 18, 2016, 5:03pm

I'm late in visiting your thread and saying hi. I remember your threads on previous years as being a good place to find new reads.

I'm invested in the Obernewtyn books, I have the last two to read, I have waited a few years for the last one to be published (finally in late 2015) before continuing. I remember enjoying her The Gathering many years ago which probably got me started on Obernewtyn. She started writing this series when at university and finally in her 50s she has completed it, I'm glad that I only picked it up about 14 yrs ago.

Mar 18, 2016, 8:57pm

Only just made it to your thread ( as I am a bit of a stataholic and keep a record of posts on threads over 50 threads - anorak I know) and nice to see Wales having more representation again in the group. Greatly enjoyed reading your reviews which are sure to drag me here now more often than not.

Have a good weekend.

Modifié : Mar 21, 2016, 5:53am

>50 avatiakh: Oh yes, I remember you now :) I have dropped my star on your thread. Glad you found me.

Having taken the decision not to get the first of the Obernewtyn books, looks like I will have to change my mind.

>51 PaulCranswick: Thanks for dropping by. I found your thread too which I starred and I will check out your reviews.

Mar 21, 2016, 9:52am

30. The Copper Gauntlet - Holly Black, Cassandra Clare

Book 2 of this series. I loved the twist in the first, and the book was still an engaging tale but there were no new great surprises in this one. I will be interested to see where it goes though and will keep reading the series.

Modifié : Mar 22, 2016, 6:23pm

>53 sirfurboy: Pretty much exactly my response as well.

RE: your question to fuzzi about The Dragonbone Chair on the SF&F thread. It's classic high fantasy. To my recall, much better than most of the immediate imitators (of Tolkien), and I know I reread it at least once in its entirety, after all the books were out, and enjoyed it. Some of us have been talking about giving it a reread to see if it still holds up--but it is such a commitment. Still, I'll probably do it at some point this year.

Mar 23, 2016, 10:14am

>54 ronincats: Thanks Roni,

Looks like I definitely will have to read The Dragonbone Chair now then. :)

Mar 25, 2016, 12:11am

Have a wonderful Easter.

Modifié : Mai 6, 2016, 4:49am

Thanks Paul.


Easter has been busy and I haven't read as much as I would like. I have also had little time for this site. However I did finish one book, my longest French novel yet.

31. Phænomen - Erik l'Homme

This book tells the story of four children, Violaine, Arthur, Nicolas and Claire, who are endowed with supernatural powers. Their parents have abandoned them at the Clinique du Lac in Geneva, because they see them as abnormal and in need of mental health intervention. Only one doctor seems to treat them with respect, and does not just see them as crazy. When he disappears the four friends go in search of him armed with the start of a series of clues from his notebook, but very aware of the dangerous people behind the kidnapping.

This is a young adult story with a treasure hunt/chase theme. In some ways it took the reader in familiar directions, but it was a novel idea to have children who are, to all intents and purposes, mentally ill as the lead characters, and allowed some deeper thinking about the nature of mental illness.

It was also a supernatural thriller of course, with Violaine who sees dragons that seem to represent people's souls; Arthur who remembers every detail of absolutely everything and can only find relief by shutting himself away and drawing monkeys on the walls; Claire who can, particularly when frightened, move so fast that no one can see her; and Nicolas who has thermal vision and thus always wears sunglasses. Children with special powers always makes a good story, but this one also leads towards a much bigger conspiracy theory which leaves an interesting cliff hanger at the end of the book.

The cliff hanger is not a bad one though. This is a book that wraps up its first story, but leads into a trilogy nicely. This is not one of those books that stops mid story to make you keep reading.

I am not sure when I will continue the series as this one took me a while to read, but I would like to continue with it in time.

Avr 21, 2016, 4:48am

32 Rendez-vous with Rama - Arthur C Clarke

I am not sure why I had never read this before, but somehow I missed it. This story is characteristic of Arthur C Clarke by being good well thought through science fiction. The science is right, and the descriptions are well done. Clarke really thinks things through. This then is true science fiction, and not some space opera.

What it lacks is a traditional storyline, or at least I somehow felt that to be the case, and yet I enjoyed the story as it was, so perhaps the storyline was just more subtle than a normal conflict/action adventure or whatever.

Rama is a cylindrical spaceship that is heading into our inner solar system, and the story is all about a party who land on the spaceship and then explore it.

It is fascinating stuff, and yet it is just an account of a fictional exploration.

Definitely to be recommended to true science fiction fans. If true science fiction is not your thing, your mileage may vary (but I would be interested to know what you thought if you read it!)

Avr 28, 2016, 9:27am

This is not a book, but as Roni was showing us the Hummingbird she had out back, I thought I would show you our tawny owl, here sitting in a holly at the foot of our garden last Friday evening.

This was my youngest daughter's favourite book for a long time:

Thus my suggestion the owl be known as Oliver.

Modifié : Mai 5, 2016, 5:51am

33. More Than This - Patrick Ness

This review is out of order but it looks like I forgot to write it up when I finished it, so here goes:

This book is another great and thought provoking story from Patrick ness. It begins with an older teen drowning, and then continues his story from the moment that the teen, Seth, wakes up in a crazy empty world afterlife which seems to be a ghost town equivalent of the place he lived in as a boy, before the family moved from England to the U.S.

The place is the same but no one is there. He is alone, having woken up naked and covered in scratches in his old back garden (back yard).

There is a double mystery in this story. Obviously there is this huge question about where is he. Is this the afterlife? is it hell? is something else going on?

Additionally there is a mystery around Seth for the reader to resolve. Why did he drown? What was he doing in the sea that day?

This story explores a great many themes, some of which might once have been considered taboo is a young adult book. Ultimately it is all done sensitively and thoughtfully, and Patrick Ness makes his characters interesting, complex, and very believable.

I won't say more to avoid spoilers, but I think this was a good book tackling some difficult issues inside an interesting story, and I would happily recommend it for young teens and upward.

Avr 28, 2016, 11:59am

Love the owl picture!

Modifié : Mai 3, 2016, 10:52am

>61 ronincats: Thanks Roni :

34. Vachement Moi by Emmanuel Bourdier

This is a funny children's book, written in French, with a somewhat preposterous premise that is enjoyably if somewhat absurdly worked through. Paul, like everyone in his town, has a barcode on his hand that is used to scan him into school and such like. The computer system holds all his school records and all kinds of other data like dental records, allergies etc. All available at the swipe of a barcode reader.

Things go wrong on the day a mishap outside leaves him with a scratch on his hand, and suddenly the bar code reader insists that he is a cow. Now he has an uphill struggle convincing the authorities that he is really a boy and not a cow.

The title is a play on words in French. Vachement Moi means "really me" but une vache is a cow.

This book had me chuckling at points. I am not sure I would have bothered with it if it was in English, but in French it seemed to be pitched at my level - there were other plays on words, and I was able to appreciate those too. I did enjoy the humour of the story.

Good harmless fun. My one regret is it is rather short. The description said it was 73 pages long, which would be quite short. In fact I felt like it might be even less. It was a touch expensive for such a short book.

Modifié : Mai 5, 2016, 5:50am

35. Le disparu de Ker-Aven - Mitacq (French language)

The Beaver Patrol returns in another graphic adventure with the scouts camping in Brittany, and involved in a trail finding activity that goes wrong when their youngest member, Mouche, mysteriously vanishes. The authorities are les than helpful considering there is a missing child, as they find a note in his handwriting suggesting he has decided he doesn't like camping any more and has gone home.

However the intrepid scouts notice something odd about the letter, and begin to unravel a secret message encoded in it.

Another boy's own adventure with smugglers, thieves and kidnappers. The book was written in 1957 and has something of a classic status amongst French language comic books, albeit not as well known as Asterix.

Modifié : Mai 5, 2016, 5:46am

36. Histoires à lire le soir - Marc Thil

I bought this before some of the longer French language novels I have been through because it is marketed as easy short stories. It is indeed an easy read, each story being quite achievable for anyone with advanced beginner French onwards. However it falls down in the quality of the stories, and after I had read a couple I left this book for something more interesting. I have now read the remainder, because I paid for the book and it is still good practice. Nevertheless I don't really think the stories improved. Perhaps that is just prejudice against short stories on my part - I tend to like something longer with some characterisation - but even as short stories, these felt like they were aimed at a primary school level.

Of course, primary school level is not itself bad, but I would have liked more humour in that case. The police inspector hiding in a dustbin might have been somewhat humorous, but more could perhaps have been made of that.

I think Vachement Moi was a much better example of what would make good material at this level (see my review above).

Mai 5, 2016, 12:45pm

*sigh* You go where I cannot follow.

Mai 6, 2016, 4:47am

>65 ronincats: Sorry, Roni! I still have plenty of books in English to get through too though. Normal service will be resumed shortly!

Modifié : Mai 9, 2016, 10:35am

37 Maze Runner 2: The Scorch Trials by James Dashner

I read Maze Runner a while ago and it was pretty good but evidently not so good that I was rushing to read the sequel. Moreover now that I have read the sequel, I am even less likely to rush out to get the next book.

This story was a good enough example of a dystopian genre in which the world is dying, government disintegrating and mutant crazy "Cranks" wander the wasteland, making it a very dangerous place. Thomas, meanwhile has escaped the maze only to find himself in the midst of some much larger experiment which seems to require that he be kept in the dark as to what it is and how it works, and as long as he plays his part and doesn't die in the process, he may yet save the world.

OK so that all has potential, but somehow this story slipped away from me and I found myself not really caring any more. I guess that makes me heartless too. :)

Mai 8, 2016, 6:03pm

Hmm. Been thinking of starting the series. Maybe not...

Mai 9, 2016, 10:06am

>68 drneutron: Well you never know, you might like it where I didn't. If you do try it, I would be curious to hear your view on it.

