Alex V. (Allypally) - Reviews

1 to 16 of 16
The Actor and the Housewife
The Actor and the Housewife
Author: Shannon Hale
Book Type: Hardcover
  • Currently 3.3/5 Stars.
 31
Review Date: 1/17/2010


Your film star crush bumps into you and you just happen to instantly hit it off and decide that you're soul mates? Really? The premise of this book is wildly unrealistic and so when I read it I was having problems suspending my disbelief enough to really get into it. But the focus of the book shifts away from this in the second half of the book about becomes something else entirely, a story about one woman's emotional life and the journey that two friends take together through it. The story takes place over ten years or so, which gives the author time to describe the natural ebbs and flows in a friendship as people's needs for each other change.

The main problem with this book is that it doesn't know whether it wants to be a light and fluffy comedy, which it is in the first half, or a deeper more emotional story about love, loss and the power of friendship, which it is in the second half.

The first half of the book is nothing special, and I found the film star plot line distracting and could have done without it altogether. But it's an easy read and worth getting through to get to the rest. I liked the second half much better, and there was real emotional power and resonance in the author's treatment of the impact that true friends can have on each other.


Amazing Grace: William Wilberforce and the Heroic Campaign to End Slavery
Review Date: 4/6/2011


I was really disappointed with this book.

This purports to be a historical biography, but there was not a footnote or bibliographical reference in sight. That, combined with the author's tendency to assert what people were thinking without referencing anything but his own imagination, made me leery of the whole thing.

The author also had a wildy idiosyncratic writing style, and the book was full of over-stuffed and exaggerated similes that made it almost unreadable at times. For instance, in describing Wilberforce's coach journey through France with a friend who was instrumental in his conversion, Metaxas writes that they were 'sailing in their horse-drawn coach through the mountains, like something out of a fairytale, one in which a gnome and a giant on a journey in a sphere of glass and silver discover the Well at the World's End, and drinking a draught of therefrom learn the secret meaning at the heart of the universe.' What??? In describing one of the parliamentary debates on abolition, an opponent proposed a compromise and suggested gradual abolition, which Metaxas asserts was a suggestion 'from the dead belly of hell itself.' The book is full of other such gems that for me at least were very distracting and just plain annoying, especially when combined with the author's tendency to flip-flop between writing in the past and present tense for no apparent reason.

The book is also billed as a companion volume to the movie (which was great) however, it skips over all the parliamentary sneaking and strategising they had to do to get their bill through. This isn't mentioned in the book at all. Not once. Instead Metaxas presents the passing of the abolition bill in 1807 as the triumphant and inevitable conclusion to a long campaign, without even mentioning their brilliant tactics of the year before which resulted in the passing of the Foreign Slave Trade Act, which was one of the high points of the movie.

There is a great story to be told about William Wilberforce, but sadly Eric Metaxas did not manage to do it.


The Bounty : The True Story of the Mutiny on the Bounty
The Bounty : The True Story of the Mutiny on the Bounty
Author: Caroline Alexander
Book Type: Hardcover
  • Currently 4.4/5 Stars.
 9
Review Date: 1/18/2009
Helpful Score: 2


I knew nothing about the mutiny on the Bounty when I picked up this book - except that there was one! This was a fascinating read, thoroughly researched and a gripping story, and goes some way to explaining the hold that the story has had on our collective consciousness for over 200 years now.

Caroline Alexander presents a picture of Captain Bligh that is totally unexpected, not the tyrannical monster of Hollywood movies but a talented, ambitious, and also humane man who was hoping to get through the whole voyage without ordering a flogging. One flaw in this story is that because Alexander draws a lot of her material from the Court Martial proceedings, the main opponent to Captain Bligh is one of the mutineers, Peter Heywood. Fletcher Christian was never captured, so there was no court martial and as a result, in the book there is little exploration of Fletcher Christian's motivations or actions, which was a little disappointing.

Overall, though, a thoroughly interesting and worthwhile read.


