Goodreads Reviews, Nature, Non-fic

The Secret Life of the Owl by John Lewis-Stempel

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The Secret Life of the Owl by John Lewis-Stempel

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I dedicate this review to my dear Mum.

The wisest owl of all.

1935-2003

This could be one of the hardest reviews I’m ever likely to write, and the reason is nothing to do with this perfect little book.

When I was growing up, I was surrounded by all things owlish. Pictures on the wall, ornaments here and there, owl clocks, owl crockery. You name it, we had the owlish version!

My Mum was an owl fanatic! And, suffice to say, it rubbed off on me big time.

For my birthday, one of my other favourite humans ever, my partner, bought me this little gem, and I was delighted. Little did I know, but this beautifully written book conjured up a whole host of feelings that I did not expect.

At just 96 pages long, John Lewis-Stempel has produced something that I shall treasure forever. It doesn’t just contain lots of facts and figures about this truly wonderful bird, he also includes the historical side of all things owl, the myths and legends of days gone by, and, the best bit of all? Poetry. Owl Poetry.

Near the beginning the author included the poem by Edward Lear, The Owl and the Pussycat. This poem helped me learn to read! This poem was read again and again at bedtime. With my Mum.

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Eventually, I’d learnt how to read it perfectly, write it perfectly and recite it faultlessly. And unbeknownst to me, it was in this book. I started to read it, and couldn’t see the words for my tears.

Once I’d gathered up my senses and tissues, I read on, discovering the weird and wonderfully fascinating secret lives of a creature that has been with me all my life.

This book is stunning. I’d give it fifty million stars if I could. And I know that one of those stars, the brightest one, is my dear Mum. 💗

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Goodreads Reviews

Zenka by Alison Brodie

 

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Zenka by Alison Brodie

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Vell, vat vas a lot ov vun! Or, in non-Zenka style, that was a lot of fun!

Zenka is a Hungarian pole dancer and she works at a club owned by Cockney gangster Jack Murray. Now, it turns out that Jack has a son he’s desperate to get to know, to be a father to, and Zenka is going to help him with this rather unconventional mission.

She’s going to befriend Nicholas, Jacks long lost son, possibly seduce him in the process, and get him toughened up to be the son of a gangster. A man to fear.

What follows is a story that had me absolutely creased up laughing many, many times. To describe the setting, characters and plot, I would say it was reminiscent of something along the lines of Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels.

Zenka is a kind hearted, sassy woman and she does her best to get father and son reunited, but it’s not going to be easy. And, oh blimey, she has some pretty crazy ideas!

Nicholas can’t believe his luck when Zenka enters into his life, a life that has changed dramatically since he came home and discovered his flat had been vandalised.

Alison Brodie has written a super funny and touching story about the perils of crime, a families past, and how not to dispose of a corpse or two. I’m finding it tricky to give this book a one genre slot, it is predominantly a crime thriller, but it has romance and gritty British humour in the mix too.

I loved every character in this book, they are all so very different from each other. Zenka’s voice is mainly heard in letter format every few chapters or so, her Hungarian accent being written phonetically so the reader can really hear her attempt at speaking English. This took a bit of getting used to, but after a few chapters, it vorked incredibly vell.

Jack is a typical Cockney gangster who’s use of rhyming slang and ‘wide-boy’ attitude made him likeable but I was initially wary of him. He’s a hard man, but as the story progresses, his softer side emerges as his history is revealed and I really warmed to him.

The best thing about this book for me, was the relationship between Nicholas and his flat mate Jason. These two had me in stitches with their hilarious bickering and witty one-liners. When things start to get REALLY complicated, and these two find themselves in the middle of something they shouldn’t be, the authors choice of dialogue and the character reaction was superb. At one point I literally had tears rolling down my cheeks because the whole scenario was so hysterical! It just tickled me pink!

This read ticked many a box for me, it had a few violent and aggressive scenes, balanced out by a clever storyline with a few plot twists along the way, a little touch of romance, and a lot of laugh out loud moments. I thoroughly enjoyed it, I’d like to read more by Ms Brodie.

My only complaint is I’m not a big fan of the cover art. The author has told me she’s going to be changing it soon, which I’m glad for because I’m not keen on seeing a characters clear photo/picture on a book cover. I want to visualise how they look in my own way and not have a face already given to me from the start. Characters, for me, kind of materialise as I’m reading about them. Chapter by chapter a characters features start to form in my minds eye, and usually by about half way, I’ve established what they look like. But apart from that minor moan, I thought Zenka was a hoot!