Actually its unfair to say I didn't like it. I just didn't love it.

Modifié : Mai 9, 2016, 10:41am

38. The Crocodile Tomb Michelle Paver

This is book 4 of a series I have enjoyed. I haven't reviewed any of them here, so even though I did not read them this year, here is a quick summary of all four books:

1. The Outsiders Gods and Warriors 1

It is the bronze age in an area that will one day become Greece, but is now inhabited by various tribal groups, most fearsome of which are The Crows, the clan of Koronos. 12 year old Hylas is a shepherd boy and an outsider - an orphan along with his sister, but then the crows come looking for him, chasing down a prophecy, and Hylas is given a precious and enigmatic knife by a dying slave.

This is good well researched stuff, and like previous works by this author, there are animal actors as well as human ones. It is an engaging tale.

2. The Burning Shadow

Often book 2 of a series is where a series dips. Not this time, in my opinion. This was an exciting continuation of the tale that had me hooked on the series. Perhaps my favourite episode thus far. Part of that was because the action is set here around an ancient copper mine, and the author explains at the end that she based the mine on the bronze age copper mine at Llandudno, which is not too far from me, and I have visited a number of times. That made the whole terrifying experience that little bit more real.

There is also a very significant bronze age event mentioned in this book. I won't mention it to avoid spoilers although the cover gives a clue. Interestingly this event is suggested as being what destroyed the real "Atlantis" that would have been located on this island at this time... but that may be overthinking things a bit.

In any case, Hylas and Pirra re-appear in this story along with a new animal friend.

3. The Eye of the Falcon

Follows on from the events of book 2 and chronicles a major historical event in another well researched and enjoyable tale. Another animal joins the band in this story. You may be able to guess that from the title!

4. The Crocodile Tomb

The action moves to ancient Egypt in this story that continues the excitement as Hylas and Pirra struggle to be free of the crows and the ill fated dagger. Really well done descriptions of the ancient world in this enjoyable story.

All in all a series I recommend. Book 5 will be out in a few months I think.

Mai 10, 2016, 6:35am

Have you read Paver's Wolf Brother series? I'm a few books into it and it's very good. I didn't know about this new series of hers - I'll have to track them down.

Mai 10, 2016, 7:39am

I have read some of Wolf Brother and have the rest on my TBR! I really should get round to reading those as I did enjoy what I read so far!

Thanks for commenting.

Mai 10, 2016, 8:20am

>72 sirfurboy: I feel the same way - I've read the first, um, three?, I think? I really need to get back to those.

Mai 12, 2016, 9:27am

39. Escape to Witch Mountain - Alexander Key

This was the first film I went to see in the cinema, and I remember it had a powerful effect on me at the time. For me it was the perfect mixture: Orphans with special powers, chased by malevolent authorities, and science fiction too. I recall it coloured my own stories in schools, and I always remembered it fondly even if the original movie does rather show its age from an adult point of view.

Still, when I discovered that the original book from which the film was adapted was now available as an ebook, I had to read it! I also thoroughly enjoyed it. From what I recall of the film, I think it was a reasonably faithful adaption of the book, but still the book contains details missed in the film, and manages to get into the heads of the characters more. I found it enjoyable, and am pleased to see that others of Alexander Key's books are also available in Kindle format, so my TBR list has just expanded again (sigh!)

Modifié : Mai 20, 2016, 11:19pm

>74 sirfurboy: My first three cinema films were:

Jungle Book
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid

I think all three have worn well and indicate what a rare treat the cinema used to be for us as kids. I probably catch between 20 and 30 films at the flics a year now.

Have a great weekend.

Juin 3, 2016, 7:14am

>75 PaulCranswick: The Jungle Book was a good first movie. Zulu was a good one too but was about 7 when I first went to the cinema and think I would have been a bit young for that at the time! I have to confess I never watched Butch Cassidy!

I don't watch as many films as you now, but certainly a lot more than I used to. As you say, it used to be a rare treat.

Juin 3, 2016, 7:25am

40. Greylands - Isobelle Carmody

This was a book I read after enjoying "The Gathering" by the same author.

Jack's life has been turned upside down by the death of his mother. He, his father and sister are each dealing with their grief in their own way, and in the privileged world view of young Jack, we explore with him the mysteries around her death. The things unspoken, kept from him and his sister, which they nevertheless intuitively grasp.

But there is also a magical realism element to this story when he passes through a mirror into an alternative world, the Greylands, which are filled with strange colourless people, wolves and other beasts. He meets a strange and secretive girl, Alicia there, and hears the warnings about how he could be trapped, himself, in the Greylands forever.

This story is rich in metaphor, and written with a strong emotional current running throughout. Very nicely done.

Juin 3, 2016, 7:46am

41. The Territory Govett, Sarah

Sorry for the unnatural way I wrote the title/author of this one but it was the only way I could make the touchstone work, perhaps related to the fact I am the only LT member to have this book.

And that is perhaps a pity...

This was a book set in a dystopian future where sea levels have risen and dry land has decreased. The climate has also clearly changed and diseases such as Malaria have spread to Britain, and all other kinds of eco disasters are coming true. The eco-apocalypse, in short.

Noa Blake is just a normal 15 year old in 2059. Only normal is not good in this world. Children of the rich and powerful these days have nodes inserted into their heads where their brain meets their spine, and through these nodes they can instantly upload libraries of data into their brains.

The Territory is built on former high ground in Britain. The book is not specific where but perhaps the English Penines, rather than Scottish or Welsh Highlands. It does not really matter where though. What matters is that dry land ins limited and the population is too large, so all 15 year olds must go through an exam called the TAA and only those who pass can stay in the territory. The remainder are shipped off to "The Wetlands", a lawless dangerous area outside the safety of the territory where there is disease and a miserable subsistence existence waiting.

The book focuses on Noa and her norm friends, as well as the friction between them and the enhanced children, who are more or less guaranteed to pass their TAA.

This is a book that is about many things. It has love and loss, hope and despair, prejudice, bullying and a struggle against an authoritarian government.

In some ways the story failed to fully satisfy me. There were questions I had when it was all over, and I would have liked to have read more, but the story that is told is clearly the one the author intended, and ultimately it is a good one.

This is a first novel by this author, and published with the help of the Welsh Books Council. I think I picked it up at a book fair so maybe it is not widely known outside of Wales (which would explain why only I have a copy). Although not perfect, I thought the characterisation of Noa was very good, funny in parts, realistic in the main. her internal dialogue was a real strength of this book, and I would hope others might be interested enough to give it a go (and it is available for Kindle, so no need to worry about international orders).

Juin 3, 2016, 7:46am

>77 sirfurboy: Nice review. Appears to be an Australian author. I hadn't heard of her actually but I ought to go and see if I can find her books.

Juin 3, 2016, 7:47am

>79 PaulCranswick: Thanks Paul. Yes, she is Australian.

Modifié : Juin 6, 2016, 5:07am

42. Mirrorscape - Mike Wilks

Melkin Womper is a poor weaver's son in a provincial backwater, but he has a rare gift for drawing, which does not go unnoticed by the kindly parish priest. Through a series of events and misadventures he is apprenticed to the master painter, Ambrosius Blenk - the most prestigious painter in the world.

However it becomes clear that there are dealings and dirty dealings, people clinging to power and people willing to betray one another for the ensuing rewards. Melkin gets caught up in all of this and more: because there is a secret that runs deeper than any of these intrigues. There is a place one can get to if you can find the way in. A realm of magic and fantasy and all the mind can imagine, known as the Mirrorscape.

This book was a really enjoyable and imaginative read. The author reminds me in many ways of Garth Nix, and the story has shades of Lewis Carroll or Michael Ende's Never Ending Story. All of which should be good recommendations for this book.

It did not copy any of those works, but you will find similar explorations of ideas in this one, although primarily it is a grand young adult adventure that is well worth the reading.

If I had a criticism it would be that as things became increasingly fantastical, it sometimes became a touch hard to keep everything in mind. I hugely enjoyed the first half of the book, whereas the second half was entertaining, imaginative and quite exciting but not quite so perfect. That won't stop me from reading the sequel though.

Juin 6, 2016, 12:52pm

>81 sirfurboy: Onto the wishlist it goes.

Modifié : Juin 7, 2016, 5:19am

>82 ronincats: I hope you enjoy it then, Roni.

43. The Devil's Triangle - Mark Robson

This is a children's/young adult adventure about the Bermuda Triangle. Sam and Niamh Cutler are twins whose lives changed when their mother vanished nine years ago. Her whereabouts remains a mystery and every year they return to the Florida Keys with their father, Matt, who is obsessed with finding her.

The story focuses on their latest trip where Sam and his friend, Callum, borrow their father's boat and go missing too, swept into some other world through a strange storm.

Years ago there was a TV programme with a similar idea, and I am sure I have read several stories with similar things happening. In this particular story there is another world populated by an alien race (not space alien, just not human). Sam and Niamh have a special kind of empathic bond as twins and Matt is accused of murdering his wife and Sam and Callum.

Strangely he is then sent back to England for trial. That makes no sense to me, because surely if the crime was allegedly committed in Florida it would be the US who would prosecute. That is one detail, but other details in this story are somewhat glossed over, and my impression was that this is a book written for younger children (primary school age) without working too hard to fill the gaps. There is some detailed stuff about flying a plane, however, which suggests that was an area of the author's interest.

It is a good enough adventure for the intended age range, but I don't think I will be reading the sequel myself.

Modifié : Juin 9, 2016, 5:33am

44. Pennies For Hitler - Jackie French

This is a lovely piece of writing set just before and during the Second World War. Georg is the son of an English academic, born and raised in Germany. His mother is German although he has an English passport on account of his father's nationality. His life is comfortable and his family a loving one. His school teaches him of his Aryan superiority, and he absorbs some of the attitudes, although we get hints that his parents do not accept those.

