Monday, January 24, 2011

Please visit BCF Book Reviews...

As you can see, I no longer use this blog, as I no longer have time to review every book I read (due to having become a new Stay-At-Home-Mum in 2008).

However, I do still occasionally write reviews by request of authors and publishers, only I no wdo it exclusively through the Book Club Forum. All reviews are then posted on the BCF Reviews Blog.

To date, the team of 25 reviewers have reviewed over 1000 books - and the number is still growing!

If you would like your book reviewed by one of the BCF Review Team, please contact us using the CONTACT ME form at BCF Reviews.

We look forward to hearing from you.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

How to Make Love Like a Porn Star: A Cautionary Tale by Jenna Jameson

Title: How to Make Love Like a Porn Star: A Cautionary Tale
Author: Jenna Jameson
ISBN: 0060539097
Publisher: Regan Boks
No. of pages: 579
Rating: 7/10

Synopsis(from Amazon):
The current queen of the adult entertainment industry intimately and candidly offers up lifetimes worth of sexual experience - from her days as an under-age Las Vegas stripper to her present position as CEO of her own adult entertainment empire - in a hot, fun and informative guide on how to make love like a porn star. Jenna Jameson reigns as the queen of the adult entertainment industry. Not only is she today's most popular female adult star, but she may be the most recognisable porn star of all time, owing largely to her crossover into the mainstream. Jenna is bringing the adult entertainment industry out from behind closed doors and sexing up American pop culture. In her new book, Jenna will personally bring her audience into the bedroom for a lesson in love making that only Jenna could give. Jenna's book will be the opportunity her fans have been waiting to get intimate with her.

Not only will Jenna share with her readers an unparalleled wealth of information, but she will also take her readers through her own sexual development with personal stories of firsts, hilarious and charming recollections of days spent naked in front of the camera, nervous moments on stage as a teenage dancer in Las Vegas, her first experiences posing for Playboy and Penthouse, and her personal stories of love off-camera and on her own. More than a book of sex tips, this will be the story of how Jenna Jameson became the sex star that she is today, allowing her readers to learn from her life and experiences and parlay those lessons into an improved and open sex life with men, women, or both. With hot, fun and detailed instructions on acts of love and lust ranging from strip-teasing to oral sex, Jenna's book will draw on her trove of experiences with both men and women to give her readers an intimate understanding of how Jenna gets down, and how they too can love like a porn star.

I actually really enjoyed this book - it's very frank, yet not as explicit as you might expect from a porn star. There are a couple of odd chapters which are written entirely in script form, where Jenna, her brother and her father are reminiscing, and those sections, as a result, don't read quite as well, but overall it's a very interesting read and she comes over quite sensitively. Ultimately, I cam away from the book with a real respect for her and the choices she'd made in her life, even if they were choices I would never have made for myself.

It's quite a chunky read, but it's very easy to read and, as a result, it doesn't take all that long to read. There are also loads of gorgeous photos of her and some of her family too. And no, none of the pictures are explicit (there are a few that would have been, but they have strategically-placed stars, which will no doubt ruin it all for those who were expecting an eyeful!).

If you're looking for an insight into the porn industry that doesn’t just say, "Oh, my life is ruined and the porn industry sent it spiralling even further down into a life of shame and degradation", then this is it. Jenna revels in her sexuality and makes no apologies for the person she is. She gives it to you straight - all her faults and addictions laid bare, along with the positive aspects of how she discovered herself and became a major player in the adult film industry.

Highly recommended.

The Gatherer by Jerry Bayne

Title: The Gatherer
Author: Jerry Bayne
ISBN: 9781419687365
Publisher: Book Surge
No. of pages: 330
Rating: 6/10

Synopsis (from back of book):
In Italy, the Catholic Church unearths a subterranean chamber during an archaeological dig in which a primeval scroll is found, dusted off, and taken to Father Frank Daniel in New York City for interpretation. The father, with the able assistance of Dr. Cary Blake, an ancient languages expert, reveals the scroll's sinister message: an unholy entity has been unleashed and is roaming the earth... When the bodies start mounting up in Boston, Detective Mike Sams is at a loss until he joins forces with Dr. Blake in order to make some sense out of the mayhem and terror. As sparks fly between the detective and the linguist, the devastating task of destroying the indestructible looms before them.

I'm a big fan of supernatural horror, so I was expecting a little more from The Gatherer than what I actually got, which was a bit of a disappointment. It has all the right ingredients for a terrifying read, but then just doesn't deliver. At all times, I was just too far ahead of all the characters and felt that I was waiting for them to play catch up. Even so, their uncovering of the scroll's message seemed to come way too easy once they had begun, despite the fact that from the pieces they put together at the start, they should have been able to guess at what was being revealed at a painstakingly slow pace in about five minutes flat.