The Ghost Map: The Story of London's Most Terrifying Epidemic--and How It Changed Science, Cities, and the Modern World
Review Date: 4/30/2008
Helpful Score: 5


This was a fascinating book! This is not just a history book. The author not only writes clearly and lucidly about London's great cholera outbreak in 1854, but he extrapolates out from that some very interesting thoughts about urbanisation in the 21st century and the way forward for an over-burdened planet.

I really enjoyed the history of this book, but the last couple of chapters also presented me with some new ideas about the life we live today and really made me think.

A very interesting read!


The Host
The Host
Author: Stephenie Meyer
Book Type: Hardcover
  • Currently 4/5 Stars.
 1190
Review Date: 5/11/2008
Helpful Score: 28


Has Stephenie Meyer done it again? I don't know! The relationship between Wanderer/Melanie and Jared was less immediately compelling than Bella/Edward, but I still read the whole book in one sitting and could not put it down. This is billed as her first book for adults, but honestly, it reads just like her YA stuff. The ending was obvious from a mile away, to the point that it was frustrating to me that the characters couldn't see what needed to be done, when it was so clear. (They do catch on eventually!)

However, flaws aside, one thing is for sure. Stephenie Meyer can tell a story. There is something about the pace of her writing that draws you in and compels you to finish. She takes an impossible situation (three people, two bodies) and keeps you wondering for a very long time how it can possibly be resolved.

A classic? No. Worth reading? Yes.


House of Many Ways
House of Many Ways
Author: Diana Wynne Jones
Book Type: Hardcover
  • Currently 3.9/5 Stars.
 25
Review Date: 8/12/2008


Quirky and charming, this is a fitting sequel to Howl's Moving Castle (ie much better than Castle in the Air!).

Charmain Baker is an occasionally annoyingly self-centred heroine, but there is enough going on in the rest of the plot to overlook this. She certainly has plenty to do coping with Wizard Norland's amazing house which exists in several dimensions at once, finding the missing Royal treasure, a kobold rebellion and an enraged lubbock, all of which she does somewhat haphazardly but in true Diana Wynne Jones style.

Although the book is mostly about Charmain, Howl, Sophie and Calcifer are here too, and they are present enough for the book to be satisfying as a sequel.


Justinian's Flea: The First Great Plague and the End of the Roman Empire
Review Date: 6/17/2009


The title of this book is a bit of a misnomer... it's not really about the plague at all. It's about the history of Byzantium, the reign of Justinian, the relationship between the Roman/Persian empires, the battles of Justinian and Belisarius, the invasions of the Huns/Goths, the siege and sack of Rome, the split between the Catholic and Orthodox churches (complete with theological explanations), the impact of the silk trade, and a host of other things besides.

The book is divided into three sections, though there doesn't seem to be much rhyme or reason as to what is covered in which. There is an insanely technical middle section about the biology and evolution of the Y.Pestis bacterium which had my head spinning... I'd much rather know about the effect of the bacterium than understand it's evolutionary chronology! The book is rather lacking on the effects of the plague.

If you're looking for a book about the end of the Roman Empire though, this is interesting and packed with fascinating facts. It is just more than a little lacking in focus! However it is an interesting read, if you can get past the fact that it's not really about the plague at all... the last part of the title is far more accurate and it should have just been called 'The end of the Roman Empire' rather than 'Justinian's Flea'.


The Lollipop Shoes
The Lollipop Shoes
Author: Joanne Harris
Book Type: Paperback
  • Currently 3.4/5 Stars.
 6
Review Date: 9/1/2008
Helpful Score: 3


I was a little disappointed in this book. The story has three main narrators, Vianne, Anouk, and a new character, Zozie. (The author does a good job of making it clear early in each chapter which narrator is speaking, otherwise it would have been very confusing!)

