Book Review: Shadows

Shadows

Shadows by John Saul

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is the first audio book I’ve listened to. I thought I would have problems with my mind wandering, but the story was so intriguing that I found myself completely absorbed with what was happening.

In short, the story is about a school for genius children. It confronts the many problems these children experience on a daily basis, in normal life such as isolation, teasing, boredom, lack of friendship and suicide tendencies. Then it moves into life at the new school and shows the feeling of normalcy and acceptance. But the school isn’t everything it portrays and that’s when things turn quite sinister in parts.

Unfortunately, because I don’t want to spoil it for anyone else, I can’t go into any details. There was, however, one section about suicide that actually made me quite angry. It was obvious to me, a person who has lost a son to suicide, that the author hasn’t experienced suicide and this fact showed in his writing. Yet, running parallel to this was some interesting thoughts that I actually agreed with too. One moment I felt a fire in my belly that wanted to put an end to the words I was reading because they embraced everything that fed the stigma that has been around for decades, and then the words changed and I found myself nodding in agreement. It was a roll coaster that swung back and forth. All I can say is that I was glad when the story changed direction and the topic of suicide was over.

Then the story moved into another interesting topic. I can’t tell you what it is as it would spoil the book, if you intend to read it. However, although I find the topic interesting, I am not emotionally attached to it so things were “sweet” from this point on…if not quite disturbing, in other ways.

I do not know if the technical stuff was correct or not. All I can say is that it sounded convincing and when reading a story that is all I care about. As the story ran swiftly to the climax, I found myself eager to find out how the author would tie the pieces together and what would have to a couple of the “characters”.

The end was satisfactory. I was pleased that the author didn’t elect to go in another direction, which I had feared might happen at one stage.

For my first audio experience I think I had the right book. I enjoyed it a lot and will definitely try something else by the author…and I’d also listen to another audio book too.

Extensive Online Book and Comic Lists Added

With the recent closing down of the message board, I am currently going through tens of thousands of posts in an effort to save important information that will be of use to me … and to you.

This morning, I came across an extensive list of books that can be read online that I simply could not delete – not after all the work that went into creating it. Of course, I am not sure if all the links are still valid, but my link checker plugin will quickly do that job for me. Broken links will be shown as if a line has been struck through them and I will check and fix or check and delete those ones in due course.

The list can be found on the Library page, under Jamie Lauren’s A to Z Online Library Links.

I am also transferring a list of comic strip lists to the Library page for your enjoyment, which was also created by Jamie Lauren – Jamie Lauren’s A to Z Online Daily Comic Strip Links.

Book Review: The Starthorn Tree

Starthorn Tree

The Starthorn Tree by Kate Forsyth

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Starthorn Tree by Kate Forsyth, I found, was difficult to get into because of the dialogue of the characters. It slowed the story down and I found it distracting. But once I got used to the way they spoke and the strange names of the creatures, the story picked up and improved from there.

The story is a classic quest. Five children (aged around 12 to 15 years of age) from different backgrounds, ranging from princess to thief, are brought together for a common cause; although some characters are rather reluctant but they don’t have much of a choice. They are joined by an old man, who isn’t all he seems, and their journey takes them across the most dangerous terrain they can imagine. There are soldiers on foot and on flying birds chasing them; gibgoblins, sprites, wildkin and other creatures prepared to kill them as look at them and a woman of the Crafty they must find before time runs out and the princess’s brother dies.

The poor children are faced with horrors that would curl your toes and they must get over differences that we adults can’t seem to do ourselves. There is a lot of action, but there’s always time for a fed after a long day of journeying, fighting, arguing, and just generally running for their lives. There’s some good humour, lots of great scenery, moments of sadness that will bring a lump to your throat and even a touch of romance. As far as I know, The Starthorn Tree is a stand alone book, which means there are no other books with these characters in it. And as all good books should, it left me feeling satisfied with an ending that gave a hint of what would happen in the future for the characters and how their journey had changed their lives.

Apart from the unsettled beginning, I found this book to be a good read – interesting, exciting and it manages to draw you in. I certainly would pick up another book written by the same author.

Recommended.

Book Review: The Storm Weaver and the Sand

The Storm Weaver and the Sand : Bk 3. of the Change.

The Storm Weaver and the Sand by Sean Williams

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Last Thursday I finished reading The Storm Weaver and the Sand by Sean Williams. It’s the last book of The Change Trilogy.

This book was rivetting from the first page. I found that I didn’t want to put it down and, when I had no choice but to do so, I was eager to return to the story. Being the last book in the set, the pace was a lot faster and all the loose ends were woven in soundly. By the time I got to the end of the book I was feeling upset as I knew the story was soon to end and I honestly didn’t want it to.

Just quickly, as in the other two books, the characters, setting and plot were exceptional. I especially liked the author’s “voice” as I find it easy to read and understand, which means it wasn’t distracting in any way. And I liked the messages the books put over too, and (in my opinion) the trilogy has several, but more on that in a minute.