The burgeoning relationship between Blake and Sams was a bit too twee and mushy, as well as happening far too quickly - the characters weren't really given enough time to get to know one another properly before declaring their love for one another (which they then continued to do on every other page for the rest of the novel).

Still, there were just enough surprises in there to keep me going to the end, if only to try and find out the answers to a few questions that seemed to be ignored completely by the characters (those questions never did get answered, by the way, leaving me a little frustrated).

If you're looking for an easy way to kill a few hours without having to think too hard, then you could read worse, but don't expect miracles from The Gatherer.

Nameless Night by G. M. Ford

Title: Nameless Night
Author: G. M. Ford
ISBN: 9780060874421
Publisher: William Morrow (Harper Collins)
No. of pages: 338
Rating: 7/10

Synopsis (from back of book):
Discovered lying near death in a railroad car, his body broken, his mind destroyed, Paul Hardy has spent the past seven years living in a group home for disabled adults, his identity and his past lost - seemingly forever. Then, after a horrific car accident, he awakens a new man, his face reconstructed, and his mind shadowy with memory. With only a name and a vaguely remembered scene to guide him, he goes on a cross-country quest to find out who he really is. But his search for the truth makes a lot of people uncomfortable - from the DA's office to the highest levels of the government. Soon Paul is being tailed by an army of pursuers as he finds himself at the centre of a government cover-up that has claimed too many innocent lives - and the numbers are mounting. It's the kind of thing that could make even a man on the outskirts of society feel the pull of justice that might be worth killing for. Or dying for...

From the shocking opening scenes to the dizzying heights of the finale, Nameless Night had me hooked - I just couldn't put it down! Watching the lead character of Paul slowly uncovering the secrets of his identity, never sure of where the next lead might take him or what the consequences might be, was breathtaking and wouldn't have been half so engrossing if handled by a writer with a lesser skill.

The writing is taut, the action is fast-paced and the character interaction is completely believable at every step. There's danger at every turn, not only for Paul, but for those he comes to know, trust and love. There's a real feeling of frenetic activity that has been captured perfectly - I was actually breathless at moments and found myself turning the pages faster and faster just to find out what would happen next.

Despite the darkness of the subject, G. M. Ford manages to pull it off with a lightness of touch that is surprising and refreshing, making Nameless Night something a little out of the ordinary.

The Somnambulist by Jonathan Barnes

Title: The Somnambulist
Author: Jonathan Barnes
ISBN: 9780061375385
Publisher: William Morrow (Harper Collins)
No. of pages: 353
Rating: 7/10

Synopsis (from Amazon):
'Be warned. This book has no literary merit whatsoever. It is a lurid piece of nonsense, convoluted, implausible, peopled by unconvincing characters, written in drearily pedestrian prose, frequently ridiculous and wilfully bizarre. Needless to say, I doubt you'll believe a word of it.' So starts the extraordinary tale of Edward Moon, detective, his silent associate the Sonambulist and devilish plot to recreate the apocalyptic prophecies of William Blake and bring the British Empire crashing down. With a gallery of vividly grotesque characters, a richly evoked setting and a playful highly literate style this is an amazingly readable literary fantasy and a brilliant debut.

If you like your historical crime fiction packed full of mystery and intrigue, then you could do a lot worse than picking up The Somnambulist and losing yourself between the covers. From the outset, the anonymous narrator of the tale uses misdirection and half-truths to both draw the reader and throw them off the scent without ever having realised there was a scent to begin with.

It's a cleverly-written whodunit that borders on the paranormal without ever fully crossing that line and, despite being filed with characters that wouldn't be out of place in a Victorian circus sideshow, it never quite ventures outside the realms of possibility (or, at the very least, it seems that way during the reading). Characters are wonderfully, humanly flawed and inspire a mixture of sympathy, hatred, fear and loathing, and yes, occasionally even a little love and inspiration.

Next time you're looking for something a little unusual, give this one a try.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Les Liaisons Dangereuses by Pierre Choderlos de Laclos

Title: Les Liaisons Dangereuses
Author: Pierre Choderlos de Laclos
ISBN: 0140441166
Publisher: Penguin Classics
No. of pages: 396
Other info: Translation and introduction by P W K Stone
Rating: 8/10

Synopsis (from
The complex moral ambiguities of seduction and revenge make Les Liaisons dangereuses (1782) one of the most scandalous and controversial novels in European literature. The subject of major film and stage adaptations, the novel's prime movers, the Vicomte de Valmont and the Marquise de Merteuil, form an unholy alliance and turn seduction into a game - a game which they must win. This new translation gives Laclos a modern voice, and readers will be able a judge whether the novel is as 'diabolical' and 'infamous' as its critics have claimed, or whether it has much to tell us about the kind of world we ourselves live in.

