Zi71bFS9nQHnivtvUJquhejTHIQ The Story Factory Reading Zone: 2013

Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Imaginary Jesus by Matt Mikalatos (a book review)



Goodreads:

Imaginary Jesus is a hilarious, fast-paced, not-quite-fictional story that’s unlike anything you’ve ever read before. When Matt Mikalatos realizes that his longtime buddy in the robe and sandals isn’t the real Jesus at all, but an imaginary one, he embarks on a mission to find the real thing. On his wild ride through time, space, and Portland, Oregon, he encounters hundreds of other Imaginary Jesuses determined to stand in his way (like Legalistic Jesus, Perpetually Angry Jesus, and Magic 8 Ball Jesus). But Matt won’t stop until he finds the real Jesus—and finally gets an answer to the question that’s haunted him for years. Be warned: Imaginary Jesus may bring you face-to-face with an imposter in your own life.



My Review:

Don't be put off by the cover, the title or the blurb! It's much better than that!
Honestly, I almost didn't pick up this book. It's outlook, plot and pretext just seemed too extreme! However, something inside me said 'give it a go'. And I'm so glad I did! 

Imaginary Jesus really makes you think. Who is the real Jesus? How does he fit with the images we get of him from religious and secular society? How can we recognise him in our lives? The real skill of Matt Mikalatos is being able to present questions like these not only in a non-preachy manner, but in a light-hearted and humorous story. 

Never for one moment does this book stop being entertaining. Yes, it can verge on weird at times but keep reading and the reason will always be revealed. 

Pick this book up if you want a change from more serious Christian books, but don't want to hang up your brain cells completely. 
Recommended for Christians in their teens, twenties or simply young at heart.
   

Is it just me by Miranda Hart (a book review)


A hilarious romp through life, Miranda shares some scarily real events amongst her comedy exploits. I found this book incredibly enjoyable. I found it hard to put down from start to finish.

I recommend this book to all of a female persuasion in their late 20s to early 40s.

Friday, 6 December 2013

Advent









Outside snow fell. It reminded her of the month of gray snows, when Holy Rainbow said, "A special child was born." She told her, "Celebrate. Fill up with the presence of the infant, given as a gift."
Advent, Hunt had called the season. Waiting with anticipation.
 from A Name of Her Own by Jane Kirkpatrick


What does advent mean to you?

Thursday, 5 December 2013

Guides








"It is advent," Hunt said. "The time of anticipation. The perfect time to travel since we have three wise guides to show us."
A Name of Her Own by Jane Kirkpatrick


What guides you at this time of year?

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Review Wednesday: Approaching Christmas by Jane Williams



Goodreads Summary:
This beautiful and thoughtful companion to the season of Advent and Christmas encourages readers to explore the true meaning of the festive season through a combination of reflections, quotations, and classic images

With this companion, learn about the objects and activities associated with Christmas—such as making lists, decorations, gifts, Christmas trees, music, food, and family—as well as special days such as Christmas Eve and Epiphany. In each section, the author brings together Christmas traditions, spiritual reflection, and quotations from Scripture and other writings through the ages. The result is an imaginative and stimulating exploration of the riches of this season—illustrated throughout with color reproductions of classic Christmas-themed paintings.

My review:
Some really interesting insights into the Christmas story, delivered in short sermon-style snippets.

The author is able to bring knowledge from a variety of walks of life into her writing, making it approachable and thought-provoking.

A good read for Christians searching for a new way of looking at the advent season.
 





Action Reader's Action: Help someone else to have a good Christmas. You could volunteer to help the homeless, open up your home to others, give money to a children's / homeless charity, or anything else relevant you can think of.

What does Christmas mean to you?

 


Tuesday, 3 December 2013

The Twelve Days of Christmas



"Quick, quick!" said the partridge. "Are we all ready? Now tell the princess what her present is."
"Twelve ladies dancing," said the ladies on the lowest branch.
"Eleven lord a-leaping," sang the lords, rocketing up and down through the tree. Creak! Rattle!
"Ten pipers piping- one, two, one two three four," sang the pipers, and went into a spirited rendering of the tune.
"Nine drummers drumming." Thud! Boom!
"Eight maids a-milking."
"Hiss! Hiss! went the seven swans, who couldn't a-swim on their branch and were angry about it.
"Honk! Honk!" went the six geese a-laying.
"Ring! Ting!" sang the give gold rings in the wind.
"Call! Chirrup," sang the four calling birds.
"Le Cackle!" cackled the three French hens.
"Coo! Coo!" sang the two turtle doves.
There was a breathless pause, and everyone stared up at the partridge. He made sure they were all watching, then ruffled his feathers, stretched out his wings, and with a voice like sandpaper sang:
"And a Partridge In A Pearrrrrrrr," his neck stretched and his face went red as he took a deep breath, "Treeeeeeee!"
The Prince and The Partridge by Terry Pratchett (from A Blink of the Screen)


When did you last sing this song?

Monday, 2 December 2013

Three Wise Men



There was a window, if such I may call it, into a world of desert sands under a night sky. wherein three men of African or Asian appearance had made their camp. One of them spoke passable Latin, which the Oxford scholar was still just able to understand, despite his state of near inebriation. They too had found their world running out into a cardboard waste, and after a considerable study had put it down to some event, possibly astronomical, which had severely distorted Space and, who knows, perhaps even time itself.
Twenty Pence, With Envelope and Seasonal Greeting by Terry Pratchett (from A Blink of The Screen)



What is your vision of The Three Wise Men?




Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Hearts to Heaven and Tempers Raise by Reginald Frary (A Review)







Goodreads Summary:

Like a favourite TV comedy series, Reg Frary returns with another collection of all-too believable stories about anarchy and revolt waiting to break out in the choirstalls. They may look angelic in their robes, and may (on rare occasions) even sound like angels, but it's a dirty game keeping one step ahead of the vicar's trendy ideas and the choir director's aspirations to dictatorship. It all necessitates frequent councils of war down at the Dog and Duck after practice.REG FRARY has sung in his local church choir in Richmond for over sixty years and has been writing comic stories based on his experiences for almost as long. Neither the choir nor his employer will allow him to retire and he works as a proof reader for a major law firm in the City of London.

