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Category Archives: 2012 Book Challenges

{Review} The Laughing Policeman – Maj Sjöwall, Per Wahlöö

After several weeks of the frivolity of Dorothy Sayer’s Lord Wimsey, it was time to settle down with a more serious crime novel. What better than a classic Swedish detective novel to sober me up! As we had two copies of this crime story at home, it seemed a good idea to read one of them before giving it away. 🙂
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{Review} Salonica, City of Ghosts: Christians, Muslims and Jews 1430-1950 – Mark Mazower

Prior to reading this book, the only thing that sprang to mind at the mention of this quintessentially Greek city was an Irish Folk/ Independence song, Salonica. I hoped this weighty tome (coming in at a chunky 544 pages) would shed some light on Salonica, or Thessaloniki as it is now called.
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Posted by on November 22, 2016 in Books, European Reading Challenge

 

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{Review} The Second Death – Peter Tremayne

{Review} The Second Death – Peter Tremayne

It may be the 26th novel in the Fidelma series, but Peter Tremayne is not showing any sign of wanting to say farewell to this exciting, intelligent character. And thank goodness for that! Read the rest of this entry »

 

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{Review} The Year of Living Danishly – Helen Russell

{Review} The Year of Living Danishly – Helen Russell

When lifestyle writer, Helen Russell’s husband (known only as Lego Man throughout the book) got headhunted for a job in the High Temple of Lego itself… I mean Lego HQ! After much wheedling on his part, they decided to both decamp to Denmark for a year.

Because you’re never too old for Lego, amiright? Read the rest of this entry »

 

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{Review} The Immaculate Deception – Ian Pears

{Review} The Immaculate Deception – Ian Pears

Review
This is the seventh and final book in Ian Pears’ Jonathan Argyll Series. Fortunately, you don’t need to have read any of the previous books in order to understand or enjoy this one.

Flavia di Stefano, the head of the Italian Art Theft Squad is faced with a dilemma. She has been ordered by the newly appointed Prime Minister to get recover a recently stolen painting from what will be a major exhibition at any cost. This is far easier said than done when she realises that to pay the ransom wanted for the painting will lead to her dismissal from the post or worse, to being jailed.

Desperate for help, she joins forces with her ex-boss, Bottando to try to reclaim it. When the attempt to recover the painting and catch the thief goes wrong, Flavia fears the consequences. Turning to Jonathan for help, the two start to unravel a plot that could bring the government to its knees and cause her death.

Overall
A well-written and exciting book. Pears’ knowledge of and passion for Art History shines through. Coupled with his character creation, The Immaculate Deception makes for a good read.

 

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5 Fantasy Series with Brilliant Female Characters to Read While You Wait for the Next ‘Game of Thrones’

5 Fantasy Series with Brilliant Female Characters to Read While You Wait for the Next ‘Game of Thrones’

After 10 episodes of laughter, tears, screaming at the TV and one memorable too-close-for-comfort shot of the male member, Game of Thrones is over for another year. *Sob*

With the release date for The Winds of Winter still not set and the best part of a year until the next GoT series comes out, it is time to satisfy those fantasy cravings with other novels.

“But where can I find epic fantasy novels with kick-arse female characters? Isn’t traditional fantasy all about orcs running about with axes and groups of sweaty blokes fighting their way through NZ?”

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{Review} A Matter of Death and Life – Andrey Kurkov

Read for Rose City Reader’s European Reading Challenge 2014 (Ukraine)

I meant to read ‘out’ from the UK, slowly reading my way across countries until I ended up poised on the edge of Europe, about to step out into Asia. So obviously I went in search of a copy of the Ukranian, A Matter of Death and Life in the local library and decided to give Kurkov another try after the slight misunderstanding we had back in May 2013.

Due to the political situation in Ukraine, I’ve been doing my best not only to keep abreast of developments in the region but also trying to get to know a little more about the nation in the 20th century. As such, I felt better-placed to understand a little more of Kurkov’s famous satire.

Blurb
Tolya, our main character, begins the novel with a despondent, self-destructive attitude to life. No-one cares about him while he’s alive but he’s realised that if he dies in tragic, mysterious circumstances then people will remember him. He’ll seem ‘interesting’ and be talked about in his absence. By cutting short his life, his memory will live on far longer than he could ever hope to.

