Tag Archives: book review

Someone Like You by Roald Dahl

I haven’t read a Roald Dahl book since I was a kid so it was nice to read one of his adult books.

I took this book on holiday with me and it was ideal with a collection of short stories to dip in and out of.  Plenty of twists and turns and suspicious people to keep you interested.

It was interesting how much of Buckinghamshire features in the stories. As a child I’d never heard of Buckinghamshire but as an adult I’ve spent a fair bit of time visiting the Chiltern Hills so I could almost picture the places in the stories.

I would definitely recommend it, especially if you enjoyed his books as a child. This book was given out as part of World Book Night to be forwarded on and chart its travels so I hope the next person enjoys it as much.

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A Place Called Freedom by Ken Follett

This book is based on the fortunes of a coal miner, the family who own his mine and the family who live next door.

Not content with being a miner all his life and wanting something better for him and his twin sister he seeks a way of finding his freedom. He writes to a lawyer in London who informs him that the law is on his side and that of all miners.

As long as they don’t work more time than the law allows they can choose to be free. Only as a mine owner with wealth and standing you naturally wouldn’t want your workers to find out they can be free so they seek to quash him.

As time passes they realise letting him go whilst giving the appearance of him escaping is the best thing to do to ensure that the rest of the workers toe the line.

Time passes and their fates are entwined again in London years later. A marriage now on the cards between the two wealthy families but a connection remains between the wayward miner and the head of the neighbouring house. She who aided his escape when it looked like he might drown in the river on the night he escaped to his freedom.

Fate keeps bringing these elements together and even when it looks like the mine owners have finally broken him they end up taking the problem with them to the new world of America.

As a marriage gift and under some duress the mine owner grants his second son by marriage a failing tobacco plant in Virginia in the hope that he and his headstrong wife will disappear and allow him to rescue his failing mining business by mining her neighbouring land, something she would never agree to.

The family in addition to mining have a shipping business, sending convicts as slaves to wealthy British landowners in Virginia willing to pay for labour or to purchase a British wife.

The married couple end up claiming the miner as a labourer for their land. Along with the man who plotted with the noble families to get him arrested and convicted in the first place. As you can image this doesn’t work out well for them.

Not least because they won’t listen to the tried and tested methods of the families around them who are making their plantations work. The wife seeks to learn from them and better the position of their plantation but as a female her voice is drowned out by male pride and prejudice.

When she looses her child it is the miner and not her husband who comes to her aid, he who showed himself to be trustworthy throughout her life compared to the man she married who plotted against her and allowed stubbornness and ignorance to make their position more unsalvageable.

When the harvest fails and he is left bankrupt with no prospect of borrowing money a glimmer of hope appears to him in the form of his mother. Travelling across the ocean to deliver news of his fathers passing and a way of accessing vast sums of money and the inheritance his father denied him throughout his life. His father believed that the wealth came from the family of his first wife and as such only promised it to the son from that marriage.

But in the background his jealous brother plotted with his father against him. They allowed the noose of his vices to push him into debt and despair so that they could leave him broken and destitute.

That is unless he has a child before a year passes from his father’s death. His mother bringing this news in the same breath as telling him that his wife has left the plantation for good with none other than the miner.

He gathers his meanest men and head off the beaten trails looking for his wife. If not to bed her and bear a child but to murder her so he can bed a more willing girl, marry her and claim his inheritance.

After days of tracking them the parties meet on reservation lands. One group to fall to their fate, the other to find their freedom.

I wasn’t as engaged by this book as I have been with other Ken Follettt books but it was still a good story.

A Visitor’s Companion to Tudor England by Suzannah Lipscomb

I find the Tudor Period interesting and this book was a nice take on where to visit in England to experience the remaining architecture and points of significance.

Its written in a way that connects you to the Tudors, explaining where they visited and the significance of the designs they chose to surround themselves with.

In Elizabethan times for example houses were built-in an E shape in the hope that the Queen would grant the owner a royal visit. Although this was a double-edged sword as the cost of a royal visit ended up bankrupting some of the loyal subjects. But the promise of climbing the social ladder and reaching a status above what you were born into and pass on to generations of your name was what drove the noble to fall over themselves in support of the monarchy.

I have visited some of the places in the book and added some to my bucket list of places to visit. But the thing that struck me that I overlook when I visit these places is that I may well be standing in the same spot Henry VIII or Elizabeth I stood and in that moment I connect with the past. Although I’m sure the external views will be dramatically different and the houses are cleaner and more hygienic now, the past is sometimes a nice place to get lost in.  Although I’m not sure any of us would want to live there forever.

