44 Scotland Street – Alexander McCall Smith

I’ve avoided Alexander McCall Smith for a long time.

The company I work for had an IT technician called Mike, and he used to come and fix IT issues every couple of months. He was a wonderful guy- caring, and always full of jokes – he used to be about 25 maybe 30 stone? – a big lad. Anyway, I hadn’t seen him for a few months and when he came back I didn’t recognise him. He’d dyed his hair red (for a laugh), and he’d dropped a huge amount of weight. He’d taken up running, and he’d started entering to be a contestant on TV quiz shows. He’d tell me when his next appearance was and what channel, and i’d get home, switch on, and there he would be! Apparently people do circuits on them and the TV companies ring up regulars and ask them to be on an upcoming quiz. He’d see people over and over again. I guess you’d have to watch a lot of them to ever notice….Anyway, one day I had an email from the IT boss saying Mike was leaving (I think it was voluntary redundancy), we then found out he had pancreatic cancer, but he’d passed out his linked-in account for people to contact him. I sent him a message telling him to be strong, and he could fight it – he replied a few days later saying he was trying but it was hard. He died not long after.

The whole point of this story was that Mike and I often didn’t get along book-wise. We both absolutely adored Terry Pratchett, but he loved Kate Mosse (I hated Labyrinth), and I hated Wicked (he loved it!). He went on and on at me about Alexender McCall Smith and how I MUST read his books, and I never did. I’ve been putting them off ever since Mike died as it was such a strong memory of him, and I didn’t want to hate the books he loved so much.

However, it popped up on Netgalley and decided it was time to read. I have to say Mike – you were right. What have I been missing….

44 Scotland Street is a big hug of a book accompanied by a hot mug of chocolate – the author takes you straight into Scotland, and straight into that house – the wonderful house of larger than life characters – all different, but all bound by the same walls, sharing noises and accidental encounters on the stairs. Of gossip, and nosing, of love and friendship, and warmth, and humour.

Pat is our main character, in her second gap year of university, who turns up for an interview with Bruce to see if she is suitable for a room he has to rent. She is (as you can probably guess), successful. With this as our setting, we find out about the other occupants of 44 Scotland Street – the hilarious (but frighteningly realistic) Irene and Bernie Pollock, the wonderful, kind Domenica MacDonald, and the intriguing Angus Lordie – not forgetting the housemate Bruce of course.

I loved this book so much – the author instantly transports you into the story, and you feel so much compassion and warmth for the characters – it feels like you know them almost instantly. In all honestly, I want to live in 44 Scotland Street – I’ve actually driven along the street before – but I really can’t afford to live there…..I mean, wow, they’re expensive! Beautiful street mind. I think I’ll let Mr McCall Smith let me live there via his books instead….

PS I can spy another book of his in the bookshelf which was given to my other half as a xmas present last year. I’m grabbing it next time we take a short break away!

My thanks to Netgalley and Abacus (and to of course, Mike)

 

Sea – Sarah Driver

From the very start this book plunges you straight into the action. We are at sea, on a ship named The Huntress amid an attack by Terrodyls. The first character we meet is Mouse -a young girl who’s grandma is the captain of the ship, and the heir to the ship. n From her first action we can see that Mouse is not afraid of danger and often foolishly gets herself into danger despite the crew and her Grandma trying their best to stop her.

You know I don’t do spoilers so i’m going to stop here with the plot! I have to admit that I didn’t like Mouse at all – I’m not sure why but I just didn’t like her – though I did start to warm towards her at the end However, I do like the book a lot, it is non-stop action packed story and I did look forward to picking it up every day – to the detriment of my other books I admit. Trust me when I say there are no boring bits in this tail (pun intended!!!)

So, if you want an action packed, truly non-stop adventure with some twists and turns in the tale, then pick this book up. I eagerly await the next two instalments, I look forward to reading what’s going to hit Mouse next!

Being an 80’s child, the cover of the book did massively appeal to me and I hope the next two books follow the same style – when I was a child then this is a book that if i spotted i would head straight for to see what it was about – it reminds me a little of an old copy of the Hobbit I have….

