Sunday, 28 July 2013

Showcase Sunday #2: The Unexpected Edition

Better than where I would usually be
at 2.17 on a Wednesday afternoon

I've been off work since Wednesday but yesterday was the first day that I sat down at my laptop to actually write something.  On Wednesday, Boyfriend and me went for an eight mile wander through the woods and over the hills near where we live to hunt down a Moravian settlement.  The walk turned out to be better than the actual settlement but it was lovely.  To compensate for all the healthy outdoor action, we followed it up with a trip to our local pub and Indian restaurant.  It's all about balance, you see.  Thursday saw us taking a trip to the seaside to visit some of Boyfriend's family and we stopped off at our friends' house on the way back for cocktails and food.  So what I'm basically saying is that I spent three days walking around and then eating and drinking plenty!  It would have been nice to have had a little time to get properly stuck into The Eternity Cure because I am very much enjoying it but I have had such a lovely time doing everything else that I'm definitely not complaining.

Sadly, blogging hasn't even had a look in.  I wrote half a review of Warm Bodies before getting distracted by Indiana Jones and Wolverine and just a *smidge* of chat on Twitter with my favourite fellow bloggers/tweeters about how flipping handsome Hugh Jackman  (and much of the male species) is.  

In amongst all of the excitement, though, I came across a whole bunch of eBooks on Waterstones' website that are part of a 75% off summer reading promotion.  I am a sucker for Waterstones' eBook sales so, even though I know I shouldn't be buying new books and thought I was safely on the wagon, my TBR snuck up by a teeny tiny four.  The unexpected purchases:


I really liked The Uninvited when I read it earlier in the year (review here) and The Ninth Life of Louis Drax by Liz Jensen has been on and off my wishlist for ages.  

I'm sure that The Casual Vacancy by J.K.Rowling needs little explanation.  Mixed reviews notwithstanding, I'm curious and my Dad recommends it.

I now own five Brandon Sanderson books and have read ZERO.  That is ridiculous.  Why did I add The Emperor's Soul by Brandon Sanderson to my already ludicrous pile of books by an author I haven't yet tried?  Because it is pretty, it was £1.99 and I'm pretty sure I read good reviews when it was released.  I think this is relatively short so maybe it's the introduction to Sanderson I've clearly been looking for.

The Testament of Jessie by Jane Rogers was just a random purchase. It looks good so...*shrugs*

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Saturday, 20 July 2013

Review: 'HHhH' by Laurent Binet

Rating:  4.5 out of 5 stars

Everyone has heard of Reinhard Heydrich, “the Butcher of Prague.” And most have heard stories of his spectacular assassination at the hands of two Czechoslovakian partisans. But who exactly were the forgotten heroes who killed one of history’s most notorious men? 

In Laurent Binet’s captivating debut novel, HHhH (Himmlers Hirn heiBt Heydrich, or Himmler’s brain is called Heydrich), we follow the lives of Jozef Gabcik and Jan Kubiš, the Slovak and the Czech responsible for Heydrich’s death. From their heroic escape from Nazi-occupied Prague to their recruitment by the British secret services; from their meticulous preparation and training to their harrowing parachute drop into a war zone; from their stealth attack on Heydrich’s car to their own brutal deaths in the basement of a Prague church, Binet narrates the compelling story of these two incredible men, rescuing their heroic acts from obscurity.

"When I watch the news, when I read the paper, when I meet people, when I hang out with friends and acquaintances, when I see how each of us struggles, as best we can, through life's absurd meanderings, I think that the world is ridiculous, moving and cruel.  The same is true for this book: the story is cruel, the protagonists are moving, and I am ridiculous"  [Chapter 251, Vintage paperback]
Oh my goodness, this book.  This book broke my heart and is what all non-fiction should be like.

I haven't read much non-fiction at all in recent years because I do a lot of it during my day job.  It turns out that well-written non-fiction is a whole different world to legal journals...who knew?  There's such passion in Binet's writing that it shines off the pages and is impossible to resist.