Review:
Funny and full of humorous situations, this is a light read. Good for Christmas, or reading on the bus.



Action Reader's Action: Note a funny thing that has happened to you at the end of each week.


What humorous things have happened to you in the past?

 

Saturday, 2 November 2013

Bones of My Brother by J. Frank Dunkin (A Review)




Expected release date: November 5th 2013


Information about the novel:
A new literary novel highlights father and son stories that run as parallel as rails on a track. Discovering that his deceased father’s dream had derailed years earlier, the son researches his father’s past, determined to bring that dream to belated fruition.  The effort triggers deadly consequences, initiating a journey along a more imperative path.
In Bones of My Brother, author J. Frank Dunkin draws from childhood memories in small-town Alabama plus his twenty-five years of high level negotiations and travels within the world of corporate real estate development.
A brooding shroud of guilt was the characteristic that most marked the Hobson men.  There was Price, the small town boy, who later stamped his mark upon the backstabbing world of high finance and property development, a world that would ultimately crumble about him.  Depressed by the loss of his parents, he ignores personal and family responsibilities while searching for the truth about his father, the man without a smile.  Had it been the gore of Normandy or had there been a more defining, perhaps defiling, chapter in John Hobson's life? He was gone now, interred “…in nested containers of earth, box and body.” But the secret of John Hobson's lifelong angst lay not beneath the hot soil of Gethsemane's cemetery, but beneath God's tree in a tiny glade one county over.  For one man, there'd been the lure of “Music City” versus the love of his treasured Evie.  For the other, there'd been the heady rush of success, followed by a precipitous fall from grace.
This novel weaves the stories of three loves.  From rural Alabama at mid-century, there was John Hobson and his Evie.  From Minnesota at century's end, there was Price and his Joy. And there was always the abiding love of a son for his father. Bones of My Brother explores the conflict of dreams and reality—the searching for what is right and true in life and the sacrifices we make along the way.
Dunkin says, “Musing about my parents, I wrote the first lines of this novel on the back of a paper placemat in a Mobile, Alabama restaurant in 1988. Years later, I dusted off the ancient mat and developed the personalities of those I loved into a fictional tale that offers lessons of life, love and redemption. Bones of My Brother will invite reader introspection and offer insight for those searching for a higher meaning in life than the achievement of personal aspirations or the appeasement of ego.”
Though this is a compelling work of literary fiction, the author has clearly drawn from his own personality and experiences.  He grew up in a small Alabama town in the fifties and sixties, graduated with a degree in Fine Arts from Auburn University, and for a quarter century traveled the continent, selecting locations for retail outlets and negotiating multi-million dollar leases.

My review:
A compelling and evocative novel, dealing with what it means to love family and God within our earthly world. 
It took me a little while to get the characters sorted in my mind but, once I had done this, I grew to love them. All of them were real and well-defined, but it was Price who particularly stood out for me. 
What I like most about this book though is how down-to-earth it all seemed. There is a clear message, but that is secondary to both the pure storytelling and the context in which it is set. There was not one moment when I didn't feel connected to the tale being told, not one moment where I felt I was being preached at.
This is a story full of personal journeys, transformations and sadness. It speaks from the heart.





Sadly, since I accepted this review request the author has passed away. 
My thoughts go out to his family and friends. 




Book extract starts at 2.50
Song starts at 5.15 




 

Friday, 1 November 2013

Review Policy Updated








This is a message for authors looking for reviews!

I have just updated by review policy. 
Please use the tabs at the top of the screen to take a look if you're interested.

You will notice that whilst I am now taking reviews again, I have limited the number that I am doing each year. This has been necessitated by an increasingly busy life and a reduction in the amount of reading I can commit to. 

Thank you in advance for checking out my review policy, and I look forward to hearing from you.

Monday, 7 October 2013

Music Out of the Pages: Hearing the extra-ordinary








Crashing Eden by Michael Sussman

When I awoke, the first thing I noticed was that the sound hadn't gone away. In fact, it was a little louder. Was Dr. Krantz wrong about them piping music into the joint, or was I seriously whacked?
The more I listened to it, though, the more awed I felt by what I heard. Words couldn't capture the power or the beauty of this strange yet familiar music. There was something primal, something ancient and profound about it, as if I were somehow witnessing the creation of the universe.
Out of curiousity, I closed my ears with my index fingers. I figured that if the sound was all in my head, blocking out the world wouldn't make any difference. But, in fact, when my ears were plugged, Istill felt a vibration but heard nothing. How could that be?


Have you ever been able to hear something that others couldn't?
How did you explain it to them?
Did you have to explain it to yourself first? 

Saturday, 5 October 2013

Treatment or Adaption?








Crashing Eden by Michael Sussman

"What the hell's that?"
"Electroconvulsive therapy. They're gonna zap my brain, dude."
"They still do that" I was.... well, shocked. Shock treatment was what turned Nicolson into a zombie in the movie.
Hector said Dr. Weiner told him that ECT is much safer now and often used as a last resort for severe depression when other treatments fail. He'd be anesthetized and given muscle relaxants, and then a small current of electricity would be passed through his brain, inducing a seizure. The usual course was ten to twelve treatments on an every other day basis.
"How does a friggin' seizure help anything?" I asked.
"They don't know, man, but it works. For six months or so anyway. Only problem is, you can forget stuff."



What do you think?
Is treatment, or adaption to disability better? 