I’d like to thank Alison Brodie for sending me an electronic copy of this to read in exchange for an honest review. It was a pleasure.

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Books about books, Goodreads Reviews

Lost for Words by Stephanie Butland (A 2017 top read)

Lost For Words by Stephanie Butland

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

What can I say? I’m lost for words!

Loveday on her passion:

‘Anyone who’s worked in a bookshop for longer than an afternoon will tell you that people buy books for all sorts of reasons. There’s the simple love of books, of course: the knowledge that here is an escape, a chance to learn, a place for your heart and mind to romp and play’.

I read that statement, and I was sold. I knew I’d love this book.

Stephanie Butlands story started out as a quirky, cute little read. So bookish and perfect for anyone who has a penchant for books about books.

Lost for Words is the name of the book shop where our main protagonist works. Loveday (yes, that’s her wonderful name, and strangely my kindle auto corrects it to the word library, which pleases me) is a sweet, quiet soul, who has wonderful relationships with books and words, but humans, well, that’s a different matter altogether.

Loveday on people:

‘I don’t really do ‘nice until you prove you’re not’– I find it saves time to work it the other way around, in the normal way of things’.

She spends her days working in the second hand book shop, reluctantly dealing with customers and colleagues, just wanting to be left to immerse herself in books. They’re her escapism, for which I completely get. She’s so passionate about poetry and stories, her body is a canvas of book~quote tattoos. Wow, I just love that!

As the story unfolds, it becomes apparent that Lovedays introverted personality is the product of a childhood trauma, and she’s dealing with it. That’s until strange packages start to arrive at the shop, and Lovedays world is turned slowly upside down.

All the characters in Lost for Words are so convincingly real. Loveday has so many endearing qualities, she’s funny, dry and full of wit. But she doesn’t even realise it, she’s adorable. Archie, her book shop boss had me visualising Sir Ian McKellen playing the part. And Nathan. Lovely gorgeous, bonkers Nathan, with his DM’s laced up all wrong, he is a magical, mystical character. And rather bookishly good looking I’d imagine.

The chapters range from ‘Poetry’, ‘History’ and ‘Crime’, with various timelines that steadily combine to form the ‘bigger picture’ and pull the reader in with emotionally charged realism. I felt as though I was ‘people watching’ in this book. At times I was THAT ENGROSSED that I felt as though I was hiding at the end of the bookshop, (among the Classics) ear-wigging everything that was going on!

Everyone and everything sat very vividly in my mind, and that is a sure sign of superb writing.

Lost for Words is an enlightening, powerful and rather heartbreaking read. There’s lots of life~lessons in here as well as laugh out loud moments. Bad stuff happens to good people sometimes, and there’s nothing you can do about it apart from accept it and move forward.

For those of you who enjoyed Gail Honeymans ‘Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine’, I urge you to give this book a go. I found a few similarities throughout the story, which I loved because Honeymans book was brilliant. And so is this.

I’m going to give this a 4.5 star rating, rounded up to 5 stars as 4 isn’t enough. And it’s going on my ‘best of 2017’ Goodreads shelf.

I’d like to thank the author, Stephanie Butland, Zaffre Publishing and NetGalley for the opportunity to read this in exchange for an honest review.
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Nature, Non-fic

The Green Unknown : Travels in the Khasi Hills by Patrick Rogers

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Synopsis from Goodreads

The Green Unknown is about walking, without a map or a plan, across the Khasi Hills in the Northeast Indian state of Meghalaya—a place of jungle canyons and thousand-foot waterfalls, where it rains more than any other inhabited place in the world, where each village has its own dialect or even its own language, and where the people grow living bridges from the roots of trees. The book is an attempt to express what it’s like trying to explore, mile by mile, village by village, valley by valley, a place that’s beautiful, complex, and fascinating, but most of all, unique.

Review

Firstly, thank you to the author, Patrick Rogers, for sending me a copy of his book to review.

I read this in two sittings, although there was a gap of a couple of weeks between starting and finishing due to that thing called Christmas.

This is an interesting and entertaining read about the authors travels to far flung corners of the earth. I enjoy TV documentaries of this kind, so I knew I’d enjoy reading about places that possibly many people know little or nothing about.