Things go wrong on graduation day where Georg witnesses a group of students exposing other students as Jews (based on opening of their family records showing a Jewish parent or grandparent), and then summarily murdering them by throwing them from a window. Georg's father moves to stop this, but then he too is exposed as the grandson of a Jew and is also murdered, but not before he begs his wife to save Georg.

His wife acts quickly and Georg is smuggled out of Germany to safety. The rest of the story is something of a memoir, with a hint of coming of age about it as Georg grows up in England and then Australia, all the time trying to hide that he is secretly German for fear that he will be seen as an enemy or a spy.

Characterisations in this novel are heart warming and well done. I fell in love with the characters, and found the bonds of love and friendship were a powerful antidote to the darkness of the war years and the inevitable sadness that arises from the terrible events.

All in all this was a wonderful book, with some rich historical detail in it too. In the UK the Second World War is on the year 6 syllabus, and I would think this book would be a perfect piece for children of that age (10-11 year olds) to read, although it would be enjoyed by older children and, of course, adults too.

Juin 9, 2016, 5:44am

I've read a few of Jackie French's books and met her a long time ago when she came to New Zealand. Hitler's daughter was one, some others were picturebooks like Diary of a wombat. I've been meaning to read her Matilda Saga books based on Australia's past, but looks like I'll be picking up Pennies for Hitler too.

Juin 10, 2016, 5:24am

>85 avatiakh: Pennies for Hitler was billed as a companion volume for Hitler's Daughter. I haven't read the latter book, but should add it to my TBR now! However I don't expect there was much linkage between the two except the timeframe. In any case, another great Australian antipodean author. I seem to be finding a lot of these.

Juin 16, 2016, 6:58am

45. Visitors - Orson Scott Card

Last in this trilogy by O S Card. The trilogy started out well enough, but it all got a bit tedious in the end. Pluses are that Card is always inventive and spins a fair tale, and this one has fewer of the abusive relationships that Roni dislikes (although it has some, so it is still typical Card).

The problem is that the time shifting concept gets a bit complex, sometimes the author seems to confuse himself, sometimes he conveniently brushes past problem issues, and the characters get bogged down in far to much dialogue trying to explain and unravel it all.

Not a terrible book, but hardly a gripping read either - I actually started this one a while ago and only just got around to finishing it.

Juin 20, 2016, 5:17am

46. L'inconnu de la villa mystère - Mitacq.

The touchstone appears to link to a Dutch version of this book, but as this was a Belgian publication, it makes sense that it was also published in Flemish. I only have the French version.

In this story the Beaver Patrol are back and meet an American boy in hiding in France from an American gangster. Only the gangster finds him and kidnaps him while the scouts are doing a tracking activity with him. They have to deal with suspicions that they were involved, and also want to track down and find their missing friend.

Good boy's own adventure stuff published in 1958.

My favourite part of this book is the name of the American boy's tutor: Mr Google. Here is proof that Google has been helping French children with their homework since 1958!

Juin 20, 2016, 1:51pm

>45 sirfurboy: Ah, you remembered, and your review does not make me want to read any more Card.

Modifié : Juin 22, 2016, 4:18am

>89 ronincats: Yes, that is not the book to tempt you back to this author! It may be the one to convince me to stop getting his books (although the endless Ender cash cow was already doing that for me).

Modifié : Juin 21, 2016, 12:11pm

47. Essential Dutch Grammar Henry R Stern

My first completed non fiction work this year, which seems rather strange, although a lot of text books I just dip into so never truly complete.

This is a succinct and reasonably readable Dutch grammar that covers all the major areas required without getting too bogged down into intricate details. It is a grammar, not an workbook, so there are examples but no test questions. that is fine.

I would perhaps have liked a little more structure to the rules however. The author appears to have deliberately attempted to make the book readable by laying out the rules in paragraphs, albeit divided into some chapters and with some levels of sub heading. That works well, but time will tell whether I am able to quickly look up a rule I vaguely remember but need the explanation for.

Also some grammars go into more detail about how the grammar developed. That can add interest although at the expense of clarity, so this author chose the clarity - keep everything short and simple. Depending on what you want from a grammar, that may or may not be a good choice.

All in all a useful addition to my Dutch reference materials but hardly riveting reading!

Modifié : Juin 30, 2016, 9:35am

48. Misbehaving: The Making of Behavioural Economics – Richard Thaler

I have been interested in this field for some time and have read plenty on the subject. This nook thus is both familiar and quite different. It is familiar because many of the experimental results and observations, systematic behavioural inconsistencies and the power of nudges are covered in this work. Thaler is, after all, referenced in the other works and a co-author of one of them, Nudge. Many of the anecdotes in this work were new to me, but the overall behavioural biases and the essence of Prospect Theory were not. (Prospect theory is summed up in that we are risk averse when we are winning but risk seeking when losing – an exploitable systematic inconsistency).

Where this book was quite different, however, was to present the subject matter not as an account of the research in the field, but as a personal journey of this author and thus, in large part a history of the Behavioural Economics movement. Thaler worked with the UK government in setting up the Behavioural Insights team here – something I was well aware of – but the history of that was fascinating, as were so many other anecdotes.

The text is filled with a great deal of humour too. Sometimes the humour is in your face, but it is often subtle, a dry wit that I appreciated. This was a very readable account, both because the subject matter is interesting but also because the author made it so.

If you have read nothing at all about Behavioural Economics then this book would be an excellent place to start.

Juil 31, 2016, 1:49am

Missing you around here Sir F.

What are your impressions of the new government's approach to Europe thus far?

Have a great weekend.

Août 16, 2016, 6:04am

Thanks Paul, life has been keeping me busy but I have some books to report soon.

As to the new government approach to Brexit: thus far it is going much as predicted. Interesting that the BBC and others seem to have accepted Theresa May's statement that she would not trigger article 50 to mean she would trigger it in early 2017, and now surprised by the suggestion it might not happen then either. A politician's commitment "not to trigger in 2016" never implies that they will trigger straight after.

It will be interesting to see what Theresa May chooses to do, although betting odds continue to favour 2018-never. betting odds, of course, are not predictions. They are influenced largely by where people lay bets, and the wisdom of crowds is not always correct. Still, I will be more surprised by a January 2017 triggering of article 50 than by a delay.

Still very angry about the mendacious campaign that has brought us to this though.

Août 16, 2016, 12:13pm

Okay I have been quite but here is an update of 5 recent reads!

49. Mirrorstorm - Mike Wilks

Sequel to Mirrorscape. Good enough, but I think, on reflection, this story would have been better had the author stopped at book 1, rather than going for the trilogy.

Book 1 was brilliantly inventive, with great new and engaging characters. This follow on story did not really develop the characters but largely threw them back into the Mirrorscape for new grand adventures against the same villains, more or less.

The result was enjoyable enough, but not as engaging as the first book in the series. Sometimes stories really do work best if you don't keep pushing them further.

50. Harry Potter and the Cursed Child - Jack Thorne

This was a disappointment, and not because of the fact that it was a script. I made allowances for that. The problem was the story was just another "what if we accidentally change history and then try to put it right" thing, and like so many time travel stories, it had glaring inconsistencies. One of the things I loved about The Prisoner of Azkhaban, was the way that JKR kept the time travel aspect of the story fully internally consistent. Not so this story.

Being a script, it is nearly all dialogue, because, of course, a good script lets the actors express the characters and the special effects people to fill out the effects. As such it does lack much of what makes the Harry Potter books engaging, but as I said, that is entirely forgivable because it is a script. The story problems, on the other hand, were less forgivable.

I still enjoyed it. It is Harry Potter, and it has JKR's stamp of approval, so I was never going to hate it. If I ever see the stage play or a screen adaption of this I will watch it and probably like it a lot, but I will still think it lacks originality and will still be annoyed by the inconsistencies.

51. Italian Short Stories for Beginners - Olly Richards

A book of 8 short stories designed to help language learners make progress with learning Italian. To be honest, I don't enjoy short stories as much as novels, and these ones did not grab me. The idea was great though, and well put together, but I won't try that again.

52. Scrum: a Breathtakingly Brief and Agile Introduction - Chris Sims & Hillary Johnson

A short non fiction guide to part of the Agile development progress. This is a quick read, only of interest to anyone needing to know about Agile development and particularly the scrum process.

53. Sur la piste de Mowgli - Mitacq

Another adventure for La Patrouille des Castors - the Beaver Patrol. In this 1956 adventure, the scouts are given a trip to India in appreciation for their help in the last book. Things go wrong though, and they end up on their own before saving the life of a wealthy ruler, but things are not as they seem and they become embroiled in another adventure.

Août 21, 2016, 1:29pm

54. Legend - Marie Lu

This was a readable dystopian teen novel set in a fractured future United States where the western republic, at least, has forgotten there ever was a USA. The two sides are at war, sea levels have risen, and 10 year olds must pass a test, "the trial" or face life in labour camps, or worse.

Very much in the mould of the Hunger Games, this book does not read like a rip off. It had original elements and quite a different story, set around two protagonists. One is a boy living on the streets, a notorious criminal who goes by the name of Day. The other is a 15 year old prodigy of the republic living a privileged life as she trains to defend her country from hostile forces within and without.

I liked this story and I expect to read the sequel. Nevertheless it had some problems. The overarching story was not as original as it could have been, although the characterisations made up for that somewhat, and the setting had inventive elements too.

I also struggled with the almost "love at first sight" element of the story, which I found a bit gushy and unrealistic. It was all just a bit too fast. There were other ways, too, where the characters just did not act as they should, because another reaction seemed to be required for the story. I want to avoid spoilers, but an example would be one character who casually reveals to someone he/she believes is the enemy that someone else they both know is a "patriot" rebel, for no reason at all - just idle gossip really. That just made no sense, and was not in character. Not the only time something like this happened either.