If you are interested in the Tudors or architecture and you’re looking for some new places to visit this book will certainly give you a few ideas.

Water For Elephants by Sara Gruen

I saw the movie of this book when it was in the cinema which was a good few years ago now so when I was reading the book I was picturing the actors in the film. I couldn’t remember who played the lesser characters, I could only picture the main ones which I guess is fitting.

It’s such a unique story, you don’t get many books written about the American travelling rail road circuses of the 1920/ 30’s and yet as you read it you wonder what other untold stories there are.

A circus is a wonderful sight with animals and humans performing together but sadly something that is not so acceptable in the modern world. At their height when there wasn’t such a wealth of entertainment available at the touch of a button they were something to see.

Imagine not having a TV or the internet but knowing that once a year the circus will pull into your home town and entertain you with animals you’d never get the chance to see in your life turning up on your doorstep. I can imagine how exciting that must be.

The book uses elements of stories from a range of circuses of the time and elaborates to fit the narrative. Including the effects of the liquor ban and the unscrupulous moonshine makers who ended up killing hundreds of thousands of people with poisonous liquor.

But it’s the way the book brings to life the Elephant, Rosie that keeps you hooked. It reaches into the heart of that huge animal and displays an almost human like manner. It refers to her smiling at Jacob and an understanding between the two of them once he realises she speaks Polish. It’s hard to imagine an animal only being able to understand one language but a lot of humans only understand one language, the one you were born into. So I guess an elephant raised as a cub in Poland, connecting sounds to actions is not that far-fetched an idea. In no way could she be seen as a dumb animal given how naughty she is when she’s misunderstood.

It’s such a heart warming story with elements of sadness and how very real and ugly life can be for some people. I’m not sure if reading the book without seeing the movie paints as vivid a picture but I certainly enjoyed it having already seen the film. I couldn’t remember everything that was going to happen as it was such a long time ago since I saw the film which was nice.

I would recommend both the film and the book.

Edge Of Eternity by Ken Follett

This is the final book in The Century Trilogy starting in 1961 and bringing you right up to date with world affairs.

I loved the whole of the Trilogy and I think I learned a lot from how wars were undertaken and the effects they had on different people from all around the world.

In this book when they talk about the assassinations of President and Bobby Kennedy I developed a new understanding of the impact of the events on the time. I think like most people I have an interest in finding out what really happened to the Kennedy’s and I’ve watched numerous TV shows and documentaries portraying the family from the inside but also analysing the events of the shootings and no one seems to agree on anything. For someone born almost 20 years after the assassinations I still find it interesting.

That is the thing with history, it has always piqued my interest and books like this series allow me to understand events in a human way that teaching and documentaries don’t offer you. The characters in the book are just that and I’m sure what happened to them is based on facts that happened to people at the time but I don’t think such a small demographic of people could have been so unlucky to have so much sadness happen to their families.

I also don’t doubt that the historical evidence in the books are also heavily based on facts and some of the people are undoubtedly real but by adding characters to real situations you make what happened human rather than a history lesson of fact.

I think it’s a better way of teaching and the school curriculum should look to ways of making what you learn much more real-time for today’s world. Young people now are very much digitally minded as opposed to us who went to school before the internet who are still wired to learn in an analogue way deep down. A lot of the kids of today will turn their back on books because they don’t provide instant gratification that can be found in a YouTube video and I think it’s a shame.

As a child I would read multiple books at a time and a trip to the library always resulted in armfuls of books and borrowing space on other family members cards so I could get everything I wanted. I think a lot of kids today are missing out on knowing the excitement of that simple thing.

If you are interested in world history but don’t want to read historical books which can be very technically challenging then this series is perfect for you. You’ll come out with a whole new understanding of the mentality of war and how power corrupts people’s thinking and it is often the poorest people who suffer.

The world is ever changing but one thing that has never been learned is how pointless war is in the long-term. All wars at their heart punish innocent people, in the ideals of those in power, trying to enforce their decisions on the wider populace.

War is a money-making game to the big government powers and that is what will always fuel the conflicts. The big superpowers would all be poor in peace and that is a sad reality of life.

The older I get the more I am becoming accustomed to terrorism as a part of life and for anyone to say that is a sad view on what humans have become. That anyone thinks they have a right to kill people with different beliefs because it is their gods will, misses the point of religion. All religion is based in the hope that if we live by a certain set of rules we will be granted a restful afterlife, it is designed to stop people fearing death which comes to us all. Violence and hatred have no part in religion which is designed to teach love and tolerance for your fellow-man. I say all this as an atheist who believes that with no religion there would be less war.

