Saturday, March 31, 2007

Holly A Harvey - Karma

Title: Karma
Author: Holly A Harvey

ISBN # 9871873671009

Publisher: Bookforce

First Published: 2006

349 pages

Format: Paperback

Rating: 8/10

Winner of the Undiscovered Authors 2005 General Fiction category for the North East Region

Karma is a light-hearted, comical story about Paige, a 28 year-old northern woman whose life revolves around sleep, caffeine and VH-1 rather than sex, drugs and rock n roll. She has money problems to rival the national debt, more people walking over her than a 'Welcome' mat and the requisite ex-boyfriend from hell. Paige has always lived by the belief that "what goes around comes around," but after a betrayal by a friend at work and unhappy memories aroused by an invitation to a school reunion, she decides to give fate a helping hand.

I started reading this in my coffee break and almost snorted coffee out of my nose within the first couple of pages - this could have been written about me! All the mention of singing along to Adam and the Ants and seeing Biker Mice from Mars on the telly (it was a terrible cartoon!) could have been lifted straight out of my life. This is very funny stuff - light-hearted, but written with great warmth.

I’m not usually one to get gripped by “chick-lit”, but will freely admit I lay on my bed all evening so I could finish it in peace! It makes such a nice change to have a heroine who doesn’t have a high-powered job and pots of money, or start out with the perfect boyfriend – here the heroine is a normal, down-to-earth lass who is struggling to make ends meet and hasn’t had a boyfriend in as long as she can remember (put it this way – she can count the number of her sexual conquests in the past twelve months on one finger!). She makes countless mistakes in her life – just like everyone else! It’s refreshing to see a heroine who one could not possibly feel jealous about when looking at her life.

Comedic and tragic by turn - moving moments and pants-wettingly funny highs with a Geordie accent. I'd say this is my book of the month - excellent stuff!

Randy Alcorn - Deception

Title: Deception
Author: Randy Alcorn

ISBN # 1590526163

Publisher: Multnomah Books

First Published: 2007

490 pages

Format: Hardback

Rating: 8/10

Who Done It... and Why? Ollie Chandler is a brilliant and quick-witted homicide detective who lives by Ollie's First Law: "Things are not what they appear." So when a university professor is found murdered and the motive looks like revenge, a stunning discovery leads him to an unimaginable conclusion. Could the murderer be a fellow homicide detective? As Ollie probes deeper, another detective is murdered. What is the root of this jumbled, deceptive mess of lies and secrets? Jake Woods returns from Deadline, and Clarence Abernathy from Dominion in this heart-pounding murder mystery bristling with tension and suspicion. Deception will take you to heaven and hell and back again... breathless to discover the truth.

Although billed as a sequel, this felt more like a spin-off novel – the main characters from Alcorn’s previous novels featured heavily in the plot, the main focus here is on Detective Ollie Chandler (who appeared in the previous novels) and it works very well as a stand-alone novel that, if you haven’t already read them, will quite probably make the reader want to go back and read the others too as it’s so very good!

This harks back to the style of the old detective novels featuring such famous sleuths as Sam Spade, Sherlock Holmes and Hercule Poirot, and references them throughout, as well as sticking to the ideals of those heroes. There is very little in the way of “bad language”, as you might expect from a Christian author, but despite the modern setting, this all seems very natural as Ollie Chandler (although most definitely not believer himself) is a man of principle and honour.

There are frequent bible and religious references from Chandler’s very Christian friends, but they don’t intrude on the story – quite the opposite, the actually enhance it and the frantic pace builds as the mystery and danger deepens.

All the characters have very human flaws, making them very easy to identify and sympathise with them from start to finish, the plot is sufficiently winding and intriguing to keep the reader hooked, yet still gives just the right amount of clues to keep those “little grey cells” ticking, and the writing is tight. It has everything you could possibly want from crime fiction and more.

(Includes reading group questions at the end of the book.)

Jane Austen – Northanger Abbey (Audio)

Title: Northanger Abbey
Author: Jane Austen

Narrator: Various


First Published: 1817

Running time: 8hr 12min 02sec

Format: Audio Book

Rating: 8/10

With its loveable, impressionable heroine and its themes of growing up and learning to live in the real world, "Northanger Abbey" remains one of Jane Austen's most irresistible and up-to-date novels. Catherine Morland is the very ideal of a nice girl from a happy family, but she is blessed with an overactive imagination. She is also obsessed with lurid Gothic novels, where terrible things happen to the heroine, which gets her into all sorts of trouble...When Catherine meets funny, sharp Henry Tilney, she's instantly taken with him. But when she is invited to his home, the sinister Northanger Abbey, her preoccupation with fantasy starts to get in the way of reality. Will she learn to separate out the two in time?

