14 Feb 2018

THE ARCHITECT'S APPRENTICE.

THE ARCHITECT'S APPRENTICE by ELIF SHAFAK.


Sixteenth century Istanbul -
a city of wonder and danger.

When a young boy, Jahan, arrives with a gift for the Sultan - a white elephant called Chota - the pair are sent to the palace's menagerie. There they learn to guard against the scheming of animal tamers, gypsies, deceitful courtiers and the mischevious Princess Mihrimah.

Welcomed into this foreign land, Jahan and Chota travel to the furthest corners of the Sultan's kingdom - and to war. But one day when Jahan meets the royal architect, Sinan, he is given the chance to rise in court. To accept is to enter the marble halls walked by Princess Mihrimah, where the treacherous also plot - a true place of wonders and dangers ...
- Back Cover Blurb

It was past midnight when he heard a fierce growl from the depths of the dark.
- First Sentence, Istanbul, 22 December 1574

'What've you done, imbecile!' Jahan hoollered from the stretcher he was being carried on. 'They'll chop off your balls ... send you to the slaughterhouse, cook you with cabbage and onions. And they will cast me into the dungeon!'
- Memorable Moment, Page 122

SOURCE ... A reading group read.

READ FOR A CHALLENGE? ... No.

MY THOUGHTS ... More used to finding myself in the court of Tudor England, it made a refreshing change to find myself in the Ottoman Empire of sixteenth century Turkey.

Based loosely on historical events, fact and fiction blended seamlessly. The Michelangelo of his time, the architect of the title, Sinan actually existed, not so his architect.

Just as the actual architectural wonders are explored, so too are the metaphysical as the author probes the constant renewal; the constant construction (and destruction).

Wonderfully atmospheric, I closed my eyes for a moment and found myself actually able to see the sights, smell the smells and hear the sounds as the characters told not only their own stories but that of Istanbul itself. 

What should have been a good read, and yet ...

Arguably too many elements of the story were too superficial to carry it through its 450 (or thereabouts) pages meaning the story dragged at times. 

Likewise there were certain elements of the story when things happened a bit too conveniently to be credible meaning the historical aspect wasn't always sustained. 

Sad to say the love interest just didn't do it for me. Perhaps more about my expectations than anything else BUT, hoping it would be more pivotal to the story, I'm afraid, to use my niece's expression, I found this aspect of the story all a bit, well, meh.

So, all in all, what I felt was an OK read but not one I can see myself returning to.


10 Feb 2018

BAD HAIR DAYS.

BAD HAIR DAYS by J.M. FORSTER.


F.R.E.A.K

 For Mallow, every day is a Bad Hair Day. 

Wearing a wig means Mallow can hide her hair loss. But now someone’s sending her creepy messages. It’s a race to stop them before everyone discovers her secret.

Losing her hair was hard enough – but will she lose the people she cares about too? 
- Back Cover Blurb

Injections: check
- First Sentence, Chapter One

A 'sleepover' at Faye's house conjured up nightmare images of her German shepherd, Duke (more wolf than dog by the look of the photo on her Chat-Scape profile), waking me up as he mauled my wig. I could just see the looks of sheer horror on Faye's and Em's faces.
- Memorable Moment, Page 56.

SOURCE ... Received with thanks from the author.

READ FOR A CHALLENGE? ... No.

MY THOUGHTS ... Proof, as if there were ever any doubts after the author's award winning debut novel, Shadow Jumper, that J.M. Forster gets right into the heart of stories featuring young people who just so happen to have health issues.

A mystery (someone knows Mallow's 'secret' but who?) but, for me, firstly a foremostly, a novel of discovery, of coming to terms with being you. 

Bad Hair Days is a wonderful read but more than that its inspiring. Its main character, 14 year old Mallow, a revelation to all those who feel as if they don't fit in, that they too are different.

Marketed at an audience of 10 to 12 year olds, its a gripping, emotional, sensitively written read featuring so many issues including bullying, family, friendships, insecurity, all wrapped up in a story about a teenager who as well as dealing with all the 'usual' teenage angst is having to cope with the emotional (and practical) issues of having the hair loss condition, alopecia.

In short, its exactly the sort of thought provoking story that I'd encourage all children to read. 

3 Feb 2018

HANS MY HEDGEHOG ...

HANS MY HEDGEHOG: A TALE FROM THE BROTHERS GRIMM retold by KATE COOMBS (With illustrations by JOHN NICKLE.


Meet Hans.

