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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} Throne of Glass – Sarah J Maas

{Review} Throne of Glass – Sarah J Maas

First up: the world creation is seriously good. It came off the page and sucked me in. Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on July 14, 2016 in 2016 Reading Challenge, Books

 

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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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{Review} Too Loud a Solitude – Bohumil Hrabal

{Review} Too Loud a Solitude – Bohumil Hrabal

Review
For 35 years, Haňt’a has worked as a compactor of wastepaper and books. You could be forgiven for thinking the destroyer of tonnes of literature (subversive and otherwise) is an unthinking cog in the police state’s machine.
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Posted by on June 17, 2016 in 2016 Reading Challenge, Books

 

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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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{Review} The Story of Malta – Maturin Murray-Ballou

Read for Rose City Reader’s, European Reading Challenge.

I’ve never been one to say, “no” to a free book, so when I saw that Amazon had put a free e-book version of a book that had been published in 1893, I couldn’t not download it. Especially as it seemed to be a travel-guide-and history of the place..


Blurb
In the late 19th Century, Malta was in some ways, the centre of the nautical world. Half-way between Britain and the (contemporary) Empire of India, it was crucial in her retention of the latter. Murray-Ballou’s work is a unique observation of the ‘Fior del Mondo’, the Flower of the World at this time.

Combining accounts of the country’s history with personal anecdotes and a writing style that is compelling (and sometimes shocking to the modern-day reader), The Story of Malta is a book that encourages the reader to examine his or her own perceptions of the world around them.

If you want a travel guide then this is not the book you want. If, on the other hand, you’re looking for a book that explores the culture and the history of Malta or the Knights of St. John, then this is the book for you.

Review

“We only present facts to the mind of the thoughtful reader”

One thing I always forget when I start reading older books about foreign countries is the extent to which the ‘primitive culture’ is always unfavourably compared with the author and his reader’s ‘civilized society’.

This attitude is frustrating for the modern reader: I shouted at him when he wrote several offensive racial stereotypes, called the Maltese, “sadly ignorant”, condemned every religious belief he mentioned that was not his own and expressed Sherlock Holmes-esque views on England’s monarchy.

It goes without saying that this element did sometimes make me question the sort of ‘filter’ some of the information in The Story of Malta had gone through before appearing on the page. As a result, I have learnt key dates and general history of the islands, but I don’t trust the more descriptive elements of the prose.

On the bright side, I do feel as though I have learnt a lot about Murray-Ballou’s personal beliefs and opinions of Malta. As soon as I realised that this book was best taken with a pinch of salt (or snuff, maybe), it became much easier to enjoy it and thoroughly.

Excluding the *ahem* contemporary beliefs on race and religion, Murray-Ballou writes very well, combining poetry, amusing anecdotes and nuggets of travellers’ wisdom that ring true after 100 years.

The one element that eventually persuaded me to like this book was his presentation of the island through the eyes of those who had seen it centuries before him. Of course, the use of Classical figures in contemporary books was common, especially among the well-educated, but lines such as: “It seemed like the eye of a Cyclops peering through the darkness, as though one of Vulcan’s workman, fresh from the fiery furnace beneath Sicilian [E]tna… had come forth to gaze upon the progress of the night”.

Overall
I’d be interested to read more of Murray-Ballou’s work: he’s well-travelled, writes very well and made me consider how my own perceptions of customs and people who are different from those I’ve grown up with are coloured by my upbringing.

WNI’s Verdict? Wavering towards… WIN!

 

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{Review} Clash of Kings – George R. R. Martin

As read for the Once Upon a Time VI Challenge.

Since the 2nd series of the T.V. show started, I’ve been searching for an English-language version of this book. I found a copy a few days ago and have just finished it.

Blurb (from goodreads)
A comet the color of blood and flame cuts across the sky. Two great leaders—Lord Eddard Stark and Robert Baratheon—who hold sway over an age of enforced peace are dead, victims of royal treachery. Now, from the ancient citadel of Dragonstone to the forbidding shores of Winterfell, chaos reigns.

Six factions struggle for control of a divided land and the Iron Throne of the Seven Kingdoms, preparing to stake their claims through tempest, turmoil, and war. It is a tale in which brother plots against brother and the dead rise to walk in the night. Here a princess masquerades as an orphan boy; a knight of the mind prepares a poison for a treacherous sorceress; and wild men descend from the Mountains of the Moon to ravage the countryside.

Against a backdrop of incest and fratricide, alchemy and murder, victory may go to the men and women possessed of the coldest steel…and the coldest hearts. For when kings clash, the whole land trembles.

Review

I’m not going to lie; sometimes when I read longer novels the characters start to get tangled in my head and I have to jot the main ones down. No such problems with Clash of Kings though. Martin’s given each POV character a slightly different way of thinking and speaking. Although I do think that Bran (who’s 9 years old) sounds a lot more mature than he is. Maybe the maturity comes from having to be the Lord of Winterfell in his brother’s absence..

The character whose ‘voice’ I enjoy most is Tyrion Lannister. Before I began this series, I never noticed the extent to which handicapped people are vilified in literature. (OK, so the Hunchback of Notre Dame is one exception, but I’ve never read the book, so he could be very different from Disney’s Quasimodo). In the first book, Tyrion always has a riposte at the ready and ‘reads’ situations and people with ease. In Clash of Kings, he is on form and his character develops beautifully and realistically.

The story itself is very good, although I did wish that there had been a more definite ‘ending’ feel to it. Game of Thrones ended with hosts massing and kings coming out of the woodwork. [spoiler alert] Clash of Kings ended with Bran and Rickon fleeing Winterfell and heading into the unknown. [/end spoiler alert] Whilst it is an ending, it feels more like an open ending that will overlap with the third book in a ‘middle of the series’ way.

Overall If you’re looking for lush descriptions that don’t take over the page, witty dialogue that’s as much bite as it is banter, intelligent characters and a story that glues the reader to the page, this is the book for you.

WNI’s verdict? WIN!

 
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Posted by on April 12, 2012 in 12 in 12, Books, Once Upon a Time VI

 

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Verdicts explained

First things first: I am rating these books for my own personal reference, so please don’t be offended if I say something’s terrible and you adore it.

 Verdicts explained:
Wild Night In… wail= the equivalent of 1 star – this book shall never be spoken of again.

Wild Night Inwavering towards wail = equiv. of 2 stars – it has it’s good points, but it’s not my cup of tea.

Wild Night Inwavering…. = equiv of 3 stars – I liked it.. but not enough to read it again

Wild Night Inwavering towards win = 4 stars – I will get a copy of it and proudly add it to my book-case.

Wild Night Inwin = 5 stars – I will tell the world about this book. And snuggle up with it at night.

 
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Posted by on March 9, 2011 in Ratings explained

 

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