Despite the fact that there are frequent sections of the narrative that basically go, "I'm going to tell you about such-and-such now, because you need to understand how they are to judge their later actions", I'm finding this a lot easier than I did Emma when I read that last year. There's a definite feel of "outsider looking in", but I think that adds to it, rather than detracting, in this case.

There was a rather annoying section where almost an entire chapter was given over to a commentary on the merits of novels which was completely
outwith the context of the plot. I found it quite frustrating and "blethery" as I just wanted to get back to what little action there is. That said, there's much more happening here than there was in Emma (which I found decidedly dull and devoid of any action), although the titular Abbey isn’t even mentioned until chapter 17!

This is much darker than Austen’s other novels, although there is a lot of light
humour as she parodies the gothic novels mentioned within the tale (such as The Mysteries of Udolpho by Anne Radcliffe) and confronts serious themes such as the often conflicting getting wed for love versus marrying for money and power, and the dangers of letting one’s imagination make things seem as they are not. Although firmly constrained by the intricate rules and structure of high society, the characters are all beautifully flawed and the story itself is wonderfully animated.

If you have suffered previous disappointments with classic novels, this could be the one to make you consider giving them a second chance.

Deborah ElizaBeth Hill and Sandra Brandenburg – The Crystal Chalice (Vol. II – Lost Myths Saga)

Title: The Crystal Chalice (Vol. II – Lost Myths Saga)
Author: Deborah ElizaBeth Hill and Sandra Brandenburg

ISBN # 1929374445

Publisher: FireMountain Press

First Published: 2006

259 pages

Format: Paperback

Rating: 7/10

Lily is happy in college, but not with
Marshall, He is sleeping with everyone except his beloved. Evan wants Valaura to be ready to settle down. Valuara wants a little excitement. Back they go to the World of Lost Myths. They arrive in King Lucifer's equally troubled ice palace. It seems everyone has a little growing up to do, including Luci and his granddaughter, Silvera. And then there are those pesky female archers to be dealt with...

Having reviewed the first book in The Lost Myths Saga (The Land of the Wand) last year, I was looking forward to reading the sequel – and I’m glad to say it did not disappoint!

Picking up one year after the close of their previous adventure, all is not well with our intrepid trans-dimensional travelers and their problems make them seem all the more rooted in reality, which in turn, gives the fantasy side of the story a more grounded feel.

Again, there are lessons to be learned (I won’t divulge – it would ruin the story for you all) and an over-riding sense that all is not necessarily as it seems on first viewing – friends can be untrustworthy and those who would seem to want to do harm may turn out to be a blessing in disguise – it’s all topsy-turvy!

This flew by at a lightning pace as it was so easy to read – it reads almost like talking to a friend and kind of sinks into you naturally as you turn the pages. The lessons learned by the characters happen quite naturally within the flow of the plot, and so doesn't seem too "preachy", as you might expect from a book with a message, and leaves things nicely open for the third installment in the saga.

Surprisingly accessible, this could easily be enjoyed by those not at all familiar with Paganism or with the old myths and legends that are cleverly reinvented.

Anthony Hope – The Prisoner of Zenda (Audio)

Title: The Prisoner of Zenda
Author: Anthony Hope

Narrator: Andy Minter


First Published: 1894

Running time: 5hrs 42 mins 29 secs

Format: Audio Book

Rating: 6/10

Rudolph Rassendyll's life is interrupted by his unexpected and personal involvement in the affairs of Ruritania whilst travelling through the town of
Zenda. He is shortly on the way to Streslau, the capital, where he finds himself engaged in plans to rescue the imprisoned king.

The Prisoner of Zenda owes a lot to the likes of The Man in the Iron Mask and The Prince and the Pauper - not the kind of thing I'd usually go for, but it's enjoyable enough and the reader (Andy Minter) has an excellent voice for it - upper-class English with a slightly languid air (almost like the old guy from the Werther's Originals advert).

There's some derring-do, some swash-buckling and some romancing going on, as well as a royal plot that keeps things rolling nicely, and although it’s rather predictable, it’s still quite an enjoyable way to pass the time.

Raven Hart – The Vampire’s Seduction

Title: The Vampire’s Seduction
Author: Raven hart

ISBN # 0345479750

Publisher: Ballantine Books

First Published: 2006

408 pages

Format: paperback

Rating: 7/10

When it comes to a wild and seductive nightlife,
Savannah has bite.

Older than the United States and wealthy beyond his years, playboy William Cuyler Thorne is a vampire with a nice long undead life—one that includes a steady stream of admirers, a consistent supply of rejuvenating blood, and, best of all, a cover as one of Savannah's most prominent pillars of society.