Let’s all choose to learn from the mistakes of the rulers throughout history and not keep repeating them, like The Who once said “meet the new boss, same as the old boss”. Lets all choose love!

You Are Dead by Peter James

This book is another in the Roy Grace series but I don’t think I have been reading them in order, I’m not sure it makes much difference. The characters progress through the series and there is an element of linking but the investigation is mostly unique to the book.

This is the story of the hunt for a killer who brands his victims with You Are Dead. It takes a while to link all the cases together and work the timeline back to cold cases but it winds up to a dramatic ending past anything you could expect.

There is also a new lead to follow on the whereabouts of Roy Grace’s first wife. This sees him confronting some long-held feelings at a time when he believes he is moving on with his life after finally being able to declare his wife dead.

I don’t read much in this genre but these books are easy to read and hold your attention throughout. They are obviously written with an inside knowledge of policing due to the level of information provided which makes them more believable.

I’m sure I’ll read more of the series in the future, just maybe not in order!

Time and Time Again by Ben Elton

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I’ve always been a fan of Ben Elton’s writing but I seem to have lost track of it in the last couple of years. I saw this by accident when looking for Christmas presents for others and added it to my wish list. From the jacket it appears that I have missed one of his books being released so I need to get myself a copy of that now.

This book hooked me in and I didn’t want to stop reading. The story of a time traveller, trying to alter the course of history by changing the worst thing that happened is interesting.

How could you know if you were really making things better or not by altering the truth?

That is exactly what the book explores. There are twists and turns which keep you hooked. The characters are likeable and you become attached to their story.

It does make you think about whether or not time travel would be a good thing and what you would do if you were faced with similar choices. Maybe by the end you’ll be challenging your own earlier thoughts on the matter.

If you like a good, well written story with lots of drama then I think you will enjoy this.

The Mystery Of The Clockwork Sparrow by Katherine Woodfine

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I brought this book with a gift voucher I was given by a friend for my birthday last year. I just went into Waterstones and picked a couple of books that caught my eye.

I really enjoyed this book. It reminded me of the kinds of book I would read as a child. I could imagine reading it as a bed time story and being asked for one more chapter before bed!

It was a detective story based in a Edwardian department store which had me picturing Selfridges the whole time. The characters are easily imagined and believable and you get drawn into the story and choosing who you want to see come out on top.

I’m doing a children’s writing course at the moment and my tutor keeps advising me to read more children’s books to get into the modern elements of the genre. I’m glad I chose this book as it gave me some ideas of where I would like my own writing to go.

On reading Wikipedia I find it is the first book in a quartet of Sinclair’s Mysteries (the department store in the book) so if your children like this book then there are more in the series to enjoy.

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

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I have to admit I saw the movie before I read the book. I couldn’t swear that I knew about the book before I watched the movie, I don’t remember anyone talking to me about reading the book at the time.

Reading the book having watched the movie I was reading it as the movie characters. I knew what was going to happen and therefore the twists and turns lost their impact on me.

That being said, there are elements of the book, as there usually are, that are portrayed differently on film. There was an element of me reading it as ‘this was different in the film’.

I did enjoy the book, I think it’s really well written but I have to say watching the film first spoiled a lot of it for me. I’ve not encountered that with any other book I’ve read after watching the film to this degree.

I won’t talk about the plot because it’s hard to explain it and make it sound interesting without giving away the key parts. If you take out all the important stuff and break it down it just sounds like any other story but it’s much more than that.

If I could do it again I would read the book then see the movie, I think that would give you the biggest impact of the story. If you like dark themes then I think this would appeal to you.

Heat Wave by Richard Castle

Heat Wave

I’m a fan of the TV show Castle so when I saw a box set of 3 of the Nikki Heat books from the show I had to see what it was all about. I’m sure I read somewhere that the books were written by Nathan Fillian who plays Richard Castle in the show but it seems there is a lot of speculation over the author. I like to think he wrote the books anyway.

I think it was an interesting move by the shows makers to bring out the books that are referred to throughout the shows. It’s obviously a money spinner but it also adds another element to it.

I enjoyed the book. As I was reading it I was seeing the actors in the show playing the characters they are based on and that is kind of the point. It was a quick read but sometimes you want something quite short to fill time.

I think you would still be able to enjoy the book if you have never seen the show as it isn’t really about that. What you need to know is all covered. If you are used to reading die-hard crime fiction then this is probably not going to appeal to you but if you prefer your crime a little more light-hearted then go for it!

I have another 2 books in the series to read so I’ll look forward to seeing if they’re just as good as this one!

I think they have finished making Castle now which means another one of my favourite shows has bitten the dust but at least the reruns are on most of the time!

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