dimanche 30 novembre 2014

New on the Library Shelves 30 11 14

AKA Showcase Sunday

A new segment here, participating in the Showcase Sunday meme over at Books, Biscuits & Tea.

Chaucer's Tale by Paul Strohm (non-fiction)
Pin Action by Gianmarc Manzione (non-fiction)
Citizen Coke by Bartow J ELmore (non-fiction)
Star Trek: The Original Series: Foul Deeds Will Rise by Greg Cox (sci-fi)
The Game of Our Lives by David Goldblatt (non-fiction)
What books have you received or purchased this week?

samedi 29 novembre 2014

Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy by Karen Abbott

Karen Abbott, the New York Times bestselling author of Sin in the Second City and “pioneer of sizzle history” (USA Today), tells the spellbinding true story of four women who risked everything to become spies during the Civil War.

Karen Abbott illuminates one of the most fascinating yet little known aspects of the Civil War: the stories of four courageous women—a socialite, a farmgirl, an abolitionist, and a widow—who were spies.

After shooting a Union soldier in her front hall with a pocket pistol, Belle Boyd became a courier and spy for the Confederate army, using her charms to seduce men on both sides. Emma Edmonds cut off her hair and assumed the identity of a man to enlist as a Union private, witnessing the bloodiest battles of the Civil War. The beautiful widow, Rose O’Neale Greenhow, engaged in affairs with powerful Northern politicians to gather intelligence for the Confederacy, and used her young daughter to send information to Southern generals. Elizabeth Van Lew, a wealthy Richmond abolitionist, hid behind her proper Southern manners as she orchestrated a far-reaching espionage ring, right under the noses of suspicious rebel detectives.

Using a wealth of primary source material and interviews with the spies’ descendants, Abbott seamlessly weaves the adventures of these four heroines throughout the tumultuous years of the war. With a cast of real-life characters including Walt Whitman, Nathaniel Hawthorne, General Stonewall Jackson, detective Allan Pinkerton, Abraham and Mary Todd Lincoln, and Emperor Napoleon III, Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy draws you into the war as these daring women lived it.

I love reading about American history, as shown by my current project to read a biography of each American President. While I am interested in the Civil War era, I have very little interest in military history that describes in detail battles and the movement of armies, so it is difficult to find a book set in that era that catches my attention. When I saw this book, promising an original look at the era, through the eyes of four uncommon women, I jumped on it immediately. 

Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy works well, interweaving four different storylines in an exciting and attention grabbing way, keeping the story moving through the years of the war. Of the four women, two support the Union and two support the Confederacy, allowing Abbott to carefully explore the effects of the war on both sides. Providing a feminine perspective and showing how vital they were to the war effort is a fine way of giving a new spin to this well known period of history, one that Abbott pulls off with aplomb. Although at times the writing became a little dry, especially when Abbott deals with the dreaded battles, overall the book keeps the attention all the way through to the - sometimes tragic - end. Definitely recommended to anyone interested in this era and looking for an original spin on it.

I gave Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy 4 stars.

vendredi 28 novembre 2014

The Woman Who Would Be King by Kara Cooney

An engrossing biography of the longest-reigning female pharaoh in Ancient Egypt and the story of her audacious rise to power in a man’s world.

Hatshepsut, the daughter of a general who took Egypt's throne without status as a king’s son and a mother with ties to the previous dynasty, was born into a privileged position of the royal household. Married to her brother, she was expected to bear the sons who would legitimize the reign of her father’s family. Her failure to produce a male heir was ultimately the twist of fate that paved the way for her inconceivable rule as a cross-dressing king. At just twenty, Hatshepsut ascended to the rank of king in an elaborate coronation ceremony that set the tone for her spectacular twenty-two year reign as co-regent with Thutmose III, the infant king whose mother Hatshepsut out-maneuvered for a seat on the throne. Hatshepsut was a master strategist, cloaking her political power plays with the veil of piety and sexual expression. Just as women today face obstacles from a society that equates authority with masculinity, Hatshepsut had to shrewdly operate the levers of a patriarchal system to emerge as Egypt's second female pharaoh.

