Friday, 30 August 2013


Title: HHhH
Author: Laurent Binet
Translator: Sam Taylor
Pages: 384
Published: May 23rd 2012 (first published 2010)
Published by: Harvill Secker

Everyone has heard of Reinhard Heydrich, “the Butcher of Prague.” And most have heard stories of his spectacular assassination at the hands of two Czechoslovakian partisans. But who exactly were the forgotten heroes who killed one of history’s most notorious men? In Laurent Binet’s captivating debut novel, HHhH (Himmlers Hirn heiBt Heydrich, or Himmler’s brain is called Heydrich), we follow the lives of Jozef Gabcik and Jan Kubiš, the Slovak and the Czech responsible for Heydrich’s death. From their heroic escape from Nazi-occupied Prague to their recruitment by the British secret services; from their meticulous preparation and training to their harrowing parachute drop into a war zone; from their stealth attack on Heydrich’s car to their own brutal deaths in the basement of a Prague church, Binet narrates the compelling story of these two incredible men, rescuing their heroic acts from obscurity. The winner of the prestigious Prix Goncourt du Premier Roman, Binet’s HHhH is a novel unlike anything else. A seemingly effortless blend of historical truth, personal memory, and Binet’s remarkable imagination, HHhH is a work at once thrilling and deeply engrossing—a historical novel and a profound meditation on the nature of writing and the debt we owe to history.

HHhH - Himmler's Hirn heisst Heydrich - Himmler's brain is called Heydrich

This book accounts the run-up-to and assassination of Reinhard Heydrich, including his rise through the Nazi party and the movements of his killers in the days and months preceding his death. Unfortunately, there are quite regular insertions by the author about the research he is doing, the things he has come across and even random asides from his personal life. It was these sections that negatively affected my opinion of this book. It broke the flow of the reason I was reading the book and while it well served to show the passion of Binet on this subject, for me that came through enough in the level of detail in regards to the historical events without him needing to constantly show it in other ways.

Without a doubt this is a well researched book and Binet doesn't include anything without being able to verify it as fact. Or rather, the times he does invent details or conversations he tells us about it. This is good in terms of accuracy, but not quite what I was expecting (though re-reading the blurb, maybe should have been), expecting something more like Schindler's List where the events are expanded upon with likely conversations. Two different approaches, each with their benefits. On the flip side, it does mean we are party to a short chapter on a comment made about the inclusion of an imagined detail. This comment made him remove a certain phrase, then search for something to replace it, and eventually put it back in. I've never felt the need to know anything about an author's personal editing process before. And in all honesty I could have lived perfectly without it this time.

Things like this aside, I found Binet's writing easy to read, something that can be difficult when it comes to subjects like this. Yes, there isn't mass-murder on every page or anything like that, but because of this it isn't exactly the most scintillating of things to read at times, but I never felt bored by what was going on or anything. There are also the random asides - not about himself - about other things that went on during the period covered. Most of them are at least vaguely related, but sometimes wonderful little stories make their way into the book simply because they're wonderful. Which is pretty heart-warming.

An interesting read for those who want to find out more about the life and death of the Butcher of Prague and those who killed him.

And suffered the reprisals.

Friday, 23 August 2013

Stained Glass Monsters

Title: Stained Glass Monsters
Series: Eferum #1
Author: Andrea K Höst
Pages: 246 (paperback)
Published: January 3rd 2011
Published by: ?

When a motionless woman dressed in white appears in the village of Falk, Kendall Stockton has no inkling that the strange apparition will soon leave her homeless, and tangled in the affairs of mages and monsters. For the white figure is the first sign of a spell which will shatter cities, and make the caster as powerful as the gods.

Saved by a stranger who claims her goal is to stop the woman, Kendall is torn between admiring the mage Rennyn Claire's strength, and doubting her methods. What is Rennyn willing to do to win? Do the best of intentions justify pragmatic sacrifice, or is Rennyn Claire no better than the monster she is trying to stop?