I loved that the book was written solely in the form of letters between the various characters. Each character had a very distinct “voice” and their interaction as plots were devised and completed was fascinating. In particular, I found Marquise de Merteuil to be completely Machiavellian in her approach to everything. Her attention to detail and every possibility was nothing short of genius. Vicomte de Valmont has to be one of the most charmingly seductive characters ever written, and his constant display of deviant cunning is marvellous. These two driving forces are a winning combination that cannot fail… or can they? It seems that vanity is the downfall of one, whilst a change of heart causes the utter ostrazisation of the other.

This novel is sensual and glamorises depravity, but imparts a moralistic lesson that willful deviance carries the seeds of its own destruction. Being written entirely in letter form, it lends itself to short bursts of reading, and so it is perfect for those who have very little time to sit and read for any length of time. The writing is beautiful and cleverly arranged to keep the reader hooked on every page.

Highly recommended!

Journey to the Centre of the Earth by Jules Verne

Title: Journey to the Centre of the Earth
Author: Jules Verne
Publisher: Librivox
No. of pages: N/A
Rating: 7/10

Synopsis (from Amazon):
When Axel deciphers an old parchment that describes a secret passage through a volcano to the centre of the earth, nothing will stop his eccentric Uncle Lidenbrock from setting out at once. So, with silent Hans the guide, the two men embark on a perilous, astonishing, terrifying journey through the subterranean world.

Although completely unbelievable by today’s standards, this is a rip-roaring adventure, so jam-packed with action that one can’t help but get caught up in the escapades of the characters as they embark on their perilous journey into the Earth’s interior. Despite having large swathes of science included, Verne manages to grab hold of the reader’s interest and refuse to let go, explaining the reasoning behind the ideas in such a way that one is carried away by the theories and the story as it unfolds.

Oscar Wilde and the Candlelight Murders by Gyles Brandreth

Title: Oscar Wilde and the Candlelight Murders
Author: Gyles Brandreth
ISBN: 9780719569302
Publisher: John Murray Publishers
No. of pages: 355
Rating: 7/10

Synopsis (from
This work is set in London, 1889. Oscar Wilde, celebrated poet, wit, playwright and raconteur is the literary sensation of his age. All Europe lies at his feet. Yet when he chances across the naked corpse of sixteen-year-old Billy Wood, posed by candlelight in a dark stifling attic room, he cannot ignore the brutal murder. With the help of fellow author Arthur Conan Doyle he sets out to solve the crime - but it is Wilde's unparalleled access to all degrees of late Victorian life, from society drawing rooms and the bohemian demi-monde to the underclass, that will prove the decisive factor in their investigation of what turns out to be a series of brutal killings. The Oscar Wilde Murders is a gripping detective story of corruption and intrigue, of Wilde's growing success, of the breakdown of his marriage, and of his fatal friendship with Aidan Fraser, Inspector at Scotland Yard! Set against the exotic background of fin-de-siecle London, Paris, Oxford and Edinburgh, Gyles Brandreth recreates Oscar Wilde's trademark sardonic wit with huge flair, intertwining all the intrigue of the classic English murder mystery with a compelling portrait of one of the greatest characters of the Victorian age.

If Oscar Wilde and Arthur Conan Doyle had ever teamed up in reality, then this would have been exactly how it happened! Brandreth has captured the essence of both these astounding authors and combined their characters to superb effect in a crime novel that is every bit as clever and witty as the protagonists of the story.

The story is exciting and so full of twists and turns that the reader is kept on the edge of their seat from start to finish, and it’s so well written that once could really believe one was listening to Oscar and Arthur first hand. Their interaction and escapades remains faithful to both and the historical context is superbly represented.

If you like historical crime fiction, then please, do not hesitate to pick up this novel, especially if one admires the works of Wilde and Doyle - you will be in for a treat!

500 Ways to Change the World by Global Ideas Bank

Title: 500 Ways to Change the World
Author: Global Ideas Bank
ISBN: 9780060851767
Publisher: Ixos Press
No. of pages: 400
Rating: 7/10

Synopsis (from
500 inspired ideas from around the world that cost nothing to implement but could enhance all our lives. 500 inspired ideas from around the world that cost nothing to implement but could enhance all our lives. They range from ideas that could benefit charitable organizations (donate airmiles to disaster relief fundraising schemes) to ideas that make people's working lives better (write the minutes of a meeting before it takes place) to ideas that help social relations as a whole (Boomerang Days when you return all the things you've borrowed over the course of the previous year. The book is bursting with brilliantly original initiatives. For anyone interested in doing something more than just grumbling and feeling generally fed up, this is probably worth about a whole year of press and TV.

