Monday, December 26, 2011


Pages: 387
Date: 26/12/2011
Grade: 5++

This appears to be the year for me to be reading books I don’t quite know how to summarize. The story in this book is amazing, fantastical and engrossing, yet very hard to describe.

The Night Circus; it is an amazing place. It appears overnight without any warning and disappears just as suddenly.
It is a place of magical wonders, where the impossible is visible and beauty surrounds you. What the visitors of the Night Circus don’t know is that it is also the place where a magical contest takes place.
Two youngsters, Celia and Marco, have, without being aware of it or having any say in the matter, been entered in this deadly contest by their shadowy masters. In Celia’s case it’s her father who volunteered her, while Marco was selected from an orphanage just for this purpose.
While they know they are in a contest and that the Circus is their battle ground, they initially don’t know who their opponent is or how they might win or end their battle.
What the two instigators haven’t counted on though, is that Celia and Marco fall deeply in love. And although they are told that the contest can only be won when one of them gives up, they are determined to not give up on themselves, each other or the Circus.

This is one wonderful story. It succeeds in making the magical appear normal, it makes us believe that the Night Circus will indeed one day show up in a field not too far away, to share it’s magic with the rest of us.
The book is filled with wonderful characters. It is so easy to sympathise with Celia, thrown into a battle not of her own choosing without an obvious escape route and to will her on as she tries to find ways to make the Circus a safe place while not losing in the contest.
Marco may be a little bit harder to identify with at first, but between the lines you just know that his heart is in the right place, even if that doesn’t always lead to the right actions. Together they are a wonderful sight though.
My favourite characters were probably Poppet and Widget, very much children of the Circus and pivotal to its survival.
The way this story is told makes the reader feel that it is all real. The wondrous is normal and the normal is exceptional. However, the author makes sure to indicate how having to live in a world where things are different is not easy for all those involved, which makes the story more realistic again.
This is a story I know I will be thinking about for quite a while. It is also a story I hope to be revisiting in my dreams. This is a book I will be reading again and again, and most of all, this is one of my favourite books of this year.

On a side-note; those who have read the book will understand why the title above is red rather than my usual blue.

Friday, December 23, 2011


Pages: 433
Date: 23/12/2011
Grade: 5
Details: no. 3 Ellie Hatcher
            Published as "212" in the USA

Detective Ellie Hatcher and her partner J.J. Rogan are told to put the investigation into the murder of one of the bodyguards of a celebrity entrepreneur more or less on the backburner after Ellie finds herself getting on the wrong side of both the entrepreneur and a judge. Although Ellie resents this action by her superior officer, her mind is soon on other matters as they are called to the scene of the murder of a young student. An attack during which the girl’s house-mate was seriously injured.
It turns out that the student had been the victim of cyber-stalking prior to her murder and our investigators seem to have a choice of possible scenarios to investigate.
When soon afterwards a young estate agent is murdered and a link is discovered between her and the student, the investigation hits yet another direction. And when the injured woman disappears from hospital and vanishes, the race is on to discover the reason behind the murders in order to prevent further bloodshed. When the estate agent is also linked to the celebrity entrepreneur it seems that all cases are connected, if only Ellie could figure out how exactly.

This was one fabulous thriller.
Ellie is an interesting and likeable character who really came to live for me on the pages of this book. The mysteries in this book were well plotted and anything but obvious while the solution was credible and completely consistent with the clues given in the story.
Often a mystery author tries to set you on the wrong track with hints that are so obvious that the reader knows they have to be false. In this book there were several occasions when I did draw the wrong conclusions, but they were down to my own line of reasoning, and not to clear attempts by the author to throw me off scent.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure Alafair Burke put those red-herrings in on purpose. I just appreciate the fact she wasn’t obvious about it.
I do wonder if I would have figured the solution out sooner if I had been familiar with the real-life cases Burke based this story on. Since I don’t live in the US and have only minor knowledge of the news there, that is a question I can’t answer though.
What I do know is that I want to read more about Ellie Hatcher and the cases she solves and that I’m delighted that there is a fourth instalment in this series on the way next year.

Monday, December 19, 2011


Pages: 488
Date: 19/12/2011
Grade: 4-
Details: Magician no. 1

Quentin Coldwater is an unhappy but highly intelligent teenager about to sit an interview for a college place when he finds his interviewer dead. When he leaves the office, he has been handed an envelope with his name on it which leads him to a place he never knew existed, where the seasons are out of sync with his normal world and where he finds himself sitting an entrance exam for Brakebills College, a school for magicians.
For Quentin, who has been attracted to the mythical and fantastical all his life, this seems to be a dream come true. And his life only gets better while he learns magic, makes friends and finds a girlfriend.
Things are never this easy though, and Quentin and his friends soon discover that while being able to perform magic may be great fun and a powerful experience most of the time, this new world is much like the one they left behind. There are dangers, responsibilities, people who would use you, and powers that corrupt. And once the idyll ends the young magicians find themselves facing dangers they couldn’t have imagined in an adventure not all of them will get out of in one piece.

