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Lovely illustrations and scientifically sound.

Different? Same! - Heather Tekavec, Pippa Curnick

This was a beautifully illustrated children's book, highlighting the similarities between many, apparently different, animals.
A blubbery walrus, a wrinkly elephant, a bristly warthog and a smooth narwhal are all very different at first glance, "but look closely now", they all have tusks. The catchy repetition of the phrase "but look closely now" worked really well to keep the rhythm and interest of the book's young audience.

My 15 month grandson was too young for the comparisons between the animals but he loved the images of the animals and making the noises of the ones he recognised.
Unfortunately the copy I received via NetGalley could not be viewed on my Kindle so this is not going to join The Forest Sleeps as one of our favourite books.

At the end of the book all the animals are repeated, with an opportunity to note more similarities between them - spots, numbers of legs, or webbed feet, for example. There is also an explanation for features such as tusks, shells, whiskers, etc.
I would imagine that this book would be popular in a pre-school library and for sharing with children between 2 and 5 years, it has plenty to offer for quite a varied age group.

You've got to try the Non-dairy Strawberry Ice Cream!

Shut Up and Cook!: Modern, Healthy Recipes That Anyone Can Make and Everyone Will Love - Erica Reid

Whilst I was not particularly keen on the title of this book, the recipes it contained were definitely inspiring.

Having the book on my Kindle meant that I could bookmark those that caught my eye and then select what to cook that day.

 

Unfortunately, not every recipe is illustrated, hence the four, rather than five stars, but there are a good number of vegetarian choices and all of the recipes are dairy free, which suits my family. I also liked that ideas for on-the-go snacks are marked with a little plane icon.

 

So far I have tried the Non-dairy Strawberry Ice Cream (even without an ice-cream maker my daughter declared it the best ice cream she had ever tasted!) Also, the Avocado Carrot Salad - though I think I'd reduce the cumin a bit next time, and the Black Bean Burgers.

Next on my list to try are Gypsy Girl Guacamole, Avocado Kale Smoothie and The Hollywood Bowl

 

There's quite an extensive introduction, which I confess I skipped, but it does include a useful list of the less common ingredients.

So, at 15% the recipes begin with Breakfast (9 recipes), then Vegetarian (23), Poultry (9), Lamb and Other Meats (3), Fish (4), Dressings and Sauces (6), Soups (6), Pizza (3), Snacks (11), Desserts 14), Drinks (5), a grand total of 93 options, many of which are vegetarian and dairy-free.

 

 

 

 

A middle-grade adventure story with some clever word-plays.

The King of Average - Gary  Schwartz

This is going to be a difficult review to write as I'm not quite sure how I feel about this audiobook. This was a middle-grade adventure story with a large number of word-plays and puns, that seemed to be more directed at adult readers; yet the adventure itself was more suited for a younger audience.

The audio version was expertly read by the actor, turned author, Gary Schwartz.

 

James is an average kid, with a mother who is too busy to give him any time and who claims he should never have been born. Not surprising then, that he has identity issues and a lack of confidence. He decides he must be the most average boy alive - average in school, in sports and in all other areas of his life, in fact, he could be the King of Average.

 

Thus begins an adventure where James must perform certain tasks to prove how average he is and thence take on the crown of a country known as The Kingdom of Average. Along with a crowd of friends that includes a pessimist, an optimist and a scapegoat, who always takes the blame, he travels through countries such as Epiphany, 

via The Sea of Doubt to Mount Impossible, the highest peak in the Unattainable Mountains. 

 

This is a strongly moral story, but how many children are going to stop to think about the book's message once the narrative ends? In my opinion, the target audience is teachers who are looking for a book to read aloud to their class, that also has some interest for them by way of the word plays and puns.

 

My thanks to Gary Schwartz, Audiobook Boom and Audible, who gave me this audiobook in exchange for an honest review.

 

The Lie of the Land - Amanda Craig

The publisher has requested that reviews be held back until 2 weeks before publication.

Identity and belonging.

The Kindness of Enemies: A Novel - Leila Aboulela

It took me quite a while to get into this book, I kept putting it down because it just wasn't grabbing me. Having given four stars to Lyric's Alley by the same author this was a bit disappointing, but I persevered and as a result I have learned about a time in history that I was totally unaware of. And there was a reward - it turns out that during a trip to Georgia I had actually visited the villa where Anna and her children were spending that fateful summer.

 

I had thought when reading, that I enjoyed the contemporary story most, but as I start to write this review, I realise that it is the story of Shamil and Anna that has stuck with me.

Leila Aboulela recently attended our Literary Festival and was talking about the problems of assimilating into Scotland. I wonder if I was relating her experiences to those of Natasha, the main character in the contemporary parts.