Hatshepsut had successfully negotiated a path from the royal nursery to the very pinnacle of authority, and her reign saw one of Ancient Egypt’s most prolific building periods. Scholars have long speculated as to why her images were destroyed within a few decades of her death, all but erasing evidence of her rule. Constructing a rich narrative history using the artifacts that remain, noted Egyptologist Kara Cooney offers a remarkable interpretation of how Hatshepsut rapidly but methodically consolidated power—and why she fell from public favor just as quickly. The Woman Who Would Be King traces the unconventional life of an almost-forgotten pharaoh and explores our complicated reactions to women in power.

Basing her conclusions on the few remaining artefacts and allowing herself a lot of leeway to fill in the gaps, Kara Cooney has created an enthralling portrait of an amazing woman in The Woman Who Would Be King, a biography of the second female pharaoh, Hatshepsut. From her birth and training as a priestess to her co-regency with her stepson, Cooney traces the steps Hatshepsut took in order to both secure her position and then consolidate it, identifying her as unique - a woman who was able to gain the throne in a male-dominated society during a time of peace rather than war. 

Cooney makes some interesting points, showing how both the later Pharaohs and the even later Egyptologists twisted the few elements we have about this remarkable woman into the story of a power-mad temptress who seized the throne from the rightful heir and held it against the judgement of her entire society. The story Cooney tells is much more complex, requiring a knowledge of Egyptian culture and mores, especially when it comes to female sexuality. A true narrative history, The Woman Who Would Be King is far from a dry exploration of ancient artefacts, but instead is an interesting and exciting dive into a world that seems incredibly alien from our point of view. And yet Cooney manages to make the narrative contemporary, showing how the way we look at Hatshepsut affects the way we look at woman in positions of power even today. 

I gave The Woman Who Would Be King 4 stars.

jeudi 27 novembre 2014

Goodreads Choice Awards 2014 - Reviews Part Two

Following on from two nights ago, here is the second part of my Choice Awards reviews. The results will be posted on 2nd December and I'll post a run-down of the winners (along with my own personal choices) the day after.

Nightmares by Jason Segel & Kirsten Miller (Middle Grade Nominee)

A clever fantasy novel set in the world of - what else - nightmares, Segel's first novel ( he is more well known as Marshall in How I Met Your Mother) is an accomplished one, striking just the right balance of fear and humour. 4 stars. 

The Sixth Extinction by Elizabeth Kolbert (Non Fiction Nominee)

A sweeping study of extinction in the past and present, The Sixth Extinction was let down by a dry writing style that failed to catch my attention. While a lot of the information was interesting, it was definitely not hard to put down. 3 stars. 

The Iron Trial by Cassandra Clare & Holly Black (Middle Grade Nominee)

Whille clearly influenced by Harry Potter, right down to the surprising link between the hero and villain, The Iron Trial moves beyond its source thanks to the excellent writing of its two authors. Clare and Black work well together and they have pulled together an exciting, well-thought out Middle Grade fantasy here. 4 stars.

Stone Mattress by Margaret Atwood (Fiction Nominee)

A fantastic collection of short stories here from Atwood, ranging from a murder mystery to the exploration of the effect three people had on one another's lives. I thoroughly enjoyed the first three, connected stories, but all of them had something to bring to the table. 4 stars. 

All Joy and No Fun by Jennifer Senior (Non Fiction Nominee)

An interesting and well-written exploration of the effect children have on their parents (as opposed to the usual what effect do parents have on children), All Joy and No Fun illuminates the way that we look at parenting and how that has changed over the years. Full of real-world experiences, humour and genuine warmth, the book really opened my eyes as to the pressures we as parents put on ourselves and how we can learn to draw both more joy and more fun from the experience. 4 stars.

The Young Elites by Marie Lu (Young Adult Science Fiction & Fantasy Nominee)

A thrilling mixture of Mistborn and the X-Men, The Young Elites is an excellent fantasy opening, exploring a world where the survivors of a blood fever have gained magical powers, powers which lead to them being persecuted. The characters shine here, especially Adelina who by the end is shaping up to be a Magneto-type antihero. I really enjoyed this and will be looking out for the sequel sometime next year. 4 stars. 