Occasionally I finish a book not knowing exactly what I think or how I feel about it, and this is one of those books.
The story has all the elements to make for a fascinating tale and yet it failed to grip me. The book contains some descriptions which make it clear that this is a book aimed at adults, yet the story-line felt more young-adultish to me.
Quentin is a hard character to like. He is very self-obsessed, quick to feel sorry for himself and reluctant to take responsibility for himself and his actions. And although that could be explained by the fact that he is a teenager for most of the book, he doesn’t appear to grow out of these tendencies.
I also felt that the story was told in a very detached fashion. I never really felt drawn into the story or connecting with any of the characters. Although the story was intriguing enough to keep me turning the pages I never felt any emotional attachment to any of the characters and didn’t really care a whole lot about their fates.
On the other hand, I do find myself curious about what could possibly come next in this story. So despite my ambivalent feelings towards this book I think it is very likely that I’ll read the sequel in the not too distant future.

Friday, December 16, 2011


Pages: 224
Date: 16/12/2011
Grade: 4
Details: Short Stories

I wanted to read at least one seasonal book during this Christmas time, and this seemed a nice choice. Christie’s books seem appropriate for this season due to their tone and settings alone, regardless of the time of year they take place in.
As it turned out, in this collection of stories only the first is set during Christmas celebrations, but that didn’t affect my enjoyment of the book at all.
In “The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding” Hercule Poirot is invited to join a traditional countryside Christmas in order to find a missing ruby.
A body found in a chest, an irresistible woman and a murder that could only have been committed by one of two men (or could it?) give Poirot a fascinating investigation in “The Mystery of the Spanish Chest”.
“The Under Dog” has Poirot investigation when a widow suspects that her nephew is not the one who killed her husband, despite all the evidence saying he is.
In “Four and Twenty Blackbirds” it is a solitary man’s eating habits which explain his apparently accidental death for Poirot.
An eccentric millionaire tells Poirot of a recurring dream in which he kills himself only to be found shot a few days later. It appears the man has acted out his dream, but our detective proves otherwise.
“Greenshaw’s Folly” is the only story featuring Miss Marple in this book and has her untangling a confusion of identities and family relations.

I always enjoy Agatha Christie’s mysteries. Yes, she does cheat a bit at times in that she doesn’t give the reader all the information which is available to the detectives in her stories. But she makes up for that with the wonderful characters she has created for us. Her descriptions of people and places are wonderful, sharp and not always nice, which makes them all the more enjoyable for the reader.
Now that my library has quite a few Agatha Christie books on its shelves, I can see myself bringing one home with me regularly for moments of nostalgic and relaxing reading pleasure.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011


Pages: 349
Date: 13/12/2011
Grade: 4+
Details: First in series

Sarah Miller is an unremarkable young woman, working a job she doesn’t like and continuously held back by her domineering mother.
When she sees an elderly woman being attacked by two junkies she does the unthinkable and intervenes. For reasons she doesn’t quite understand herself Sarah accompanies the woman, Judith Walker to her home and when they find the place ransacked, Sarah offers Judith a bed for the night in her own house. An offer which has devastating consequences for both Sarah and Judith.
With her dying breath, Judith asks Sarah to deliver a bag containing a broken sword and papers to her cousin, Owen.
For Sarah the nightmare has only begun though. People are desperate to get their hands on the sword, and will do anything to get it, and soon Sarah finds herself having to kill just to stay alive.
Because what Sarah has been asked to look after is one of the Thirteen Hallows, ancient artifacts which protect the human world from demons who would destroy it.
For centuries the Hallows have been kept and protected by keepers whose duty it was to always keep them separate from each other. Now somebody is determined to reunite the Hallows and unleash devastation on the earth, and he’s getting close. He has killed nearly all the keepers, has collected nearly all the Hallows and will stop at nothing to complete his deadly collection.
Sarah and Owen find themselves in charge of a power they don’t understand and can’t quite believe in and facing an enemy far stronger and more ruthless than they are.
As they slowly learn more about the Hallows, about their heritage and their destinies it becomes clear that their lives will never again be what they used to be or what they expected.

