Review: Jackaby ~ William Ritter

JackabyISBN ~ 978-1616203535
Publisher ~ Algonquin Young Readers
No. Of Pages ~ 299 pages
Links ~ Algonquin Young Readers, Barnes & Noble,

“Miss Rook, I am not an occultist,” Jackaby said. “I have a gift that allows me to see truth where others see the illusion–and there are many illusions. All the world’s a stage, as they say, and I seem to have the only seat in the house with a view behind the curtain.”

Newly arrived in New Fiddleham, New England, 1892, and in need of a job, Abigail Rook meets R. F. Jackaby, an investigator of the unexplained with a keen eye for the extraordinary–including the ability to see supernatural beings. Abigail has a gift for noticing ordinary but important details, which makes her perfect for the position of Jackaby’s assistant. On her first day, Abigail finds herself in the midst of a thrilling case: A serial killer is on the loose. The police are convinced it’s an ordinary villain, but Jackaby is certain it’s a nonhuman creature, whose existence the police–with the exception of a handsome young detective named Charlie Cane–deny.

5 Thumbs-UpThis is the first one in a series and, when I realised it was aimed at the young reader market it made me come to the conclusion that all hope of ever finding a good read in this genre is not dead.

The Author certainly has a way with words, and a wonderful way of using them.  This becomes apparent from the first character introduction he writes.  Not only does he make his characters three-dimensional and interesting from the very first meeting, but he manages to keep this standard up and apply it to all subsequent characters that appear throughout the book.  It may be wrong of me but, as the title of the book suggests, Jackaby is not the only front and centre main protagonist in this novel; his assistant takes equal footing as the story progresses and, in some places outshines Jackaby.  When this happens it doesn’t read as if the Author ran out of steam as far as Jackaby was concerned, but rather embraced the ebb and flow of real life into the plot that makes it inevitable that lead roles will change.  The description of our title character, and his actions, had me swinging between wondering if he was truly the genius he purported to be and also trying to figure out how he had evaded being consigned to the nearest asylum long before the story takes place.  His assistant on the other hand shows all the traits and stubbornness that many young women were feeling in this time period, and went to extraordinary lengths to stretch those newly discovered wings.  I particularly liked with her character the way in which the Author had her determined in her path but at times interspersed this with a glimpse at the closeted lifestyle she had left behind.  In the supporting cast of characters, some of whom I do hope will appear in future instalments, they too were treated with as much care and consideration as the main characters.  Do I have a favourite in all those presented to me within this novel’s pages?  I certainly do, and I would have to say there wasn’t one that I didn’t like.

With as much care as he put into his characters, this Author sets the locations and events within the book.  He pulls on the weather and lifestyles of the period to create atmosphere and suspense in a way that I can honestly say I haven’t seen in a YA book before.  The Author manages to blend the thought processes of Sherlock Holmes, Hercule Poirot and Harry Dresden together in a seamless manner; the end result being something that really shouldn’t work producing a whole new way to look at the world of detection.  There is no wasted area in the book, as scenes visited early on come back at some point to play an integral part of the plot; the result of this is an engrossing read that will pull you into the mystery from the very first chapters.

I would highly recommend this book to readers of all ages, not just those in the aimed demographic, and also anyone who enjoys any of the characters mentioned in the previous paragraph.  Will I read anymore by this Author?  Definitely, I am already halfway through book two in the series.

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Review: Nothing Like It in the World: The Men Who Built the Transcontinental Railroad 1863-69 ~ Stephen E. Ambrose

Transcontinental RRISBN ~ 978-0743203173
Publisher ~ Simon & Schuster (NYC)
No. Of Pages ~ 432 pages
Links ~ All Bookstores, Amazon

Nothing Like It in the World gives the account of an unprecedented feat of engineering, vision, and courage. It is the story of the men who built the transcontinental railroad—the investors who risked their businesses and money; the enlightened politicians who understood its importance; the engineers and surveyors who risked, and sometimes lost, their lives; and the Irish and Chinese immigrants, the defeated Confederate soldiers, and the other laborers who did the backbreaking and dangerous work on the tracks.

The U.S. government pitted two companies—the Union Pacific and the Central Pacific Railroads—against each other in a race for funding, encouraging speed over caution. Locomotives, rails, and spikes were shipped from the East through Panama or around South America to the West or lugged across the country to the Plains. In Ambrose’s hands, this enterprise, with its huge expenditure of brainpower, muscle, and sweat, comes vibrantly to life.

3 Thumbs-UpI initially picked this book up to help in my PhD research, intending only to look through the index and make notes on the parts and people who I needed; instead I found myself reading this book from cover to cover.