So all in all this was a flawed book, but still a fun one.

Août 22, 2016, 6:40am

55. Boy overboard - Morris Gleitzman

This is a powerful story of a boy, Jamal, who just wants to be a famous football player, which is not easy when you only have one ball and have to retrieve it from under the nose of tanks, and where your best friend and goal keeper has only one leg after stepping on a land mine. Still it is easier for Jamal than his equally football mad sister, who is not allowed to play at all under Taliban law.

Their lives are further turned upside down when their mother's secret school is doscovered, and the family must flee, heading to Australia as refugees.

The characterisations here really make this story special. These are children who live in unimaginable hardship, but they still act and think like children. The author clearly understands his subject, even if he does admit that he has never been a refugee, and the story is thought provoking, but filled with a sense of hope that only jamal can give it.

Ultimately there is a direct message to Australian refugee policy in this story too (and inasmuch as teh Australian refugee policy is similar in other countries, to much western refugee policy). The book is written for children but I put it down wishing a good number of adults would read it too.

All in all an excellent work.

56. Pan - the Untold Stories of Neverland - K.R. Thompson

Taking us back to the time before the beginning of the classic, Peter Pan, this book purports to fill in the details of how Peter became Peter Pan, and how he found the lost boys, as well as how they got their names.

I cannot recall how I came by this book but I think it was either free or extremely cheap when I got it. That is a good thing as it does not really work well as a story. It does what it purports to do, filling in details of Pan's back story, but there is nothing new here, and the only innovation is to make Peter slightly darker than JM Barrie did, and less likable too.

Even this lacks originality though, as the darker Pan was alread written in the much better The Child Thief: A Novel by Brom.

The book finishes abrubtly too. It is not exactly a cliff hanger, because nothing much has really happened by the end of the story. Still it is meant to bait you in to buying the sequel, aptly names "Hook". I won't be buying it though.

Not a terrible story, but little more than fan fiction in my opinion.

57. The Wasp Factory - Iain Banks

This classic dark tale is on a list of the top stories of the 20th century. Controversial, even its write up says: "Enter - if you can bear it - the extraordinary private world of Frank, just sixteen, and unconventional, to say the least."

I read it as part of my "classic" category challenge, but perhaps I should have listened to the warning and left it. The characters are certainly different, and no doubt very well written, but they are also rather unappealing and some of the events described in the book are desperately sad.

The story, such as it is, is both a recounting of Frank's rather disturbed childhood, coupled with a narrative of his brother, who has escaped from a home for the mentally ill, and appears to be heading home, killing dogs on his way.

There is an ultimate twist in the story, and I suppose I should consider teh whole thing thoughtfully now, but really I don't care to.

No doubt this is a literary classic, but of a literary genre that I don't care for much. I don't think I will be returning to this author.

Août 23, 2016, 11:08am

58. Children of the Mechanism Jeffrey Aaron Miller

This book opens in a small stifled terrible world. A couple of rooms in a giant terrible factory, where slaves live and work under the gaze of cruel robots. Then one day a door opens where no door should be and some of the child slaves escape into the corridors and gradually come to understand the nature of the place they have been toiling in.

With that concept this book has potential to be powerful in the way of many dystopian novels, or terrible and dark. In fact this one is just tedious. It took me a very long time to finish it, not at all helped by the narration which I added to my ebook order because it was cheap. I like books I can listen to on long solo car journies. It ws cheap but not worth it, being truly awful. The stuttering narration with goofy sounding characters and very strange stress and timing throughout, was most off putting and I had to abandon it and read the book the old fashioned way.

There are no great surprises in this book, although once I had abandoned the narration things improved a little. Once teh characters began to speak in a more normal voice in my head they did not seem so irritating, although they lacked depth and seemed unrealistic in places... many place.

Very slowly the children make it out of the mechanism, but that is about it for the story. There is not much more to it than the journey.

In terms of the over-arching theme, this book is perhaps not unlike This Time of Darkness but not a patch on that book, and I did not feel a shred of the emotional attachment.

Août 23, 2016, 12:10pm

>97 sirfurboy: For what it is worth, The Wasp Factory appears to be Banks' darkest and most disturbing/unlikeable book. Also, he has written some very highly regarded science fiction under the name of Iain M. Banks. I've read several of them such as Player of Games.

Août 24, 2016, 10:44am

Thanks Roni,

Yes I recall seeing Ian M. Banks books, and may even have one or two in piles of second hand books I have acquired. I should search one out and add it to my TBR list... although as that pile is very long, it may still not get read any time soon.

Is Player of Games your recommendation of one of his best?

Modifié : Août 30, 2016, 11:09am

59. Een Zoektocht Van Helden - Morgan Rice

This is the Dutch version of A Quest of Heroes - Morgan Rice

I first came across this book whilst browsing the Dutch Amazon store for good Dutch books to read. It was quickly clear that the same book is available in a number of languages including English, and I think it was written first in English. Thus although I read this one in Dutch, the review should be good for the English version too.

This is the story of a young teen, Thorgrin or Thor for short, who lives a dull life as a shepherd, disliked by his brothers and out of favour with his father too. When recruiters for the King's legion, the warriors of the Silver, arrive at his village, Thor wants to join up, but is prevented from doing so by his father. He does not take no for an answer however, and, runs away from home determined to join up.

There is a mystery around Thor and his birth. He is clearly more than he seems, able to work magic. A mysterious druid clearly sees a great destiny for the boy, and Thor sets out to bring it about, winning friends and enemies along the way.

All in all this was an enjoyable book. It hooked me in and kept me reading despite the fact I was reading in Dutch, which slowed me down considerably. That should be some recommendation for it.

However ultimately I think this book as good, but not great. In some ways it was highly derivative of other works, but with a slightly clumsy execution, and characterisations that were a little to stereotyped for me.

There is the evil plotting power hungry man who, incidentally, is gay... but we are assured that is not the reason for his badness. He is a member of a somewhat dysfunctional family of very noble and equally ignoble characters. There is the classic enemy who becomes a friend after Thor nobly saves his life. There are a whole bunch of events that just seemed formulaic in their presentation, and then the book ends on a cliff hanger that is straight out of Game of Thrones, except Game of Thrones did it so much better.

My real problem with the story was the way characters seemed to act in stupid ways because that was required for the plot. A case in point is towards the end of the book, so I have to give a spoiler warning. Don't read on if you don't want the spoiler...


Read no further if you want to avoid a spoiler


OK so you are still reading? Don't say I didn't warn you.

So Thor visits a druid who warns him that omens and prophecies he is seeing will certainly come to pass. He then has a dream of the king being poisoned in the festivities that day. He runs to see the king but the king is not around, and he must wait until he returns. He is then sent to do some squire work, and when it becomes obvious that the knight for whom he is the squire is about to leave, he offers to ride with him to the edge of the kingdom. Knowing he *must* be back by the start of the feast, he offers to do something that makes it impossible for him to do so, and seems to positively wish to do just that. There is no internal conflict at all. Did he forget?!

So then he rushes back and arrives with the feast already in full swing, of course, but luckily the king is not dead. He goes inside and...oh let's just get distracted by the king's daughter who looks sad. And while we are at it we will have a punch up with that noble.

After that he still evades being ejected from the king's presence, and manages to warn the king (who has shown much trust in him in the past, and always been careful in all he does, and suspects the plots in any case) but on hearing the warnings he dismisses and ignores them. So then Thor speaks to the king's son about the dream too. So now the king and all those around him and Thor's friend, the kings son all know that he had this dream, and all know he can work magic and such like, so have every reason to believe him, but inexplicably they do not, so when Thor finally leaps onto a table and dashes the poisoned chalice from the king's lips and it spills on the floor and a dog dies when lapping it up, for some completely inexplicable reason they throw Thor in the dungeon accused of trying to poison the king.

Sorry, no, none of this makes any sense. It is not just here but elsewhere where people seem to just forget who they are and what they know and act in ways against their character so as to fit this plot into the mould the author wants for it. Sadly this ultimately fails.

So... the big question... would I read the sequel of this book?

I don't know the answer to that. Maybe. Maybe it will get better as it goes, and the book was never terrible. However I won't be reading it any time soon.

Modifié : Sep 26, 2016, 9:38am

60. Strange Objects - Gary Crew

I have been a little slow with this one, as I have also been ploughing my way slowly through an Italian book. Anyway finished it now.

This is a supernatural story linking the present day with the time when Dutch traders first reached the Australian coast. I think it might be classed as "Magical realism" although I am never quite sure about the boundaries of that genre.

It is the story of the find of a severed and mummified human hand by a group of Australian teens, and about one boy in particular who finds the hand and with it a ring that seems to have some mysterious hold over him.

The book is a little unsettling, and somewhat open ended. It is clever writing and reasonably engaging too. Perhaps not the most thrilling read of the year, but not one I regret reading either.

There is a nice rational element to the book that gives it a well researched and grounded feel to it, although the author let slip once, near the end, where he allowed the "rationalists" to suggest that Kirlian photography can be used to photograph the aura of living beings.

(Kirlian photography does make very nice coronal discharge photographs in the presence of moisture, but the image is caused by the reaction of moisture to ionised air, and nothing more supernatural. It works with inanimate objects just as well as living ones).

Because it is pretty, here is a Kirlian photograph of a coin, photo by "nebarnix"

Modifié : Oct 12, 2016, 4:52am

One book in all of September ... hmm ... well part of that was because I was ploughing through this one, a full novel in Italian, a language I only started learning earlier this year.