This is a thrilling story. With short chapters, lots of action and even more cliff-hangers, this is a true page turner.
The book is rather full of, at times rather descriptive, violence. However, since we are dealing with demons and those who would consort with them, it makes sense for the story to be dark.
I was fascinated by the story of the Hallows, their history and the characters playing a role in that past and liked the way it was revealed slowly, both to the reader and to the main characters in the book.
I would have liked to learn a bit more about Sarah and Owen. They were described in so little detail that they stayed a bit vague for me and I still can’t quite picture them.
However, this is the first book in a series, and it had a lot of other background information to share, so I hope that our two heroes will be further developed in subsequent books.
I would add one warning to this review though.
A lot of people may be familiar with or even a fan of Michael Scott because of his “Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel” series, which is aimed at teenagers. This is on the other hand is very much a book for adults. If you are, like me, one of those adults who couldn’t wait for the teenager in your life to finish their copy of "The Alchemyst" and its sequels so that you could read it yourself, this is definitely a book for you.
Finally I would like to remark on the physical beauty of this book. The cover is gorgeous and tactile while the pages of the book are printed in a beautiful and story-fitting font.

Friday, December 9, 2011


Pages: 167
Date: 09/12/2011
Grade: 4
Details: no. 2 Fiction Desk Anthology

A copy of this book was send to me by the Fiction Desk at the request of Charles Lambert, whose story is one of 9 featured in this anthology.

I don’t read a lot of short fiction and am a bit at a loss as to how to review this book.
The stories in this book are by nine different authors and although three of them are set in a school environment, the content and style of these writings are all very different and individual.
In “Jaggers & Crown” James Benmore tells the story of Kevin Crown who, when seeing his somewhat premature obituary in a newspaper reflects, on his past as part of a comedy duo.
Jennifer Moore’s “Swimming with the Fishes” tells of a family buying a rather unusual addition to their aquarium and is a story in which the fantastical appears to make perfect sense.
“Pretty Vacant” by Charles Lambert is by far the longest story in this collection. It tells of a fifteen year old girl who is send from Italy to a summer school in England against her wishes where she embarks on a rather dark and potentially disastrous scheme with a local boy.
Mischa Hiller’s “Room 307” shows us how a man being seduced by a beautiful woman while away from home for work is not quite what it seems.
The second story set in a school is “Dress Code” by Halimah Marcus. Here a young male teacher in an all girl school falls foul of the newly introduced casual Friday.
“The Romantic” by Colin Corrigan is set in Connemara in Ireland and sees a one-armed poet determined to live only in the present suddenly confronted by painful memories after a drinking session with a younger woman.
In “After All the Fun We Had” by Ryan Shoemaker the attempts made by a high school to make going to and staying in class more fun get completely out of hand.
“Glenda” by Andrew Jury describes the somewhat strange relationship between a man and his mother in law after he has been left by his wife.
“Get on the Green” by Jason Atkinson is the last story in this book and describes a day in school as experienced by a four year old girl while she gets to grips with issues such as being good, the importance of college and race.

I really can’t say anymore about these stories without spoiling them for anybody else who will read them, so I won’t.
I will say that none of these stories disappointed and that reading them has left me with a few names of authors I will have to take a closer look at. I will also say that if I had to pick favourites from these nine, they would be “Swimming with the Fishes” and “Pretty Vacant”.
Finally I would like to thank Charles Lambert and the Fiction Desk for giving me the opportunity to read this collection. I enjoyed the experience.


Well, there you have it. 
Only last week I decided that although I had enjoyed participating in the Ireland Reading Challenge 2011, I would not participate again. I live in Ireland, and although I still feel that I have lots of catching up to do when it comes to Irish authors and books, I did manage to read more Irish-related books than I thought I would and found myself exceeding the amount of books I was challenged to read by a huge margin.
But then I saw a link to the 2012 Challenge, decided to have a look and suddenly found myself interested in participating again since there now is far more to the challenge. 

The Challenge levels are now as follows:

Shamrock level: 4 books
Luck o’ the Irish level: 6 books
Kiss the Blarney Stone level: 8 books
Ceilidh level: 10+ books

And a twist  has been added: 

" Now for the twist: you can earn extra entries in the giveaway by diversifying your reading. You will earn one extra entry for reading from these genres – one entry per genre represented in your challenge list:"
Contemporary fiction
Historical fiction
Science fiction or fantasy
Young Adult fiction
Children’s fiction
Non-fiction – history
Non-fiction – memoir or biography
Non-fiction – essays

Needless to say, I'll be aiming to read more than 10 books - lets have that Ceilidh - but I also want to read at least one book in each of the categories named. And that is where it becomes a real challenge for me. I haven't read poetry since I left secondary school and know little or nothing about Irish poets or what I might like. All the more reason to try at least one work of poetry next year then. 
I won't be counting the various genres as extra entries though. I would be deeply disappointed if I didn't read at least 20 Irish books next year without counting any book twice. I just want to make sure I learn more about Irish authors and their works.
I can't wait to see how I'll get on with the challenge this year and will of course be keeping a record of my Irish (as well as all other) readings here.