But all good things must end.

Now an ancient enemy has come for William from across the seas. It is his sire, Reedrek, the vampire who created him. And Reedrek will stop at nothing until all that is precious to William—his beautiful mistress, his stable of willing female victims, his glorious estates, and his good-ol'-boy vampire sidekick, Jack—is within his voracious grasp. But William has an arsenal of his own—one that is enhanced by the power of voodoo. And when these two bloodsuckers meet, there will be hell to pay.

An unusual blend of vampires an voodoo makes for an interesting twist on a classic genre. The co-writers (Susan Goggins and Virginia Ellis) have a complimentary writing partnership and their styles gel well. Getting the story from the point of view of two vampires (William and Jack) also gives a nice back-and-forth edge to the narrative and characters from different eras as well as different areas add depth. There are plenty of sexy shenanigans, as may be expected from a vampire romance, but it’s not too graphic and takes the unusual tactic of being from the male point of view, which is a nice change for the genre.

Terry Pratchett - Moving Pictures (Audio)

Title: Moving Pictures
Author: Terry Pratchett

Narrator: Nigel Planer

Isis Audio Books
First Published: 1990

Format: Audio Book

Rating: 8/10

‘Holy Wood is a different sort of place. People act differently here. Everywhere else the most important things are gods or money or cattle. Here, the most important thing is to be important.’ People might say that reality is a quality that things possess in the same way that they possess weight. Sadly alchemists never really held with such a quaint notion. They think that they can change reality, shape it to their own purpose. Imagine then the damage that could be wrought if they get their hands on the ultimate alchemy: the invention of motion pictures, the greatest making of illusions. It may be a triumph of universe-shaking proportions. It’s either that or they’re about to unlock the dark terrible secret of the Holy Wood hills – by mistake…

Moving Pictures is one of those stand-alone Discworld novels that are a riotous joy to read, even if you’ve never read any of the books that have gone before. Here we are presented with a satirical look at the Hollywood Bigwigs that run the American film industry and pump themselves up so much that the rest of the world sees them almost as Gods, and along the way gives as many laughs per page as there are kernels of popcorn in a cinema mega-bucket.

Personally, I think Nigel Planer isn’t the best narrator, having a very nasal and somewhat whiny voice, and not having a brilliant range when it comes to differentiating between character voices, but even that cannot detract too much from the plot which is nothing sort of block-buster material.

This is a bright star in the galaxy of Pratchett novels.

Jed Rubenfeld – The Interpretation of Murder

Title: The Interpretation of Murder
Author: Jed Rubenfeld

ISBN # 9780755331420

Publisher: Headline Review

First Published: 2006

529 pages

Format: paperback

Rating: 7/10

The Interpretation of Murder is an inventive tour de force inspired by Sigmund Freud's 1909 visit to America, accompanied by protégé and rival Carl Jung. When a wealthy young debutante is discovered bound, whipped and strangled in a luxurious apartment overlooking the city, and another society beauty narrowly escapes the same fate, the mayor of New York calls upon Freud to use his revolutionary new ideas to help the surviving victim recover her memory of the attack, and solve the crime. But nothing about the attacks - or about the surviving victim, Nora - is quite as it seems. And there are those in very high places determined to stop the truth coming out, and Freud's startling theories taking root on American soil.

The mark of a good book is when it spurs the reader on to do some further research for themselves and that is what happened with The Interpretation of Murder as I was intrigued enough to do a little basic research on Freud and Jung so I can get some background to their ideas and practices though, as I was not really very familiar with them other than very superficially. (I still wouldn’t claim to be anywhere near an expert now, but I enjoyed looking into their backgrounds and theories.)

There was one little bit I liked in particular, about great discoveries and "revolutionary bursts of genius" all occurring at the beginnings of centuries. I did find it funny, however, that Shakespeare writing Hamlet in 1600 was included in that, as 1600 was the last year of the 16th century, not the 1st year in the 17th - it kind of cracks the theory a little, but it did make me stop and think!

I especially liked that the narrative was in both third and first person (from the point of view of Stratham Younger). I wonder if getting to see his inner mind in particular was because the character is a psychoanalyst and makes a living trying to do just that with other people.

The mix of factual historical events, albeit occasionally slotted into a different timeframe to suit the story, gave it an air of realism that might otherwise have been lacking. I also thought I had sorted out a couple of red herrings and worked out the guilty party's identity. As it turned out, I was half-right and for some of the right reasons, but part of it took me completely by surprise, which is always nice with a murder mystery.

