Sunday, 27 February 2011

One of Our Thursdays Is Missing - Jasper Fforde

In the land of fiction a genre war is about to break out and only Thursday Next can prevent it at the peace talks. Just one problem. Thursday seems to be missing. Fictional Thursday is asked to step in and find the real her but someone doesn't want her to. Staving off attacks from Men in Plaid, jumps into the real world and trying to keep those who live in her book happy are now a matter of norm for fictional Thursday.

I was a little disappointed with the previous one. It's hard for a fantastic series to continue to be so. Especially one that uses so much imagination. I was resigned to a decline in one of my favourites. Turns out I was wrong. The latest has brought the series right back up again. This time based in Bookworld and the main character is fictional. The story itself is good. However, it's the detail I love. The mix of fictional characters, the map of fiction island, Bookworld technology and quotes from Bookworld Companion to name but a few.

I honestly don't want to spoil it by going into too much about the detail. You just have to trust me. It's worth it, honest! What I will say though is that next time you read a book and you start to fall asleep a kitten somewhere might be in danger!

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief - Rick Riordan

Percy has never quite fitted in to any of his schools. His latest school is no exception. Only his best friend Grover and his Latin teacher make it bearable. On a field trip his maths teacher attacks him and things fall completely out of his control. All of a sudden he is on the run with his mum from all sorts of monsters. They want to kill him because he is half god making him a hero. At half-blood camp things are only a little better until he is accused of stealing Zeus's thunderbolt. He must find it to prevent war between Zeus, Poseidon and Hades. A war that could tear the world apart.

I originally picked this book up before the film came out. The plan was to read it then go and see it. Well it's out on DVD and I have yet to see it and I only just read the book over the weekend. Worth the wait though. I loved it! No teen romance or angst involved. Just pure adventure and a good storyline into the mix. I was a little wary near the start. The Greek gods move depending on where the centre of the Western World is. At this moment it's America. I thought this was going to be about how wonderful Western culture is but the Greek gods are hardly portrayed as angels and it makes sense since Homer's Iliad is meant to be the first piece of Western literature.

The wariness picked up again a little later on. One of the characters mentions the arrogance of the gods and Western culture and how it was time for Kronos. Kronos is meant to be the bringer of chaos. Have to wonder if the author meant that non Western culture is then chaos. Possibly I am reading too much into it but it did niggle.

Other than that it was a good read. I think it's a great way for kids to get into Greek mythology. Definitely plan on reading the rest at some point.

Monday, 21 February 2011

A book by any other name...

This is the paperback version of....
..this. They changed the name. I can sort of understand why. When I looking into the book I searched Spanish Fly and all sorts of unwanted images came up on the computer. Still, it's annoying when publishers change the name of titles.

Sunday, 20 February 2011

Spanish Fly - Will Ferguson

It's the 1939 and America is in the midst of the great depression whilst Europe is heading towards war. Jack McGreary is just surviving in the American dust bowl when he comes across Virgil and Rose. Together they take him under their wing and teach him all the great cons as they travel from town to town. Turns out Jack might be more gifted than his teachers.

I was looking forward to reading this book. The blurb on the back made it sound hilarious. Turns out you should never judge a book by it's cover or it's blurb. That's not to say it wasn't a good book it just wasn't what I thought it was going to be. It was a slow burner. A good third of the book was about Jack in his home town of Paradise Flats and various events that lead him to leave with Virgil and Miss Rose. Since I was expecting something with a faster pace it was a little disappointing. I would definitely have enjoyed it more if there had been a hint of it at the back. Eventually it did speed up and became more of what I thought it was going to be (funny but not hilarious). When it reached that point I found it difficult to put down. The main characters were actually quite likable considering what they were doing. A little part of me didn't want it to end.

I still prefer Ferguson's travel writing books to his fiction. They are more laugh out loud funny and as I read those first I always expect the same to be true of his fiction. I do think Spanish Fly is better than Happiness and I highly recommend it. If you come across a review, as I did, saying that this book is more of a boys book ignore it. I hate the categorising of books although I have done it myself occasionally. Maybe the reviewer felt that the subject of con artists would mainly appeal to men. Whilst this might be true I do think that women can get as much out of this book as men. I don't think that the author wrote it thinking only of a male audience.

I did think something the author wrote was very interesting. One of the characters was discussing an investment scam. He mentioned that investors generally would feel they then had the right to dictate terms. The narrator used authors as an example. They write a book and then those selling that book felt they were owed something by the author, that they were more important than them. I wonder if the actual author really feels this way about those selling his books. Is he talking about publishers, reps or booksellers?

I haven't worked in the other forms so can't possibly say but as a bookseller it would be disappointing if he did mean us. For the majority of booksellers we talk to customers about books we love. It's safe to say that none of us are doing it for the money. We don't think that the author's owe us anything for it. All we ask is that you are nice to us when you come in for events as we're not just staff we like your books too and it's us who recommend them to customers.

Okay that last point sounded like a threat. I don't mean it to be. Not really. Most authors I have met are lovely. They seem to enjoy meeting booksellers who love their books. There have been a very small minority who have been dismissive and even down right rude. It's deflating when that happens and does put you off.