 

 

 

 

 

 

My thanks to Netgalley and Egmont UK ltd for this copy

Picture from Amazon

The Devil’s Paintbox – Robin Jarvis

I first came across Robin Jarvis when I read The Dark Portal (The Deptford Mice Trilogy). I loved the first two books, then I went to buy the third….and I realised they were not young adult books. I of course, was not a child, I was a teenager (almost anyway), but I recoiled in horror that I should have bought a children’s book, and I may be seen by my peers doing that. God almost-teenage years…awful… Continue reading

The Undoing Project – Michael Lewis

This isn’t a book I would normally go for. I must have been in one of those moods when the suggestion came from Netgalley…

Anyway – what an interesting book. The introduction and first paragraph tells us about how Michael published a book called Moneyball about a team’s quest to find a better way to value players and evaluate baseball strategies through the use of data. I’m a huge data geek…I love a good spreadsheet and so I was instantly hooked on the level of data being used and the information that could be pulled from it.

From then on we delve into the world of psychology – how people behave – eg why baseball coaches put more value on one player than another – who’s data is better – and why, even when we know what we are doing is wrong and illogical, we do it anyway.

We end up delving into the unlikely friendship with Amos Tversky (a mathematical psychologist) and Danny Kahneman (a psychologist), and their almost marriage-like relationship over many many years.

I’m not giving out any spoilers, but this is an incredibly interesting book, and one which I’ve sat back many times and thought how their findings may be seen in my life both at home and at work. This book really made me think about the choices I made in life and why I made them.

A really interesting read, and one which has enhanced my life, and I think will sit with me for the rest of my life.

My thanks as ever to Netgalley and Penguin Ltd.

The Bear and the Nightingale – Katherine Arden

As a kid I used to always ignore the Author’s Note in books. I never saw the point in them – I just wanted to get to the story….I read them now, and the one in this is apologetic to “students and speakers of Russian”, due to her translation into English of Russian words.

Quite honestly, I think anyone who reads this book will forgive her….

This is a beautiful book. Absolutely beautiful. I quite honestly never wanted it to end, and I’ve delayed reviewing it because I didn’t want to admit it was over. The main character does not appear from the start – having  yet to be born, but already we have fallen in love with Dunya and her storytelling, with Pyotr for being the loving husband and father,and with all the others (including the domovoi). Then we meet our main character….Vasya….

I’m not spoiling the story – I’m giving nothing away – you need – you  must! read this book!!  All I will tell you is that it is a Russian fairytale, a real fairytale, and it will break you heart into pieces, but you will never want it to end….I mourn for this book.

This book was provided to me by the lovely people at Netgalley, and the picture I whipped from Amazon…

The Secret Diary of Hendrik Groen 83….

Well, this book certainly lived up to the hype. I admit I was attracted to the cover, it looked like a fun book, and the description sounded right up my street. I was never an Adrian Mole fan when I was a child/teenager, but I think I may try them again after reading this book

Hendrick GroenIt is a wonderful book, humorous, loving, and  sad. But above all, believable and possibly realistic (having never been in a home you understand..).It is written beautifully, you can’t fail to love Hendrik and really root for him and my second favourite character, Evert, they’re just two wannabe rebels – well, Evert is, and Hendrik wants to be.

I didn’t want this book to end, I wanted a new diary to start – I really hope one more comes out, although at 84 by the time the book ends…maybe not, then again, there is loads of life in Hendrik! I did feel as though I was reading his diary, he whinges, he has very touching moments, very sad moments, and some very very funny ones.

If you haven’t read this book, then you must – it’s wonderful and it will stay with you forever.

My huge thanks to Netgalley and Penguin Random House UK (and of course Amazon for the image!)

Oliver Cromwell – Frederic Harrison

I’ve always had an interest in history since I was at school, the history of our country, and in how we as humans evolved, and progressed through to our current world (Guns, Germs and Steel – Jared Diamond – fab book…and which reminds me I have ‘Sapians’ sitting on the shelf ready to read…anyway…I digress, sorry)

I remember the Civil War being my favourite, most remembered section of history lessons – all that turmoil – beheading Kings! Who wouldn’t love that bit? So, when this book popped up on Netgalley then I had to read it.

It’s not about the Civil War, well bits are obviously, but about Cromwell himself, where he grew up, what he did. The book could easily go off on a tangent into the general history at that time, but it doesn’t – and the author keeps dragging you back to the subject – Cromwell. I realised that although I knew about the Civil War, I was not taught about Cromwell as a subject, which now I’ve read the book is a great shame – he should be taught – he was an amazing man.