Kendall is a young girl trying to provide for herself in a small town after the death of her grandmother. After the appearance of a strange apparition on the town green, her life is tossed upside-down when a mysterious woman saves her life. The woman? Rennyn Montjuse-Surclare, one of only two people who know how to stop what is coming, what the appearance of the woman in white portents. Kendal is ripped from her quiet life and dragged away from all she's ever known to be taught (-ish, the school being a little busy with other things at the time) how to use magic she never knew she had. Meanwhile, Rennyn has to work out how to save Tyrland without betraying everything she is beginning to hold dear.


This is how this book starts, and in all honesty I very nearly stopped at that. I don't know why, but it just immediately put me off. In fact, I did stop reading after that first word, before coming back to it a couple of weeks later, determined to give it a chance to redeem itself.

Luckily for the book, it recovered well from it's bad first impression, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I didn't really follow the magic system at all and found the sometimes quite lengthy passages explaining it all a bit boring and difficult to grasp, but the story itself was good. Maybe I skimmed over an important part and so missed something, but I found it difficult to differentiate between symbolic and...darn I had the word a second ago sygillic magics. The system itself doesn't seem to be that complicated: forcing power into written symbols (symbolic/sygillic) and thought magic produced by the will of the caster alone.

The pacing was generally good, although periods of a day or two were sometimes skipped over with nothing to tell you so except their arrival at a place, or the commencement of an event. I found this a little jarring at times having to reorient myself almost in the world. And not everything was revealed at once - you find out more and more about what's going on throughout, and the...not exactly twists, but hidden things keep this going right up until the final pages. This means that you never really know what's going to happen - always a good thing in my mind.

The world itself reminded me a little of The Demon Cycle books by Peter V. Brett. World invaded by demons at night; towns defended by protective magic circles based on symbols. Of course, other than these basic similarities the two stories have little else in common so I wasn't left that the books were too similar or anything.

None of the characters are particularly outstanding, but they're all likeable enough even with their flaws. And most of the central characters do have noticeable flaws, significant but not major enough to make them annoying or anything. And they're always understandable flaws, rooted in the characters' past. Rennyn is very bossy and always thinks she's right. True, most of the time she is, and given the burden she's had to bear all her quite short life and the position she finds herself in now, that's completely understandable. Kendall is very similar in that she knows her own mind, but she is very strong-willed to the point where she struggles to accept help from anyone. Again, understandable given how she's grown up.

An enjoyable book, and I'll definitely be keeping an eye out for the release of the sequel.

Friday, 16 August 2013

How to Read the Air

Title: How to Read the Air
Author: Dinaw Mengestu
Pages: 325 (paperback)
Published: January 1st 2012
Published by: Vintage Books

Following the death of his father Yosef, Jonas Woldemariam feels compelled to make sense of the volatile generational and cultural ties that have forged him. Leaving behind his marriage and job in New York, he sets out to retrace his mother and father's honeymoon as young Ethiopian immigrants and weave together a family history that will take him from the war-torn country of his parents' youth to a brighter vision of his life in America today. In so doing, he crafts a story- real or invented-that holds the possibility of reconciliation and redemption.

Jonas Woldmariam is a first generation African immigrant. His father arrived in the USA after much arduous journeying (though we're never explicitly, clearly or definitively told how) and his mother arrived some three years later. They'd been married four years, and spent the majority of that time apart. Jonas tries to imagine what those first months must have been like for them based on what he's been told, mostly by his mother, but he takes quite a lot of liberty imagining what they both might have been thinking. Intertwined with the story of their 'honeymoon' is bits of pieces of Jonas growing up, his life with his soon-to-be-ex-wife Angela, and some parts of him retracing the footsteps of his parents as they set out on their ill-fated honeymoon.

This was a present, and is not a book I would have bought myself. And it wasn't a bad book per se, just not my kind of thing at all. It was readable, but I didn't find myself caring for the characters. In fact I actively disliked Jonas' parents, for all that both of them have been through. Yes, some of what they do is more than likely made up by Jonas and how he feels about both of them, but they are both malicious people in their own way.

