Monday, 28 October 2013

The Unveiling by Stefan Alford

When 13 year old Jake Lawton accidentally stumbles across a gang of boys beating up a younger negro boy he intervenes and to his own surprise not only defends him, sending the whole gang running but consequently saves the boy.  Even more surprisingly, he then murders the negro boy that he has just saved by strangling him.  Claiming to be prompted by a German soldier called Matthias who was actually Jake in a previous life he is incarcerated in a lunatic asylum where he comes to understand more about his situation.

This is a story about reincarnation and is original and interesting.  The premise of the book is that reincarnation formed the original teachings of Christianity but has been suppressed by the church during subsequent centuries. Therefore, we see Jake progress through previous and future reincarnations and the connectivity between them.

The preface itself contained quite a shocking and macabre opening scene and certainly grabbed my attention.  I found it was worth rereading the preface once I had finished the book as I struggled to connect the opening which is set in the year 533 with the remainder of the book.  However, once I’d finished the book it became clear and the preface made a lot more sense within the context of the rest of the story.

I was particularly impressed with how Stefan Alford was able to cleverly speak simultaneously through the voice of a child, a teenager and a man.  No easy feat when we remember that often the voice is a man in a child’s body and Alford skilfully handled this literary juggling act.

The last couple of books that I’ve read have been rather sombre reads.  Therefore, this book was just the ticket to lighten my reading a little.  It has the  flavour of The Da Vinci Code and would appeal to any reader who likes their novels to contain mystery, religious conspiracies and secret societies.  This book has the lot and is a fast and exciting read whilst being both thought provoking and entertaining at the same time.

I acquired this book as a free kindle download and it was great for a freebie.  There is a paperback version of this book available but the kindle version now costs £2 on Amazon and I would suggest that anyone who pays that for this book will not be disappointed.

ISBN:  978-1105575693

Published by:

Kindle Price:  £2 (as of today's date)
This was a free kindle download from Amazon on 13th July 2012.

Total saving so far:  £26.97

Monday, 21 October 2013

One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

Published in 1963 this book hardly needs reviewing as it‘s been part of the modern classic canon for a long time.  It is the story of Ivan Denisovich Shukhov, who is serving an eight year prison sentence in a Soviet labour camp after being accused of being a spy during WWII.  The novel is set during a single day of his internment and demonstrates to us what an ordinary day was like for Soviet prisoners.

Reading this book made me think a lot about the subjectivity of book reviewing.  After all, any review is only the opinion of the person writing it.  I might love a book which you might hate and vice versa.

I took a little stroll down memory lane when reading this.  I remember when I was a teenager I dated a sweet boy from Kent who loved this book.  He read it several times and raved about it endlessly.  We lost touch several decades ago but I’ve always had it in the back on my mind to read this book.

More recently, my son read this book.  His reaction was pretty much the same as the boy I dated.  He enthused about this book and insisted I read it.  So, approximately four decades after originally being encouraged to read it I finally did.

I so wanted to like it, I really did but it just did nothing for me.  I think I only persevered because it was only 143 pages and my son may never have forgiven me if I didn’t.

Clearly, many people love this book and therefore have merit but it just didn’t work for me.  However, don’t take my word for it.  Read it for yourself and do let me know what you thought.  Or if you’ve already read this I would love to hear your thoughts on it.

My son has gone on to read other works by Solzhenitsyn.  I think when he offers to loan me those I might just decline.

ISBN:  978-0-141-18474-6

Published by:  Penguin Books

Book Price:  £7.99
This was loaned to me by my son.

Total saving so far:  £24.97

Friday, 18 October 2013

Piano Angel by Esther Woolfson

Mark Blum left his native Glasgow for a life in New York.  However, following the recurrence of a brain tumour he decides to return to Glasgow to be with his brother, Dan, with whom he has had little contact over the years.  There is clearly some enmity and resentment in the brothers relationship which originates from their friendship with Anci Goldmann, a Hungarian refugee who their family sheltered following the siege of Budapest in 1945.

The story begins with Dan dealing with the aftermath of Mark’s death.  However, the following chapter is set two years previously when Mark is first diagnosed with his brain tumour and is narrated by him.  The narrations vary between Dan, Mark and Anci which gives a wonderful multi perspective to the events and recollections of the story both of the past and present.

We are tantalized along the way with what has caused the rift between the two brothers and what part Anci played in this.  Over 40 years have passed since they lost regular contact so we can assume that the cause was of some significance and little hints are dropped along the way.

