30 September 2012

Review: The Gunslinger | Stephen King


Background
I've been reading and enjoying books from bestselling author Stephen King for years, but have never ventured into his Dark Tower series of books.

Stephen King refers to this as his magnum opus, starting to write it in 1970 and finishing it in approximately 2003.  I had heard it was like a spaghetti western, but had previously been overwhelmed by the series of seven books and in particular the covers; it was never clear from the covers which book in the series you were looking at.

When earlier in the year The Wind Through The Keyhole was published, I decided I would make the commitment and read it. It just so happens that Hachette Australia was running a competition on Twitter to win a copy of the entire series and I was the lucky winner, woohoo!!!  So now I have a copy of the entire series; see my blog post about the win here, including a photo.

Review
It was obvious quite early on in this slim volume (238 pages) that The Gunslinger was the foundation for a much larger series and therefore contains clues throughout the pages that allude to events that the reader will no doubt learn more about in subsequent novels.  There are snippets provided regarding character backstories, that will no doubt be filled out in later novels.  Information regarding the existence of the dark tower - from which the series takes its name - is scant, which creates an incentive to read the next book.

King acknowledged J.R.R. Tolkien in his introduction, and in particular the 'sweep of his imagination.'  By the end of reading The Gunslinger I had way more questions than answers but I understand that King has set out to create a new world with a set of rules, a quest of sorts and The Gunslinger is just the beginning. 

It was just an 'okay' read for me, but I'm going to persist with the knowledge that this was just the foundation and the hope that the series will take off from here.

My rating = **1/2

Carpe Librum!

18 September 2012

Review: Bitter Greens | Kate Forsyth

Bitter Greens by Kate Forsyth is essentially the story of Rapunzel, a children's story we all think we know pretty well.  However in the hands of Australian author Kate Forsyth - who is currently undertaking a Doctorate in fairytale retellings - the story is told anew and adult readers are in for an absolute treat!

Early on, we meet Margherita, a young girl living with her parents on their modest income until she is cruelly snatched away by a witch for payment on a promise made by her father a long time ago.

Charlotte-Rose de la Force is living at court in Versailles, France until she falls out of favour with the Sun King Louis XIV and is sent to a nunnery.  Always writing stories, Charlotte-Rose is keen to listen to an old tale from one of the nuns about a young girl sold for a handful of bitter greens.

La Strega Bella is the witch who locked Rapunzel in the tower and we are given a first person peek at what drove her to those extremes.  The reader is taken back to her time as a young girl to find out what drove her towards the dangerous world of dark magic.

Three lives, three women all interconnected with elements of historical fiction combined with fairytale and magic make for an enchanting and compelling read and I was glued from the first few pages.  Even the cover is enticing, and I knew by page 50 that Bitter Greens was going to be a 5 star read for me and I relished every page.

The novel is on the darker side of fairytale, so don't be expecting shades of Disney or be surprised when the plague comes knocking.  Oh, and saucy too!  The final third of the novel is quite tantalising - let me tell you - so be prepared ;-)

Finally, I recommend Bitter Greens to readers who enjoy historical fiction, fairytales and those who enjoy stories with passion, love, hardship, revenge and redemption.

My rating = *****

Carpe Librum!

(P.S. I'm also pleased that Bitter Greens qualifies for both reading challenges).

11 September 2012

Review: Thursday At Noon | William F. Brown

* From author for review *

This is my third book from author William F. Brown, having previously read and reviewed The Undertaker (4 stars) and Amongst My Enemies (3 stars).  Each novel has been a stand alone and unique from the one before it and Thursday At Noon covers new territory again.

Set in Cairo in the early 1960s, Richard Thomson is a disgraced CIA agent after a failed mission in Damascus.  He is having a drink in a bar when he is approached by a man with some photographs to sell.  After refusing to buy them, the man is later beheaded, the photographs disappear and Thomson is suspected of his murder. So the story begins.

Thursday At Noon is a spy thriller involving the CIA, and the fate of Egypt with a military plot and the future being decided on Thursday at noon.

I was particular drawn to the character of the Chief of Homicide Police in Cairo, Captain Hassan Saleh, injured and now with a withered leg and walking with a cane.  His character was incredibly intriguing to me and way more interesting than that of the main character Thomson.  Wearing pristine white suits, and arriving at his destination early so that others wouldn't see him walking with such excruciating pain was incredibly moving.  I'd love to read a novel where he was the central character, solving crimes in Cairo.

Moving on though, the romance Thomson developed towards the end of the novel however was completely laughable and not necessary to the plot development.  I'm a female reader and not really into spy novels, and this romance didn't do it for me; it would have been better not to have been there at all.  And the "Richard Richard" dialogue when the character had been referred to as Thomson throughout was jarring for the reader and felt very out of place, being the most exciting part of the storyline.

I recommend this novel for male readers who enjoy spy thrillers peppered with CIA hierarchy relationships, Nazis working on a secret project, gun fights, car chases, goons, and the occasional political/military coup.  You will be crying out for more!

My rating = ***

Carpe Librum!

06 September 2012

Review: The Unfinished Journals of Elizabeth D | Nichole Bernier

* From Publisher for review *

I was lucky enough to read The Unfinished Journals of Elizabeth D by Nichole Bernier as part of an Allen & Unwin read-along hosted over at 1 Girl 2 Many Books.

Essentially it's the story Kate, who is grieving the loss of her friend Elizabeth (of the title) who kept a journal throughout her life, which was cut short after a plane crash, leaving her husband a widower with young children.

In her will, Elizabeth leaves her journals to Kate, mentioning that she will have the sensitivity to decide what to do with them.

I found the novel confronting in the beginning.  As Kate was reflecting and processing her friend's passing, it was hard not to draw parallel comparisons to your own life and consequently forcing me as the reader to consider my own mortality.  For this reason I found myself feeling rather depressed at times and reluctant to pick up the book.

What I did enjoy - whilst trying to bat aside that heavy feeling - was the sense or theme of identity Kate was battling or searching for within herself and only just discovering about her friend by reading Elizabeth's journals.

Two marriages are also observed between the pages of the novel and the pages of Elizabeth's journals, that sparked much discussion during the read-along.  I enjoyed the fact that the two main female characters (Elizabeth & Kate) and their respective husbands weren't perfect, nor were they ever completely or fully characterised or revealed in the book.  The author didn't spoon feed the reader every little tidbit and then tie a bow on it.

The reader was not given every journal entry we may have wished to have read (bummer) and although the 'big' answer to the mystery was provided at the end, subtle consequences and outcomes were left open.  I appreciated this as it's more realistic and in keeping with life, although some readers prefer to have their novels delivered on a silver platter with every little thread tied up at the end.  What type of reader are you?  I loathe a completely ambiguous ending! 

I've also got to comment on the cover, I absolutely adored it!  It's not entirely a soft cover or hard cover but somewhere in between.  The cover protrudes over the pages a little to protect them, and it's just a gorgeous and beautiful book to hold in your hands.

Since reading The Unfinished Journals of Elizabeth D, I have purchased a fountain pen in readiness to begin a travel journal.  Was I influenced by Elizabeth or would I have done the same anyway?  Who's to know... All in all, a good read.

My rating = ***

Carpe Librum!