The book centers on a battle between opposing systems of morality, symbolised by Vianne and Zozie, and comes down to a battle between them over Anouk, and who can ultimately influence her choices. However, Vianne doesn't even realise there is a battle until 3/4 of the way through the book, so you are left spending an awful lot of time listening to the plotting and scheming of Zozie, who is a decidedly unpleasant character. I found that very frustrating, and wanted more of Vianne and less of Zozie.

However, some things about Vianne's past which were hinted at in Chocolat are brought to the fore in this book, and the author gives us closure at the end of the book, so there are satisfactions to be had in reading this, even though Zozie was so awful to read.


The Lost: A Search for Six of Six Million
Review Date: 1/18/2013
Helpful Score: 1


This is an incredible book. It is a memoir of the author's search to find out what happened to his great-uncle's family during the Holocaust - all the family knew was that they had been 'killed by the Nazis'. At the start of the book you are skeptical, frankly, that anything can be found out about just six of six million. And then little discovery by little discovery, the author draws you in until you almost feel like you are on the search with him. This book is a master class in how to do your family history research properly! That aside, it is also a beautifully written and incredibly moving story of a family and how family ties and tensions affect us all.


Mary, Queen of Scots, and the Murder of Lord Darnley
Mary, Queen of Scots, and the Murder of Lord Darnley
Author: Alison Weir
Book Type: Paperback
  • Currently 3.3/5 Stars.
 15
Review Date: 11/29/2012


I came to this on the back of another biography of Mary Queen of Scots and wanted to know more about her earlier life. The book is meticulously researched - Alison Weir researched hundred and hundreds of sources and it shows. This goes into a level of detail that is quite incredible in places.

The only real issue I had with it is that Alison Weir struggles to be objective in a few places. She pins her colours to the mast quite early on and spends much of the book proving her theory that Mary is innocent. In doing this she takes everything Mary says or is reported to have said at face value, instead of considering that perhaps Mary was telling people what they wanted to hear. There are a few things about Mary's behaviour that are totally inconsistent - she claimed to have been kidnapped and raped by Bothwell and didn't actually want to marry him - yet when it all goes down and Mary is captured by the Lords she refuses every chance that is given her to denounce Bothwell. Alison Weir doesn't address these inconsistencies - or even see them as inconsistencies which I found a little jarring.

On the whole though, this can be overlooked if purely for the fact that this is so supremely well researched, which makes it a much more interesting read.


Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore
Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore
Author: Robin Sloan
Book Type: Hardcover
  • Currently 3.7/5 Stars.
 60
Review Date: 4/5/2013


'A clerk and a ladder and warm golden light, and then: the right book exactly, at exactly the right time.'

This is a book for anyone who recognises this feeling, or wishes for this feeling.... this is a book for book lovers! It is an ingenious mystery story, as well as being a fable for our time in the way it discusses what we do with the information that we have. I've never come across a book that exists so comfortably at the intersect between old knowledge (much of the mystery is built around a fifteenth century typeface and it's designer) and new technology (you'll learn more about the inner workings of the internet than you want!). Totally original and well worth the read. It's been a long time since I was so gripped by a book and immersed in the world it creates.

A wonderful read!


An Officer and a Spy (Vintage)
An Officer and a Spy (Vintage)
Author: Robert Harris
Book Type: Paperback
  • Currently 4.6/5 Stars.
 5
Review Date: 2/27/2015


This is another winner by Robert Harris - actually I think one of his best books.

The book is about the Dreyfus affair - and don't let that put you off. When I picked up the book, the only thing I knew about the Dreyfus affair was that there was one, and it was a big deal. But not why, or any of the details about it.

This book is a fictionalised account of the whole thing, from start to finish, told from the point of view of Colonel Picquart, an army officer who begins to realise that a miscarriage of justice has occurred and decides to investigate the circumstances. Dreyfus is only a minor character in the book (given that he is imprisoned on Devil's Island throughout much of the story) and the action on uncovering the truth is carried by Picquart - as indeed it was in real life.

Although it sounds dry and historical, the book is anything but. The book draws you in, unfolds the clues in front of you, and past a certain point becomes just un-put-down-able. You will stay up late to finish this one!