How Google Works by Eric Schmidt (Business Nominee)

While interesting, How Google Works was the least accessible of the Business category books I read this year - clearly aimed at a very specific audience (entrepreneurs), there was very little of the behind-the-scenes info I had been hoping for. Still, some of the anecdotes were interesting enough and Schmidt's voice is warm and at times funny. 3 stars. 

Show Your Work by Austin Kleon (Business Nominee)

A very short work dealing with the importance of generosity in any artistic endeavour - sharing your work in progress, showing the rough drafts that lead up to a finished oeuvre and embracing the community that can grow up around any creative work. Kleon deals with these various points in short, simple chapters, which could have done with some more real life examples to emphasise the points. 4 stars.

People I Want To Punch in the Throat by Jen Mann (Humour Nominee)

Based on a well-known blog, People I Want to Punch in the Throat is a very humorous exploration of suburbia, told through the trenchant, sarcastic voice of Jen Mann. While probably not the easiest person to live with based on this (then again who is?), Mann does a great job of exploring the insanity and foibles of the people around her, from the cut-throat politics of PTOs to the dangers of garage sales. 4 stars.

Finding Me by Michelle Knight (Memoir and Autobiography Nominee)

Probably the most difficult book to read in this whole Goodreads nomination process, Finding Me is the story of Michelle Knight and the two other women who were kidnapped and held by Ariel Castro for more than a decade. Hard-hitting, heart-breaking and uncomfortable to read, Finding Me reveals a woman for whom suffering was the norm even before her abduction and yet who has managed to emerge from the experience with a strength I doubt many people would be able to emulate. Not for the weak-hearted, with its depictions of child abuse, rape and torture, Finding Me is nevertheless a powerful book. 4 stars. 

The voting for the Awards is now over. 
See you all on December 2 for the announcement of the Winners!

mercredi 26 novembre 2014

Waiting on Wednesday: Seveneves by Neal Stephenson

"Waiting On" Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted by Jill over at Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating.

This week's pre-publication "can't-wait-to-read" selection is:

Seveneves by Neal Stephenson
Expected publication: May 19th 2015

When the moon blows up, the earth’s atmosphere is predicted to go through changes that will eventually lead to a Hard Rain, a meteorite storm that could last for thousands of years, rendering the earth’s surface uninhabitable. In preparation, the nations of the earth send an ark of humans to an International Space Station. But the Station isn’t immune to the galactic catastrophe and many of its people are lost, mostly men. When stability is reached, only seven humans remain, all of them women. 

Jump forward thirty thousand years. Two peoples exist: those who survived on Earth, living rustic, primitive lives; and those who derived from the Seven Eves of the space station, affluent, sophisticated, organized sects looking to colonize the surface of earth. 

Stephenson’s next novel is an epic potboiler, with political and military intrigue, and plenty to say about evolution, genetic engineering, and civilization as we know it.

I have not read as much of Stephenson's work as I would like, so when I saw this - a sci-fi dystopia set in the far future - I immediately added it to my TBR list.

mardi 25 novembre 2014

Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Books On My Winter TBR

This week's theme: Top Ten Books on my Winter To Be Read List. I'll consider winter to be from December 2014 to February 2015 for this.
A loose sequel to Horowitz' 2011 House of Silk, Moriarty is apparently set after the death of Holmes and Moriarty, and follows a new character, a Pinkerton detective arrived in London fresh from America to investigate a criminal mastermind...
Stephen King. Enough said.... Seriously though, I have heard very good things about this book, which sees King take on the Frankenstein story.
Oh My God! Cannot wait for this book! I loved Nix's original trilogy set in the world of the Abhorsen, where the dead are controlled by the magic of bells, and cannot wait to get back into it again.
Weber and Zahn, two of the biggest hitters in military SF, working together in an earlier timeframe of Weber's Honorverse. The short story that kicked this off in one of the latest anthologies was great fun, so I have high hopes for A Call to Duty.
Mark Charan Newton's take on the historical mystery, set in a Roman Empire-ish fantasy world, had a strong start with Drakenfeld. Here's hoping Retribution will carry it even higher.
Hamilton is a fantastic epic space opera author and The Abyss Beyond Dreams returns to his seminal Void universe to start off a brand new duology.
One of the débuts I am the most excited to get a look at, translated from Chinese and apparently by one of China's most beloved sci-fi authors. With so much hype building up about this one, here's hoping it will live up to it!
The writer of the Malazan Book of the Fallen tries his hand at a Star Trek pastiche. I loved Scalzi's Red Shirts, so I hope this will be as good.
Following on from what for me was the fantasy debut of 2014, The Providence of Fire continues the Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne, picking up the story of the three children of the Annurian Emperor as they return to the capital, and promising more action, magic and giant birds!
I was so gutted when Myke Cole's Shadow Ops series apprently came to an end this year with Breach Zone, so you can imagine how excited I am to read Gemini Cell, a continuation of the world without being a sequel to what is a very contained and nicely wrapped up initial trilogy.
There you have it. Ten books on my TBR list for this winter. What about you?
Share in the comments!