 

The main character of the historical section was Imam Shamil, the 19th century Muslim leader who led the anti-Russian resistance in the Caucasian War. Although a warrior leader, the author attributes him with a very genuine, caring nature and he treats his prisoners with respect.

 

This was a book group read and I don't think anyone had heard of Imam Shamil before reading this book. I'm glad to say that the others all gave higher ratings than I did, so you may consider me a minority and ignore my rating if you wish :)

Get this in audio if you possibly can.

The Edge of Nowhere: A Tale of Tragedy, Love, Murder, and Survival - C.H. Armstrong

When I requested a free audiobook of The Edge of Nowhere from Boom!, I had no idea that I would be walking round the house with my lap top (having failed to download it onto my Kindle Fire), looking for housework to do, so I could continue to listen.

I was completely gripped by this amazing woman from Oklahoma who had survived the Dust Bowl and The Depression and still managed to raise fourteen children.

 

I had obviously heard of The Depression that lasted through most of the thirties, but I was not aware of The Dust Bowl, which coincided with this time of shortages and unemployment, and turned areas of America and Canada into virtual wastelands, exacerbating the poverty and starvation. 

 

The author's grandmother lived through these catastrophes, so she decided to research the period and combine history with family narratives to produce an astounding book that really manages to highlight what it took to survive these awful times. 

Although it reads as pretty much a catalogue of disasters, beginning when Victoria is just 8 years old, the heroine is so unbelievably strong that she always finds a way to carry on whatever. I shared in her joys and my tears welled through her losses, and now I miss her as if I've lost a friend.

 

I should also make mention of the narrator, Beth A. McIntosh, whose Oklahoma accent gave the story even more authenticity. If you get the opportunity to listen to the audio version, I would highly recommend it.

 

"I was given this free review copy audiobook at my request and have voluntarily left this review."

 

 

 

 

I AM a pink cat!

I am a Pink Pig (Reading Stars) - Calee M. Lee

Now that I have grandchildren with whom I can share children's books, I have started to review a few more of them. This one was given to me by NetGalley in return for an honest review, so I tried it out on my 20 month granddaughter. Obviously she isn't starting to read yet, but this book works on two levels - as a simple book to read to a small child and as an early reader to a child who is ready to learn to read words.

 

On an initial read it seemed to be a great success - the Pink Pig introduces himself and then explains that he's not a blue, green or red pig - although the background colour is changing accordingly. On a second read through, I realised that her reaction had changed when we came to the next few pages - an illustration of a pink cat says "I am not a pink cat", similarly a pink dog, a pink turtle and a pink bird, all claim not to be what they are clearly illustrated as. If a 20 month child can spot that this is rather incongruous, I can't really recommend this book.

 

The illustrations are cute and the words are fine for young learners, so this book still has value, but it also has a glaring error. Maybe something can be done on a second printing to correct this.

 

With thanks to NetGalley and the publisher, Xist Publishing.

Grey, dark and atmospheric.

Slave - Laura Frances

I was thrilled to win a free copy of this as an audiobook, even though it was a little outside my normal comfort zone.
Although I quite often read Young Adult novels, I usually tend to shy away from Science Fiction and Dystopian.

The young heroine, Hannah, is trained to obey orders without question and never to look a Watcher in the eye. Her parents are dead and she lives alone in a Unit, with only her elderly neighbours, Norma and Albert, for company.
Norma always assures her that there's more than one side to any story, but Hannah is angry and remains unconvinced.

When revolution turns her life upside down, Hannah is a reluctant heroine, but she also learns what her friend Norma had meant and that not all Watchers are the evil men they appeared to be. In fact, they were as much slaves as her.

The ending let the book down a bit, a bit too convenient., but I can't say too much for fear of spoilers. Some interesting explanations regarding the identity of the Slaves and plenty of opening for the next book in the series.

What struck me, as I was listening to the narrator describing the lives of these workers, who lived only to serve the Council and who were constantly observed by the Watchers, was how much like North Korea this sounded. And as events unfolded, there seemed to be more and more similarities.

The narration by Stacey Glemboski was clear and atmospheric, just sometimes, a bit too breathless in the less exciting passages. She didn't fall into the trap of periodically lowering her voice, which can make audios so frustrating to listen to in background noise.

Although this was a free review copy of the audiobook, my review is completely unbiased.

It's all a matter of belonging.

The Trouble with Goats and Sheep - Joanna Cannon

I really loved the voice of the author in this book, she had a wonderfully quirky view on life and I highlighted a number of phrases and observations that appealed to me.