Half hedgehog, half boy.

One lonely soul with a magical fiddle.

Add two promises, two princesses,

and a herd of loyal pigs.

The final ingredient?

One true love who will change

everything. 
- Inner Front Cover Blurb

Once upon a time in a village just past yonder, there lived a prosperous farmer and his wife.
- First Sentence, Page Unnumbered

They upset the cooks and muddied the king's bedclothes and frightened the princess.
- Memorable Moment, Page Unnumbered

SOURCE ... A Christmas gift.

READ FOR A CHALLENGE? ... No.

MY THOUGHTS ... A story, well known from the  Brothers Grimm collection of stories I read last year and, before this, one of my teenage self's all-time tv programmes, The Storyteller as created by Jim Henson. To be honest this isn't one of my favourite folk stories and probably isn't a book I would have chosen if it wasn't for my collection of hedgehog themed books.

Here retold by Kate Coombs and aimed at (according to several website) those aged five to eight years old. 

Hmm! Five to eight?

Perhaps not if this had been the original telling of the story which is altogether darker but there has been tweaking aplenty to make it more sanitised for a younger (and arguably more delicate) audience. That said, like many other tales similar in nature, read enough into it and its still rife with misogyny and objectification but then that's not necessarily something that will be picked up by your average five to eight year old who doubtlessly will view it as just another story (albeit perhaps that little bit weird) with colourful and fun illustrations.

For myself (putting the original version aside and judging this retelling on its own merits), from something of a hideous oddity to a spirited protagonist, here portrayed as a contemporary character in the ilk of Beauty and the Beast, Hans is an OK read. The illustrations, whether in vibrant colour or done as silhouettes, humorous and with something new to be found every time you look at them, for me they are the main attraction of the book.


18 Jan 2018

(A LANCASHIRE DETECTIVE MYSTERY #4/A DS BRENNAN MYSTERY #3): SITTING MURDER


With a myriad of motives, the question is who? 

Detective Sergeant Michael Brennan of the Wigan Borough Police has no time for tales of ghosts and the afterlife, or of the dead contacting the living. So, when he finds himself investigating the case of a recently widowed young woman, Alice Goodway, who has suddenly developed ‘the Gift’ of mediumship and has received a threatening letter, he embarks on the inquiry with no small degree of scepticism. 

But just as Brennan and his burly colleague, Constable Jaggery, consider how to proceed with the case, something much more sinister takes place… a murder, in Alice’s own home. Who would commit such a crime? 

Could it be one of the seven ‘visitors’ who had been to sittings with Alice and not liked what they had heard? Or the interfering and sanctimonious Inspector of Nuisances who strongly disapproved of the séances? 

There are a lot of old wounds opened and painful memories shared with Brennan and Jaggery as they meticulously gather the information they need to solve the case. The challenge will be narrowing down the suspects, using clues from both the living and the dead… 

This devilishly plotted Victorian whodunnit keeps the reader guessing right to the end, with red herrings aplenty scattered along the way. 
- Press Release Blurb 

Wigan. 1894.

Alice Goodway sat by her dying husband's bedside for three days and nights, courtesy of Mr Draper, the colliery owner.
- First Sentence, Prologue

"Don't be alarmed if you see Constable Corns passing your door over the next few days."

A look of alarm spread across her face. "Why?"

"Oh, just a precaution, Mrs Goodway. It'll help keep the curious away."

And someone who might want to finish the job, he thought, hiding the fear behind a smile.
- Memorable Moment, Page 66

SOURCE ... Thanks to Alice of Endeavour Press for sending a copy.

READ FOR A CHALLENGE? ... No

MY THOUGHTS ... A wonderful period mystery which combines a classic whodunit with spiritualism. The terraced houses, the close-knit community in which the characters dwell brought to life. Secrets abound, old wounds opened as DS Brennan and his sidekick, Jaggery, eliminate the suspects one by one.

From the archetypal detective and his faithful constable through to the quirky, no-nonsense women, from the living to the dead, from those who had an actual part to play in the unfolding events to those who served mainly as a red herring, I adored the myriad of characters. The main protagonist, the bereaved Alice, seeking to comfort those who, like herself, are grieving, her late husband's aunt, her motives for hosting the seances, not so much a means of comforting those who have also lost loved ones as a way to make financial gains. 

The fourth novel in the series (the third to feature Detective Brennan) but reads perfectly well as a self contained murder mystery. Am I inspired to read the other books? You bet I am.