Monday, December 5, 2011


Pages: 400
Date: 05/12/2011
Grade: 5+

Be warned: This review contains one possible (minor) spoiler near the end.

Sarah Nickerson is in her thirties and leading a very busy life. Between her high-powered, demanding and stressful job, her husband and her three young children she doesn’t have time to stop and think and has to schedule every activity in her own and her children’s lives to the last second. It is the life she and her equally busy husband have always dreamed of though, so most of the time Sarah is proud of and happy with her juggling act.
All activity comes to a complete stop when one morning while driving in to work Sarah glances at her phone for a second too long and ends up crashing her car and severely injuring herself.
When she wakes up she finds herself in the Intensive Care Unit of a hospital with half her head shaven but, as far as she can tell, otherwise fine. Except that she is completely unaware of anything on her left. She is diagnosed with Left Neglected, a neurological condition where the patient’s brain forgets that the left exists. Not only can she not see anything on the left of her, she’s also blind to the left-hand side of most things she can see and unable to use either her left hand or left leg.
Rehabilitation is a slow and frustrating process and when the insurance money runs out Sarah is nowhere near recovered.
Back home, being cared for by the mother she’s been estranged from for most of her life, Sarah has to begin the slow process of picking up the pieces of her life, adjusting to her new reality and finding new goals.

This is a wonderful book as well as a horrifying story. No matter how hard I try I can’t begin to understand how a person’s mind could just decide half of it isn’t there, how that person could possible be unaware of missing half of themselves as well as their surroundings or imagine how someone would even begin to come to terms with that fact.
Genova does a great job of explaining this disorder and how it affects a person. She describes how Sarah goes through a whole range of emotions without making her character look either too blasé or over-emotional. This makes the story, the disorder and the character both believable and accessible to the reader.

As I did with ‘Still Alice’, I find myself thinking about the condition and trying to imagine how I would deal with it. I love it when books bring me more then just reading joy.
One objection, on page 201 Heidi points out to Sarah that she’s lucky compared to others in the rehabilitation clinic. And although that is undoubtedly true it’s not something I feel you can ever say to a patient. Any of us can only deal with our own health issues. Comparing them to the issues of others doesn’t make our own easier or better, it just helps to make us feel bad about feeling bad about our own situation.
On the other hand, I love the optimistic but not miraculous ending to the story, signified through the following words: “Because while I still hope for a full recovery, I’ve learned that my life can be fully lived with less.” A sentiment I had to work my own way towards a decade ago.
This is a book that will grip you, keep you turning the pages and stay with you for a long time after you’ve read the final words. In short it comes highly recommended.

Saturday, December 3, 2011


Pages: 487
Date: 02/12/2011
Grade: 4+
Details: No. 1 in series / Young Adult

It is a new society. After a devastating war people have been divided into five factions which each specialise in one human quality. The factions are Amity for people who abhor violence, Erudite for those who yearn for knowledge, Candor for those who believe the truth should always be told, Abnegation for the selfless and Dauntless for the fearless.
Tris has lived in the selfless community of Abnegation for the first 16 years of her life with her parents and her brother. Now that her brother, Caleb, and she are sixteen they have to choose which faction they want to align themselves with. While most young adults will choose to stay with the faction they were born to, both Tris and Caleb choose differently. Caleb hunger for knowledge makes him move to Erudite while Tris leaves Abnegation for Dauntless.
This one choice will change their lives because factions come before blood. The choice decides your friends, defines your beliefs and determines your loyalties… for ever.
Tris is aware of the consequences of her choice, but still the actual change shocks her. There is still a chance that she won’t make it through the initiation period and find herself among the factionless and the competition is very tough and not always fair. And Tris caries a secret that she must keep hidden, a secret so dangerous it could end up killing her. Because the world of factions is not as ideal as the leaders would like to pretend. There is dissatisfaction among the factions and it won’t be long before Tris and her one ally will have to make tough choices, not just to survive but also to safe those they care about.

This was a fascinating, though at times disturbing book. While I was intrigued by the society described and the choices the youngsters have to make the rather graphic descriptions of violence shocked me at times.
I completely understand why the violence was in the book, and am not suggesting that it was unnecessary in the story, but that didn’t make the reading of it any easier.
On the other hand, I was very impressed by Tris’ thought-processes, her struggles with her decisions and the way she evolved over the course of the story. Put the violence aside for a moment and what you’re reading about are teenage rivalries as we all know them, especially in situations where coming first or not coming last is very important.
The love story was nice and believable and the identity of the male love subject was a nice surprise, although it was hinted at throughout the story.
Yes, I did have to put the book down once or twice because the violence was just too much for me. On the other hand, I couldn’t put it down for long because I had to know how the story would progress and end. And I know that I won’t be able to resist any sequels to this story when they are published.