It is written with humour and a light-hearted approach so it was easy to follow and having the break at 43% for a few weeks didn’t have a negative impact on the flow.

What I enjoyed the most was hearing about the natural world Northeast India has, the indigenous people that have settled there, and the fact that they have mobile phones! What?!! Does that mean that the eye-sores that are phone masts are popping up in the most heavenly of places? I know folk need technology wherever they are these days, but this really surprised me!

I was fascinated by the living bridges made from the roots of trees, and the sheer beauty of this place. India is on my bucket list of countries to visit, and Rogers has introduced me to places I definitely won’t be brave enough to explore. Off the beaten track is an understatement, and without a map or plan, he certainly is a traveller with guts.

I did struggle to pronounce many of the place names, and even referred to a detailed map on Google to get a sense of where he actually was. Overall, a very interesting and educational account with stunning photographs accompanying the journey throughout. This makes Bill Bryson’s ‘A Walk in the Woods’ sound like a Walk in the Park!

Patrick has a blog all about his adventures which accompanies his book, you can go take a look here.

 

Goodreads Reviews

The People at Number 9 by Felicity Everett

The People at Number 9 by Felicity Everett
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The People at Number 9 is a slow-burning, character-driven story about the dynamics of friendship. Sara and Neil have new neighbours move in next door and over a period of time, they become very close to the quirky Lou and Gav.

As the story unfolds, it becomes apparent that Sara’s outlook on life is being subtly manipulated by this new friendship. The two couples’ children become close, and it slowly evolves into something Sara thought was for the greater good.

Lou is an up and coming screenwriter and Gav is a sculptor, they have hardly any house rules and seem to have the perfect marriage. Their lifestyle is carefree and fun, and soon Sara and Neil spend every spare moment with them, making their own lives a little less mundane and regimental.

This was an unusual read for me, I was up and down with it like a yo-yo. What I thought was going to be a slightly dark, twisty character study, actually turned out to be an extremely slow moving, intense look at how people interact with one another. It was ultimately about how changing attitudes and decisions can have an adverse impact on life, family and future.

If you’re looking for a story with lots of psychological thrills and plot twists, choose something else. However, if you enjoy reading about how relationships stand the test of time, and don’t mind feeling uncomfortably up close and personal with the protagonists, I’d recommend this.

I found at times, I was wondering if anything was ever going to happen. Did this even have a plot?! At half way through, I was contemplating calling it a day, but something was driving me on. When I got to around 70%, and still nothing in particular was going on, it dawned on me that this wasn’t the kind of book I thought it would be. What I did realise though was that I was so intrigued by the two couples relationships, I absolutely needed a conclusion.

Felicity Everett’s writing was a bit hit and miss. It was easy to read with a slow but steady flow, but occasionally I felt that the use of flowery language didn’t belong. I would be in mid-sentence and then some obscure word would be thrown in purely to try and impress the reader. Instead of adding a bit of intellect, it stuck out like a sore thumb, screaming ‘here’s a good word for you, I’m such a wordy author’. For example, when the word ‘nascent’ cropped up, I’d not heard of it and looked it up in the dictionary. When it appeared again a few chapters later, I rolled my eyes I’m afraid. Some stories suit a bit of arty-farty language, it didn’t do this one any favours.

And while I’m on the subject of the writing style, some of the descriptions made me cringe! I’m not squeamish by a long chalk, but up close and personal it definitely was.

‘….relishing the ripe, mushroom-y scent of him’.

‘….with her husband’s semen coagulating on her inner thigh..’

Urgh! No! Too much, too much! If my other half had a ripe, mushroom-y scent, I’d be suggesting a bath, or a trip to the doctor. And I really don’t want to think about coagulation of bodily fluids thanks.

Aside from my gripes, The People at Number 9 was different and I was surprised, intrigued, and irritated by it’s style. I was glad I kept at it as the conclusion was satisfying. What kept me going was the tiniest hint all the way through that some serious shit was going to hit the fan. It just took an eternity to get to there.

This story wasn’t about getting to the conclusion, it was about the journey. I can see Everetts vision with this, and she did a good job at keeping me ticking over. This book is for patient readers who don’t mind waiting for something to happen. It simmers with very little mystery, but for me, there was something that hooked me, but I’ve no idea what.

I’d like to thank the publisher, HQ, the author, Felicity Everett and NetGalley for the opportunity to read this in exchange for an honest review.

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