Friday, 4 October 2013

Mental health








Crashing Eden by Michael Sussman

On one end of the room was an old beat-up television. Several patients were watching The Young and the Restless, lounging in sofas and easy chairs that had seen better days. Along the wall, two others were paying a game of ping pong on a table with no net. There was also an upright piano with a basket of tambourines and maracas on top of it. At the far end of the room was a kitchenette and several small, bolted-down tables with plastic chairs.
Most of the patients were in their teens or twenties, with a few older folk in the mix. We were allowed to wear street clothes, which was a relief after dealing with hospital gowns. My only image of a mental ward came from the Jack Nicholson movie, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, so I was relieved to discover that the nurses weren't scary ball-busters and the patients acted pretty normal. 



What are your experiences / expectations of being suffering from mental illness?

Thursday, 3 October 2013

Hand wounds





Dragonsinger by Anne McCaffrey
Oldive regarded her steadily, as if divining some measure of her reluctance, and extended his own hand. Compelled by the very neutrality of his gaze, she gave him her injured hand. To her surprise, there was no change of expression on his face, no condemnation or pity, merely interest in the problem the thick-scarred palm posed for a man of his skill. He prodded the scar tissue, murmuring thoughtfully in his throat.
"Make a fist."
She could just about do that but, when asked to extend her fingers, the scar pulled as she tried to stretch the palm.
"Not as bad as I was led to believe. An infection, I suppose..."
"Packtail slime..."
"Hmm, yes. Insidious stuff." He gave her hand another twist. "But the scar is not long healed, and the tissue can still be stretched. A few more months and we might not have been able to do anything to flex the hand. Now, you will do exercises, tightening your fingers about a small hard ball, which I will provide you, and extending the hand." He demonstrated, forcing her fingers upward and apart so that she cried out involuntarily. "If you can discipline yourself to the point of actual discomfort, you are doing the exercise properly. We must stretch the tightened skin, the webbing between your fingers, and the stiffened tendons. I shall also provide a salve, which you are to rub well into the scar tissue to make it softer and more pliable. Conscientious effort on your part will determine the rate of progress. I suspect that you will be sufficiently motivated."


Do you have any problems with your hands? 
How do you adapt, or how have you overcome them? 


Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Room by Emma Donoghue (A Review)






Goodreads Summary:

To five-year-old Jack, Room is the entire world. It is where he was born and grew up; it's where he lives with his Ma as they learn and read and eat and sleep and play. At night, his Ma shuts him safely in the wardrobe, where he is meant to be asleep when Old Nick visits.

Room is home to Jack, but to Ma, it is the prison where Old Nick has held her captive for seven years. Through determination, ingenuity, and fierce motherly love, Ma has created a life for Jack. But she knows it's not enough...not for her or for him. She devises a bold escape plan, one that relies on her young son's bravery and a lot of luck. What she does not realize is just how unprepared she is for the plan to actually work.

Told entirely in the language of the energetic, pragmatic five-year-old Jack, ROOM is a celebration of resilience and the limitless bond between parent and child, a brilliantly executed novel about what it means to journey from one world to another.


My review:
Absolutely amazing! Its hard to remember that a) this isn't a real story and b) the author is not a 5 year old child! Its practically impossible to put the book down! And you'll want to tell everyone about it!
The world that Jack sees is so different from our own and this changes the way he sees everything. It was hard not to be both shocked and charmed by his outlook on life. The fact that he is the one who tells the story (in his own words) means that the reality only gradually unfolds, giving the reader time to come to terms with the horrible truth and softening the effect of what could be a very disturbing topic.
The story is clearly based on reality, but everything is so vivid that it's hard to believe that its not really some sort of strange memoir. You feel like you're watching some sort of diary-room entry from a reality TV show at times. At other times its like Jack is writing a secret diary that only you hold the key to. This is what makes the book so hard to put down- the fact that, for a short while, it actually becomes part of your life.
Everyone should read this book! But choose your moment carefully, as its not relaxing by any means!




Action Reader's Action: Change a child's life! Spend some time volunteering a local school, or children's club. Or sponsor a child through a charity.

What's the most shocking book you've ever read?

 

Monday, 23 September 2013

Paper Airplane by Kersten L. Kelly (A Review)




Goodreads Summary:
In this tumultuous, distinctive memoir, Kersten L. Kelly looks back on the most influential individuals that she encountered while flying through the clouds. Confined in a small vestibule for hours, Kelly identified an opportunity for learning and growth by chatting with the fellow passengers around her. After a few life changing conversations and unforgettable emergencies, she put the in-flight magazines to rest and never looked back. She recalls life lessons from perfect strangers about love, family, perseverance of dreams, and humility through a series of brief anecdotes all taking place on airplanes. Selfless philanthropy was discovered, long-term friendships bonded, and talents unveiled. The book proves the phrase “you never know what you will learn on an airplane” over and over again. Every chapter will capture the mind and sometimes the heart of anyone who jumps into this collection of humanity at its best. The personalities present in this book assimilate with the intrinsic characteristics all readers can relate to. With a raw authenticity stemming from old notes in a ragged journal, Kelly delivers a personal reflection of unique tales from a mile high.


My review:

A mixture of tales, linked together by people met on an airplane.

There were an interesting mixture of tales in this book; some of which I found very enjoyable, others less so. Each of them was different and special in its own way.

Each story had a clear moral. Unfortunately these were overstated in places, expressly repeated in case the reader missed them within the telling.

I very much enjoyed getting to know the people within each tale. Each personality was unique, and this reflected how they told their story. Their individual characters came across really well.

Remove the intros and prologue, rewrite a little and this would be a fantastic book. It shows great promise. As it is, it would make an interesting read during a plane journey

I was provided with a digital version of this book to review.


Action Readers' Action: 
Consider those around you. Take some time to talk to them and learn their stories
What's the most interesting experience you've ever had on a plane?







