Archive > July 2013

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

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Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban,  J. K. Rowling, book reviewHarry is in his third year at Hogwarts School of witchcraft and wizardry. As a new professor of defense of dark arts comes to the school everything becomes mysterious as his lessons get cancelled once a month and a criminal called Sirius Black escapes from the Azkaban jail and starts looking for Harry.

One night, while Harry was having tea with professor Lupin, the defense of dark arts teacher Snape walked in and glared mysteriously at Harry and gave Lupin and enormous jug full of some potion. (Snape was the potion teacher.)


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Paris Requiem

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Paris Requiem, Lisa Appignanesi, book reviewParis Requiem by Lisa Appignanesi is a murder mystery/detective novel set in Paris in 1899, a time of racial tensions with the Dreyfus affair at its height, and the city preparing for the universal exhibition and the new century.

James Norton, a Harvard law professor, arrives in Paris, sent by his mother to bring back his brother, Raf, and sister Ellie. Yet what is already likely to be difficult is complicated when Raf’s Jewish lover, Olympe, is found dead in the Seine. James is plunged into the investigation, trying to discover what happened to this captivating woman, and to clear his brothers name when the police turn to him.


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A Curious Man

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A Curious Man: The Strange & Brilliant Life of Robert “Believe It Or Not” Ripley, Neal Thompson, book reviewIf the life story of Robert “Believe It Or Not” Ripley was fiction, you would probably have given up on it after the first couple of chapters because it seems to bear so little relation to what most of us know as real life. While not exactly leading what you may call a charmed life – his father died when he was still in school (which, incidentally he did not finish) and his home town of Santa Rosa, California, was flattened by the 1906 great San Francisco earthquake – he certainly had an incredible knack for finding the right sort of people, ideas and innovations at just the right time. Considering how incredible his rise from dirt poor child to multi-millionaire celebrity journalist and globetrotter was, it is also surprising that Neal Thompson’s new book A Curious Man: The Strange & Brilliant Life of Robert “Believe It Or Not” Ripley is the first biography to be written about the man. This biography may have taken a long time in coming, but the five years it took to compile it were clearly a labour of love.


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Glaciers

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Glaciers, Alexis M. Smith, book reviewGlaciers is a strikingly visual novel – some might say novella, not just as this book is just 174 pages in paperback but because of the fleeting timescale of the story – and one that has certainly garnered plenty of positive attention, but it is also one that I think it would not be unfair to file under ‘promising but not quite there yet’.

Alexis Smith’s poignant debut is notable for its pretty vignettes, scenes from a day in the life of a young woman living in contemporary Portland, in which evocative pictures are conjured up in just a few words. Sadly the weaknesses in the plot and in characterisation mean that Glaciers remains just a series of very pretty postcards and never amounts to something more worthy of Smith’s obvious ability.


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Resident Aliens

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Resident AliensIn Beth Porter’s Resident Aliens, we get a novella, four poems and three short stories all focusing on the darker sides of post-war/post-depression era of New York through characters whose lives reflect it’s less glamorous neighborhoods.

Resident Aliens by Beth Porter is actually a collection of writings. On the menu is a novella, four poems and three short stories, all focusing on New York in the 60s. Before I discuss the various elements of this book, there is a small warning – nothing included here is for the faint of heart. These are gritty tales, darkly atmospheric with glimpses into the city’s stark realities.


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Enchantress

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Enchantress, James Maxwell, book reviewEnchantress is the first novel in James Maxwell’s The Evermen Saga. Available free on Kindle, I downloaded it thanks to the book description, which opens by stating it is “the first book in an epic new series to rival The Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones”. As a huge fan of both (although the book series is called Song of Ice and Fire, the TV show is Game of Thrones), I was intrigued.

Ella and Miro are brother and sister, Ella a flower seller who dreams of being an enchantress, and Miro a soldier in training who dreams of being an elite blade singer. Each of the lands in the novel has its own “lore”, and in their homeland, Altura, the lore is enchanting.