This is a thoroughly well thought out and beautifully written novel.  The prose is tightly packed and poignant throughout.  Not a word has been wasted and the prose has a lyrical, almost poetic feel.  I found myself re-reading parts of this simply for the beauty of the language.  Woolfson’s prose is very illustrative of her meaning.  For example, she describes a necklace belonging to a minor character as “a perfect sliver of distilled chill” and thus succinctly sums up Dan’s view of the character in question.

It is clear from the outset that this is not going to be a light entertaining read.  It deals with difficult subject matter but Woolfson handles this is a very empathetic and gentle manner.  There are very few books which make me cry and as expected as Mark’s death at the conclusion of this book was, I must confess to shedding a few tears.

My only slight criticism of this book is the Anci chapters.  She did not feel as real a character to me as Mark and Dan did and consequently when she is telling her back-story it sometimes felt like I was reading a history textbook.  However, the book was so successful for me overall that this was a minor issue.

Periodically, I had to pause to absorb the emotion in the beautiful prose before I could continue.  Every line, every paragraph had a precision that deserved time and absorption and I needed to stop to read and then read again in order to ingest the beauty and poignancy of the language.  This is not a novel to rush through but one to savour.  I enjoyed reading this book very much.  It deserves a wide readership and I hope lots of you will read it.

ISBN:  978-1-906120-34-4

Published by:  Two Ravens Press

Book price:  £9.99 (paperback)  Unfortunately, this book is currently out of print from the publishers but there are copies available through online book retailers.  I borrowed my copy from the library so it is worth checking there.

Total saving so far:  £16.98

Friday, 11 October 2013

Cross My Heart by Carmen Reid

Carmen Reid, who is more popularly known for her chick lit novels has made an excellent departure from her usual genre.  Here she has written an historical novel for young adults which is packed full with excitement, danger and is also touchingly moving.

Nicole de Wilde, known to her family and friends as Nico, is 15 when the Nazi’s invade Brussels in 1940.   She is a naive and innocent teenager who is forced to grow up very quickly in response to her circumstances.  A tenacious young woman who learn that she is not too young to stand up for what she believes.  Joining a group of freedom fighters we see her grow from a child to a desperately determined young woman whose personal resolve will be her greatest weapon.

The character of Nicole is what make this book work so well.  A good, well-rounded character I found myself rooting for her on every page.  Her journey is a tough one and Reid paints a realistic picture of Nicole’s maturation.  Based on real life stories of teenagers involved in Resistance activities the author has paid tribute to these young heroes and heroines of the Belgian Resistance through the character of Nicole.

There is no let up in the action packed pages in this book.  However, it is also touchingly moving and I could feel her emotions leap off the page through the often-times, horrendous situations that she finds herself in.  One small sentence which has stuck in my mind is when she says, “ I cry because no one can bear to see their father cry.”  Bearing in mind all that Nicole has gone through up to this point in the novel it is so often the small matters that weaken our strength and I loved Nicole all the more for this realistic emotion.

The Afterword in the book, My Grandparents’ War, describes the wartime experiences of the authors grandparents, one of whom was English and the other German.  This personal faceted viewpoint has enabled her to write a well-rounded story.

We are all familiar with novels centred around WWII and the ensuing atrocities which took place but I believe that this book brings something new to our knowledge-base through the eyes of the young people of the Belgian Resistance.  This is a story of immense heroism and hope and is well worth reading.

ISBN:  978-0-552-56701-5

Published by:  Corgi Books

Book Price:  £6.99 (paperback).
This was sent to me as a review copy from Random House Publishing.

 Total saving so far:  £6.99

Thursday, 10 October 2013

The Journey Begins..............

Hello and welcome to the first post on my blog.

I am very excited to be writing this blog.  I have been a very keen reader since I was a child and my passion and enthusiasm for books has never waned.  However, we live in difficult and austere times; money is tight for most people and many of us cannot afford to buy the number of books that we used to.  However, I have accumulated a number over the years with my “I’ll read it one day” mentality.  That ‘one day’ has now arrived and I am planning on having a one year buying freeze without reading any less books than I normally do.  In order to keep up my reading habits  (some might call it an addiction) my aim is to only read books that I already own or come to me for free.

I think this will be an interesting and exciting journey and I shall be reviewing the books that I read as I go along.  I also think it will be fun to count the pennies saved to see how much money I have saved by the end of the year.

Thank you for reading my first posting and I hope that you will enjoy my book reviews.