Jonas, as a complete counterpart, doesn't seem to have a malicious bone in his body. He's a very nice guy. But that's all he is - nice. He's not particularly compelling as a character, and he seems to spend most of his time doing exactly what is expected of him, or just lying to people to make it look like he is. How does he manage to not be malicious and lie? I'm not sure, but both are true in my mind. He lies to create the image that he is living 'the American dream', not setting out to hurt people even if that may be the way things work out.

When it come to the storyline, I was expecting there to be be more to his parents' American history than there was and was kinda let down by the lack in that storyline. And although I did quite like the recent-past history of Jonas and Angela, from the blurb I was expecting it to be more about him following in their footsteps and seeing them adjusting to American life or whatever with maybe references back to the life he has left behind. Instead it was more the other way around.

Maybe I should have gone into this book with more of an open mind. Maybe I would have enjoyed it more if I hadn't been expecting not to. But it was what I expected in that regard, and at the same time not at all what I expected in terms of the storyline.

Friday, 9 August 2013


Title: Dreamless
Series: Starcrossed #2
Author: Josephine Angelini
Pages: 496 (ebook)
Published: May 29th 2012
Published by: HarperTeen

Can true love be forgotten?
As the only Scion who can descend into the Underworld, Helen Hamilton has been given a nearly impossible task. By night she wanders through Hades, trying to stop the endless cycle of revenge that has cursed her family. By day she struggles to overcome the fatigue that is rapidly eroding her sanity. Without Lucas by her side, Helen is not sure she has the strength to go on.
Just as Helen is pushed to her breaking point, a mysterious new Scion comes to her rescue. Funny and brave, Orion shields her from the dangers of the Underworld. But time is running out—a ruthless foe plots against them, and the Furies’ cry for blood is growing louder.
As the ancient Greek world collides with the mortal one, Helen’s sheltered life on Nantucket descends into chaos. But the hardest task of all will be forgetting Lucas Delos.
Josephine Angelini’s compelling saga becomes ever more intricate and spellbinding as an unforgettable love triangle emerges and the eternal cycle of revenge intensifies. Eagerly awaited, this sequel to the internationally bestselling STARCROSSED delivers a gritty, action-packed love story that exceeds expectation.

This book picks up right from where Starcrossed left off - no pesky interval to catch up on, right back in there with the story and the action for these characters. Now Helen has to come to terms with all that she learned in Starcrossed and try to readjust her life around the information. It impacts her relationships with just about everyone she holds dear: her father, her best friend Giggles and her now-forbidden love Lucas. But the Gods and the Fates aren't going to give up, and her life is only going to get more complicated.

So, in all honesty I read most of this book while half asleep. Because I couldn't put it down. And then I went and bought the next one and started reading that straight off! I find these books incredibly engrossing, between the characters, the storyline and the things you know and certain leading characters don't - you know they're going to find out the big secret, but not when. Or why it's been hidden. Or how they're going to react when they do find out. So many things just waiting to be found out!

There's a lot more Greek-ness to this one than the last, but I still wasn't lost in amongst it all. Any new introductions - be they ideas or gods - were clearly explained without too much information being dumped on you. And there were some pretty cool things done with the traditional aspect of Greek mythology. Again, I don't really know that much so can't say how true any of it is, but it makes for a very enjoyable read in my eyes. I do, however, know something about the traditional story of Helen and Paris Oops, just realised that's actually from the start of the third book!

This is in quite a lot of ways the typical middle book in a YA/PNR series. Two of the characters fall in love, but things get in the way in the second one, keeping them apart. Distance, their own stupidness, whatever. This time, though, it is quite a major thing, but still rather formulaic in that respect. Still, it was a reason I hadn't come across before, so it's going to be interesting seeing just how they react to this and how they manage given the hugeness of the revelation.

There is also a problem of - unless I'm missing something - quite a major plot point when it comes to the thing that's keeping them apart. And it's so obvious and so significant I can't see how none of the characters have seen it. Which makes me think I might have just missed something or misunderstand some vital point, but if not...that puts a serious downer on all these super-intelligent demigods.