lundi 24 novembre 2014

Goodreads Choice Awards 2014 - Reviews Part One

Been AWOL for a few weeks: between the launch of a new computer system at work that kept me busy, plus some medical visits for my son, haven't had much time to get on and write reviews. Since I have been reading mainly books that were nominated for the Goodreads Choice Awards, I thought I would do a single post with small reviews of what I have read.

Considering the number of books read, I've decided to split it into two posts.

The Slow Regard of Silent Things by Patrick Rothfuss (Fantasy Nominee)

An interesting but uneven fantasy novella, centred on a single character in Rothfuss' Kingkiller Chronicles series, The Slow Regard of Silent Things is not for everyone (a fact that Rothfuss himself recognises in the foreword). As a character study, it is engrossing and fascinating. As a story, not so much. 3 stars.

How To Fight Presidents by Daniel O'Brien (Humour Nominee)

Ambitious in its attempts to provide an overview of every U.S president from Washington to Ronald Reagan (as well as how to defeat them in a punch-up), How To Fight Presidents is let down by its execution. The humour is nowhere near as funny as it would like to think, but it does provide some interesting factoids about the various Presidents that some people might not know. 3 stars.

Eating Wildly by Ava Chin (Food Nominee)

Part introduction to urban foraging, part memoir, Eating Wildly is an interesting look at a life choice I had no idea about. Ava Chin provides a glimpse into the world of foragers, where parks and backyards provide edible plants for delicious meals. While the foraging part was interesting, the memoir didn't catch my attention. 3 stars.

Smoke Gets In Your Eyes by Caitlin Doughty (Memoir and Autobiography Nominee)

A memoir set in the world of crematoriums, Smoke Gets In Your Eyes works well thanks to Doughty's voice, a keen mixture of philosphical musings and dark humour, necessary for the sort of work she does. A coming-of-age story, Smoke Gets In Your Eyes deals with some rather dark themes in an accessible and humorous way. 4 stars.

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart (Young Adult Nominee)

A Young Adult novel touted as the new Gone Girl for its twist ending, We Were Liars actually lived up to a lot of the hype, working as a taut thriller and employing an excellent example of the unreliable narrator. 5 stars.

The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender by Leslye Walton (Young Adult Nominee)

A touching, haunting and heart-breaking historical fantasy, The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender is part family history, part coming-of-age tale, part historical thriller. Dealing with faith, family and death, and told with the beauty and complexity of a fairy tale, Walton's novel is deserving of lots of praise. 5 stars.

Not That Kind of Girl by Lena Dunham (Humour Nominee)

Definitely not for everyone - and a book that I can't quite make my mind up whether I enjoyed - Not That Kind of Girl is as polarising as the woman who wrote it. If you like Dunham and her work in Girls, you will probably like this book. If you don't, your mileage may vary. Whatever you think of her, though, it is difficult to deny that Dunham speaks for a whole generation in a voice that is self deprecating, funny and totally unique. 3 stars.

Yes Please by Amy Poehler (Humour Nominee)

Another memoir from a female comedian, Yes Please is much less likely to be polarising than Dunham's. Although I know little of Poehler from her work on TV, I thoroughly enjoyed the book and went straight away to watch the first episode of Parks and Recreation! 4 stars.