Sunday, 22 September 2013

Casper the Community Cat by Susan Finden (A Review)










Goodreads Summary:

Casper became a national celebrity when newspapers ran the story of the amazing cat that regularly took the No. 3 bus on journeys around his home town, Plymouth, in Devon. While his devoted owner Sue Finden had wondered where her elusive pet was disappearing to each day, Casper was brightening the lives of countless commuters. Bus drivers, too, were getting well-acquainted with Casper, and notices went up in their depot alerting staff that a very special passenger might board their vehicle. In fact, he became a mascot for the bus company, and pictures of him and Susan adorned No. 3 buses. When Casper was sadly killed by a car in early 2010 messages of sympathy flooded in from places as far a field as Australia and Argentina. It quickly became clear that Casper and his remarkable story had touched the lives of many people around the world. Movingly told by the owner who loved him dearly, Casper the Commuting Cat is the touching story of a very special black-and-white cat who rode the bus and stole our hearts.


My review:
A heartwarming and entertaining tale of Casper, the cat who rode the bus.

This book is charming and a lovely relaxing read. Susan's love for her cats truly shines out of every page, making each moment recorded extra special. Each feline mentioned comes across as truly unique.

I recommend this book for all animal lovers. It would make a great holiday read.






Action Reader's Action:
  Consider whether you can adopt an animal for a homeless shelter.
If you can't, make a donation or give up some of your time instead.


Why not share a story about your favourite moggie?





Thursday, 12 September 2013

The Impossible Room


Soul Music by Terry Pratchett

It was a room within a room. There was a large, heavy-looking desk on a raised dias, with a leather swivel chair behind it. There was a large model of the Discworld, on a sort of ornament made of four elephants standing on the shell of a turtle. There were several bookshelves, the large volumes piled in the haphazard fashion of people who are far too busy using the books to ever arrange them properly. There was even a window, hanging in the air a few feet above the ground.
But there were no walls. There was nothing between the edge of the carpet and the walls of the greater room except floor, and even that was too precise a word for it. It didn't look like rock and it certainly wasn't wood. It made no sound when Susan walked on it. It was simply surface, in a purely geometrical sense.
The carpet had a skull-and-bones pattern.
In the distance, towards the wall of the greater room, the metaroom or whatever it was, there was a suggestion of... something. Something was casting complicated shadows, too far away to be clearly seen. 

Wednesday, 11 September 2013

Rivers









The high banks reminded her of the bluffs of her Des Moines, though these ridges lay like layers of dark molasses poured across flat cakes. Higher on the north side, the ridges were dusted partway down with snow. Hunt's party stood on crusty mud. A pair of geese honked downriver, then settled in lichen-covered rocks within sight of the stream. Ice like strings of pale beads nestled into the edges of blue-grey water that looked as smooth as a lake.
from A Name of Her Own by Jane Kirkpatrick

Friday, 6 September 2013

How to Eat Out by Giles Coren (a review)







Goodreads Summary:

It has taken Giles Coren a lifetime to master the art of eating out.From a lonely childhood spent in pub car parks, peering in at a magical world of chickens in baskets and butter in little foil squares, to belching his way through taste clouds of prawn gas and chocolate air at 'the best restaurant in the world', to mock dog in Shoreditch, sperm sushi in Tokyo and delicious fricasseed field mouse in 'Ancient' Rome, Coren has experienced pretty much everything a restaurant can throw at you, and thrown it right back. Or at least caught it, sniffed it, and bagged it up for later.Bad waiters, bum tables, little rip-offs, big cons, old fish, cheap meat, yesterday's soup and tomorrow's gastroenteritis... Coren tells you how to avoid the lot, and even come out of it with free champagne and a dish named after you by way of apology.It doesn't matter if it's fish and chips, takeaway pizza, a medieval banquet with Sue Perkins or a slap-up nosh at the Hotel de Posh, there is always a right way and wrong way to do it. How To Eat Out is a bit of both.

My review:
Hilarious and entertaining, this book is much more comedy than a real guide on how to eat out. It will be loved by everyone who enjoys a good laugh. You certainly can't say that Giles has led a boring life!



Thursday, 5 September 2013

The Wizard's Home


Soul Music by Terry Pratchett
It was warm inside. There was the usual wizardly paraphernalia- a forge, a bench with bottles and bundles strewn over it, a bookcase with books rammed in anyhow, a stuffed alligator hanging from the ceiling, some very big candles that were just lava streams of wax, and a raven on a skull. 

Wednesday, 4 September 2013

Valleys




Seven days after the engage has drowned, the Shoshone guides had led them into a wide valley with clusters of trees and mountain ridges standing as sentinels.
from A Name of Her Own by Jane Kirkpatrick

Two days later Hunt's party overlooked a valley that spread like a gold-and-brown blanket patched with white. Snow-dusted tips rimmed the flat below, surrounded by a thousand horses. And beyond flowed a  river, a vivid ribbon of blue.
from A Name of Her Own by Jane Kirkpatrick


What's your favourite valley?

Tuesday, 3 September 2013

Meadows


"The thick forest gave occasionally onto grassy meadows, dotted with herdbeasts and runners who would gallop wildly away when the first scent of the humans reached them. By the middle of the next day, they had reached higher ground, more frequently broken by meadows, until suddenly, they came to a low buff, as if the land had suddenly fallen away from the level on which they stood. Below, stretching to the far hazy horizon, was a marshland, dingered with black strips of water, which wove and disappeared about the clumps of drier land on which grew giant bushes of stiff, tuft-topped grasses."
Dragondrums by Anne McCaffrey

Monday, 2 September 2013

Bedrooms








Crashing Eden by Michael Sussman

It was tiny and had no windows. All it contained was a metal-framed single bed bolted to the wall, one measly chair, and a metal bureau bolted to the opposite wall, with drawers that couldn't be removed. There was no glass or mirror to break, no hooks anywhere, nothing that might be used to off yourself.


Whats' your bedroom like?

Monday, 19 August 2013

Guest Post: Ally Malinenko- You Have To Read This Book


Today I'm pleased to welcome 'Ally Malinenko' to 'The Story Factory Reading Zone'. I really enjoyed reading Ally's book 'Lizzy Spear and the Cursed Tomb'. I also hear that Ally is an avid reader, so she should fit in well here.