61. Io Non Ho Paura - Niccolo Ammaniti

This is an award winning Italian crime thriller (it won the prestigious Italian 2001 Viareggio Prize) and has been turned into a film that has also won awards (although I haven't seen the film).

Nine year old Michele lives in a small Italian town called Acqua Traverse in Southern Italy. Despite its name, there is not much water there in the hot summer that is the setting for the events. Michele and his friends find themselves at an abandoned house where Michele discovers what he thinks at first is a dead body, but later realises is a kidnapped boy.

What follows is an authentic sounding description of the events from the point of view of a 9 year old boy. The setting is harsh in many ways but also finds real elements of humanity, and the writing - even for me, far from proficient in Italian, was powerfully descriptive and wonderfully immediate.

Nevertheless there is a disturbing element to this book, which is clearly intentional. It is not a happy work, taking as its theme a period of Italian history (the 1970s) when criminality and kidnappings were rife.

The book is available in English too, so non Italian readers can still appreciate it. The film by the same name is listed on Wikipedia as being in Italian only (although it presumably has subtitles in English).

Oct 12, 2016, 5:17am

>100 sirfurboy: The Player of Games is a good entry book to his Culture books. I loved it and went on to read Consider Phlebas. I'm not sure if you have to read his books in order or not, but these two weren't related.
I've read his The Crow Road & Stonemouth both good with a touch of mystery/crime but nothing like The Wasp Factory which really is in a place of its own.

I'm impressed with your reading a book of short stories in Italian so soon after starting to study the language. How many languages are you fluent in?

Oct 12, 2016, 6:03am

>104 avatiakh:

Thanks for the recommendations. My TBR is ever growing :)

In terms of actual fluency, I would say just two languages (English and Welsh). Learning a language to fluency takes a long time! However I am reaching a respectable standard in French and Dutch now and can follow movies, TV programs and read and converse in those languages. Italian and German are the up and coming languages for me, and I hope to complete some German books soon.

Thanks for stopping by.

Oct 12, 2016, 6:19am

Keep up the good work. I love foreign films, I'm forced to read the subtitles in English but do like to tune my ear to the language at the same time. I had entry level Spanish for a while but that's now down to a few words and menu reading. I was fluent in Hebrew but over the years that has also dropped to beginners level.

I've been immersed in Peter F. Hamilton's Commonwealth books these past couple of months, now on the final one, Night without Stars.

Oct 12, 2016, 8:37am

>106 avatiakh: I have largely lost the gift of European languages and my schoolboy French is very rusty. I am of course fluent enough in Bahasa Malay not that the shops are exactly stocked full of good Malay literature. Mills and Boon type romances in the local language abound here and that is pretty much a no-no for me in any language.

Oct 12, 2016, 11:31am

Honestly, what is it with these Stephens/Steves reading Italian here?!? ;-)
You might want to check out the latter, scvlad at
as he's also been reading in Italian for the last year.

Oct 13, 2016, 5:55am

>106 avatiakh:

I have had a look at Hebrew two or three times. The alphabet is hard, although I can pretty much sound out the words now, but then there is the issue that the language is very different to any of the European ones I have studied, so thus far I don't know more than a few words in the language.

Spanish is on my todo list though, because it is so widely spoken and its closeness to French and especially to Italian. Nevertheless it is best I avoid it until I am a little more proficient in Italian - learning languages that are too similar can just be confusing.

I had a look at Frisian and discovered it sounded so similar to Dutch that again it was better I left it alone.

So many languages... so little time :)

>107 PaulCranswick:

Hi Paul, yes Mills and Boon is something of a turn off in any language!

I actually find a similar issue with Welsh content. Not so much books, there are some very good Welsh books and plenty of English ones that have been translated to Welsh. The problem comes in TV and films, where I have often been frustrated with the lack of content I would enjoy.

Again there are some notable exceptions, just not enough of them. Thus the problems of a smaller language community.

>108 ronincats:

Thanks Roni, I have starred his thread. Looks like he is much further into his Italian studies than I am though. I think it is unlikely I will read another full length Italian book this year.

I am already thinking about challenges for next year though. I am pretty sure I will have read 16 non English books this year so next year I will go for at least 17!

Oct 13, 2016, 6:08am

I was lucky, I went to a full immersion 5 month Ulpan course in Tel Aviv. The mix of students meant that our common language was going to be Hebrew, so there was an incentive to start speaking it from day 1. I was quite fluent in speaking and would have loved to have done the next course to improve my reading and writing skills. The vowel signs disappear as you master the written language and it becomes a recognition game.
I keep thinking I should do my own refresher course here as my husband is a native speaker and we have a big collection of Israeli films and music, maybe one day.
Written Arabic has always fascinated me, those squiggles just all seem the same.

Oct 14, 2016, 11:33am

>110 avatiakh: I can actually read arabic reasonably proficiently but I don't understand most of what I am able to vocalise.

Have a great weekend, mate.

Oct 17, 2016, 9:09am

62. How Hedley Hopkins Did a Dare, robbed a grave, made a new friend who might not have really been there at all, and while he was at it committed a terrible sin which everyone was doing even though he didn’t know it - Paul Jennings

Hedley Hopkins has moved to Australia with his parents in the 1950s but even after a year he is struggling to fit in. He doesn't really have any friends, being seen as a pommy outsider. Thus when he discovers a grave has been broken open and there is a skull in it, everything is in place for him to be set a dare by the school troublemakers who will accept him in their gang if he does it.

This is great writing by an author who clearly remembers his own childhood and draws extensively on those experiences to produce a tale that he admits is semi autobiographical. It is a fascinating glimpse into 1950s Australian life, warts and all. It is also a great coming of age novel, written with compassion and humour too. At times it is a touch awkward, but that just reflects those awkward moments one gets when growing up and learning new things.

I suppose I should broadly put this in the coming of age category (not least because of a certain element that frankly I could have done without, but perhaps the author is wise to place in there... Hedley keeps thinking about naked ladies and stuff. That story element was a bit more in-your-face than is usual in fiction for children and young adults, but remains a smaller part of a much bigger story).

This was a grand enough adventure and I enjoyed it.

Oct 18, 2016, 4:27am

63. Emil und die Detective - Erich Kastner

My first book in German of the year (although I have started another one and need to finish it). In English this book is Emil and the Detectives, a story I read when I was in primary school, at the age of about 9. I liked it very much then but never re-read it. Reading it in the original German perhaps added some nuance to it that was missing in the translation, or at least it did evoke the feeling of Germany better for that.

As an older and wiser reader I would now recognise this story suffers from a structural problem - it essentially finishes about two thirds of the way in and then has a very long wind down. Still, the book is short so that does not matter too much. A long wind down is perhaps no longer than in any other book, it is just the adventure of catching the thief is all over rather quickly.

Despite such purist observations, of course, there is no doubt that this is an entertaining short tale and it is no surprise I loved it when I was 9. There are very many good books to choose from these days, but 9 year olds can probably still enjoy this one.

This book is set in Germany in the 1920s. There is nothing political in it that I could see, just a harmless tale of the triumph of a group of boys over a thief. Nevertheless Erich Kastner's books were banned and burned by the Nazi regime, and the author himself was harassed by the Gestapo. Nevertheless he lived in Berlin to the end of the war, before fleeing under the Soviet advance.

Such a pity that life could not be as simple as the world he wrote about.

Oct 20, 2016, 10:39am

64. Short Stories from Hogwarts of Heroism, Hardship and Dangerous Hobbies - J K Rowling

My first of these short collections of content from JK Rowling. It is a collection of background, fun facts and short stories from the Hogwarts world. There is some trademark humour in there, but no new great complicated plots. Good books for the fans of Hogwarts, but unless you have read the whole series and enjoyed it, you probably should not start here.

I will definitely be reading the others though.

Oct 26, 2016, 10:50am

65. Iron and Rust - Harry Sidebottom

Sadly I have found a Harry Sidebottom novel I did not greatly enjoy. Even more sadly, I bought the sequel at the same time I bought this one so I will have to read it even though I may have chosen to stop here.

Harry Sidebottom was that extremely rare phenomenon: an academic, a historian, a specialist in his chosen literary subject who nevertheless created entertaining and action packed novels with great characterisations and engaging stories. I would thoroughly recommend his Warrior of Rome series as being some of the best Roman fiction out there. His books were wonderful but also highly educational.

This new series is still educational, but sadly the author has forgotten what surely must be the first rule of writing fiction: keep it interesting.

Not that the plot lacks anything of interest. There is plenty of intrigue, an overarching plot, and wonderfully described fighting scenes. Nevertheless the book fails because there is not really a single character to hang it off. The action keeps jumping from one unfamiliar name to another and it is quite hard to make sense of it all. In particular I felt no particular connection to any of the characters.

Oct 28, 2016, 10:28am

66. Blood and Steel (Throne of the Caesars, Book 2) - Harry Sidebottom

Second in this series focussing exclusively on the month of March, AD 238. The Emperor Maximinus is challenged for the imperial throne by Gordian the Elder and Gordian the Younger, father and son, who declared themselves joint emperors.

Harry Sidebottom's work is rich in historical detail with a gritty realism that I have always greatly admired and enjoyed. All that remains in place here, but my criticism of this series is above: there is not enough time spent on a single protagonist. This story does do a little better with character development, but it began to feel like I was reading a text book rather than a novel at times. Not his best work, sadly.

I would thoroughly recommend Sidebottom's "Warrior of Rome" series, but perhaps give this series a miss.

Book three of this series is available but I am not sure that I will be getting it.

Oct 28, 2016, 12:57pm

Sorry these ones didn't work out for you, Stephen.