A slightly unusual blend of narrative styles, reading HHhH is a little like wandering around a museum with a knowledgeable guide: there's a relaxed, almost chatty tone as Binet talks you through the "rise" of Reinhard Heydrich and the training of Jozef Gabcik and Jan Kubiš as his to-be assassins but with plenty of tangents as Binet gets side-tracked by another anecdote or gets so caught up in the telling of the story that he dawdles off into the background of people involved.  There's one anecdote that has really stuck with me about a Ukrainian football team pitted against a German team.  After refusing to start proceedings by saluting with a sturdy 'Heil Hitler!', the Ukrainian team went on to commit a grievous insult and actually win the match 5-1.  After strengthening their team with professional football players from Berlin, the Luftwaffe went on to lose the return fixture 5-3.  During the rush on the pitch after the match, much of the Ukrainian team disappeared and were never seen again, with the captain allegedly being executed while shouting, "Communist sport will never die!".  The closing line to this anecdote reads, "I'm worried that there are some errors in what I've written: since this subject has no direct link with Heydrich, I haven't had time to investigate more deeply.  But I didn't want to write about Kiev without mentioning this incredible story".  Like I said, very much like talking with a friend around and about a beloved topic.

I've written before about how I find the sheer scale of World War II utterly incomprehensible and this another superb book for bringing to the fore some of the many, many instances of bravery and tragedy.  Only this time, they're real.  Heart-breaking in fiction, the non-fiction is all the more devastating.  I'm always amazed and inspired by the courage shown by "ordinary" people during war time.  Gabcik and Kubiš were astoundingly brave but they were supported by any number of equally courageous people that risked life and limb (and their family's lives and limbs, incidentally) to offer shelter, food and local support.  There's no way to describe how much I admired the people that I read about in this book.  'Admiration' is even too weak a word...

HHhH reads almost like fiction: I felt gripped by the pages and my chest hurt with how desperately I wanted Heydrich's nemeses to win through.  The problem with non-fiction, of course, is that the author can't decide how their subjects' lives pan out.  I was so caught up in Binet's account of Gabcik and Kubiš (and so remiss in my WWII history) that I actually had to go and research the story so that I could relax and absorb the detail. 

My only slight reservation (that stops this book being a glowing five stars) was that the line between fiction and non-fiction wasn't always solid.  I've already said that I loved the writing style but there were occasions where I would read a few chapters only to turn the page and read, "I made that up...but wouldn't that have been perfect?".  I didn't mind where the upshot was that dialogue had been added in to flesh out an account of a real event but I was a little disconcerted when it turned out that an event I had just been tearing-up or gawping over turned out to be almost made up.  Still, I half think that the point of reading non-fiction is for that moment where you really get caught up in a topic and wander off to do your own digging so it was a feature I could tolerate well enough.

Overall:  If you have even the remotest interest in the history of World War II, you really must pick up HHhH.  If you are looking for a meticulously told and laid out historical account of Heydrich's life and demise, you might be disappointed. If you're looking for something a little more relaxed and focussed on the human side of WWII, I honestly haven't read a book that I would recommend more.  Such a wonderful, wonderful book that I will read again and again.

Date finished:  24 March 2013
Format:  Paperback
Source:  Bought
Genre:  Non-fiction
Pictured Edition Published: by Vintage in January 2013

Monday, 15 July 2013

Review: 'Black Swan Rising' by Lee Carroll

Rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars

Jeweller Garet James isn't the same as everyone else. 

She just doesn't know it yet.

With her fair share of problems - money (lack of), an elderly father, a struggling business - Garet should be just like any other young, feisty, single New Yorker. If only it was that simple...

It begins with the old silver box that had been soldered shut. All Garet has to do is open it. A favour for the frail owner of the antiques shop. Who wouldn't help?

Only it's then that things start to change. Garet doesn't notice at first, the shifts barely perceptible. But the city in which she grew up is beginning to reveal a long-hidden side - darker, and altogether more dangerous: parallel world of chaos, smoke and blood.  And now it's out of the box...and it has no intention of going back in.