Welcome Ally:







About Ally
 
Hi. I’m Ally.

I live in Brooklyn which is good except when it’s not which is horrid. I’ve been writing for awhile, and have some stuff published and some stuff not.
I don’t like when people refer to pets as their children and I can’t resist a handful of cheez-its when offered.
I have a burning desire to go to Antarctica, specifically to the South Pole so I can see where Robert Falcon Scott died.
I like to read books. I like to write stories and poems. I even wrote a novel. Rumor has it, it got published. But I don’t believe rumors. And you shouldn’t either.



You Have to Read This Book

The book to read is not the one that thinks for you
but the one that makes you think
                                                                                                                -Harper Lee

People get really hung up on the answer to the question “What do you do?” We love to ask that. What do you? What do you do? The answer for most people 9 times out of 10 is what they do for a living. What brings in the money. What keeps a roof over their head. And that makes sense. But that’s what you do for a job. It’s not really what you do.

If I answered that question seriously, I would say I was a reader. It’s easily my favorite way to pass time. Maybe it’s being an introvert. Maybe it’s cause I started reading at a very young age and never stopped. Maybe it’s cause I’m a junky for the printed word. The library in my hometown was about the size of most people’s living room but to me, there was nowhere else I wanted to go on a weekend. When my mother would take me to the Big Library a few towns up, one that had more than one floor, I nearly fainted.

The fact of the matter is nothing is better than a book. They’re perfect. Compact. Lightweight (well, unless you’re reading Proust), and everyone takes from them a different experience, a different set of sensations. Love it or hate, a book changes you. I think if you rounded up all the other forms of life distractions, (internet, movies, television, games, etc) books would still win by a knockout.
They’re full of magic and memory and dreams and intrigue and laughter and sadness and heartbreak. I think if you could physical hold a soul, it would be in the shape of a book.

Even the places that house books are magical. How many hours can be spent wandering around a bookstore? I cannot recall ever walking into a bookstore and being alone. How many chances are there to pick up a story that will change your life? What other object do we speak about with that level of passion? To say, ‘this book changed my life’ is a common expression. How often do we ram them into the hands of friends and family, begging them to read, please you have to read this?

I read a book this year that describes perfectly the sensation of falling in love, with all the necessary anxiety and helplessness and joy and laughter and delight. (Eight White Nights by Andre Aicman)
I read a book this year that left me adrift in a boat facing the very reality of my impending death (Heart of the Sea by Nathan Philbrick).

I read a book this year that taught me that inside the dimension of spacetime is another little curled up world called the Calabi-Yau manifold (Elegant Universe by Brian Greene).

Every one of those books has changed me. Because that’s what books do. They are the only true magical thing I have ever encountered. So tell me, what did you read?

Tuesday, 13 August 2013

Lizzy Speare and the Cursed Tomb by Ally Malinenko (A Review)








About the book:

 
MEET LIZZY SPEARE
…a normal twelve year old girl with a talent for writing, who has a very notnormal family secret. And when Lizzy’s father vanishes, that secret will change her life in ways unimagined. (Spoiler Alert!  It turns out that Lizzy, or Elizabeth S. Speare, is the last living descendant of William Shakespeare.  Shhh!  Don’t tell anybody!)
Then Lizzy and her best friend Sammy are kidnapped, awakening in the faraway land of Manhattan. Their host is Jonathan Muse, whose job is to protect Lizzy from becoming the latest victim in a family feud going back nearly five hundred years.  Is that why is the mysterious, eye patch-wearing Dmitri Marlowe is after her? (Spoiler Alert 2—he’s the last living descendant of Christopher Marlowe, a friend and rival of Shakespeare’s.  But keep it to yourself!) Is Marlowe after Lizzy’s family fortune rumored to be kept in the tomb of that bald guy with the goatee? Does he seek artistic immortality? Or Revenge (with a capital R) for a death long, long ago?
In a dangerous game of cat-and-mouse, Lizzy and Sammy are thrust into the realm of the mythical and fantastic—from satyrs and Cyclopses to Middle Eastern cab drivers and Brooklyn hipsters in what is truly “an improbable fiction” as the Bard himself once wrote.


My review:
A dynamic story, weaving together YA, Shakespeare and mythology in a new and captivating way. 
Each character is unique and well-thought out, with a background story and clear motives. They all stand alone in their own rights, with even the most insignificant of them becoming a clear image in the reader's mind. I found myself particularly attracted to the character of Sammy, Lizzy's best friend and a truly heroic, yet realistic, person. The goodies are believable (even the most mythical of them), and the baddies retain an element of humanity amidst their cruelty.
The plot is driven forward by moments of action, each linked together with detective-like thinking or constructive character building. Nothing feels artificial about this story and it all hangs together perfectly. From the beginning to the end, I wanted to know what would happen next and I was never disappointed.
A definite 'you can't put down' book- I hope that I will have the opportunity to read the others in the series. 



Action Reader's Action:
  Investigate your ancestors and then share what you find with someone else


What's your view of Shakespeare?

Monday, 12 August 2013

Water Harvest by Eric Diehl (A Review)







About the book:

The Great Houses of Kast'ar have grown complacent. Technological adaptation bolsters a fragile biosphere, but one quandary remains unattended. Lunar-based harvest vessels orbit continuously, extracting their toll of moisture from the upper atmosphere.

Over time, the planet dries.

Now the Rules are caught unawares when a lunar enclave launches an invasion intended to seize control of the Harvest. House Alar, the greatest of the bloodline Keeps, falls before the predatory warlord. The invader's technology is strong and they are aided by the Guild; wizard-like practitioners whose hallucinogen-induced evocations bend fate to their will.

It falls to Cairn, Legion pilot and displaced heir to Alar, to persuade the House Alliance to intercede. His father and his love Neilai are held hostage, and a battered Cairn is dispatched to carry the vile interloper's edict. With few resources at hand, Cairn and boisterous comrade Dirc Cutter are thrust into a changed world. The Alliance falters and Cairn, son of House Alar, learns how little he knows of his home world.