I am not a railroad enthusiast by any means, but I found the story of how the railroad was built across America to be fascinating and, from reading this book am now intending to research into this subject a little more.  The Author always writes good books based upon historical events, but I am a little wary as to how factual their accounts are, and this book was no different.

My main problem with this book was how the Author appeared to praise and admire those men in big business that funded the railroad, but did little of the actual work itself.  I was hoping to find more on the plight of the Chinese, Irish and Mormon labourers as well as details about life in the hell on wheels towns they lived in that followed the railways progress as well as the encounters the workers had with the Native Americans and Homesteaders who refused to relocate so the railway could cut through their land.  Despite this lack of detail that, in my opinion, would have resulted in a first class account of the building of the railroad, the Author does an excellent job when writing about the backbreaking and soul-destroying amount of work that went into laying every mile of these tracks.  With a skilful pen he makes the reader realise what a momentously huge project this was, and how much of an accomplishment in the advancement of westbound migration the railroad was.

If you are interested in this period of American history, or in railroad history, this is a book that you would enjoy; although I would recommend doing additional reading and would recommend Empire Express for a follow-up book, as well as a book written by William Francis Bailey.

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Review: Daimones (Daimones Trilogy #1) ~ Massimo Marino

DaimonesISBN ~ 978-1478347101
Publisher ~Booktrope Publishing
No. Of Pages ~ 330 pages
Links ~ Amazon

Your entry into an exciting Space Opera: the death and re-birth of the human race.

Nothing could have prepared them for the last day. Explore the future of humanity in Massimo Marino’s sci-fi debut, Daimones, an apocalyptic tale that feels like it could happen tomorrow. You may never sleep through a windstorm again.

Death swept away the lives of billions, but spared Dan Amenta and his family, leading them to an uncertain future. When merely surviving isn’t enough and the hunt for answers begins, memories from the past and troubling encounters lead Dan to the truth about the extermination of the human race. Distressing revelations will give new meaning to their very existence.

Early humans shaped the future and seeded a plan millions of years in the making. Now survivors must choose: Endure a future with no past or fade away into a past with no future?

4 Thumbs-UpI’ll get this out upfront, if you’re looking for an ‘end of life as we know it’ book that checks the blocks by featuring zombies and all their accompanying mayhem, this is not the book for you.  However, if you are looking for a novel in this genre that makes the possibility of such things happens you need to read this.

Having read all three books in this trilogy, and actually delaying my review until I had not only read them but owned them, I am only going to be featuring book one, as this is a good place to start.  I may at some point in the future review the other two. I’m also going explain my reasoning behind giving this book a 4 thumbs review, even though it could have quite easily gained that extra thumb; it was the main protagonist and his actions well into the book, he disappointed me so much that I felt he was the cause that I could not award this novel 5 thumbs.

The main protagonist in this book is a man such as any you may meet in the place you live; he has a job that he promptly loses in the first few pages, a loving wife and an adoring daughter.  His only knowledge of the events that happen in the course of the book are gleaned from movies he’s watched, this in itself makes him and his family real.  Most people reading this book will only have Hollywood to pull from when it comes to dealing with events such as these, and actually having the character in a book state this makes them, and their subsequent actions (to a point) believable and acceptable.  The main character is written well and given all the traits we find in those we come into contact with on a daily basis.  I felt a connection with this man and his family, but that all changed after his misdeed and I found myself wondering if his previous actions had been based on deception and insincerity too.  His spouse, although as well written and detailed as the main character became, at times, very wearing on my nerves and I felt that I really wanted to give her a good shake to make her wake up to what was happening.  The daughter of the family was written to portray perfectly that resilience children seems to have in the most difficult of situations; after her initial shock over events she quickly became an integral part of the survival of her family, more than her Mother did in some cases.

This book started out with events that we read about in the newspapers each day, and set the tone for a thoughtful look at what is rapidly becoming a worn out genre.  Setting the book in an area other than North America was refreshing and also an indication that should terrible things happen, they are not just going to affect the residents of the continental United States.  I thoroughly enjoyed the locations and reading about them took me back to the time we spent in this area, so much so that I felt an ache over the devastation described to some of these beautiful places.

If you are looking for an ‘intelligent’ take on the end of humanity, this is definitely a book that you will want to read.  It is not fast paced and full of gory action, but lays things out as it could be.  I thoroughly enjoyed this book and, if not for the bad life choices made by the main character, if would definitely have made a 5 thumbs rating.  If you want to find out whether he redeems himself, you will have to read all three books.

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Review: Inkheart (Inkworld #1) ~ Cornelia Funke, Anthea Bell (Translator)

InkheartISBN ~ 9780439531641
Publisher ~The Chicken House
No. Of Pages ~534 pages
Links ~ Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Scholastic,

Twelve-year-old Meggie learns that her father, who repairs and binds books for a living, can “read” fictional characters to life when one of those characters abducts them and tries to force him into service.