*sigh* Why do I find it so hard to write about books that I just feel ok about?!  Let's find something I can be super keen on to get started...the title!  I don't know why I found it so intriguing but a large part of what prompted me to request this on NetGalley was the title.  So that's a positive start!

Black Swan Rising saw me venturing back into the distinctly iffy territory of urban fantasy for the first time of 2013.  In 2012, I read a few urban fantasy titles and was generally pretty underwhelmed - Darkfever had a ridiculously annoying protagonist and The Name of the Star had a few too many moments of teenage fool-hardiness.  Black Swan Rising didn't exactly do a sterling job of convincing me that there was something about recent urban fantasy releases that I've been missing. 

The story is a blend of fey, vampires, mythology and magic.  Despite what my reviews of urban fantasy might generally suggest, I don't hate any of those things.  I would love to read a truly brilliant book about fae, fey or fairies (whatever you want to call them) and I can still tolerate vampires.  I *love* mythology and anything fun and magical.  You would think that added all together, it would be a recipe for something fabulous.  In this case, though, I think everything just ended up diluted.  The twists on mythology were my favourite parts by far, I quite liked the fairy elements but the vampire wasn't great.

I liked Garet initially.  She's a jeweller and helps her father with running an art gallery.  It made a nice change to have a creative, independent female character.  Adding in the dash of realism with the money worries was a nice touch but I found myself wanting more.  I was quite prepared to love Garet and her strength and personality seemed to wane as she developed other...talents. 

And then along came the apparently irresistible vampire to make it all that little bit more irritating.  It wasn't necessarily that I didn't like the chap in question.  I thought the dynamic and history between Garet and Mr Vampire (I hope you're appreciating my spoiler avoidance tactics!) early on was the promise of something unique.  Something where the female character could find someone attractive but continue to challenge him and retain her sense of self.  But then for some reason, this seemingly bright and feisty young woman started cavorting about on rooftops in the dark and inviting a predator to help themselves, nearly killing her in the process.  I just...why?

After that development, the book had too much ground to make up, I suppose.  I still loved the abilities that Garet started to learn and the bad guys really are quite bad and satisfyingly creepy but I was luke warm about the whole thing overall.

Overall:  Average.  There are some solid ideas but not quite enough to carry the story over into the 'good' category.  Cautiously recommended if you're a really die-hard fan of urban fantasy.

Date finished:  15 March 2013
Format:  eBook
Source:  Received from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review!
Genre:  Urban fantasy
Pictured Edition Published: by Bantam Press in November 2010

Sunday, 14 July 2013

Showcase Sunday #1: The Summer Ninja Book Swap Special

Back in June, I signed up for the Summer Ninja Book Swap (hosted by Hanna at Booking in Heels and Bex at An Armchair by the Sea) and this week was THE SWAP and it was even more glorious than I had expected.  I always love shopping for presents so I was looking forward to sending a gift almost as much as I was looking forward to receiving (sorry, I'm not a saint...).  I "got" Bex as a gift recipient and I was actually pretty nervous then because I didn't want her to open her parcel and regretting coming up with the idea in the first place!

But then on Wednesday, I got the most amazing box from Ellie, of Curiosity Killed the Bookworm fame.  Seriously, it was super generous and I can't thank Ellie enough.  I actually managed to restrain myself from ripping apart the little parcels long enough to take a 'Before' picture.  I know - I was surprised by the display of maturity too.  

So that's:  Seraphina by Rachel Hartman; Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore; Taken by Benedict Jacka; Earth Girl by Janet Edwards; some champagne truffles (which I *may* have already eaten); two gorgeous little notebooks that are next in line to become review notebooks and two rolls of jazzy tape that I will soon be sticking to my entire world...


I did purchase one book myself this week: And The Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini.  I got a voucher for 90% off at Kobo so bagged the eBook for a ludicrous 91 pence.  I have read and *loved* Hosseini's other two novels and have been meaning to buy his new book ever since it was released.  I hate hardbacks though (because they're just too big for most of my handbags and that means I can't take them on the train, which makes me unhappy) so I was waiting for the paperback to be released so I could either get that or get an eBook copy at a sensible price. No more waiting!  Hooray indeed.

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