As a writer, I found that I put this last book down and stared out the train’s window for the longest time as I thought about the manner in which the author put the trilogy together. It would be wonderful to sit with Sean Williams and talk about the planning of a project like this because to produce series of books would so well put together would be wonderful. Anyway, I feel I’d learn a lot from a conversation like this. Unfortunately for me, I interviewed Sean prior to finishing the trilogy (the interview is scheduled for tomorrow) and I now wish I could reinterview him so that I could focus on the planning of this trilogy alone.

So what did I really like?

I was impressed by how smoothly the ends were tied together (or woven in, as I prefer to think of it). There are no seams and everything fit together so naturally. It really was impressive.

I loved the depth of the characters. Whilst there were basic descriptions, I didn’t have to endure long, tiresome descriptions that lasted pages and pages (which is something I hate). Yet I had a vivid image of each character in my mind. I’m certain my image would be quite different to the images of other readers (and even the author’s own impressions), but that doesn’t matter. Readers create characters they can relate to in order to enjoy the story presented, I’ve always been aware of that.

The conflicts were realistic and easily related to. The author was clever in using everyday problems and showing growth through experience. As this is a young adult trilogy, I think those lessons are well presented.

I can’t forget the messages…and I mean that quite literally. I don’t want to spoil the reading experience for anyone else so I won’t go into them here, but I learned a lot from one of the stories within the story. It left a lasting impression on me and I am certain that I will remember the message of that story for ever more. I also liked the message given that our future is not set in stone and that it is within our power to change the future with every decision we make. A message like this gives hope to the reader and we all need hope, no matter what our age.

When I write reviews I always try to show the good and bad sides of the book. Sometimes, even the bad parts are nothing major, but with The Change Trilogy I have trouble coming up with anything negative to say. It really is a great reading experience and I’m glad I finally got around to reading these books (I had the first two on my book shelf for several years).

Highly recommended.

Book Review: Rhett Butler’s People

Rhett Butler's People

Rhett Butler’s People by Donald McCaig

My review
rating: 2 of 5 stars

Rhett Butler’s People by Donald McCraig is an authorised sequel to Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell, which is a personal favourite, as is another authorised sequel by Alexandra Ripley called Scarlett. So when I saw Rhett Butler’s People I instantly knew that I had to buy and read it!

For three reasons I was a little disappointed. Although the title is not misleading, which is a credit to the author, Rhett Butler’s People isn’t really about Rhett and Scarlett. Whilst it touches on the main events of their (well known) story, I thought it would be a retelling of the original story, but from Rhett’s perspective. This book is mainly about Rhett’s childhood and then the people in his life as an adult. A large portion of the book is told from their point of view and is about their lives. I wasn’t expecting that, but I managed to get over it fast.

The second reason I was disappointed was because the story concentrates on the American Civil War far too much for my liking. I wasn’t interested in that side of the story at all and found it dragged the story down. (I’ve never enjoyed reading about battles or wars of any kind.)

Putting those two disappointments to one side, the book was good. Once I accepted that the book isn’t really about Rhett and Scarlett, I became riveted with some of the storylines, especially those which tugged at the heart strings. And it did expand on the original story to some degree.

I found the writing to be readable and in parts, absorbing. The characters were well written and had depth. The settings were realistic. Overall, a good read, but I would have liked the war to be in the background. It would have made a huge difference to my review, which as it stands is quite puny. There isn’t a lot more to say, because the book didn’t “speak” to me as the previous two did, which is a shame.

But what about the third reason for my disappointment? Donald McCraig chose to ignore the other sequel called Scarlett, therefore making up a different sequence of events after the “I don’t give a damn” moment. As his book is an authorised sequel, as was the book written by Alexandra Ripley, I felt he made a bad move when he made that decision. For me, it was tragic and a complete let down and I’m afraid to say that Rhett’s Butler’s People will not be given a place on my “favourites shelf” as a result.

Book Review: The Boleyn Inheritance

The Boleyn Inheritance

The Boleyn Inheritance by Philippa Gregory

My review
rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Boleyn Inheritance is the sequel to a book I reviewed last week called The Other Boleyn Girl. Both books are fiction based on the court of King Henry VIII.

The sequel is written differently from the first book. At first, I didn’t like the change all that much, but I soon fell into the “voice” of the writer and the personalities of the characters and found myself totally absorbed. In a lot of ways, I found The Boleyn Inheritance to be better than The Other Boleyn Girl. I enjoyed both books, the storylines are realistic (which they should be as they are based on history) and sometimes quite gruesome, but The Boleyn Inheritance had something different that made it stand out, for me.

The difference, in my opinion, was the clear personalities that came out in the writing. Three women, three personalities, three situations that entwine. I felt like I was reading the personal diary of each woman, which made the experience more enjoyable (and shocking). And, because I was looking down on these women from above, but also seeing what was happening from within their minds, I was captivated.