Characters from books literally leap off the page in this engrossing fantasy. Meggie has had her father to herself since her mother went away when she was young. Mo taught her to read when she was five, and the two share a mutual love of books. He can “read” characters out of books. When she was three, he read aloud from a book called Inkheart and released characters into the real world. At the same time, Meggie’s mother disappeared into the story. This “story within a story” will delight not just fantasy fans, but all readers who like an exciting plot with larger-than-life characters.

5 Thumbs-UpThis book is the first of the Inkworld Trilogy, with the others in the series being Inkspell and Inkdeath.  I first was introduced to the world of Inkheart through the movie of the same name, and from watching this numerous times and also mentioning how I would love to read the book my Husband surprised me with the Trilogy.  I have to admit that I was a little apprehensive about starting Inkheart, as for the movie to be so good I felt that maybe the book was truly terrible; thankfully I was wrong.  There has also been a lot of debate as to whether this Trilogy is suitable reading for the age group it is aimed at (8-12 years), but as parents are the ones who know their children it is not for me to pass comment in this area.

Surprisingly, for a book aimed at this age group, the Author has managed to create characters that are rich and full of life, so much so it almost feels as they may just come off the page and enter the real world alongside the reader.  It would have been easy for the Author to just make her characters cookie cutter images and move on with the story, but they endow them with all the personality traits, flaws and weaknesses that go into making us all so uniquely human.  Through the book the reader learns about love and loss, hatred and deceit and, although it can become a little dark at times, there is nothing that would make anyone think that these characters could not possibly exist outside the written word; I think that was the beauty of the book for me.  The Author has written a storyline that revolves around characters coming out of the book, and carries this theme into them whether they are major leads or just passing through on their way to another story.  The Author skilfully manages to keep any secrets the characters may have well hidden, making them not easy for the reader to guess until they are revealed at exactly the right moment, and in exactly the right way; a skill that many other Authors of this genre would do well to learn,

The world in which the book takes place is also very real, there are no made up locations in this book; the reader can visualise a place in Europe where all the scenery described is there.  With the colourful houses, I was transported to parts of Italy and Southern France which also included the mountains which seem to be always looming in the background in this region.  I could smell the ocean and feel the change in the wind when a storm was approaching.

This is a book lovers book, whether they like the fantasy genre or not, whether books in this age group are their thing or not.  This is a book that understands those among us that love to smell books, don’t break the spines and would be devastated if anything happened to our collections.  This is a book that says ‘hey it’s OK to be this way.  I understand and you’re not alone’.  This is an easy novel to read, and pulled me in totally from about the 4th or 5th page not letting go until I closed the back cover on it two days later.

I would highly recommend this book to anyone who loves to read, loves books and is open to the infinite possibilities that losing themselves in a book can bring.  I already have the remaining two books in the Trilogy lined up to read, but am trying to resist as I don’t want to rush through this world without having the time to absorb everything; who knows if I’m lucky I may even be ‘read’ into it.

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Review: His Majesty’s Dragon (Temeraire #1) ~ Naomi Novik

his majesty's dragonISBN ~ 978-0345481283
Publisher ~ Del Rey
No. Of Pages ~ 356 pages
Links ~ Amazon, Audible, Barnes & Noble

Aerial combat brings a thrilling new dimension to the Napoleonic Wars as valiant warriors’ ride mighty fighting dragons, bred for size or speed. When HMS Reliant captures a French frigate and seizes the precious cargo, an unhatched dragon egg, fate sweeps Captain Will Laurence from his seafaring life into an uncertain future – and an unexpected kinship with a most extraordinary creature.

Thrust into the rarified world of the Aerial Corps as master of the dragon Temeraire, he will face a crash course in the daring tactics of airborne battle. For as France’s own dragon-borne forces rally to breach British soil in Bonaparte’s boldest gambit, Laurence and Temeraire must soar into their own baptism of fire.

5 Thumbs-UpI have to admit I wasn’t expecting much from this book, after all I found it lying around on the floor at the recent Emerald City Comicon so it that didn’t bode well for it.  Once again I was proved very wrong and was pulled into this novel from the very first page; how can I have not known of this series before now? It definitely falls into the category of one of those great little secrets that not enough people know about.