In this book you get to learn more about the whole Delos family, not just a whole but getting to know each of them better. And they're all still really likeable people! None of them are stupid or annoying (come on - you know there's usually at least one!) and they all do what they think is right based on their own characters and what is going on. I'm going to commend this series again on the characters making believable decisions.

It's also commendable for avoiding the trap many second-books fall into: so much setting up for the finale in the third book that it's rather lacking in terms of actual story itself. Not so here, which is always nice to see. While there is plenty of setting up for the third book, I didn't feel lost in it and that the story of this book had been sacrificed for its sake.

The end of the book leaves some major cliffhangers as to what's going to happen next, and I cannot wait to see how everything resolves!

Friday, 2 August 2013

The Crimson Petal and the White - Competition!

Title: The Crimson Petal and the White
Author: Michel Faber
Pages: 833 (paperback)
Published: September 11th 2003
Published by: Canongate

Sugar, an alluring, nineteen-year-old prostitute in the brothel of the peculiar Mrs Castaway, yearns for a better life. And when she is visited by William Rackham, the somewhat reluctant heir to Rackham Perfumeries, she begins an ascent through the strata of 1870's London society that offers us intimacy with a host of loveable, maddening and superbly realised characters.

Gripping from the first page, this hugely acclaimed novel is an intoxicating and deeply satisfying read - not only a wonderful story but the creation of an entire, extraordinary world.

Sugar is a 19-year-old prostitute in 1870s London. She is attractive in her unusualness. Tall and slender, with an almost boyish figure, at a time when petite, more rounded women are coming into fashion. She defies norms in other ways, looking after herself in ways which are day-to-day now but odd for the time, and is incredibly widely read.

It is all these things are more than make her so desired. Especially by William Rackham, who relishes having someone he can converse with and who agrees with his opinion on so many things, someone who seems so business-minded at a time when he needs it most. For he cannot rely on his wife, Agnes, in these testing and trying times, a woman who is seemingly half-mad. It is with the meeting of these two people that Sugar begins her ascent away from being a prostitute, and resulting in everybody's lives being changed in ways unimaginable at the start of the tale.

This book weaves a tale which, while not engrossing - indeed, it took me a good three weeks to get through - is interesting, compelling. I wanted to find out how high the highs went, and whether they would be sustainable or whether all would come crashing down. Faber utilised an unusual writing style, one which I hadn't come across before - you're addressed by a phantom tour guide, as a phantom yourself. You're described as following people around and told when to leave one person and go to another, quite frequently at the start of the book when the characters are being introduced, then rather less frequently as the story progresses. It was an unusual breaking of the fourth wall, but it worked.

Sugar is as compelling on paper as she seems to be in reality, and the changes she goes through over the course of the book are multitude and believable - grounded in what's going on around her and the situations she finds herself in. I thought the story was going to be more about her than it was, and was always eager to get back to her sharp mind when we were following other characters, but there were no story lines in this intricate tapestry of interconnecting lives that I didn't like.

All the best characters are probably the female ones, and Agnes was always particularly interesting to read about, her view of the world being skewed so easily and providing for unusual views of the most ordinary things. On top of this, Sophie was truly endearing, and though she only really features in the latter parts of the book I enjoyed her interactions with Sugar and the small views we got of her father in the little times we spent with her.

Aside from the slight lack of oomph which would have kept me reading, the end of this book was left very open, and I'll admit to being a little unsatisfied. I need a more concrete sense of finish than what was provided. I don't mind if everything isn't neatly tied up in a package with a pretty bow, but the ribbon was still in the drawer and nowhere near the package at the end of this book.

Overall, a very readable book which I would easily recommend, though given the nature of the book some of the language leaves it unsuitable for younger readers.

If you would like to win this book (in a good condition) just leave a comment below. I'll leave it open for two weeks and then randomly select a winner! Open internationally.