Review:
A science-fiction adventure, fall of battles, this story draws heavily on concepts and terms that will be familiar to all that enjoy the genre.
The plot was interesting, with some unusual twists. Unfortunately I found it hard to follow in places, which was quite infuriating considering the length of the book. I think this was partly due to the long battle scenes, and partly due to sudden changes in alliances.
The battle scenes were complex and, at times, quite gripping. They were full of detail and relatively easy to picture. 
I think that anyone who likes reading about battles would really enjoy this book. Unfortunately there were rather too many of these scene for me. 





Action Reader's Action:
Consider a time when you haven't acted as you should have. Write an apology letter (you don't have to send it if you don't want to).

What motivates you? 

Saturday, 10 August 2013

God Collar by Marcus Brigstocke







About the book:

Marcus Brigstocke is a husband, a father and an award-winning comedian. He's also an atheist... or at least he thinks he is. He knows that God probably doesn't exist because he read it on the side of a bus, and that's one of the ways you can know things.
Here, in God Collar, Marcus sets out on a journey through faith in the hope of filling his 'God-shaped hole' (this is not his arsehole- he is not suggesting his bottom looks like God). He explores his own issues around faith: his lack of it, his need for it, other people's exploitation of it and what good purposes it might serve if he could get hold of it. What good is God if some of His keenest followers abuse children, blow each other up and refuse to dance to 'YMCA'? Can God and Marcus ever be friends when they have so little in common? What's a reluctant atheist to do?

My review:
To be honest, I found this book quite uncomfortable in places. Its not an easy book for anyone of faith to read, but I do think its necessary in order to understand some misconceptions of non-believers about religion and why they occur.
This book promises to be hilarious, and I did find it funny in a few places. But mostly I found it very thought-provoking. I couldn't stop talking to those around me about what I'd read, considering it when I journalled, and generally contemplating each chapter in great detail.
I did really feel for Marcus' exploration of his beliefs. It was interesting to see his thought processes in action, and how we are all influenced by what we experience in everyday life.
I came out at the end of it not having enjoyed the book, but being glad that I'd read it and feeling a little sorry that all Marcus' contemplating whilst writing didn't seem to have made any certainty for him in his life. Worth a read, but not compulsory reading in my opinion.


Action Reader's Action:
Take some time to talk with someone whose beliefs are different to your own

What do you believe in and why? 




 

Friday, 9 August 2013

One Hit Wonderland by Tony Hawks (A Review)








About the book:

 Its 1988 and radios across the land blast out the Top Ten hit 'Stutter Rap' by Morris Minor and the Majors. The man behind the fake moustache is Tony Hawks.
Fast-forward to the 21st century and those heady days of pop stardom are a distant memory. That is, until it is suggested that Tony is a One Hit Wonder. Really? We'll see about that...
For two years Tony struggles to have a hit, somewhere- anywhere- in the world, changing acts and styles with a bewildering lack of integrity. From Nashville to Amsterdam, from Eastern Europe to Africa, he travels the globe in search of that elusive hit.
But it's only after a chance encounter with Norman Wisdom that things get really strange. Is it possible that together they could storm the Albanian charts?
In One Hit Wonderland anything can happen...


My review:
Witty and funny, you never know where this book will go next. I just love the way Tony Hawk's mind seems to work, taking the impossible and making it possible in the most unbelievable way.
Sometimes its hard to believe that any of this is real. Its not all down-hill sailing but, even during the uphill passages, this book never ceases to provide good reading. The most entertaining part is saved right to the end, but you won't regret reading the rest to get there. 
This isn't the best Tony Hawks book in my opinion, but it certainly a great light-hearted read.

Action Reader's Action:
What's your aim in life? Spend some time thinking about how you can achieve it.


What's your favourite one-hit wonder?
(If you can, provide a link to YouTube so that we can check it out as well)
 

Thursday, 8 August 2013

Blonde Roots by Bernardine Evaristo (A Review)




About the book:
Bernardine Evaristo's dynamic debut novel asks: What if the history of the transatlantic slave trade had been reversed, and if Africans has enslaved Europeans? How would that have changed the ways that people justified their inhuman behaviour? How would it inform our cultural attitudes and the insidious racism that still longer today?
We see this tragicomic world turned upside down through the eyes of Doris, and Englishwoman who is kidnapped as a child from the fields near her home; subsequently enslaved; and taken to the New World, as well as to the imperial center of Great Ambossa. Doris movingly recounts experiences of tremendous hardship and the dreams of the people she has left behind, all while journeying toward an escape into freedom.


My review:
A daring and thought-provoking book, this story does its job very well. It was strange at first, reading about this different and yet familiar world, but as the book went it is seemed more and more real. Don't get me wrong, it was never a completely comfortable read, but is was scary how believable it all became.
It was easy to resonate with the character of Doris, to appreciate her viewpoint on the situation she was in. The others appeared as individuals, with clear ways of seeing the world influenced by their own pasts. Each character was unique and believable.
If I had to pick one hole in this book, it would be that I was never entirely sure what time period it was supposed to be set in. Some things seemed really modern, others seemed somehow unnecessarily primitive. However, this only jarred with me once or twice and for a very short time, as the characters were so gripping, and the events so intense.
This book should be read by anyone interested in, or studying, the history of the slave trade. Its also a really hard-hitting and yet enjoyable read for all who usually like historic fiction, or just a good novel.

Action Reader's Action:
Pay particular attention to thinking about how you treat other people today.


How much do you know about your family history? 
How has it influenced your view of the world?

 

Wednesday, 7 August 2013

Playing the Moldovans at Tennis by Tony Hawks







About the Book

An eccentric wager finds Tony Hawks, a man who loves an unusual challenge, bound for the little-known Eastern European state of Moldova. His mission: to track down members of the country's football team and persuade them to play him at tennis. The bizzare quest ultimately has little to do with tennis or football, but instead turns into an extraordinary journey involving the Moldovan underworld, gypsies, chronic power shortages, near kidnap, and a surprisingly tender relationship with his host family.