Modifié : Oct 31, 2016, 6:47am

67. Heart of Darkness - Joseph Conrad

I have never read this piece before but have always loved the title. I decided to rectify this and read the short work on Saturday. Heart of Darkness is a classic, although one that has its critics. It presents a very colonial image of the Congo and Africa in general that ignores the accomplishments of the people living there. Nevertheless that is not really the point of the book. Rather the unmapped Congo is not the true heart of darkness in this story, but rather it is the darkness that consumes the character Kurtz and almost overcomes the protagonist. It is the darkness within, it is the author's own perception of spiritual emptiness, and it is other things too. The book is an exploration of the narrow line between civilisation and barbarism, and in that it could perhaps be compared with Lord of the Flies.

Lord of the Flies is, in my opinion, the better work, but perhaps the comparison is unfair. This is a very different piece written in a difefrent time. It is not long nor hard to get through, so worth reading.

Oct 31, 2016, 6:53am

68. The Ocean at the End of the Lane - Neil Gaiman

I very much enjoyed this Neil Gaiman work. It is something of a dark contemprorary fairy tale - but, despite the author's warning, not too dark. It is a touching story of the life of an introverted 7 year old boy who loves reading but makes friends slowly. Things change for him on the day that a lodger in their house commits suicide and unleashes something ancient and mysterious in the world. At the same time he makes friends with a very strange 11 year old girl who is clearly more than she seems.

Well written, interesting, and somehow both typically Neil Gaiman, and yet refreshingly original too.

Nov 1, 2016, 10:53am

69. Warrior Bronze - Michelle Paver

Book five and the end of the God's and Warriors series that I very much enjoyed. This is good fiction for older children and young adults, as well as older young adult readers. This is set in the bronze age in and around what is now Greece.

In this book Hylas, Pirra and all the animals that have joined them meet together in a final showdown with Telamon and the crows. Other key characters also turn up, but I won't say more to avoid spoilers and because, in any case, if you have read the first four books in this series, you will want to read this one, and if you haven't then you should start at book 1.

Nov 7, 2016, 4:49am

70. Magician's Guild - Trudi Canavan

I bought this book quite a while ago, largely based on the cover! It then languished on my shelf for a very long time, but I have been trying to attack my TBR pile (which now has at least 60 books on it, and I think is probably closer to 100). Thus I read through this story, and overall I enjoyed it.

Despite enjoying it, I have some issues with it though. Firstly I bought it in the adult fantasy section of a book store, but having read it, I think this is miscategorised. This is classic young adult fantasy - excellent for that age group but perhaps some adult fantasy readers who don't read young adult stuff may scratch their heads and thing "meh".

The plot itself also has weaknesses. Things like the magicians, all of them collectively, just kind of forget they can detect the presence of another magician, or the extremely easy way in which the plot is resolved in this book.

Still the characters were quite engaging, and although there is room for improvement, I found myself enjoying the story. It was not completely formulaic, and there was just enough originality to enthuse me. I will probably keep reading this series - but maybe after I have reduced my TBR pile a little.

Nov 10, 2016, 4:44am

71. Frankenstein - Mary Shelley

Started this one on Halloween :)

Most people are somewhat acquainted with this story, but I suspect most, like me, had never actually read it. Rather we have watched the Hammer adaptions or somesuch.

Reading the book was interesting, and added some nuance that I had missed before. The book is pre-Victorian and it was interesting to think it into its historic context. This was the era that William Wilberforce was in parliament and campaigning against the slave trade, and of course Mary Shelley was married to the short lived but influential poet, Percy (although she wrote this before she had married him, and when still very young).

The language is flowery, the book filled with introspection, but that is merely a product of its age. As a story, it worked well enough, although it would not be written that way now of course.

What is remarkable about the book, however, is that it breaks new ground. It is regarded a horror book but really it is probably the first ever work of science fiction, and some of the themes it explores arise again and again.

It was also interesting in that this book forms a frame story. The first story frames a second (Frankenstein's) and that frames a third (the monster's) before returning to Victor Frankenstein and then the outer narrative.

I found the monster's story particularly preposterous, mind. His self teaching to become the erudite orator of the inner tale of this book just did not seem very likely to my modern mind. As I say above, it is a product of its time.

Anyway it ticks off one of my "classics" for the year.

Nov 10, 2016, 5:16am

Just totted up some stats for the year. based on the dates I reported the reads finished (not necessarily exact dates - I did read in April and July, but did not post here), I have read the following numbers of books:

Jan - 11
Feb - 14
Mar - 5
Apr - 0
May - 9
Jun - 9
Jul - 0
Aug - 11
Sep - 1
Oct - 7

So far I have read three in November.

Those numbers are well down on what I achieved a few years ago, but life is busy. The sad thing is that there are at least another 50 books I was hoping to finish this year... doesn't look very likely!

Nov 10, 2016, 7:23am

>123 sirfurboy: Well 70 done so far Sir F will surely mean you easily pass 75 for the year.

Nov 10, 2016, 8:54am

Thanks, yes. I should hopefully finish the 75 book challenge this month.

Nov 11, 2016, 9:54am

72. Turtle Boy Kealan Patrick Burke

I got this book several years ago as it was free and on the Amazon kindle store. nevertheless I had not got around to reading it until now, perhaps partly because free books that are billed as book 1 in a series on the Amazon store all too often stop mid story which just annoys me.

This book does not quite do that. It somewhat resolves itself but the story is clearly a set up, like a prologue for a series.

I did not feel cheated by the book though, and for a couple of reasons. Although it is the start of a series, the story resolves the principle mystery, and some of the other mysteries can be filled in easily enough with a bit of thought from the reader. As such, it was suitably complete to stand as a complete work.

Secondly the writing was pretty good. In particular, I think the reader captures nicely the nature of the children who are the principle protagonists of this story. It seems clear he understands children and conveys their world faithfully. I perhaps felt the children seemed a touch younger than their supposed 11 years, but it was still good enough.

The book is short though. Had I realised that, perhaps I might have read it long ago. It amounts to about 100 pages, more of a novella than a novel. It could have benefitted from being fleshed out a bit. In particular there is quite an abrupt transition into some darker elements of the story, and the resolution is quite sudden and a little predictable, maybe even clichéd.

I do not remember if I realised when I bought this that it is horror/dark fantasy, but I certainly did not realise that when I was reading it until it hit me. Not my usual genre (despite having just read Frankenstein) but not a problem with the book. Indeed the book write up mentions this story won a Bram Stoker award which should have flagged that up for me.

The Bram Stoker award, it turns out (after some googling) is not an award won by just one book a year. This book was one of several (four or five) that won in the "long fiction" category of the award in 2004.

On finishing the book I looked up the rest of the series for this, thought about it for a while, and then decided not to pursue it. As a free book, this was one of the better ones I have come across, but it did not grab me sufficiently to keep going with it.

Nov 12, 2016, 8:56am

>126 sirfurboy: I haven't heard of that one before Sir F. Is it worth coming out of one's shell to read it or would that put us in the soup?

Have a great weekend.

Nov 12, 2016, 6:40pm

>127 PaulCranswick: Not sure whether to giggle or groan at that :)

Still, I would not especially recommend it, except that it is short and free, so you may wish to take a look!

Nov 14, 2016, 4:44am

73. Gladiator: Vengeance - Simon Scarrow

The third book and conclusion of a series for older children and young adults, set some 13 years after the third servile war (the Spartacus rebellion). Marcus remains on the trail of Decimus, the tax collector who illegally killed his father, seized his farm and sold him and his mother into slavery.

This is a gladiator story for children, and probably will appeal to them, as there is plenty of action and a few bloodthirsty bits that many would like.

For anyone who understands the laws and history of Rome, there are some preposterous elements to this story, but still it gives a nice flavour of life in the Roman empire for younger readers, and it is well enough researched, even if there is a fair dose of poetic license in here.

An exciting and enjoyable tale nonetheless.

Nov 21, 2016, 4:34am

74. The Bell Between Worlds - Ian Johnstone

This is a quite long and involved young adult fantasy in a grand tradition of stories about parallel worlds. The author is a good writer, and the story starts off in a familiar but still intriguing way. Sylas lives with his overbearing uncle, whose character has hints of Ebenezer Scrooge and Vernon Dursley. He is sent out to mail the post, but comes across a curious Shop of Things that was not there before and meets a mysterious man who shows him an intriguing book...

The story almost writes itself from there on, but it does not feel derivative. It is a good and enjoyable tale. Not stunningly original and yet well written. Children and young adults should enjoy this one. If you have read a lot of this kind of story, you may not be overwhelmed, but I don't think it will disappoint.

If I have a criticism, it is the length. This is book 1 of the series and does not resolve all mysteries (although it does have a fitting end for the book). However it is 512 pages long, which is a bit much for the intended age of readership, I think. It could have been edited down somewhat.

Of course, for those who find 512 pages to be no problem, all that extra writing does add a lot of detail to the world the author describes.

Modifié : Nov 22, 2016, 2:53pm

75. The Jade Boy - Cate Cain

This is a good book for older children and young adults filled with historical detail from the seventeenth century, as well as plenty of myth, magic and dark sorcery.

Jem is a servant boy working in the kitchens of a powerful Duke in London. His mother serves the Duchess and he does not know who his father is. However dark things are afoot, and Jem appears to be more interesting to some nasty and powerful people than a mere kitchen boy should be.

A nicely put together story. The ending does not quite tie up all the loose ends so perhaps a sequel is planned (and having written that I looked it up, and there is indeed a sequel). Still the story is complete enough as it stands.

Nov 22, 2016, 9:58am

Congrats on 75!

Nov 22, 2016, 10:45am

>132 drneutron: Thanks for noticing :)

Nov 22, 2016, 1:27pm

Congratulations on hitting the 75 book mark! And hitting me with several book bullets to boot.