This is one of those gorgeous little books that you can dip into every now and then and be sure of always coming away with something uplifting. No, it’s not one of those self-help books filled with soppy platitudes; instead, it’s a compact compendium of little things you can do to change things in a big way.

Set out in handy sections with headings such as Relationships, Crime and Law, Health, Environment and Ecology, Transport, and Spirituality, it gives handy little hints and tips that needn’t take much time, effort or money to put into practice, but which could make a huge difference to your life and that of others too. Some ideas are so simple that you’ll be left thinking, “Why did I never think of that myself?”, others are a little more complicated, but no less easy to slip into your everyday life. And if everyone took just a handful of these ideas to heart, then the world would be a much improved place!

Friday, January 25, 2008

Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad

Title: Heart of Darkness
Author: Joseph Conrad
Publisher: Librivox
No. of pages: N/A
Rating: 2/10

Synopsis (from Librivox):
Set in a time of oppressive colonisation, when large areas of the world were still unknown to Europe, and Africa was literally on maps and minds as a mysterious shadow, Heart of Darkness famously explores the rituals of civilisation and barbarism, and the frighteningly fine line between them.

We get the tale through a classic unreliable narrator, relating as Marlow, a ship’s captain, tells how he was sent by the Company to retrieve the wayward Kurtz, and was shaken to discover the true depths of darkness in that creature’s, and in his own, soul. Conrad based the work closely on his own terrible experience in the Congo.

This work has been reinterpreted and adapted into many modern forms, the most well known being the film Apocalypse Now.

From all accounts, Heart of Darkness was based on Conrad's own experiences in the Congo some eight years before writing the book, which would, one would think, make for an interesting read. Instead, I found this dull, plodding and pretty pointless. I know it's held to be a classic full of symbols and ambiguity, but I just did not gel with any aspect of this novella - not the characters, nor the setting, nor their apparent motives (which seemed very weak) for any of their actions.

The ending, in particular, was anti-climactic, singularly lacking in any drama or discernable meaning, and seemed drawn out yet strangely abrupt (a combination that would seem impossible, but that's how it is!). Basically, it took a long time to get nowhere.

I'm not sure if it was the style of writing or the story, but I'm not much bothered about reading anything else by Conrad, at least, not in a hurry.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

The Tenderness of Wolves by Stef Penney

Title: The Tenderness of Wolves
Author: Stef Penney
ISBN: 9781847240675
Publisher: Quercus
No. of pages: 450
Rating: 8/10

Synopsis (from Amazon):
It is 1867, Canada: as winter tightens its grip on the isolated settlement of Dove River, a man is brutally murdered and a 17-year old boy disappears. Tracks leaving the dead man's cabin head north towards the forest and the tundra beyond. In the wake of such violence, people are drawn to the township - journalists, Hudson's Bay Company men, trappers, traders - but do they want to solve the crime or exploit it? One-by-one the assembled searchers set out from Dove River, pursuing the tracks across a desolate landscape home only to wild animals, madmen and fugitives, variously seeking a murderer, a son, two sisters missing for 17 years, a Native American culture, and a fortune in stolen furs before the snows settle and cover the tracks of the past for good.

Once in a while, the literary awards people get it right. When the Costa crowd made The Tenderness of Wolves their choice for Book of the Year and First Novel Award in 2006, they were certainly on top form!

This novel reads like a dream from start to finish, from the way the characters' lives and relationships are gradually revealed, to the unfolding of the mystery surrounding an artifact that may prove the existence of a written culture of the Native Americans, to the investigation of a murder that rocks a small and seemingly close-knit community. There's a timelessness to it all that means it could easily be transported to any era, but it sits perfectly in the onset of the harsh winter of 1867, and charts the journeys - physical, mental and emotional - of each of the players.

Told partly in first person from the point of view of Mrs. Ross, the mother of a teenaged boy who has gone missing immediately after the murder of a French trapper, and partially in the third person, taking an overview of what happens to the others as she ventures out on her quest - to find her son, and herself. It's a much internalised epic that strikes deep into your heart as you read, pulling you effortlessly into the narrative and forcing you to journey with her.

Highly recommended.