My review:
From the moment I picked up this book I was drawn in. It might help that I'd just been lucky enough to see the man himself talking about it, but I think it would have been hard to put down anyway. 
Every character is described in a way that suggests Tony really understands how they tick. They are real people, who feel like they might jump out of the page at any moment.
Its amazing how many events manage to come together in this one book. There's never a dull moment as Tony pursues his quest. Sometimes its even hard to believe that it is real- surely at least some of it is fiction?! But real it is, providing a good insight into a pretty much unknown world alongside its hilarious turns of event.  
Hilarious, inspiring, and revealing, this book is a must for anyone wanting a lighter read.  


Action Reader's Action: 
 Use an atlas to find a country that you don't know much about. Make it your mission to discover more about it.


What's the most exotic place you've ever traveled to?


Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Fable's Fortunes by Sue Johnson (A Review)






About the book:

Fable Mitchell is born under a roof of stars in a Kentish plum orchard, and her early childhood is spent alone in a house called 'Starlight' where she lives with her mother Jasmine and Gangan the Wise Woman. However, her life is not destined to remain like a fairytale.
When she is ten, she is abducted by her estranged father Derek, now a vicar, and taken to live in his austere vicarage as Isbourne on the banks of the River Avon. Fable is unable to escape. When she is sixteen, she falls in love with Tobias Latimer but he dies in mysterious circumstances and Fable's happiness is once again snatched away from her. 
She tries to rebuild her life and marries Tony Lucas because she thinks the omens are right. Fable soon realises he is abusive and controlling, but is trapped because she fears losing contact with her daughter. Nearing her 40th birthday, Fable hears Gangan the Wise Woman's voice telling her to 'be reading- magic happens'.
This is certainly true, but does Fable have the necessary courage to finally seize her chance of lasting happiness?


My review:
I really enjoyed the final third of this book. It was tense, emotionally and heart-felt. I found myself caught up in the character of Fable.
Unfortunately, it took rather longer than I would have like to get to this point. There were interesting events and some evocative passages, but flashbacks and descriptive passages seemed to slow down what was happening rather than adding to the feelings in places. 
The overall feel of this book was like a fairytale, with some adult events. I'm sure it is a mix that will appeal to some, but it just wasn't for me. 

Action Reader's Action: Make some magic happen in someone's life today. Create an happy surprise.

What does happiness mean to you?
 

Monday, 5 August 2013

Music Out of The Pages: Making Instruments


Dragonsinger by Anne McCaffrey
....."Then Robinton wants you to borrow a gitar. Master Jerint is sure to have a spare one usable in the workshop. You'll have to make your own, you know. Unless you made one for Petiron at the Sea Hold?"
"I had none of my own." Menolly was rlieved that she could keep her voice steady.
"But Petiron took his with him. Surely you..."
"I had use of it, yes." Menolly managed to keep her tone even as she rigidly suppreessed the memory of how she had lost the use, the beating her father had given her for forbidden tuning, playing her own songs. "I made myself pipes..." she added, diverting Silvina from further questions. Rummaging in her bundle, she brought out the multiple pipes she had made in her cave by the sea.
"Reeds? And done with a belt knife by the look of them," said Silvina, walking to the window for more light as she turned the pipes in a critical examination. "Well done for juust a belt knife." She reeturned the pipes to Menolly with an approving expression. "Petiron was a good teacher."


Have you ever made an instrument?

Thursday, 1 August 2013

The Long Earth by Terry Pratchett & Stephen Baxter (A Review)


Blurb:
1916: the Western Front, France. Private Percy Blakeney wakes up. He is lying on fresh spring grass. He can hear birdsong, and the wind in the leaves in the trees. Where has the mud, blood and blasted landscape of No man's Land gone?

2015: Madison, Wisconsin. Cop Monica Jansson has returned to the burned-out home of one Willis Linsay, a reclusive and some said mad, others dangerous, scientist. It was arson but, as is often the way, the firemen seem to have caused more damage than the fire itself. Stepping through the wreck of a house, there's no sign of any human remains but on the mantelpiece Monica finds a curious gadget - a box, containing some wiring, a three-way switch and a...potato. It is the prototype of an invention that Linsay called a 'stepper'. An invention he put up on the web for all the world to see, and use, an invention that would to change the way mankind viewed his world Earth for ever. And that's an understatement if ever there was one...

...because the stepper allowed the person using it to step sideways into another America, another Earth, and if you kept on stepping, you kept on entering even more Earths...this is the Long Earth. It's not our Earth but one of chain of parallel worlds, lying side by side each differing from its neighbour by really very little (or actually quite a lot). It's an infinite chain, offering 'steppers' an infinite landscape of infinite possibilities. And the further away you travel, the stranger - and sometimes more dangerous - the Earths get. The sun and moon always shine, the basic laws of physics are the same. However, the chance events which have shaped our particular Earth, such as the dinosaur-killer asteroid impact, might not have happened and things may well have turned out rather differently.

But, until Willis Linsay invented his stepper, only our Earth hosted mankind...or so we thought. Because it turns out there are some people who are natural 'steppers', who don't need his invention and now the great migration has begun..


My review:
Partly out of the realms on classic sci-fi, this story explores the idea of what it means to be human. Add a touch of Pratchett humour and you have an ingenious plot.

I particularly enjoyed the literary references which were many and well-thought out.The way the thought processes of the main characters differed was also very interesting.

This book made me want to explore more of Stephen Baxter's work, as well as being a good addition to my Pratchett collection.




Action Reader's Action: Try to reduce the amout of time that you spend on computers. Take back control of your life!

Question: What do you think it means to be human?