Nov 22, 2016, 2:58pm

>134 ronincats: Thanks Roni, always glad to share book bullets :)

Modifié : Nov 23, 2016, 4:44am

76. Entre les lignes - Emmanuel Bourdier

This is an interesting story of an 11 year old boy, Augustin, who is growing up in the Zone Libre, or so called Free Zone of France in the Second World War. The events take place in 1943, however, when the zone has been invaded by Germany, so there is a partition still, running close to Augustin's village and through their farm land, but the Germans are an unwelcome presence too.

In this charged atmosphere, someone in the village is involved in curious acts of vandalism and sabotage, quoting from Cyrano Bergerac (that is, the play by Edmond Rostand, not the historical person). The school teacher is suspected but Augustin and his best friend discover otherwise.

This book is recommended reading for French school children, and it is easy to see why. It speaks to a troubled period of French history and gets into the lives of those who loved through it. There are some poignant moments, such as the German soldier helped by Augustin's mother and who shares photos of his far away wife and child, accidentally leaving the photo behind when bawled out by his commanding officer. There are some troubling moments too, where we are made aware that resistance fighters are being summarily executed. Ultimately there is also a story of redemption and hope too.

It was education for me too. I knew little about the French partition prior to reading this book. I had a hazy knowledge that such a partition happened, but now I am much better informed.

The book is in French, and unfortunately I cannot see that there is an English translation, so apologies to anyone who doe not read French.

Nov 24, 2016, 4:49am

77. Le Petit Nicolas - Goscinny et Sempé

First in a long series of books by the man behind Asterix, René Goscinny (the touchstone suggests the author is Jean-Jacques Sempé but I understand him to be the illustrator).

The books follow the adventures of little Nicolas and his friends. It is written from Nicolas' point of view, which allows us into the mind of a young boy as he gets up to all kinds of mischief, and from our older perspective, we can be wryly amused at his misunderstandings (such as when Dad accidentally gets left tied to a tree after a game of Cowboys and Indians, and Nicolas assumes that he must really like the game to still be playing it).

There are many more of these books, although this one took me a whole to read. It is broken into chapters, each a self contained story, so I dipped in and out of this book pretty much all year, and on the way I also watched the two films.

This book is harmless fun in a similar way to Jennings and Just William in the UK and contemporary with Jennings, being written in the late 1950s. I actually think Goscinny's story does the "mind of a child" thing better than Jennings, because he never jumps out of it and into an adult head to make sense of it all (as Buckeridge did with Jennings).

It seems a lot of people read these books to improve their French, and it is easy enough to see why.

Modifié : Nov 29, 2016, 10:08am

78. Goldenhand - Garth Nix

Really good to have Garth Nix writing about this world once again. Lirael is the one with a magically glowing golden hand, a magical hand to create the one that she lost one in the binding of Orannis. In this story Lirael returns to the Glacier of the Clayr along with Nicholas Sayer, and must battle with the Witch with no face to save the Old Kingdom once more.

Great imaginative stuff built into a remarkably detailed fantasy world that deserves to be a classic.

Nov 29, 2016, 10:07am

79. Het geheim van de draak- Guido Kees

(Title translates to "The Secret of the Dragon")

This story is only available in Dutch, and probably that is all it will ever be available in. The write up says (more or less, this is my translation):

Embark on an adventure to the Middle Ages. The stronghold where Wolf lives is plagued by a terrible dragon. Wolf's father, Sir Artan, heads out to fight the monster, but he disappears without a trace. Wolf takes matters into his own hands and searches for him. During his dangerous journey, he gets help from unexpected sources: a blacksmith son, a forest girl and a real wolf join him. Can they defeat the dragon? And will Wolf find his father? A thrilling tale of sabre rattling, roaring dragons and hooves.

Will Wolf find his father? Well this book won't tell you as it finishes up pretty much at the end of that synopsis. By the time the book ends, various elements are set up (like the villainous uncle Sieg, taking over the castle) but nothing at all is resolved. This is half a story - the kind of thing that usually forms a free kindle book and you are meant to buy the continuation.

Except this one was not free, and neither was it very good. I have been reading this but also Tonke Dragt's better written and better received "De brief voor de koning" ("The Letter for the King"). Although Dragt's book is better (and longer) both of these books are set in a medieval world that seems closer to fairy tale than the more usual fantasy genre we see in English language literature. This story had reference to the crusades and other such things that kind of made it seem like it intended to be historical fiction rather than fantasy, but there was insufficient scene building and setting to anchor it in place or time, so I was a little confused by that. I don't think that was just because I was reading it in Dutch.

Some of the plot elements (maybe many of them) were predictable, and although I won't bother with book two of this story, I suspect I already know how it all ends. Still the predictability would have been less of a problem for me if the whole story had been presented in one book. Sorry, but ending a story before anything much has happened is, for me, the unforgivable sin.

Anyway, one to avoid sadly.

Modifié : Nov 30, 2016, 4:57pm

80. Das Urteil - Franz Kafka

This books is really little more than a short story, not even a novella. However as I read it in German, and as the German is tricky in places, it took me at least as long to read as any English language novel. In fact I first tried reading this years ago and gave up because t was too hard then.

The story is typically Kafka, which is to say it is odd, and laced with deeper meaning beneath a deceptively simple surface. It is little more than a conversation between a son and his father that leads to a rather unfortunate "judgement" (Das Urteil means "the judgement") on the protagonist, after some discussion of letters to a friend in St Petersburg, Russia.

This is only my third Kafka book, and my first read in the original German. His work is fascinating, and yet not entirely captivating to me. Still I think Die Verwandlung (The Metamorphosis) is a strange little book that everyone should read and Das Schloss (The Castle) is as perfect a description of an unyielding perfect bureaucracy as has ever been written. Sadly I am not quite so clear as to what Das Urteil was really trying to tell me.

Modifié : Déc 1, 2016, 2:17am

November was my second best month this year for reading. Totals are:

Jan - 11
Feb - 14
Mar - 5
Apr - 0
May - 9
Jun - 9
Jul - 0
Aug - 11
Sep - 1
Oct - 7
Nov -12

Also one third of my books in November were not in English.

Now I only need to read about 80 or 90 in December to clear my TBR :)

Déc 1, 2016, 4:49am

81. The Hollow Boy - Jonathan Stroud

Book three of this very enjoyable series by Jonathan Stroud. Stroud has a wonderful dry wit that he infuses into many of his works, but also a remarkable imagination and the ability to tell an exciting story. One of my favourite authors. I have already bought the next in this series.

Lockwood & Co. are unique in the world of Psychic Detection Agencies in being run entirely by their operatives - especially rare because operatives must be children, as only children can see the ghosts that plague the world since the start of "the problem". When an outbreak of ghostly phenomena grows to terrifying levels in Chelsea, the authorities are at a loss and, with great reluctance, they call in Lockwood & Co.

Great stuff and there is some good character development in this story too.

Déc 2, 2016, 5:12am

82. Treasure Island - Robert Louis Stevenson

I knew this story well enough, as when I was small I was given a record with an abridged and dramatized telling of this story on it that I listened to many times (I suppose it can be considered an early audio book!)

However I have never read the original, and so have now rectified that lack. It is worth reading too, being accessible, and fast paced. I probably don't need to give a synopsis of the story, as this classic is well known. It was a little amusing to read all the old pirate tropes and vernacular described in this story. However that really shows how this story was so successful in that it established all those tropes, and the west country dialect now associated with pirates everywhere.

Déc 4, 2016, 6:07am

83. Der Struwwelpeter - Heinrich Hoffmann

An illustrated German language book of poetry for children, consisting primarily of cautionary tales.

Déc 4, 2016, 9:47am

>143 sirfurboy: I read it for the first time a year or two ago and, despite knowing the story well enough, was still surprised by how much I enjoyed it. I have included Robert Louis Stevenson in next year's British Author Challenge and it would be nice if you could pop up with some insight into another of his classics.

Have a great weekend.

Déc 5, 2016, 4:38am

>145 PaulCranswick: Well the only other of his classics I have read, and a long time ago, was Kidnapped. I could be persuaded to re-read that though :)

Thanks for dropping by.

Modifié : Déc 6, 2016, 4:36am

84. Risk Savvy Gerd Gigerenzer

This book sets itself up as a polemic against the recent run of books in behavioural economics and nudge theory, which the author sees as paternalist. His view is that we can all understand risk if we are given the tools to do so, and good information, and that if we did so we would make better choices.

I think the polemic failed, because I don't think the advocates of nudge theory would disagree with him. However the book does succeed in making a strong case for better information.

An example from the book is around prostate cancer screening. With American politician, Rudy Guiliani saying in an advert:

"I had prostate cancer, five, six years ago. My chance of surviving prostate cancer, and thank God I was cured of it, in the United States, 82%. My chances of surviving prostate cancer in England, only 44% under socialized medicine."

The book shows how misleading that claim is and points out that mortality from prostate cancer in both countries is equal. It shows why the quoted figures skew the way they do, and why they are misleading. It also goes on to show that screening is actually counter productive, harming more men than it helps by leading to unnecessary interventions.

It then advocates for information to be presented in "icon boxes" like these:

It is a really interesting read, and makes a very good point: an understanding of statistics in real world situations is one of the key skills we should be teaching young people in schools and from an early age. If we understood stats better, we would make better decisions, and that argument is proven again and again.

Anyway a thoroughly interesting read. The polemic may be overdone in places but that never detracts from the core message of this book.

Déc 6, 2016, 4:46am

85. Hillforts of Cardigan Bay - Toby Driver

This is a detailed and interesting analysis of the iron age hillforts of West Wales clustered around the Cardigan bay. The book has plenty of interesting analysis, showing why the Cardigan Bay was attractive to mariners of the period, and also describing issues around religion, lifestyle, art and trade.

There are plenty of diagrams that accompany photographic evidence and surveys to describe the process of construction of the forts and how they would appear in practice. Having walked to many such forts, I found it really interesting to consider just how formidable many of these structures actually would have appeared just after construction was completed.