The characters in this first book in the series are well-developed, but not to the point where there is no room for growth, and there is no romance which is very rare in this genre of book.  The relationship covered in this first book is that between a man and his dragon; the Temeraire (the main dragon protagonist) and Laurence (the main human protagonist) bond is a deeply emotional connection. There is palpable love between man and dragon, and their relationship is the emotional thread that weaves through the novel.   Temeraire is intelligent, logical and witty with a childlike wonder for the new world in which he finds himself.  Laurence is the battle proven Naval Captain that patiently guides him through the world in the best way he knows.  Neither of these characters have experience with the world of the other, but the Author brings those two worlds together via these characters in a realistic and caring manner.  The Author captures the warmness and sincerity of their bond, enough to give balance to all the colder, plot-driven elements of the story.   This novel is primarily an adventure, a story in wartime, an exploration of dragons in this fascinating alternate history society, but in its writing the Author doesn’t neglect the warmer, more ‘human’ side of things. There are moments of extreme emotion and emotional distress, mostly due to the closeness that aviators develop with their dragons, and each moment played out realistically. When it comes to moments of high emotion I feel that each one has to be earned in character, in story, in meaning, and I feel cheated when I think the Author  is trying to manipulate me to respond;  this Author used no manipulative techniques at all as the reader is right there feeling everything with the characters.

The world-building is handled with startling grace, given that this is the Author’s first novel.   This was one of the main pleasures of this book for me; the authentic feel of the world that was built.   It is apparent that extensive amounts of research went into correctly portraying 19th century English society, from the realities of the Navy to the manners of the drawing-room.   And best, none of it is done in a lecturing way; it is all of it presented as naturally as possible. The Author hasn’t  let research intrude  at all upon telling the story, and better yet, her addition of dragons into this world is so well thought-out (from their feeding, breeds, natural inclinations, personalities, levels of intelligence, size and temperament, mode of fighting and the innovative invention of aerial fighting) that it adds to the depiction of the historical period. In a seamless manner the Author grafts on her inventions to the known historical realities, and comes up with a beautifully realised fictional world that’s meticulously detailed and worked out. I particularly liked the fact that there is so much thought given to how the dragons would fit into this society, and she succeeds in a way that few Authors in this genre succeed.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book and recommend it to anyone who likes dragons, alternate realities or fantasy; actually I recommend this book to anyone who likes a good, well written story and feel that even readers of the Master and Commander and Dragonriders series of books would enjoy this as well.   I will definitely be reading the remaining books in this series.

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Normal service is being resumed

update-your-blog

Book reviews, articles, poems and other literary shenanigans will be resumed on Wednesday, April 1st (no joke).  I want to thank everyone for being so patient while I’ve been gone, and hope you haven’t missed my rambling reviews too much.

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Review: Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore ~ Robin Sloan

Mr PenumbraThe Great Recession has shuffled Clay Jannon away from life as a San Francisco web-design drone and into the aisles of Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore. But after a few days on the job, Clay discovers that the store is more curious than either its name or its gnomic owner might suggest. The customers are few, and they never seem to buy anything—instead, they “check out” large, obscure volumes from strange corners of the store. Suspicious, Clay engineers an analysis of the clientele’s behavior, seeking help from his variously talented friends. But when they bring their findings to Mr. Penumbra, they discover the bookstore’s secrets extend far beyond its walls. Rendered with irresistible brio and dazzling intelligence, Robin Sloan’s Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore is exactly what it sounds like: an establishment you have to enter and will never want to leave.

4 Thumbs-UpIf I were ever to write a book, this is the kind of book I would want my name attached to.  Starting with the cover, which must be looked at in the dark if you’re lucky enough to get your hands on a hardback copy, right through to the conclusion it pushed all the right buttons with me.  Having said this however, the end was a bit of a disappointment for me, and this is the reason the book only received a 4 thumbs rating; I felt it just left me hanging there.  There was no dramatic ending and far too many loose ends which I am hoping means there may be another book set in this bookstore.

The story is told from the viewpoint of, I suppose you could call him this, the main character, but there are so many characters in this book each as equally as engaging as this man who I really hesitate to cast him in the role of the protagonist.  Each of the characters provides the reader with enough back story to make them come to life on the page.  They are all quirky, a little eccentric in some cases or downright arrogant but they all play a crucial part in the story line; as does the store of the title and the books themselves.

This book is a combination of mystery, adventure, philosophy and unrequited love, whilst containing lots of points and issues that would make discussion points for either a book club or dinner table conversation.  We see how old and modern technology can come together and, at times cross the boundaries into each realm without the world blowing up; are given an indication at just where we might be heading in the way of technology, and why we need to preserve in their original form the old knowledge that is still around.  Secret societies are always a good read, but I thought the Author did a great job at hinting that maybe the ‘great Google, which is also featured in the book, may be a modern-day secret society.  To find out what I mean by this, you will just have to read the book.

I powered through this book in a few hours and would highly recommend it to someone who is looking for an adult adventure novel, with more than a liberal dash of mystery and humour thrown in.

Edited on Tuesday, 12th August:  Esther Bochner of Macmillan contacted me and asked if I would like to include an excerpt of the audio book.  So, for all you audio book lovers here it is:

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