23 July, 2015

Book Review: Playing With Fire - Skullduggery Pleasant 2

From GoodreadsWith Serpine dead, the world is safe once more. At least, that's what Valkyrie and Skulduggery think, until the notorious Baron Vengeous makes a bloody escape from prison, and dead bodies and vampires start showing up all over Ireland.

Thoughts: I listened to this as an audio book through Audible and can I just say, Rupert Degas is a phenomenal narrator. The books are good, but he brings them to life and because of him I know exactly what Skullduggery, Valkryie, China and all the other characters sound like. 
Skullduggery Pleasant is one of those rare books that has wide appeal. My nine year old loves it, my thirteen year old loves it and I love it. Landy writes so many layers into these books, there is something for everyone. The kids love the action and the magic. I love the clever language, the witty banter and a solid storyline.
Skullduggery and Valkyrie have the best relationship. Skullduggery is like the cool uncle who takes you places your parents would never, ever approve of. Valkyrie is living this incredible life, but there is that concern about what she is missing out on while she's running around saving the world.
The story is fast paced. You barely have time to draw breath between each crazy situation the characters find themselves in. The wise cracks fly just as thick and fast, leaving you unsure as to whether you should laugh or hold your breath. There is a danger of this series became repetitive - the plots of the first two books don't differ greatly, both are about stopping the baddies bringing back the faceless ones - but I really hope they don't. For now, with Valkyrie still learning to control and manipulate her powers, enough difference is there to get away with it. From this point on though, I'm hoping Landy builds on the brilliant start and doesn't plateau.

Playing with Fire gets 4 stars

 *        Did not like it
**       It was OK
***      Liked it
****    Really liked it

*****   It was amazing

21 July, 2015

Book Review: The Complete Peanuts 1969-1970

From GoodreadsHe turns up first as Snoopy’s secretary, then gradually becomes a good friend whom Snoopy helps to fly South... but it’s not until June 22, 1970 that the little bird gains a name, in a perfect salute to the decade that ends with this volume: Woodstock! In other timely stories, Peppermint Patty runs afoul of her school’s dress code (those sandals!), Lucy declares herself a “New Feminist,” and Snoopy’s return to the Daisy Hill Puppy Farm on a speaking engagement climaxes in a riot and a new love found amidst the teargas (“She had the softest paws...”). Speaking of Snoopy, this volume falls under the sign of the Great Beagle, as three separate storylines focus on the mysterious sovereign of Beagledom. First Snoopy is summoned by a wrathful G.B. when Frieda submits a complaint about his (Snoopy’s) desultory rabbit-chasing efforts; then, back in the Great one’s good graces, Snoopy is sent on a secret mission; and finally he himself ascends (briefly!) to the mantle of Great Beagledom.
In other news, an exasperated Lucy throws Schroeder’s piano into the maw of the kite-eating tree, with gruesome results... Miss Othmar goes on strike and Linus gets involved... Charlie Brown’s baseball team has an actual (brief) winning streak... Snoopy’s quest to compete in the Oakland ice skating competition is thwarted by his inability to find a partner... Charlie Brown goes to a banquet to meet his hapless baseball hero Joe Shlabotnik... Snoopy is left in the Van Pelt family’s care as Charlie and Sally Brown head out of town for a vacation... and (alas) the Little Red-Haired Girl moves away...
This volume also features a new introduction by renowned illustrator Mo Willems and, as always, gorgeous design by award-winning cartoonist Seth.

Thoughts: Way back in 2010 I came across the first volume in this series and set out to read the whole lot. As occasionally happens, I got a bit side tracked and haven't read one since 2012. Where does the time go I swear it wasn't that long! Anyway, I've finally got around to the next in the series, Volume 10.
These books really a trip down memory lane. Everyone knows Snoopy,  has their favourite character (I can't go past Peppermint Patty or Linus). We feel for poor ol' Charlie Brown as his life drags along and admire his ability to keep going, love his dog and never give up on that baseball team. If you're a Peanuts fan, this is a series worth tracking down.

The Complete Peanuts 1969-1970 gets 4 stars.