The book also rang a memory bell, set in a Britain that I clearly remember from my childhood, during the endless hot summer of 1976.

 

The characters are all residents of The Avenue, part of an estate somewhere in England. Many have known each other from childhood and grown up together, a few are 'incomers'. They encompass a number of quirks that would be labelled in modern day societies, but at that time, Dyslexia, Asperger's and similar personality or learning disorders, were just accepted as different. The significant question was - how much different, and could you still fit in?

 

Whilst there as a bit of a who-done-it, running through the narrative, the main theme was the disappearance of Margaret Creasey, who has vanished as the story begins. The residents thought they knew why she'd left and were worried that it might bring up long-buried secrets.

Ten-year-old Grace and her friend Tilly, decide they are going to spend their summer vacation searching The Avenue for God as he would surely know where Mrs Creasey was.

 

It really took me back, how conversation took place over a cup of tea and a packet of Custard Creams....and Angel Delight! I remember my mother discovering Angel Delight, it replaced Bird's Custard as 'afters' for quite a while!

 

And I have to include just a few of the lovely quotes that I'd highlighted:

"She has to call several times because his dreams are like cement." (Loc 618)

"I still hadn't learned the power of words. How, once they have left your mouth, they have a breath and life of their own." (Loc 2887)

"My mother looked at him and did loud staring" (Loc 3316).

"My mother cornered her eyes" (Loc 3330)

 

So, why didn't I give this book the full five stars? Well, I actually had a problem equating some of the things Grace and Tilly say with their age of ten, they seemed older than their years a lot of the time. Plus there is a slight lack of resolution at the end - why did Walter suddenly enter the conversation uninvited and what happened about the secrets that everyone was so scared of revealing?

Still, it's a brilliant read, especially if you were old enough to remember that summer.

Free Audible books.

FREE: Crackanory Too Cracked for TV - exclusive to Audible -  Crackanory, Toby Jones, Katherine Parkinson, John Robins, Robert Bathurst, Simon Bird, Audible Studios

I downloaded this as a free read from Audible, so I can't really complain that I didn't particularly enjoy it, but I did feel that these stories were inferior to those that I listened to in series 1 and 2 (also a free download from Audible).
Each of the five stories in Crackanory Too Cracked for TV was about 15 minutes long and each had a different narrator.
Most of the narrators were excellent, although one read too fast and rather swallowed her words.

 

The stories, 'Kill Phil', 'Mummy Business', 'The Character Assassin', 'The Egg That Knew Too Much' and 'The IT Man', all seemed to me to be trying too hard to be clever. Frequently a sentence would be over complicated with facetious asides that I found annoying. I guess it's a British humour thing and I've been out of the country for too long. Still, they were good to divert me from the stress of driving and as free audiobooks, they are a bargain.

Atmospheric.

Augustown - Kei Miller

I particularly wanted to enjoy this book as the author was at our literary festival and he was just lovely. He was the only man on a panel for International Ladies Day and had such empathy. I really felt this empathy in the way he wrote his main character of Augustown, the elderly, blind, Ma Taffy.

 

I was listening to the audio version of this book, read by Dona Croll, which was great for getting the correct Jamaican accent, but a bit irritatingly slow.

 

However, for me, the part that lowered my star rating was the story about the flying preacherman, which didn't grab my attention at all. What I didn't realise when listening was that this story represented the beginnings of the Jamaican religion of Bedwardism, which, to quote Wikipedia, 'was one of the most popular Afro-Jamaican politico-religious movements from the 1890s to the 1920s".

 

The rest of the novel was excellent and the characters were interesting. Ma Taffy's great-nephew, Kaia, has his dreadlocks cut off by a teacher and there is a nice circle of connections between the characters of Ma Taffy's family as the story progresses. 

 

A heavy atmosphere of impending trouble and doom runs throughout the novel and is excellently portrayed by the author. In the opening scene we meet a young gangster who thinks Ma Taffy doesn't know he hides his guns under her house, and later the Rastafarians mass to protest the cutting of Kaia's dreadlocks. Class segregation and social hierarchy felt like a living entity that could spark a riot at any time.

 

 

 

 

A holiday read.

Bad Mother's Diary  - Suzy K Quinn

This is not a book I would normally have chosen but our book group wanted it for this month, so I thought I'd give it a go. It was an easy enough read, although rather predictable and the ending was a bit rushed. It felt like a cross between Sophie Kinsella (Shopaholic books) and Helen Fielding (Bridget Jones).

I cringed at the appearance of the author half way through, congratulating us for getting this far, I hope this does not become an author trend.