One of the women was in both books. In the first book, we saw her as a conniving, sneaky bitch. There was no way you would trust her with anything, especially your life. Yet in the second book, this same woman came across as sweet and innocent, but feeling mistreated (and this was why I didn’t like the book to begin with; I found it confusing). But then I realised that when we (all humans) do something wrong, we always try to justify our actions and find reasons why what we did wasn’t as wrong as everyone believes. We don’t see ourselves as conniving, sneaky bitches (or bastards). We see ourselves as an innocent by-stander, as a person who has been wronged and mistreated, as a person who is misunderstood. When I realised this, I was able to accept the difference in the personalty and this allowed me to appreciate the story a whole lot more.

There was repetitiveness in each of the storylines, but I believe this was done on purpose to drive home the personalities and the reasons for the women’s actions. Although this did annoy me at times, I tried not to let it spoil the book. We all have our little habits that we are unaware of (most of the time), but other people find annoying. I like to believe that the repetitiveness was showing this to a small degree.

Again, the book is fiction but I know the timeline is as accurate as it can be when compared to the real events (I did some research of my own to check). The author has used creative license to build a story around known events. I think she did a good job and have enjoyed reading both books. If you like historical fiction, then I recommend them.

Book Review: The Other Boleyn Girl

The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory

My review
rating: 4 of 5 stars

I belong to a reading community called Goodreads – you may have noticed their widgets in the right sidebar announcing to the world what I’m reading and what I have read. Part of this community is having access to book reviews. I thought it might be a useful tool when trying to decide what I’m going to read in the future and for finding authors I haven’t read before. However, I find that readers are critical creatures and they throw many daggers without feeling anything remotely remorseful. Some of the comments are disturbing. Some are just plain stupid. Others are trying to outdo the rest of them. This leaves only a handful of comments that I might “listen” to. It’s almost as if it is fashionable to rubbish every book picked up by a human hand; and by “rubbish” I mean be as nasty as possible. And, because of this, I find the reviews not in the least bit helpful and have decided to ignore all of them (except those written by a select few, my friends). I will continue to use Goodreads as I like being able to have a permanent record of the books I’ve read and what I thought of them.

Anyway, I finished reading The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory yesterday. It is fiction based on the court of Henry VIII. The important word in that last sentence is “fiction”. I think a lot of people tend to forget that this is NOT a biography, it is only a story. The author has taken some well known events, such as the beheading on Anne Boleyn, and then has decided which version of events she wanted to write about and built a story around them.

Reading this book made me want to research the true events and, from my quick research, I discovered that the timeline was as accurate as it could be because no one knows exactly when the Boleyn sisters were born or if Mary’s two older children were in fact the king’s. They are not sure which sister was the eldest. There is a rumour that Mary had another son. There are conflicting stories about most of the period so the author of this book has made a decision and stuck with it. I commend her. She has made an interesting story out of muddled events. I know that she has used creative licence in many places throughout the book to fill in gaps and smooth out uncertainties. And I commend her for that too because she did a good job.

The Other Boleyn Girl is a good story. It stirred my curiosity enough to make me research the real people. There were parts that felt a bit long winded and repetitive, but there were a lot of years to get through and these sections (or scenes) were short. When I wasn’t reading, I found myself thinking about the characters and setting, and looking forward to seeing what would come next. I enjoyed the story enough to pick up The Boleyn Inheritance (the sequel) immediately after finishing the book and continued reading (which is something I never do as I prefer to have a short break, at least, between volumes).

History buffs will only enjoy this book if they remember it is fiction. If they want the facts then they should be reading non-fiction. Everyone else will have mixed reactions, because as humans we all have different tastes. I enjoyed the book and will recommend it.

And…the sequel is shaping up to be better!

The Reading World

Since becoming a commuter, I have discovered something about my reading habits that I didn’t know beforehand. Previously, I read a lot of young adult fiction (and even books for younger readers). I thought I did this because I enjoyed this type of book the best, but I have discovered that I was wrong in my thinking.

Now that I have a two hour time slot set aside for reading each afternoon (five days a week), I no longer find myself gravitating towards books for younger people. I’m picking up, and enjoying, books for adults. I realise that I read the other books for two reasons: 1) I do enjoy them, and 2) it was more likely I’d finish the thinner book for young people than the thick book for adults because I didn’t have time to do a lot of reading.

Time was the issue, not my preference of book.

I also believed that I had an issue with concentration, but the last month or so has proven that totally wrong. When choosing a book to read, I find myself looking at my bookshelf with new interest. There is plenty of time to read now and I want to make the most of that time. I want to read all the books I’ve collected over the years. Those books teased me into buying them for whatever reason and now I have the time to consume and enjoy them. It’s brilliant! Whereas if I had tried to read those thick books when I first bought them I would have rushed them and found fault with all of them because of the time restraints. I am a slow reader and I would have been frustrated.

600 pages would have taken me three or four months to read. No wonder I didn’t enjoy them. Now they take me just over a week. That’s a huge difference. I’m enjoying new stories all the time, new characters, settings, plots, genres. At the risk of repeating myself, it’s brilliant!