The problems start after he hires an assassin to bump him off in a rather prominent café. With so little time left, Tolya starts to value all the things he had previously looked forward to avoiding in the next life.

But he cannot call off his killer or his date with death…

Review
Whether fleetingly or seriously, I’m certain most of us have considered suicide at some point. Kurkov takes this to the next tragicomic level with ease.

As in Death and the Penguin, Kurkov hints at links between death (especially the being-bumped-off variety) and various prominent political figures. He writes about the ‘everything that can be bought’ mentality with a matter of factness that boggles the mind. I’m still not entirely sure as to what to make of those parts of his commentary on contemporary post-Soviet society but it’s interesting to note that they’re some of the main themes that Kurkov explores in his work.

Is this observational satire or critique? Is it a little of both? Think I’m going to have to read some more Kurkov before I can answer that one satisfactorily.

The ending of this story was far more satisfying than that of Death and the Penguin as Tolya’s actions felt more in character and there wasn’t the same degree of bitterness mixed in with the sweetness of the conclusion.

Note on the translation: George Bird’s translation feels direct and sometimes as though there’s more that’s lingering between the lines than in them. I put this down to Kurkov’s ‘between the lines’ sort of satire.

It’s a really good translation though- it puts me in mind of the pictures of post-Soviet Ukraine I saw in a gallery once.
Come to think of it, I’m not sure if that’s a little rude of me to imply that post-Soviet Ukraine’s a little grey around the edges… :/

Overall
Either I was better prepared for Kurkov’s satire, or A Matter of Death and Life is a little better (or both?).

Whichever way, this was a pleasure to read and I’m looking forward to improving my knowledge of Ukrainian politics and society before reading the next of his stories.

I’m not sure that his social and political satire are the sharpest I’ve ever come across but he’s still very good and this novel’s more than worth the 100 minutes or so it takes to blaze through it.

 

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Reading Resolutions. Do we need them?

Oh! I haven’t made any book reading resolutions for this year and it’s already February! Well, I’ve signed up to read 100 books on goodreads, but that’s less of a challenge and more of a hope, considering all the essays I have to write and the journals I’ll have to read instead of books.

Final year is so much tougher than I thought it would be. Maybe it’s because last year felt so… indulgent. I got to read as many books as I liked in any genre because they were in French. Now that I’m back in England, I feel a little guilty whenever I read a book in English.

Maybe setting a number of books to read in French and Spanish would make me feel less guilty and would in turn help me to read more? Will mull it over ‘til Monday.

Summary of 2012
Last year I managed to read a record number of books (for me, that is). A cool total of 150 books (excluding re-reads), which is a pretty decent number, even for a student. Despite this, I didn’t manage to complete all my reading challenges for 2012. O.o

Despite this, I feel as though I’ve taken the next step in the long journey of discovering new books, stepping out of my comfort zone and appreciating what something I never thought I’d read can offer. Or trying to in the case of the few books I didn’t like so much.

How do you feel about setting yourself goals for reading/ writing/ watching films? Do you think they help you appreciate the ones you like more?

 
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Posted by on February 1, 2013 in 2012 Book Challenges

 

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A brief review of Wolfblade by Jennifer Fallon

…And 7 days, 46 hours and 20 minutes until the exam period is over.

Until then, I have to write almost 6k words of logical, coherent and potentially interesting essays (and reference every other sentence using the Harvard method).

In theory I have no time for such luxuries as reading. And yet last weekend I read Wolfblade by Jennifer Fallon. It’s a high fantasy novel set in a land called Hythria.

The story:
The main character, Marla Wolfblade is the 15 year-old sister of the depraved High Prince, Lernen. Summoned back to Greenharbour Palace to be married off against her will to the cruel ruler of Fardohnya, Marla gradually resigns herself to her fate.

Then an unexpected opportunity arises and Marla dares to hope that she may marry not only for love but for the good of her realm. At a time when the Patriot faction are eager to depose her brother and eliminate Marla, can this opportunity be too good to be true?