Thursday, 17 February 2011

End of An Era

Yesterday Borders US declared bankruptcy and today Borders Pacific Rim has went into administration. With British books going into administration a few weeks ago and Waterstones having problems themselves you have to wonder what's going to happen to our book shops in the future. Here in the UK we are currently fighting to save our libraries. So where lies our future with books in general? Are we now going to have to rely on Internet sites and ereaders?

It really is sad. Many of my favourite memories as a child was spent in a library or a bookshop. I feel saddened that our children might not have that happy pleasure.

My thoughts go out to all those with their jobs on the line and keep my fingers crossed for you.

Sunday, 13 February 2011

Anything Goes - John Barrowman

Basically what it says on the tin. The autobiography of John Barrowman. He writes about his life growing up and how it prepared him for showbiz. It then goes on to focus on his musical career interspersed with stories of family life. If you are looking for a book filled with stories of Doctor Who and Torchwood this isn't it (although he does talk about it in a chapter at the end).

I hate star biographies. It's a pet hate of mine (have I mentioned this before? I rant about this so often it's easy to forget). It's a pet hate of most booksellers. They clog up the Christmas releases and drown out all the good fiction (and non fiction for that matter). In the last few years there has been a steady decline in fiction released for Christmas. What's the point? The stores are being forced to push sales of the star biogs anyway. It especially sets your teeth on age when it's a child star who hasn't done enough in life to warrant a biography or the same face releasing yet another instalment you could easily read in an hour.

Despite my ranting I seem to have read my fair share of them. I have to confess that if there is someone I admire or like I am as likely as the next person to pick it up. Stephen Fry, Joe Brand, Parkinson, William Shatner and Michael Palin are just a few on my list and some of those I have still to get round to reading. Oh and I even confess to reading Billie Piper's. That's what comes from being an avid Doctor Who fan. If David Tennant had written his own that would be listed here too.

I am a bit slow off the band wagon with this one. It was released in 2008 and this is me just reading it. To be fair I have a rather large reading pile but it's only now I am being strict with it (basically no more books until I get through the pile). Like most star biographies I found it vaguely disappointing. The first chapter irritated the hell out of me. It was written as though reading a scene of a script. If the rest of the book had continued like that I would have thrown it straight into the charity pile. Thankfully it didn't and over all it was quite entertaining. Lots of funny stories of Barrowman growing up in Glasgow then the States. As I already mentioned it focuses on how he got into showbiz and musicals with some personal stories thrown in.

It was disappointing in that it was a little too fluffy. Not too serious although I get the impression that Barrowman himself isn't too serious (nothing wrong with that - life is too short as they say). I guess I just always seem to expect more. Plus he comes across as the constant good guy. Surely no one is that perfect? I don't think that I learned anything new about him. Nothing that he hasn't said in interviews. But at the very least it did keep me entertained for a couple of hours. I doubt I will read his follow up but I am glad I read this one.

Saturday, 12 February 2011

Bloodline - Mark Billingham

Andy Thorne is investigating a series of Murders. Each murder victim has been killed in the same way and discovered with a piece of X-ray film clutched in their hands. It is quickly revealed that the mother of each victim was murdered by Raymond Garvey. It becomes a race for the police to find the remaining offspring of the Garvey victims and to catch the killer. Meanwhile Thorne is undergoing his own personal issues.

I have said it many times before that I am not much of a crime reader but that's not why I didn't enjoy this book. I had just finished watching the latest series of Bones on DVD and I was in the mood to read some good crime which is why I picked it up from my very large 'to read' pile. When I first bought this book I had thought it was American. I also thought that the author had also written the film Copycat. That would normally have put me off but the plot looked interesting enough for me to want to buy it.

I should point out that I am not a lover of all things American over British. I do enjoy British authors and actually the crime books I have read my favourites have been Scottish. It's just that British and American authors have very different writing styles. Particularly when it comes to crime. It was American I was in the mood for thanks to the TV show that I had watched and so was disappointed when I realised that wasn't the case (the fact that the book mentions London early on was a big giveaway too).

I could have gotten over that but I also broke one of my rules. I normally like to start with an authors first book. Especially when all his books, although can be read as standalone, have the same main character. Crime authors are famous for this but I don't know why I didn't think this one would be any different. I hate reading a book and I am expected to already know the main character. This one delves in straight away to Thorne and his partner going through a horrible situation. Had I read the series from the start I am sure I would have had more of an emotional attachment to the characters. But as I didn't I found it uncomfortable and then boring.

The crime plot line was everything I expected it to be when I first picked it up over a year ago now. It was a little predictable though and I guessed most of it in the first fifty pages. There was another unexpected twist at the end but the rest, whilst meant to be predictable, was a little too much so. I got bored with it half way through to be honest. As I said before though, if I had an emotional attachment to the characters then maybe I would have enjoyed it more. Plus I think I could have gotten to like the characters had I read the series from book 1. A while back a friend loaned me a Linda Fairstein book. Again it was half way through a series and I was expected to know the characters. Unlike this book though I knew I wouldn't have liked them even from book 1.

I do think that if you enjoy crime books generally you will probably enjoy it. My mum reads almost exclusively crime these days and she loved it. It's also an easy read. I got through it quite quickly.

What did surprise me though was some things about the author. After realising he was a British author I had to look him up. Turns out Mark Billingham was an actor and a comedian before he became a writer. I wouldn't recognise him from most of the things he has acted in. He did, however, have a part in Maid Marion which I loved as a child. He was one of the Sheriff of Nottingham's guards.