This a real David and Goliath story. Picquart is a lone voice crying in the wilderness, and he's up against the full weight of the French establishment. If you don't know the details of the story, you will be amazed - amazed - at the lengths to which they try to go to suppress the truth. Colonel Picquart is now one of my heros. One person can change the world. Colonel Picquart did.


A Pattern of Roses
A Pattern of Roses
Author: K. M. Peyton
Book Type: Hardcover
  • Currently 4/5 Stars.
 1
Review Date: 10/21/2017


Just as good as I remembered it from my last read thirty plus years ago.


Possession
Possession
Author: A. S. Byatt
Book Type: Paperback
  • Currently 4/5 Stars.
 12
Review Date: 4/30/2008
Helpful Score: 2


This is such a fabulous book! Graduate student Roland finds a letter to an unknown woman written by famous Victorian poet Randolph Henry Ash. Instead of turning it over to his professor, he decides to look into it himself. He identifies the woman as Christabel LaMotte and with the help of a professor who specialises in her writing, they set off on the trail of a literary mystery.

I guess this is really a literary romance - you don't know whether to be more gripped by the Roland/Maud storyline in modern times or the Randolph/Christabel story in Victorian times. It's put together so well, the clues to the denouement are all there, and towards the end it's un-put-downable!

A great book about the power of relationships and the importance of literature - both for those who write it and those who read it. This is one of my all time top 5.


The Secret Diaries of Charlotte Bronte
The Secret Diaries of Charlotte Bronte
Author: Syrie James
Book Type: Paperback
  • Currently 3.7/5 Stars.
 12
Review Date: 9/23/2009
Helpful Score: 2


Rather than fiction, this is a fictional biography, as most of the incidents in the book are based on fact. The few times the author does stray from the known facts the books comes across as much less convincing. She adds in some intrigue about Arthur Bell Nicholl's romantic past which doesn't really work, and she makes liberal use of her imagination in portraying of some of the relationship between Charlotte and Arthur Bell Nicholls. But this is fiction, not biography, and who can blame Syrie James for wanting to give the author of Jane Eyre some passion and romance in her life? It does make for quite a satisfying conclusion to Charlotte's story.

The author did a surprisingly good job of making Charlotte the narrator actually sound like Charlotte the writer. She makes Charlotte say a couple of anachronistic things here and there but nothing to really jar on you, and much of what Charlotte the narrator says is recognisable from Charlotte Bronte's own letters to others.

This would be a good introduction to the lives of the Brontes for those who don't know much about the family. If this leaves you wanting more, try Juliet Barker's fabulous biography 'The Brontes' for the full story.


Shades of Grey (Shades of Grey, Bk 1)
Shades of Grey (Shades of Grey, Bk 1)
Author: Jasper Fforde
Book Type: Hardcover
  • Currently 4.1/5 Stars.
 39
Review Date: 5/24/2010
Helpful Score: 2


Jasper Fforde has one crazy wild imagination!

This book got off to a slow start for me, probably because you're not so instantly familiar with the world he's created as with the Eyre Affair books, where the literature he draws from creates an instant reference point for the reader. Instead, with this book you are left to figure it out for yourself, and there is plenty to figure out! Any time you think you have just about understood the world they're in he throws in something completely wild like it's totally normal - megafauna, the postcode system, queuing, and the startling absence of spoons - and you are left to yourself to puzzle out how it all fits together.

Despite a slow start, once Eddie Russett actually gets to East Carmine the story starts to pick up, and by about a third of the way through the book I couldn't put it down. The relationship between Eddie and Jane (a cute little nod back to the Eyre Affair) is slightly unbelievable at first - Jane is so supremely obnoxious, but somehow by the end you are rooting for her and Eddie despite the major obstacles that crop up.

The ending of the book will be a little frustrating for readers who like stories to be neatly wrapped up by the end... but it leaves the story perfectly positioned to draw you in to the sequel. I for one can't wait to see where Jasper Fforde is going to take this!


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