With the help of Elezaar, a slave saved from assassination, Marla learns how to fight the kid-gloved wars of politics. But can these skills save her from an enemy she cannot see? All she knows is this: she can trust no-one.

After reading Fallon’s Sons of Senet series, I had high expectations of this one. To my joy the novel was even better than I had hoped.

Fallon has this amazing way of writing characters -and plots- that aren’t clichéd or worn-out. Yes, there are evil sorcerers plotting to gain power in this novel. Yes, there are chivalrous characters out there. But neither of them is copied from a template. The political scheming and battles of character/ wits are brilliant and reminded me of the Empire Trilogy by Raymond E Feist and Janny Wurts (in terms of greatness, not in a copy-and-paste way).
One particular character (Mahkas) developed in such a fascinating way that I’m planning to re-read at least this book after I’ve finished the series.

The editing is tight and the pacing is nice and steady throughout. I read this in one day as I was so caught up in the story- not something that normally happens with a 710 page book!

I thoroughly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys high fantasy.

 
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Posted by on January 15, 2013 in Books, Once Upon a Time VI

 

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{Review} Spooks – T.V. Series

Lucas North

Lucas North (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Just poking my head above the metaphorical parapet (also known as the massive pile of course books, academic journals and interminable vocab. lists) to review a T.V. series I watched for Cultural Buffet Challenge.

Plot
This epic (for a British programme) ten-series show is set deep in the duplicitous world of spies. It follows MI5’s Section D as they tackle terrorism and clash with criminals (and the occasional Cabinet Minister) over a ten-year period.

Review
The element that made the biggest impression on me was the casting… or should that be the characters? Every actor and actress fitted the role perfectly, even if the character was created for just one episode. The level of effort put into each of them was phenomenal. Their motivations were explored and their characters evolved over time, esp. Tom Quinn (more on him in a moment) and Ruth Evershed. (Although admittedly, the Lucas North story seemed over-done by the end, even though it was an innovative way of writing his character out).

Tom Quinn (the main character of the first few series) was particularly good as a spy who desperately wants to have a relationship that allows him to be himself as opposed to being a face with constantly changing identities. Indeed, after Matthew MacFadyen (who played Tom Quinn) left the series, ratings slumped. The series had some wonderfully strong female characters in it too. Ros Myers, a strong, collected woman, always ready with a biting one-liner (seriously, she makes 007 himself look like a buffoon) was also a stand-out character for me.

Which sort of brings me on to the second element that impressed me: the plot. As a life-long fan of crime and spy dramas, (I can still quote bits from The Avengers and the Man from UNCLE) I’ve seen lots of, “Oh noes! Russian = evil”, and “terrorists must have a foreign accent and be brown (any shade)”. Whilst there was a degree of this, especially in the 6th and 7th Series, which have story arcs based around Iran and the Russian Federation, these arcs also include variations (innovations?) on these themes. So white, home-grown terrorists turn up, as do Hindu and Christian extremists. Oh, and the Russians turn out to be less of a threat than their English sympathizers.

In addition, if you compare when the episodes were first broadcast with what was happening at the time, the series becomes quite cutting-edge, with issues such as despicable financial practices and the collapse of a Northern Bank appearing at the same time as Northern Rock crumbled. The series that revolves around Iran’s uranium enrichment programme was broadcast when fears of Iranian nukes were escalating.

The other element I enjoyed was the distinctly English feel of the series: the gestures and turns of phrase that I missed whilst in France took on a whole new level of meaning when coupled with the traditional ‘stiff upper-lip’ attitude of Section D… The romantic tensions hinted at between characters /startspoiler, like when Ruth waltzed into her first meeting and ended in that desperate unfulfilled way that is so heartbreaking typical /endspoiler… The way in which characters tend to ‘keep calm and carry on’ and can only truly unleash their feelings when they’re alone at home.

Overall
Spooks is one of those series that not only restores my faith in British Television, it also makes me want to find more contemporary British television series and watch them! Nonetheless, I’m not sure as to how this series would be received in the States, so opinions from across the Pond would be welcome!

WNI’s Verdict… WIN!

 
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Posted by on October 26, 2012 in 2012 Book Challenges, Films

 

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