Sous Chef by Michael Gibney (Food Nominee)

A truly unique cooking memoir, Sous Chef is told in second person, a treacherous undertaking but one that pays off in spades here. Providing a look into the high pressure life of a gourmet kitchen, Sous Chef puts the reader on the front lines. Told with energy, intelligence and intent, the book will either have you reaching for knives or running away in fear. 4 stars.

As You Wish by Cary Elwes (Memoir and Autobiography Nominee)

"Mawiage. That bwessed union..." "You killed my father. Prepare to die." "Have fun storming the castle." A movie of a thousand quotable lines, The Princess Bride was the go-to-movie for me as a kid when I was ill. Cary Elwes' memoir of this time working on the film, from casting through to the resurgence in interest years later, is a joy to read, full of anecdotes, surprises and interjections from other members of the crew. 4 stars.

The end of voting for the Choice Awards is tonight! So if you haven't already,

vendredi 7 novembre 2014

Goodreads Choice Awards 2014 - Round One

Ah November! Autumn is here, the leaves are turning, the weather is perfect for staying at home and curling up with a good book or three. 

And the Goodreads Choice Awards are here! 

Announced on Monday, the Awards are one of the main reader-based book awards on the net. I won't go into the rules etc here, but I always enjoy participating, whether that be by voting or binge-reading as many of the nominated books as possible before the final round at the end of the month. 

Last year I encountered some great reads thanks to the Awards: The Lowland by Lahiri Jhumpa, One Summer: America 1927 by Bill Bryson and Night Film by Marisha Pessl to name a few.

Here are my current nominations in the various categories where I have read enough to be able to cast a vote: 


The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell

Mystery & Thriller

I Am Pilgrim by Terry Hayes

Historical Fiction

The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd


The Goblin Emperor by Katherin Addison

Science Fiction

The Martian by Andy Weir


The Winter People by Jennifer McMahon


No Place to Hide by Glenn Greenwald

Memoir & Autobiography

Life, Animated by Ron Suskind

History & Biography

The Good Spy by Kai Bird

Business Books

Flash Boys by Michael Lewis


Delancey by Molly Wizenberg


The Weight of Blood by Laura McHugh

Young Adult Fantasy & Science Fiction

Red Rising by Pierce Brown

Looking forward to Monday when the top 5 write-in votes are added to the whole! I'll update then to see whether my nominations change. 

What about everyone else? Are you participating / reading / voting in this year's Awards? Share your nominations below!

jeudi 6 novembre 2014

Doctor Who: The Blood Cell by James Goss

"Release the Doctor — or the killing will start."

An asteroid in the furthest reaches of space - the most secure prison for the most dangerous of criminals. The Governor is responsible for the worst fraudsters and the cruellest murderers. So he's certainly not impressed by the arrival of the man they're calling the most dangerous criminal in the quadrant. Or, as he prefers to be known, the Doctor.

What does impress the Governor is the way the new prisoner immediately sets about trying to escape. And keeps trying. Finally, he sends for the Doctor and asks him why? But the answer surprises even the Governor. And then there's the threat — unless the Governor listens to the Doctor, a lot of people will die.

Who is the Doctor and what's he really doing here? Why does he want to help the Governor? And who is the young woman who comes every day to visit him, only to be turned away by the guards?

When the killing finally starts, the Governor begins to get his answers...

A very strange Doctor Who story, The Blood Cell is told entirely through the eyes of a secondary character – the Governor – who encounters the Doctor and Clara when a strange old man is incarcerated in the prison he runs. As strange things begin to happen and the prison turns against the inmates and the guards, the Governor is forced to turn to the Doctor for help…

As a Doctor Who story told through the eyes of a secondary character, The Blood Cell works. As a science fiction story disassociated from the Doctor Who franchise, The Blood Cell works even better.  The Governor is an interesting narrator, full of contradictions and secrets that beg to be revealed. The situation - an inescapable prison where prisoners are disappearing - dealt cleverly with some basic sci-fi tropes. As the story progresses and the stakes mount, I for one found the story gripping, wondering who was behind the prison's problems, who the Governor really was and how the whole thing was going to resolve itself. 