Friday, January 18, 2008

The Island of Dr. Moreau by H. G. Wells

Title: The Island of Dr. Moreau
Author: H. G. Wells
Publisher: Librivox
Rating: 7/10

Synopsis (from Amazon):
Adrift in a dinghy, Edward Prendick, the single survivor from the good ship Lady Vain, is rescued by a vessel carrying a profoundly unusual cargo a menagerie of savage animals. Tended to recovery by their keeper Montgomery, who gives him dark medicine that tastes of blood, Prendick soon finds himself stranded upon an uncharted island in the Pacific with his rescuer and the beasts. Here, he meets Montgomery's master, the sinister Dr. Moreau a brilliant scientist whose notorious experiments in vivisection have caused him to abandon the civilised world. It soon becomes clear he has been developing these experiments with truly horrific results.

Like Frankenstein almost 80 years before, The Island of Dr Moreau features a man of science playing God and finding that his creations do not act as he would prefer. The themes of human nature, law, religion and society are expertly mixed against the backdrop of a mysterious Pacific island.

Of course, in recent years, many of the issues faced by Moreau have come to the fore in the media, as the advancement of genetics and cloning have begged the question of whether it is ever right for Man to play God, and just how far is too far? There is also the question of forcing a belief system on another set of "people" - deifying ones-self in order to be protected from one's own creations - and the degradation of said creations when they are left to their own devices.

Wells has chosen a heady blend of science and nature to portray just how easily mankind can go astray - and one has to wonder if his ideas are not already becoming a reality - which makes for tense and exciting reading. It's not a particularly long story and it runs at breakneck speed from beginning to end, hurtling the reader into the action and offering no respite until the tale is told.

If you fancy trying a bit of classic sci-fi, this is definitely one to try!

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

The House in the Forest by Michèle Desbordes

Title: The House in the Forest
Author: Michèle Desbordes
ISBN: 0571217796
Publisher: Faber and Faber
No. of pages: 186
Rating: UNFINISHED - 0/10

Synopsis (from Amazon):
In her cottage in the rain-drenched French countryside, an old woman receives an unexpected visitor: a boy whispering in an unfamiliar language, and bringing sheaves of paper, the letters and jottings of her youngest son. Some time ago her son had done as she had told him, and left to seek his fortune on a Caribbean island. Once there, the promised wealth disastrously eluded him. Soon, not far from the old woman's cottage, the locals see a mysterious stranger, with a boy and a dog, carrying planks into the woods to build a place to live, perhaps a place to die...

It’s rare that I give up on a book so very quickly, especially one as short as this, but I got as far as page 32 and just could not force myself to read another word.

My boredom mostly stemmed from the fact that absolutely nothing seemed to be happening and the narrative (which continually switched between past and present tense) constantly returned to the same image of a man lying dead in a shack and a boy sitting motionless and silent beside him. And this wasn’t the only instance of repetition: Quite often, the sentence used to end one paragraph was almost identical (if not exactly the same) as the one that began the next. This got old very fast.

It was also filled with long sentences broken by far too many commas – I fear Desbordes is an auto-punctuator – which ground my nerves from the very start, as I found I lost track of where the sentence was originally heading.

I can honestly say that I will never be tempted to try reading anything else written by this author ever again. Whatever message was supposed to be conveyed was utterly lost on me.

The Water Babies by Charles Kingsley

Title: The Water Babies
Author: Charles Kingsley
Publisher: Librivox
No. of pages: N/A
Rating: 4/10

Synopsis (from Wikipedia):
The protagonist is Tom, a young chimney sweep, who falls into a river after encountering an upper-class girl named Ellie and being chased out of her house. There he dies and is transformed into a "water baby", as he is told by a caddis fly — an insect that sheds its skin — and begins his moral education. The story is thematically concerned with Christian redemption, though Kingsley also uses the book to argue that England treats its poor badly, and to question child labor, among other themes.

Reading The Water Babies is like having a large quantity of morals and saccharine forced down your throat, and the constant digression (in particular, the one about salmon rivers; one of many digressions that seemed to have utterly no point!) makes it even more difficult to swallow.

The cloying condescension makes it even more unpalatable, as does the fact that if each meandering incident of digression and every lesson imparted to the reader were removed, we’d be left with a sweet story of about three pages in length.

This was very obviously written with an audience of just one in mind (constant personal references such as, “that’s more than you can do!” are certainly aimed at a specific young boy) and the rambling fairytale appears to have been constructed with the sole purpose of having him grow up to be a good, God-fearing man, which is all very well, but didn’t much endear it to me.

Overall, it was just far too sickly-sweet and moralistic (although the narrator claims the story has no moral on account of it being a fairytale – as if that ever made a difference to morals within tales!) to be completely enjoyable – I prefer not to be lectured while I’m reading!