Gabriel García Márquez – Of Love and Other Demons

Title: Of Love and Other Demons
Gabriel García Márquez
Translated by: Edith Grossman

ISBN # 0140256369

Publisher: Penguin

First Published: 1995

147 pages

Format: paperback

Rating: 3/10

Olympic Challenge:

The story of Sierva Maria de Todos
los Angeles, who is bitten by a rabid dog and subsequently confined to a convent. There the girl is thought to be possessed by devils, but Cayetano Delaura, the priest charged with her exorcism, falls in love with her instead - and her reams of red hair.

I found this quite confusing and rather disappointing, although I'm not certain whether this is due to the translation or the original writing itself. It started out slightly fairytale-ish, but everything seemed to get mixed up and I kept losing track of what was going on and over what kind of time-period - I'm still not certain, even now that I'm finished. It sounded so promising, but I felt absolutely nothing for any of the characters - I found I couldn't really care less what happened to any of them, nor could I identify with the reasons behind any of their actions - nothing was ever explained.

I'll not be bothering with anything else by this author - I've been put right off.

P G Wodehouse – Right Ho, Jeeves (Audio)

Title: Right Ho, Jeeves
Author: P G Wodehouse

Narrator: Mark Nelson


First Published: 1934

Running time: 7hrs 57 mins 17 secs

Format: Audio Book

Rating: 8/10

Bertram Wooster’s manservant, Jeeves, is renowned for his ability to apply his keen intellect to solve all problems domestic, and Bertie’s friends and relatives flock to him for his counsel. But
Wooster, jealous of Jeeves’s fame, decides to step in and take over as the fixer of his pal’s engagement, his aunt’s gambling debts and old school-mate’s desire to propose marriage. How far will Bertie sink them all in the soup? Will Jeeves come to the rescue? “Right Ho, Jeeves” features of course Bertie and Jeeves as well as Gussie Fink-Nottle, Tuppie Glossop, Aunt Dahlia and Anatole the high-strung French chef in this P.G. Wodehouse farce of England’s upper crust.

Slightly different from My Man Jeeves in that this is only one story over the whole book, rather than a collection of shorter fiction. This means there's a lot more character development throughout, rather than people just popping in briefly or being mentioned in passing. The narrator is American, so it's a little off-putting at times, when I know that the characters are all supposed to be upper-class English (this one is set firmly in London and the British countryside), but he's managed to give each of the characters a very distinctive voice, so it's easier to forgive, and besides, I can hear only the voices of Hugh Laurie and Stephen Fry in my head for Bertie and Jeeves! This has been rather a giggle and I fear that I may start spouting such words as "what-ho!" and "spiffing!" at any given moment. I think the Jeeves books would certainly be worth taking a look at in book-form too...

Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman – Good Omens (Audio)

Title: Good Omens
Author: Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman

Narrator: Stephen Briggs

Isis Audio Books
First Published: 2006

Running time:

Format: Audio Book

Rating: 8/10

According to the Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter - the world's only totally reliable guide to the future - the world will end on a Saturday.

Next Saturday, in fact.

Just after tea.

There will be seas of fire, rains of fish, the moon turning to blood and the massed armies of Heaven and Hell will sort it out once and for all.

Which is a major problem for Crowley, Hell's most approachable demon and former serpent, and his opposite number and old friend Aziraphale, genuine angel and Soho bookshop owner. They like it down here (or, in Crowley's case, up here).

So they've got no alternative but to stop the Four Motorcyclists of the Apocalypse, defeat the marching ranks of the Witchfinder's army* and - somehow - stop it all happening.

Above all (or, in Aziraphale's case, below all) they need to find and kill the Antichrist, currently the most powerful creature on Earth.

This is a shame. Because he's eleven years old, loves his dog even though it's really a Satanic hellhound under all that hair, really cares about the environment and is the sort of boy anyone would be proud to have as a son. He's also totally invulnerable, and a nice kid.

And if that isn't enough, they've still got Sunday to deal with. . .

* All two of them.

It is rare for two writers to be able to merge their skills and styles so seamlessly, but Pratchett and Gamain, both wonderful writers in their own rights, make for a formidable team, combining their sharp wit and sense of the absurd to create a book that requires the reader to have several changes of clean underwear.

Stephen Briggs, a well-known figure to all Pratchett fans, is an excellent choice of narrator with a pleasant voice that is easy on the ear, and a good eye for punch lines as well as the timing to pull them off, despite being terrible at the accents for the American characters.

Despite having read the book a good half-dozen times already, the laughs come so thick and fast that one can’t stop giggling, and even if the text if familiar, you’ll be chucking in anticipation when your favourite scenes approach.