Unfortunately, as a Twelfth Doctor story, The Blood Cell fails at one vital hurdle – the Doctor himself. While I could definitely see the Eleventh or Tenth Doctors acting in the way this Doctor does, what we have seen of Capaldi so far just does not gel with this wise-cracking, pop-culture spouting character. This Doctor does not have the darkness that Capaldi has brought to the role and while his relationship with Clara does share some of the antagonism of the on-screen partners, there was definitely something essential missing. If you can tell yourself that this is a lost Matt Smith story, great. If not, you may have the same problems with The Blood Cell that I did.
I gave The Blood Cell 3 stars. 

mercredi 5 novembre 2014

Edge of Eternity by Ken Follett

EDGE OF ETERNITY is the sweeping, passionate conclusion to Ken Follett’s extraordinary historical epic, The Century Trilogy.

Throughout these books, Follett has followed the fortunes of five intertwined families – American, German, Russian, English, and Welsh – as they make their way through the twentieth century. Now they come to one of the most tumultuous eras of all: the enormous social, political, and economic turmoil of the 1960s through the 1980s, from civil rights, assassinations, mass political movements and Vietnam to the Berlin Wall, the Cuban Missile Crisis, presidential impeachment, revolution – and rock and roll.

East German teacher Rebecca Hoffman discovers she’s been spied on by the Stasi for years and commits an impulsive act that will affect her family for the rest of their lives.…George Jakes, the child of a mixed-race couple, bypasses a corporate law career to join Robert F. Kennedy’s Justice Department, and finds himself in the middle not only of the seminal events of the civil rights battle, but a much more personal battle of his own.…Cameron Dewar, the grandson of a senator, jumps at the chance to do some official and unofficial espionage for a cause he believes in, only to discover that the world is a much more dangerous place than he’d imagined.…Dimka Dvorkin, a young aide to Nikita Khrushchev, becomes a prime agent both for good and for ill as the United States and the Soviet Union race to the brink of nuclear war, while his twin sister, Tania, carves out a role that will take her from Moscow to Cuba to Prague to Warsaw – and into history.

As always with Follett, the historical background is brilliantly researched and rendered, the action fast-moving, the characters rich in nuance and emotion. With the hand of a master, he brings us into a world we thought we knew but now will never seem the same again.

Ken Follett’s sweeping Century trilogy has been a must read for me ever since the first book came out a few years ago. A hugely ambitious undertaking (telling the story of the 20th century through the eyes of a handful of families), the trilogy has been a potent mixture of historical fiction, thriller, romance, saga and coming-of-age tale. I’ve loved the other two books and had been waiting impatiently for the final instalment to be released. So I was delighted to hear that Edge of Eternity was being released at the end of this year and it was placed firmly at the top of my TBR. 

Edge of Eternity does a great job of wrapping up the threads laid down in the last books, as the first generation explored in Fall of Giants give way to the younger. For many of those characters, we see them shuffle off the stage, while their children, grand-children and even great grand-children step up and shoulder the burden. Although a large part of the book centres on the Cold War, especially the effect the Iron Curtain and Berlin Wall has on the families, Follett also explores the Cuban Missile Crisis, Kennedy’s assassination, the Civil Rights movement and the rise of the liberal agenda (gay rights being one of the themes explored). Through a couple of his characters, he also delves into an integral part of society in the second part of the 20th century – the rock star. 

Once again, Follett manages to juggle a huge number of characters with aplomb, giving each of them distinct personalities, stories and lives, though the huge canvas does stop him from giving them as much depth as he might have otherwise. I loved it from beginning to end, especially enjoying his portrayal of Kennedy and Johnson – Follett makes it clear that Kennedy was much less interested in civil rights at the beginning than he would later be considered to have been and that Johnson, despite his numerous mistakes, did a lot for the movement in his first few months in office. A great, sweeping portrayal of a tumultuous few decades, Edge of Eternity is great historical fiction done well.

I gave Edge of Eternity 4 stars.