26 January 2012

Review 10: The Adventuress by Audrey Niffenegger

"When an alchemist's daughter is kidnapped she escapes into the arms of a man named Napoleon Bonaparte. Together the Adventuress and Napoleon share a passionate romance which has tragic, yet transcendant, results."

A graphic novel come coffee table book with a brief and strange story accompanied by dark but whimsical illustrations. Niffenegger created this whilst she was at university and whilst very different to her novels, the tone and atmosphere is unmistakeably Niffenegger.

First Line: 'Evolution: her father was an alchemist; he created her himself, of what, he would not say.'

25 January 2012

Review 9: Atlas of Remote Islands by Judith Schalansky

"Judith Schalanksy was born in 1980 on the wrong side of the Berlin Wall. The Soviets wouldn’t let anyone travel so everything she learnt about the world came from her parents’ battered old atlas. She has spent years creating this, her own imaginative atlas of the world’s loneliest places. These islands are so difficult to reach that until the late 1990s more people had set foot on the moon than on Peter I Island in the Antarctic.

On one page are perfect maps, on the other unfold bizarre stories from the history of the islands themselves. Rare animals and strange people abound: from marooned slaves to lonely scientists, lost explorers to confused lighthouse keepers, mutinous sailors to forgotten castaways; a collection of Robinson Crusoes of all kinds. Judith Schalansky lures us across all the oceans of the world to fifty remote islands – from St Kilda to Easter Island and from Tristan da Cunha to Disappointment Island – and proves that some of the most memorable journeys can be taken by armchair travellers.”

A beautiful book both physically and linguistically. Lovely maps of fifty of the most hostile and remote islands in the world with an accompanying anecdote about each one that range from the factual to the unnerving and cover insane lighthouse keepers, shipwrecked slaves, Amelia Earhart and atomic bombs.

First Line: 'I grew up with an atlas.'

24 January 2012

Review 8: The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides

"The shocking thing about the five Lisbon sisters was how nearly normal they seemed when their mother let them out for the one and only date of their lives. Twenty years on, their enigmatic personalities are embalmed in the memories of the boys who worshipped them and who now recall their shared adolescence: the brasserie draped over a crucifix belonging to the promiscuous Lux; the sisters' breathtaking appearance on the night of the dance; and the sultry, sleepy street across which they watched a family disintegrate and fragile lives disappear."

This marks the first (probably not really but I can't think of another example) time I have read the book after I've seen the film which made for an unusual reading experience as the film is such as straight adaptation of the book. Having said that I love the film, and so loved the book as well.

First Line: 'On the morning the last Lisbon daughter took her turn at suicide - it was Mary this time, and sleeping pills, like Therese - the two paramedics arrived at the house knowing exactly where the knife drawer was, and the gas oven, and the beam in the basement from which it was possible to tie a rope.'

18 January 2012

Review 7: Divergent by Veronica Roth

"One choice decides your friends, defines your beliefs and determines your loyalties... forever. When sixteen-year-old Tris makes her choice, she cannot forsee how drastically her life will change, or that the perfect society in which she lives is about to unfold into a dystopian world of electrifying decisions, stunning consequences, heartbreaking betrayals and unexpected romance."

Divergent is a super-exciting, fast-paced teenage read set in a dystopian future. Tris is, for the most part, an appealing heroine who will definitely appeal to teenagers of both genders and Roth manages to blend action and romance seamlessly. Highly recommended thriller that more than stands on its own two feet next to The Hunger Games.

First Line: 'There is one mirror in my house.'

16 January 2012

Review 6: The Swan Thieves by Elizabeth Kostova

"Dr Andrew Marlow has a perfectly ordered life, full of devotion to his work and the painting hobby he loves. This order is destroyed when renowned artist Robert Oliver attacks a canvas in the National Gallery and becomes his patient. As Oliver refuses to speak, Marlow's only clue is the beautiful haunted woman Oliver paints obsessively, day after day. Who is she, and what strange hold does she have over this tormented genius? Desperate to help, Marlow embarks on a journey that leads him into the lives of the women closest to Oliver, and to a dark story at the heart of French Impressionism - a tragedy that ripples out to touch present-day lives."