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Palace Circle

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Palace Circle, Rebecca Dean, book reviewHaving read and loved Rebecca Dean’s Enemies of the Heart, I was keen to read more of her novels – and chose Palace Circle as the next one I would read. It opens in Virginia, where eighteen year old Delia has just married Viscount Ivor Conisborough, over twenty years her senior and a member of the British aristocracy. At first she loves her new life in London, where she meets people such as Winston Churchill and Wallis Simpson, but she soon discovers there are secrets in her and Ivor’s life.

Palace Circle covers both world wars, and later includes Delia’s daughters, Petra and Davina, as narrators. The family moves to Cairo where Ivor is appointed as an advisor to King Fuad, and this is where much of the action is focussed during the Second World War.


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J. M. Coetzee: A Life in Writing

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J M Coetzee, J.C. Kannemeyer, book reviewThe South African writer J. M. Coetzee is a notoriously private and quiet man. In a 1990 profile by journalist Rian Malan, it was noted that “a colleague who has worked with him for more than a decade claims to have seen him laugh just once. An acquaintance has attended several dinner parties where Coetzee has uttered not a single word.” For there to be a new and official biography (A Life in Writing) of the Booker and Nobel prize-winning author is therefore quite surprising. For it to be done with the full and enthusiastic cooperation of Coetzee himself is remarkable – publisher Scribe even go so far as to describe it as a “global publishing event”.

Curiously, despite his unwillingness to be interviewed about his private life prior to the publication of this new biography, Coetzee has produced a trilogy of novels that he describes as “fictionalised memoir”: Boyhood (1997), Youth (2002) and Summertime (2009).


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Let The Games Begin

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Let the Games Begin, Niccolo Ammaniti, book reviewNiccolo Ammaniti’s latest novel, Let The Games Begin, comes with a warning: Contains Satanic Cults, Intoxicated Supermodels, Olympic Athletes and Man-Eating Hippos.

Read at your own peril…

Actually, that’s only mostly true. I didn’t come across any Man-Eating Hippos in the novel’s pages, but perhaps I was distracted by the Intoxicated Supermodels.

If my interest had been aroused by this warning on the back of the book, I was thoroughly intrigued when I opened the novel to find the preface to be the words to Suicide is Painless, the theme from M*A*S*H.


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The Silent Wife

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The Silent Wife, A. S. A. Harrison, book reviewHow far would a woman go to keep her world safe? This is the question that A.S.A. Harrison asks of her readers in her debut novel, The Silent Wife. Actually, it will be her only novel, as after years of being an almost-there novelist, she tragically died in April, just a matter of weeks before this book is due to be released. As a writer, I feel the timing of this loss to be extra cruel, to come so close and then never live to see your work in its finished form upon the book shop shelves. As a reader, however, I felt glad that at least she knew it was going to be published, unlike Steig Larsson, whose great books carry an unpolished air about them due to his sudden death before he could work with an editor to give them the last finishing touches.


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Summer of ’76

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Summer of '76 by Isabel AshdownGood books are often described as “unputdownable” by readers who enjoyed them. Having just finished Isabel Ashdown’s third novel, Summer of ’76, I have to say that I unfortunately found it rather “putdownable”. In fact, so putdownable that at one point I took a break from it to clean my bathroom as I just couldn’t face reading any more of it. I have to say that the hours I spent in the company of this book were not particularly well spent, although I am pleased to confirm that my shower head has never been so free of limescale.

Set during the infamous heat wave of the eponymous summer in question, Summer of ‘76 tells the tale of Luke Wolff, a teenager living on the Isle of Wight.


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The Crime Fiction Handbook

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The Crime Fiction Handbook, Peter Messent, book reviewAny crime fiction fan will realise that the number of crime novels and writers that a book on the genre might cover is enormous, and that anyone writing such a book is going to have to make some really hard decisions on who or what to write about. The title of this “handbook” led me to expect a more scholarly version of the Rough Guide to Crime Fiction aimed at the general reader. In fact, the approach and style is more that of a textbook for an introductory course on crime fiction. Peter Messent is a retired academic (Emeritus Professor of Modern American Literature at the University of Nottingham) who used to teach a crime fiction module to students in the US and Britain.

About half of this 200 page book is about the politics, main forms and key concerns of crime fiction.


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