The book is very pro-Cromwell, but honest in stating when a source is unreliable, which is fine – I enjoyed the style of the writing, and I liked the author very much. It isn’t a book which I struggled to put down, but it wasn’t a book I struggled to pick up either. It is an enjoyable read and not dry and heavy which many of these books can be.

I’ve learnt a lot about Cromwell in this book, and it’s not something I’m likely to forget – I had not realised how much of an impact he had on our history, and how the parliamentary system was so different then (maybe I should have known this, maybe I didn’t pay that much attention in this section of class..).

To sum up, this is a really good book, the subject is not dry, I liked the author and his style, and it really taught me a lot. All what a good historical book should be!

My thanks to Netgalley and Endeavour Press Ltd

Uprooted – Naomi Novik

One of the quotes on the back of this book is by Gregory MacGuire “like a lost tale of Grimm newly come to light….bewitching”. It’s true, it is a new fairytale. Something you’ve been looking for for a long time, and then one of those books that just hits all the comforting, warming spots that you really sometimes just need in your life.

UprootedIn a nutshell, the story is set in a valley with an enchanted forest (see what I mean about the fairytale?!). Every 10 years the Wizard comes down from his tower and chooses a young woman to take back to the castle and serve him. Everyone expects the pretty, graceful woman to be taken, but of course, it’s not, it’s her friend. I don’t apologise for the spoiler here as it’s so obvious who will be taken even from the synopsis on the back cover…

I took this book on holiday with me and it was an absolutely perfect read. Some of the plot you can see coming from a mile off, but that’s not always a bad thing. It’s really nicely written, and is a great new fairytale.  Often I send books straight to charity after I’ve read them, but this one is staying on my bookshelf, whenever I’m feeling a bit low it’s where i’m going to head to pick me up again. I also love the cover, it sets out exactly what you imagine…

Wonderful…..

Picture from Amazon.co.uk

 

The Cauliflower – Nicola Barker

Although I didn’t realise it at the time, this is the second book I have read by Nicola Barker. The first one was Wide Open, which I read whilst a member of a book club. I have to admit I didn’t really like that book, and it’s always stayed in my mind as I book I just didn’t get.

However, I was very young when I read that, and so I started reading this book with an open mind…

I’m really sorry to say though that I really struggled with this book. It’s not a story, well it is, sort of, it has a theme running through if of ‘Uncle’, and his carer (whose name I don’t think I really found out until the end), but it flits of in different directions, into long garbled explanations of random, incomprehensible babble about “salt” and other random things, which then pop up again later on, and still not making any sense. I did think at one point I had worked it out when I realised that someone was making a film, and I actually enjoyed reading the book for a bit, thinking that I’d finally found the thread, but then it just went off again somewhere else and I never heard mention of this film again.

I found myself increasingly exasperated and indeed very irritated at one point, when, after a person was mentioned it was followed by a sound “ting”, “clown horn”, etc, etc, which just really really annoyed me! It just made no sense.

I hate to write a bad review, and considering the author has been shortlisted and longlisted for Man Booker prize (books I often lean towards, and just realising I haven’t reviewed on here the last two….considering I loved them…), then I have to conclude that it is just me, for the second time, just not understanding this author. I just did not get it, and it just irritated me! Sorry….

My thanks, as ever to Netgalley and Penguin Randon House UK for this copy of the book.

The Medusa Chronicles – Stephen Baxter & Alastair Reynolds

The Medusa ChroniclesI’ve always been a fan of sci-fi, and I’ve read a number of Stephen Baxter and Alaistair Reynolds books over the years. When I spotted this one on Netgalley I really had to request it, and I’m so pleased I did.

This story was inspired by a short story written by Arthur C Clark (incidentally, the author who made me fall in love with sci-fi, though I’ve never read this short story…yet).

The plot centres around Commander Howard Falcon, a man who should have lost his life in an accident, but with groundbreaking technology was transformed into half man half machine. Despised, and thought of as an abomination by some, but also admired and thought of as a hero by others. In a story taking place over centuries, Commander Falcon is entrusted to prevent wars, and as a general peacekeeperbetween man and machine.

This truly is an epic novel, and one I struggled to put down. As you’d expect, it’s very well written and you are draw into the situations that Commander Falcon is put into. It’s easy to empathise with the choices he makes and the relationships he forges, and I certainly did feel like I got to know the characters very well.

A great blockbuster!

Thanks to Orion Publishing Group and Netgalley for the opportunity to read this book.