Friday 30 April 2010

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel * * * * *

Henry VIII, with his determination to annul his first marriage and marry Anne Boleyn, has been the hero/villain of many historical novels ( and I've read quite a few of them). Hilary Mantel presents these events to us through the eyes of his adviser Thomas Cromwell, a man that historian David Starkey describes as "Alastair Campbell with an axe".
It reconstructs the rise of Thomas Cromwell from his humble beginnings as blacksmiths son, assistant to cardinal Wolsey to become a trusted adviser to Henry VIII ending as the balance of power starts to shift towards the Seymour family.

Any historical novel is up against the problem of the reader knowing what is going to happen, but there is much more than plot to this book. Mantel brings Tudor England to life - from courtiers to kitchen boys, ladies in waiting to the women gossiping at the market - and creates living breathing people of historical characters as diverse as Cromwell, HenryVIII, Thomas Moore, Anne Boleyn and shy, mouse-like Jane Seymour.

It's not necessarily a book that will grab you on page one. It takes time to get inside a person's head, to recreate an almost tangible world and that is what Hilary Mantel achieves.
Read it slowly, savour it, lap up the atmosphere and you'll find yourself getting inside Thomas Cromwell's head.

Maryom's review - 5 stars
Publisher -
Fourth Estate
Genre - adult fiction, historical

Friday 23 April 2010

Princess For Hire by Lindsey Leavitt * * * *

Desi's life is dull and boring, she's fallen out with her best friend, her Saturday job is an embarrassment and the boy she likes doesn't even notice her - so when she gets the opportunity to become a substitute princess, she jumps at it. The Facade Agency is a magical organisation providing substitutes for occasions when princesses would like a vacation but will Desi prove to have the capability to become a princess - if only temporarily.

Desi imagines the life of a princess will be all glamour, tiaras and ballgowns and been swept off her feet, but she soon discovers that princesses have their problems too and in attempting to solve them she comes up against the bureaucracy of the Agency and, maybe, gains an insight into how she could improve her own life.

An enjoyable, escapist, teen chick lit novel - the Princess Diaries with a little magic thrown in. A good holiday read. Presumably the first of a series and certainly my 12 year old daughter is looking forward to reading more.

Sunday 18 April 2010

When I Was Joe by Keren David - * * * *

Tyler witnesses a stabbing incident involving his best friend and the police feel he and his family should be taken into witness protection until he can give evidence. He's moved to a new town and new school, given a make-over and a new life to lead - as Joe.
Things aren't that easy, though. Despite being told not to draw attention to himself, every way Ty turns, he does and soon he is tracked down by people wanting to silence him.
If you've read this blog before, you'll know that, due to a number of factors, I've read Keren David's two books in reverse order. So, did reading the sequel first affect my reading and enjoyment of When I Was Joe? Not as much as you might think. Almost True DID give away a lot of the plot outline to When I Was Joe - I knew, for example, which girl Joe would end up with and the plot twist about the stabbing incident - but a book depends on how the plot develops as much as how it ends. This is another exciting, page-turning book that I didn't want to put down till I'd finished it.
So, why only 4 stars for this? Somehow Ty/Joe's teenaged angst didn't quite grip me, the dialogue particularly of Almost True is better - and funnier at times - and the ending would have been extraordinarily frustrating if I'd started with When I Was Joe. Maybe it does come down to the order in which I've read the two books but I do think Almost True is the better book.

Saturday 17 April 2010

When I was Joe by Keren David - Five *

As I review this book I must stress that in allocating it five stars that I stand by every book I have given five stars to - each has been different and each earning it for themselves. But this book was different in so many ways.

The story starts as Ty is taken into the witness protection program. Neither he nor his mother believe they are at risk and resent the intrusion this brings, but as time unfolds the truth of their situation becomes clear and they work hard to adjust to their new selves.

The book is a 'thriller' but it is also about living life as a teenager and a teenager trying to find a way to live in his new persona. The story deals with many issues and it deals with them carefully and knowledgeably. Those issues include the most tragic and delicate subject of self harm as well as the more obvious issues of relationships including love and teenage violence.

If I can level one minor criticism without it becoming an issue though please... His mother seems a bit dippy for a legal secretary training to become a solicitor - mind I have never known any legal secretaries.

This book set some personal bests for me. It became available to me at about 6 p.m. and I stayed awake reading it until about 1:30 a.m. I fall asleep reading books I enjoy and I fall asleep reading books I don't enjoy, but this kept me awake. I dreamt of the story so far and carrying on reading it. I rarely dream! I awake the next morning and read straight away. I always have a cup of tea first but not this time. By 11:15 a.m. I had finished it. I am a slow reader - always have been but a book of nearly 400 pages I finished in about 18 hours - yet another personal best. For me to give this book less than five stars would be a crime but it causes me a problem. Do I read 'Almost True'? The risk is that my reading of it won't bring me the same as 'When I was Joe' did and I will be disappointed and I know many will say 'Almost True' is better but they didn't seem to get what I did from 'When I was Joe'. That is a dilemma - to read or not to read?

Thursday 8 April 2010

Waiting for Godalming by Robert Rankin

I have liked Robert Rankin's books for about the last 5 years. He takes a swipe at fixed ideas while at the same time entertaining the reader with simple humour. This book is classic Robert Rankin and had probably more than it's fair share of humour.

We meet Icarus Smith - our hero - early on in the book but later meet the Rankin classic character Lazlo Woodbine (some call me Laz).

Icarus 'relocates' a briefcase that starts a chain of events that finally results in Laz solving, but not necessarily resolving, what he says is his last case.

At times you find that bit that you want to read out loud and share with whoever you share with and at times you are provoked into thinking - "Yes, what if....". At times you snigger, at times you smile and at times you laugh out loud. Yes, occasionally you groan too.

All in all a very entertaining read - why only three stars? Well we rate on 5 because everyone does but while this is not up to some of the four star material I have read recently it is not truly a three star either. Shall we agree on 3.5?

I would recommend this and other Robert Rankin's to readers of Terry Pratchett, Tom Holt and Andrew Harman. It's not the same, it's not that different but it entertains using the same muscles.