The author launched his book with a talk that I attended in which he did suggest that these grand entrances may have been more for show than actual defence as there were less well fortified back entrances to many of these forts.

This book is a valuable addition to any collection about the European iron age, and if you are interested in the history of Wales it fills an important space, considering the early history of Wales in the context of the archaeology itself.

It also contains a handy walkers guide to the ten most impressive hillforts in the area and a gazetteer of all the others.

This is a book that deserves a place in any good collection about Wales, or Iron Age history.

Déc 6, 2016, 4:59am

>148 sirfurboy: When I can get back to the UK on a more regular basis, I would like to do plenty of walking and Cardigan's hill forts sound like a place to soak up the fresh air Sir F.

Déc 7, 2016, 6:07pm

86. The Outcasts by John Flanagan

Book one of John Flanagan's Brotherband series. He is an accomplished children's writer and this book delivers another enjoyable tale. It took me a few chapters to get into it but then it became pretty much a classic tale of a band of misfits taking on the world and winning, before being launched into fresh adventure. This book sets up a long series that older children will enjoy. I won't rush out to read the rest of them, but only because I can somewhat see where this is all leading. It is not stunningly original but it is competently executed, and those who have not read a lot of this kind of tale will love it.

Modifié : Déc 8, 2016, 6:11pm

87. Olion Hen Elyn - Elgan Philip Davies

The title translates as "Traces of an Old Enemy" and is a supernatural mystery surrounding the history of a Welsh village and a fire that destroyed an old school house 150 years ago. A group of local children investigate the history for a school project and get mixed up in something darker and supernatural.

This is part of a series, and this first book does little more than set the series up, not really resolving anything very much.

Written in Welsh only, I doubt this is a book that will get a translation to English.

Modifié : Déc 12, 2016, 4:57am

88. The Bible Doesn't Say That - Joel Hoffman

I bought this book on Roni's recommendation. You can see how far I am behind on my TBR because she read it many months ago.

This is a very good book taking a careful look at what the Bible actually says and some common misreadings of the text. Given the write up, I was prepared to be annoyed by someone from one side of a theological divide pushing an agenda, but in fact the writer is very careful not to push agendas and gives equal time to all careful analysis of the text. His analysis is careful and limited to an actual reading of what the Bible says based on an in depth knowledge of the original languages and context. This is a scholar writing in an accessible way and with no obvious biases, and that makes it a very interesting book.

That is not to say he does not overstate his case at times. His chapters all start with "does the bible say X? No." where X is a well known doctrine or position. If you just read those statements and not the discussion in the chapter, you might be misled into thinking this book is a more radical departure than it is.

For instance "does the Bible say God so loved the world?" This chapter is an interesting discussion of what the original Greek means here, and how the English translation is now a touch misleading in that "so loved" here actually means "lived in this way", rather than "loved so much". That is all fine, but actually I had always understood it this way, at least in part because other languages don't have this problem. The Welsh bible has "Canys felly y carodd Duw y byd ", which is literally, "For thus was the love of God for the World". Felly here means so/thus/such but does not imply extent of the love.

When I read the write up I assumed that the author's disagreement here would be greater. I am glad it was not though, because actually he does draw attention to issues of language drift, and although this example does not change our theology much, if at all, there are other times where some very bad theology has rested on some equally mistaken understanding.

So when the author talks about the rapture and the prosperity gospel, he was speaking to the converted (so to speak). In other places there was new information I had not known. In some places I think he missed a thing or two (for instance in the discussion of unicorns in the Bible, he does not mention Asimov's analysis of why the aurochs could well be meant, based on the fact that the aurochs was only known through side on cave art and thus drawn with one horn). Still the book is limited in space and he cannot mention everything, and his analysis on that point is already very full.

All in all a good and enjoyable read. Not too long. It has forty chapters but they are not long chapters.

Déc 12, 2016, 8:45pm

I recorded it on February 24--and the next message in the thread was you saying that you were definitely going to get it. I'm glad you found it worthwhile. I couldn't remember what I had written, but since I had the date on my spreadsheet , I checked it out.

The author is a foremost expert in ancient Hebrew language and translation issues. This book is tagged "religious right" and "us politics" in LT, neither of which seem to me appropriate. On the contrary, Hoffman is careful to maintain a studied neutrality to the modern interpretations of scripture that exist, maintaining that it is the right of religious leaders to do so, but working to clarify what the writings meant to the people in the language of the time. Sometimes this means identifying translation errors but often it means tracking how word meanings have changed over time so that a translation that might have been accurate using an English word 400 years ago no longer is because the meaning of that word has evolved in a different direction. Once he has set the framework, each chapter is short and to the point and very readable. I enjoyed it.

I agree that I was familiar with some of his examples, but there was much more that was great food for thought.

Déc 13, 2016, 4:25am

Thanks Roni, yes I think we both thought much the same of this book. Definitely worth reading so thanks for the recommendation... now I only have to plough through all the other recommendations on my TBR :)

Modifié : Déc 15, 2016, 10:28am

89 Beast - Ally Kennen

A young adult tale of a teenage boy living in care who has a frightening secret: in a reservoir he looks after an animal that he was given six years ago as a baby but has now grown into a monster. A good enough story with a touch of metaphor about it.

Déc 16, 2016, 4:49am

90 How to Manage your Slaves - Jerry Toner

Companion guide to Release your Inner Roman. This is a non fiction work, bringing all kinds of information regarding the institution of slavery as practiced by the Romans into one place. The book is written as though it is a manual written by the fictitious slave owner, Marcus Sidonius Falx. Each chapter deals with a topic (where and how to purchase, treatement, manumission etc.) and then rounds off with a commentary where all the sources used to create the chapter are laid out appropriately for further reading.

As such it is a good digest on the subject, with plenty of good and well researched information. It appears the book as been re-released this year with a new title: The Roman Guide to Slave Management: A Treatise by Nobleman Marcus Sidonius Falx.

Mary Beard, classics professor at Cambridge, provides the forward.

Déc 16, 2016, 9:02am

91. Avery McShane - Greg Lyons

An enjoyable boy's own adventure for older children. Avery lives in Venezuela where his father is an engineer for an oil company. He and other 12 year old American boys get up to various adventures including a classic run in with a band of bad guys.

The book is clearly semi biographical, and for an adult reader it is thus enjoyable for the insight into life in Venezuela through the eyes of a child. The story itself is nothing very deep or meaningful, nor is it very complex, but will be enjoyed by the book's target audience (primary school age in the UK. That is up to about 5th grade in the US although Avery is a 6th grader I think).

I would be happy to read more from this author (although I don't see any other books he has written on Amazon).

Déc 16, 2016, 6:37pm

>156 sirfurboy: I think Hani, my good lady wife, must use that book as some sort of guidebook!

Have a great weekend, Sir F.

Déc 19, 2016, 6:22am

>148 sirfurboy: Not sure it will be that much good as a guide book, but it may give a flavour of the area, Paul :)

Déc 19, 2016, 6:28am

92. Tom Sawyer - Mark Twain

I read this when I was about 11 or 12 and loved it. Re-read it this year as part of my classics category challenge. I probably don't need to give it a write up as the story is pretty well known, although I had forgotten parts of it. I remember when I originally read it that I had to look up what a White Alley was and probably various other bits of background eluded me (for instance I don't know whether I got the reference to George Washington and the cherry tree used as a nice little irony in this story when praising Tom's noble lie).

Anyway if you haven't read this work, you should. That's all that needs to be said :)

Déc 23, 2016, 11:57pm

Wouldn't it be nice if 2017 was a year of peace and goodwill.
A year where people set aside their religious and racial differences.
A year where intolerance is given short shrift.
A year where hatred is replaced by, at the very least, respect.
A year where those in need are not looked upon as a burden but as a blessing.
A year where the commonality of man and woman rises up against those who would seek to subvert and divide.
A year without bombs, or shootings, or beheadings, or rape, or abuse, or spite.


Festive Greetings and a few wishes from Malaysia!

Déc 25, 2016, 12:11am

This is the Christmas tree at the end of the Pacific Beach Pier here in San Diego, a Christmas tradition.

To all my friends here at Library Thing, I want you to know how much I value you and how much I wish you a very happy holiday, whatever one you celebrate, and the very best of New Years!

Déc 29, 2016, 2:38am

>161 PaulCranswick: and >162 ronincats:

Thanks both. I hope you had a wonderful Christmas too.

Modifié : Déc 29, 2016, 2:44am

93. The Colossus Rises - Peter Lerangis

Enjoyable young adult adventure. A Percy Jackson clone, which was itself a Harry Potter clone, so perhaps we should talk of a new young adult fantasy genre. The story was well enough written with the set up for a classic hunt for lost Atlantis spanning seven books (I presume 7 as the series is called 7 wonders and this story only covers the first).

I don't strongly recommend it as it lacks any true originality, and I don't expect to read further into the series, but it makes for a good story and the target audience will lap it up.

Déc 30, 2016, 1:25pm

94. The Creeping Shadow - Jonathan Stroud

Classic Jonathan Stroud in an exciting continuation of this highly original series. Laced with trademark humour offsetting the darker themes of death, haunting and young people being placed in extreme danger, this book and the series have all the ingredients to be best sellers.

In this story Lucy becomes more attached to the skull in a jar, and Lockwood & Co. have the most dangerous haunting to deal with yet. There are also subtle machinations by the antagonist(s).

Great stuff.

Déc 31, 2016, 7:35am

Looking forward to your continued company in 2017.
Happy New Year, Sir F

Jan 1, 2017, 3:13pm

>165 sirfurboy: You remind me that I need to request this one from my library, as they now have it. Thanks! See you on the other side.