 *        Did not like it
**       It was OK
***      Liked it
****    Really liked it
*****   It was amazing

20 July, 2015

Book Review: All The Light We Cannot See

From Goodreads: Marie-Laure lives with her father in Paris near the Museum of Natural History, where he works as the master of its thousands of locks. When she is six, Marie-Laure goes blind and her father builds a perfect miniature of their neighborhood so she can memorize it by touch and navigate her way home. When Marie-Laure is twelve, the Nazis occupy Paris, and father and daughter flee to the walled citadel of Saint-Malo, where Marie-Laure’s reclusive great-uncle lives in a tall house by the sea. With them they carry what might be the museum’s most valuable and dangerous jewel.
In a mining town in Germany, the orphan Werner grows up with his younger sister, enchanted by a crude radio they find. Werner becomes an expert at building and fixing these crucial new instruments, a talent that wins him a place at a brutal academy for Hitler Youth, then a special assignment to track the resistance. More and more aware of the human cost of his intelligence, Werner travels through the heart of the war and, finally, into Saint-Malo, where his story and Marie-Laure’s converge.

Thoughts: A book that manages to look at the atrocity of World War II differently is always welcome. One that is beautifully written and compelling is to be celebrated. 
All The Light You Cannot See was a bit confusing at first, but as it became apparent that the flashbacks were slowly working towards the alternate chapters, I simply became fascinated with how we were going to get there. 
I also love Doerr's characters. Marie-Laure who found strength she did not know she had and  Werner who battled constantly with what he was asked to do - both of them children who are forced to grow up because of the brutality of war.  I also loved Marie-Laure's father and his clear devotion to his daughter and his drive to help her navigate her world. I admired so many of the characters and their determination to do what ever little thing they could to resist. 
Reading this book was like following two pieces of string, watching them grow closer together, waiting for them to cross, wondering if one would break. Doerr's description of Saint-Marlo has me adding it to my list of places to see. I want to stand on the beach Marie-Laure visited, walk the streets, witness the history of the place.
I can see this being made into a movie. It reminds me of The Book Thief, although in the end it is vastly different. I think it's partly because they are both books set in German occupied territory during WWII but without a focus on the persecution of the Jewish community or the holocaust. If they do film it, I hope they do a good job.

All The Light We Cannot See gets 4 stars.

 *        Did not like it
**       It was OK
***      Liked it
****    Really liked it
*****   It was amazing

Book Review: Buy Me The Sky

From Goodreads: With journalistic acumen and a novelist's flair, Xinran tells the remarkable stories of men and women born in China after 1979 - the recent generations raised under China's single-child policy. At a time when the country continues to transform at the speed of light, these generations of precious 'one and onlies' are burdened with expectation, yet have often been brought up without any sense of responsibility. Within their families, they are revered as 'little emperors' and 'suns', although such cosseting can come at a high price: isolation, confusion and an inability to deal with life's challenges.
From the business man's son unable to pack his own suitcase, to the PhD student who pulled herself out of extreme rural poverty, Xinran shows how these generations embody the hopes and fears of a great nation at a time of unprecedented change. It is a time of fragmentation, heart-breaking and inspiring in equal measure, in which capitalism vies with communism, the city with the countryside and Western opportunity with Eastern tradition. Through the fascinating stories of these only children, we catch a startling glimpse of the emerging face of China.

Thoughts:  I purchased this after hearing the author Xinran on a radio show. In this book she explores the results of China's one child policy and the massive rate of change in China since the 1970's.
Most of us have heard stories of China's Little Emperor's  and Little Sun's - only children who are worshiped and mollycoddled by parents desperate to give their one and onlies every thing. It is leading to some big issues - from young adults (22 year old), unable to open and unpack a suitcase to children who practically disown their parents, angry at home they have left them without life skills.
Xinran looks at 10 different case studies, made of Chinese students she has met or children of her Chinese friends. At times she comes across as being the saviour of these children, yet displays many of the stifling qualities of their parents, placing her own expectations on them. She expects them to maintain devotion and deference to their parents wishes, but also wants them to stand on their own two feet. (often the two are contradictory as their own hopes and dreams are different to their parents) A childhood of being completely pleased at every turn has not surprisingly lead them to be incredibly self centred and unable to consider the impact of their actions on others. A life time of being pushed to study, to do everything perfectly has lead them to a fear of failure and new situations.
I don't know the answer to this problem. I see China's birth rate continuing to drop as many of these only children appear reluctant to have children of their own, unable to imagine giving up the starring role they play in their parents lives. Apparently a growing number of only children are sending their own children back to their grandparents to raise,  unable to cope with parenting. 
This was interesting and worth reading, but as one other review of it said, Xiaran gets in the way of the story occasionally. I would be interested to read some of her other work, particularly her fiction. It will be interesting to continue watching how China deals with their one child policy.

Buy Me The Sky gets 3 stars.