Monday, 24 June 2013

Music Out of the Pages: Singing







"That man's voice must be absolutely unique in this day and age," he declared. "The trouble is that our choir, even at full blast, might not be able to drown it out entirely. It's the kind of voice they tried to suppress over a hundred and fifty years ago when they did away with castratos- only it's a lot more piercing and upsetting than castratos must have been."

from Hearts to Heaven and Tempers Raise by Reginald Frary

Tell us about your choir experiences

Monday, 17 June 2013

Music Out of the Pages: Religious Instruments


"To blow a shofar, you've got to form an embouchure, like you're blowing into a trumpet, and you've got to blow really, really hard. The idea is to call forth the faithful, to remind them of the mighty deeds of God. It was the shofar that was heard when the Ten Commandments were given, the shofar that brought down the city of Jericho, the shofar that for centuries has marked the beginning of a new year."
From A Year of Biblical Womanhood by Rachel Held Evans

Sunday, 16 June 2013

Locating Eden






Crashing Eden by Michael Sussman
"Eden is a Sumerian word meaning lush plain. Some scholars believe that Eden was located in the Fertile Crescent. along the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, corresponding to modern-day Iraq. Around 6000 to 5000 BC, after thousands of years of drought, came a period called the Neolithic Wet Phase, when rains returned the the Gulf Region. Foraging populations also returned, but they found the area resettled by the first agriculturists. The Garden of Eden story may represent the point of view of the hunter-gatherers, who regarded the farmers as sinning against God by taking matters into their own hands, relying on their own knowledge and skills rather than on God's bounty."

Friday, 14 June 2013

Faith Friday: Vicars and Ministers







Despite Booksups traditional feelings, however, the choir reckons that, as vicars go, the present man is actually not bad after all. He hardly ever tries to meddle with the music and simply joins in singing the tunes he knows with a very enthusiastic, generally flat sort of growl. There are two basses in the choir who also sing like that so no one complains about the vicar. An ever-optimistic married man with three lively teenaged daughters who never come to church, three boisterous Ladbradors who insist on coming and a wife who manages them all with a cheerful determination in their chaotic Victorian vicarage, the vicar rejoices in seeing happy people in church.

from Hearts to Heaven and Tempers Raise by Reginald Frary

Monday, 10 June 2013

Music Out of the Pages: The Heart and Soul of Music


Soul Music by Terry Pratchett
But you couldn't repair a musical instrument. He remembered the old bards saying that. They had a soul. All instruments had a soul. If they were broken, the soul of them escaped, flew away like a bird. What was out together again was just a thing, a mere assemblage of wood and wire. It would play, it might even deceive a casual listener, but... You might as well push someone over a cliff and then stitch them together and expect them to come alive. 

Dragonsong by Anne McCaffrey
From the apprentices' hall across the courtyard, the singing was renewed, with vigor and volume. Beauty cocked her head, humming with delight and then, when Menoly shushed her, looked wistfully up at the girl.
 

Sunday, 9 June 2013

The Garden of Eden








Crashing Eden by Michael Sussman

"The Jews call it the Garden of Eden, and the Iranians, the Garden of Yima. To the Sumerians it was Dilun, and to the Egyptians it was Tep Zepi. The ancient Greeks spoke of a Golden Age, and the Hindus refer to it as Satya Yuga. From the Chinese Taoists to the tribes of central and southern Africa; from the Cheyenne of the Great Plains to the Yanomano of the Venezuelan rain forest, we encounter this universal myth of a prehistoric time of harmony and bliss that vanished due to some primordial crime."

Friday, 7 June 2013

The Power of Words


Soul music by Terry Pratchett
And if they're said with the right passion and the gods are feeling bored, sometimes the universe will reform itself around words like that. Words have always had the power to change the world.

Thursday, 6 June 2013

Life after death




When he returned and stood at his father's grave, Holy Rainbow had shown little sadness, and it occurred to him then that it was because she, too, knew it was the way of all living things.
"The Frairs say we shall see him again," Holy Rainbow had told him. "In another place and time. Not like a spirit that returns to roam the earth. Not like that. But as a child opening his arms to those in his family who have wandered and now return home." Her eyes had been filled with tears when he turned to him. "It is a hope," she said, "and the promise of a good father."
from A Name of Her Own by Jane Kirkpatrick


What do you believe in?

Wednesday, 5 June 2013

Hay Festival 2013: General impressions


Credit: Finn Beales




I was lucky enough to manage to get to the Hay Festival, Hay-on-Wye this year. I'd like to share with you some of my experiences over the next week or so.
Read on and then do enter my giveaway to win some of the books by authors who appeared during the event.


Day One
A good day. The sun stayed bright (so bright infact that I have a bit of a suntan) and the rain didn't arrive. The Hay Festival is very interesting. The site itself isn't as big as I thought it would be. There are loads of cafes on site and its quite bustling. Driving through town, it looked like a really fascinating place to be.
Day Two
 This place is beginning to feel like home. All in all a great day. Comedy and education all built into one. This really is a great place to be!

Day Three
Watched some children playing today. Its amazing what difference being readers, or having parents who read seems to make. I saw a little girl plonk down on a bench and break it. I was expecting tears but, instead, this 6 year-old turned the bench over and began fixing it. Before her parents looked up from their book she had fixed it. In the meantime other youngsters were making their own entertainment; not an electronic device in sight!

Day Four
Terrible weather. Still, I managed to keep busy going to talks. Its very useful that the walkways are almost completely undercover.
Day Five
I feels like I've been here forever now, and I wish it could stay this way. I'm just so relaxed, and I'm really enjoying listening to (and meeting) such a variety of people. Getting up slowly in the morning and reading throughout the day is good as well. 
Day Six
Lovely sunny day. The birds are singing and the day is bright. A really thought-provoking day, finished off with a dash of comedy. 
Day Seven
A really beautiful day, which I spent exploring the surrounding area. The sun shone through and I saw some really amazing things. I returned to Hay feeling more excited and at home than other. Queuing was no longer boring. I was happy simply just to sit back and watch the world go by. 



Have you been to Hay? How did you find it?


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