 

Juliette Duffy and Nick Spencer have a young baby and are planning to make it official and get married. They are living in London in Nick's mother's flat. Helen is the mother-in-law from hell, appearing almost daily, unannounced, complaining about anything and everything. I'm not keen on books that announce on the front cover that they are hilarious, as I rarely laugh in books, but some of the best moments were Juliette's come-backs to Helen.

 

Juliette and Nick's baby, Daisy is adorable but doesn't sleep well. Juliette is constantly exhausted, which will ring true to many mothers. Just getting out, without smears and marks on her clothes, is a major achievement. The issue with weight and dieting was a bit tedious, and very Bridget Jones's Diary, ditto the diary format, which felt rather too familiar.

Juliette bravely decides to run the London Winter Marathon, which was a nice touch. Then there was Alex, a childhood friend from a wealthy background, hmmm, way too predictable, but I won't add any spoilers.

 

By the way, I live in Dubai and there is no shortage of bikinis available - not just burkinis and Juliette supposedly discovered.

 

A comforting bedtime read.

The Forest Sleeps - Calee M. Lee, Erin Kenna

A beautifully illustrated book for very young children that helps them to unwind at bedtime. The repetition of the phrase 'sleep tight' is perfect for young audiences. The animals are a mixture of the familiar (snakes, rabbits, birds) and the less familiar (deer, beavers, fireflies) which helps children add to their knowledge of the wild.

I read this to my 20 month granddaughter and she loved it. She also loves that it's on my Kindle Fire (and therefore in colour) and that she can share something on this device that she knows I value. She enjoyed turning the pages for herself and exclaiming at each animal, often with their young.

Now that I have grandchildren I can discover a whole world of new children's books :)

Some of these people only have a minute left to live.

The Last Minute - Eleanor Updale

The Last Minute takes place in Heathwick town centre, before an explosion rips the place apart, killing 65. Each second is a gradual build-up, adding to the tension of the final event. What will be the cause of the devastation and who will be its victims?

 

Needless to say, with a death-toll of 65, this really is a cast of thousands and you'd need to read the book in pretty much one sitting to keep a track of who everyone is. This also made it impossible to go into any depth with the characterisations, although Ms Updale did manage to produce several characters about whom I was more concerned than others, and then there were also the two magnificent carriage-horses.

 

At the end of the book is the newspaper reportage of the explosion, which was impossible to read on the Kindle, but there is an on-line site where it is possible to see this: http://www.eleanorupdale.com/minute/ This also completes the book by discussing the possible cause of the explosion(s).

 

For me, this was a clever idea that, unfortunately, didn't quite work, by the time I'd read sixty sets of one second events, I'd lost interest and certainly wasn't getting tense at the inevitable outcome.

 

 

What if you could change just one thing in the past of someone you love?

The Summer of Impossible Things - Rowan Coleman

I was so lucky to be approved by NetGalley for a preview copy of this book, I absolutely loved it - it's already my best read so far this year and it could well be my favourite book of 2017.
It does require a bit of imagination, you have to travel back in time to 1977, but it's worth the stretch and if you loved the Time Traveler's Wife then you'll love this too.

Luna and her younger sister, Pia, are devastated by the death of their mother, but she had suffered from depression for many years and struggled to hold things together for the family.
She had moved to UK to marry their father in 1977, but her childhood home had been Bay Ridge, in Brooklyn and there was a family house there that needed to be sold. Luna and Pia travel to Brooklyn to finalise the sale, hoping to find out something about their mother's life before she married their father.

What they discover is the basis of the story, but that's not all, because Luna finds that she can go back in time to those last days while Marissa was still a vibrant young woman, before something happened that shattered her life. And if Luna can go back and meet her mother in that time, is it possible that she might also be able to change things just slightly so that Marissa's life takes a slightly different path - and if she does so, what are the implications?

Beautifully written with wonderful characters and subtle twists, this was an excellent read. The only problem is that it's not out until June, but put it on your Wish List now, because this is one book you won't want to miss.

Beautiful coffee table book.

Nell Hill's Rooms We Love - Mary Carol Garrity

This is a stunning book to pick up and browse through, perhaps you would find a few ideas to inspire you - I don't think it's something that you'd read from cover to cover, or buy for your Kindle.

 

The photography is excellent, with prefect lighting in every shot, but for my taste, the rooms are rather over-filled with upholstery and ornaments. Some of the fabrics are also a bit busy. I love the author's aim of bringing the outside indoors, but there are rather too many floral fabrics and it's hard to keep fresh flowers looking good all year. I noticed that the same bunch of white tulips seems to appear in all the houses too!

 

These are not your average suburban semis, these are houses to drool over, with arches and space to spare. A book for when you feel like dreaming.