 *        Did not like it
**       It was OK
***      Liked it
****    Really liked it
*****   It was amazing

Book Review: The Handsome Man's De Luxe Cafe

From Goodreads:Even the arrival of her baby can't hold Mma Makutsi back from success in the workplace, and so no sooner than she becomes a full partner in the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency (in spite of Mma Ramotswe's belated claims that she is only 'an assistant full partner'), she also launches a new enterprise of her own, the Handsome Man's De Luxe Café. Grace Makutsi is a lady with a business plan, but who could predict temperamental chefs, drunken waiters and more? Luckily, help is at hand, from the only person in Gaborone more gently determined than Mma Makutsi . . .

Mma Ramotswe, of course.


Thoughts: Back with Mma Ramotswe, Mma Makutsi  and the rest of the gang! I haven't read a book in this series that I thought was a bad book. I think one of the secrets is there is time between each one so you are not overloaded. With several series on the go, I think McCall Smith can afford to leave one series until something worth writing occurs to him rather than trying to pump out book after book with the same characters.
I love Mma Ramotswe's calm patient way of looking at things. Her heart is so big and she truly wants the best outcome for everyone. She has little sympathy for those who do the wrong thing out of pure malice, but believes there is good in most people.
In the more recent books I'd found Mma Makutsi had mellowed a bit and become not so righteous and annoying. In this book however she is back in full swing! Swelling with her own importance as she is promoted to business partner and her decision to open her own cafe. She goes on to make poor Charlie's life a misery and make some not so good business decisions - decisions that had anyone else made they would have earned her derision quick smart! As always though, she can't be told and is not incredible grateful or chastened when helped out or proven wrong.
These books are not heavy reads. They are great holiday of light-after-dark reads. They are comforting because nothing changes too much although they manage to maintain a level of freshness and interest.  

Handsome Man's De Luxe Cafe gets 3 stars.

 *        Did not like it
**       It was OK
***      Liked it
****    Really liked it
*****   It was amazing
 

Book Review: Dream Country - Sandman Volume 3

From Goodreads: The third book of the Sandman collection is a series of four short comic book stories. In each of these otherwise unrelated stories, Morpheus serves only as a minor character. Here we meet the mother of Morpheus's son, find out what cats dream about, and discover the true origin behind Shakespeare's A Midsummer's Night Dream. The latter won a World Fantasy Award for best short story, the first time a comic book was given that honor. This volume includes issues 17-20 of the original series and features completely new coloring, approved by the author, of issues 17 and 18.

Thoughts: Dream Country is the third Sandman volume. It has 4 self contained stories that involve the Sandman. The first is about the imprisonment of a muse - Calliope who also happens to be the mother of the Sandman's son. The second is What Cat's Dream about and I don't believe a word of it! The third explore the other world origins of A Mid Summer's Nights Dream and the last is about the façade we present to the world.
I think I prefer the continuous stories presented volumes 1 and 2. There was a little disjointed for me, although Gaiman's explanation at the beginning was interesting.


Dream Country gets 3 stars.

 *        Did not like it
**       It was OK
***      Liked it
****    Really liked it
*****   It was amazing 

14 July, 2015

Review: The Doll's House - Sandman Volume 2

From GoodreadsNew York Times best-selling author Neil Gaiman's transcendent series SANDMAN is often hailed as the definitive Vertigo title and one of the finest achievements in graphic storytelling. Gaiman created an unforgettable tale of the forces that exist beyond life and death by weaving ancient mythology, folklore and fairy tales with his own distinct narrative vision. 
During Morpheus's incarceration, three dreams escaped the Dreaming and are now loose in the waking world. At the same time, a young woman named Rose Walker is searching for her little brother. As their stories converge, a vortex is discovered that could destroy all dreamers, and the world itself. Features an introduction by Clive Barker. 
This volume includes issues 9-16 of the original series and features completely new coloring, approved by the author.


Thoughts: There is a dream vortex. An entity that threatens to rip apart the dreamworld and the Sandman's only choice is to find and destroy it. However, the dream vortex is a young woman who has no idea of the damage or danger she is causing. 
The Doll's House takes us through some very scary territory. A boy kept in a locked basement, a convention of serial killers and the death of a young woman. This second Sandman volume was stranger than the first -  more story telling, less scene setting. Again, the proof of the strength of the story is it took me 3 days to read, not 3 hours. I'm still amazed at the depth of these graphic novels. I wonder if I will ever read another graphic novel which will impress me as much.