This doesn't live up to the extremely high standard of Kostova's previous novel and is far too lengthy and wordy but is still an interesting read. I enjoyed the development of the characters, particularly the story of the 20th century French painter and and the final few chapters as the pace picked up.

First Line: "Outside the village there is a fire ring, blackening the thawing snow."

5 January 2012

Review 5: The Kissing Club by Julia Clarke

"Emily loves being part of The Kissing Club. She loves the feeling of being special and she loves the ruby ring her parents bought her when she joined. It's a symbol that means everyone knows she's made a promise not to have sex before she gets married. So how on earth has she ended up pregnant?"

An intriguing premise that is unfortunately ruined by bad writing, a messy plot, characters with no depth, a confused message and ultimately just being a rather miserable read that seems to be trying to pretend to be tongue in cheek and charming. I think it's fair to say, I thought this was awful.

First Line: "When I was fourteen I joined the 'Kissing Club', I became a professional virgin and also gave up telling lies."

4 January 2012

Review 4: One Dog and His Boy by Eva Ibbotson

"Hal's parents are rich. His huge house has sweeping silk curtains, expensive carpets and not a speck of dirt anywhere. "A dog?" cries his mother. "Never! Think of the mess, the scratch marks - the puddles on the floor..." But on Hal's birthday, a miracle happens. And when he sees Fleck at the Easy Pets Agency, he knows he's found his perfect dog. Whatever his parents say, he will never give Fleck up. If dog and boy are to stay together, they'll have to run away..." 

This was Eva Ibbotson's last book before she died and is a fitting tribute to her remarkable talent. She has achieved the unachievable and written a story about animals that I actually enjoyed and not only that made me care about a group of fictional dogs, something I never thought I would say. A truly lovely story that will charm adults and entrance children.

3 January 2012

Review 3: The Fool's Girl by Celia Rees

"Violetta is in London with the mission to retrieve the stolen treasure of Illyria from the evil Malvolio. It is clear what she has to do, but in the process can she avoid becoming distracted by a blossoming romance and stay out of harm's way as Malvolio is determined to stop her at all costs. In an adventure that could mean life or death, and one in which romance and danger go hand in hand, can Violetta manage to retrieve the missing relic and save herself?"

A historical novel for a more serious-minded YA reader with a clever take on Shakespeare's Twelfth Night but that could perhaps have benefitted from a little more heart.

2 January 2012

Review 2: A Pale View of the Hills by Kazuo Ishiguro

"The story of Etsuko, a Japanese woman now living alone in England, dwelling on the recent suicide of her daughter. Retreating into the past, she finds herself reliving one particular hot summer in Nagasaki, when she and her friends struggled to rebuild their lives after the war. But then as she recalls her strange friendship with Sachiko - a wealthy woman reduced to vagrancy - the memories take on a disturbing cast."

A subtle and delicate novel that delights in not telling you the whole story. Intriguing and careful, it will satisfy any fans of Ishiguro but not one for fans of pacy, story-led novels. A character study of sorts which gently winds round thoughts of race, family and memory, familiar themes for Ishiguro.

There are massive spoilers ahead as I don't think you can really discuss this novel without attempting to discuss them, so be warned! I've abandoned my usual format of Story/Characters/Writing as well as it's all wrapped up together and impossible to consider one without the other. If you have read it, please let me know what your conclusions were!

1 January 2012

Review 1: The Secret History by Donna Tartt

Kicking off Cannonball IV with a bang. For more information have a look at cannonballread4.wordpress.com/
"Under the influence of their charismatic classics professor, a group of clever, eccentric misfits at an elite New England college discover a way of thinking and living that is a world away from the humdrum existence of their contemporaries. But when they go beyond the boundaries of normal morality their lives are changed profoundly and forever."

I loved this novel. The uninspiring cover hides a magnificent novel that works as a murder mystery in reverse as we are showed what has happened at the very very beginning and are left to discover how it came about. The novel is populated with intriguing characters, evocative settings and a story that really gets under your skin.